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A look at English anime dubbing

Dubs: A Dwindling Resource?

3/20/2009 7:44:12 AM permalink

So, with the 2008 Dubbies now awarded, we can at last look back at the best of the year past.

But what about the future? It's not all sunshine and light in the dubbing world at the moment. For all intents and purposes, the studio that gave us the Best Dub of 2008, Amusement Park Media (ADV's in-house studio) appears to be shuttered. Clannad, the latest of the Key/Kyoto Animation powerhouses (following AIR TV and Kanon), was released sub-only by ADV, which was very disappointing for dub fans, since we had hoped to hear another great dub from Kyle Jones and the talented people in Houston. It is all the more disappointing, since Clannad is a show with even better characters and much greater emotional depth (especially when one takes After Story, as yet unlicensed but still a realistic possibility, into consideration). With ADV's move to sub-only releases, we have lost one distributor from whom it was always taken for granted that a dub would be provided. 

This is just the latest in a series of retreats the dubbing world has had to face, which started with the fall of Geneon USA (who did not produce their dubs in-house, but employed several prominent dubbing studios, mainly in California and Canada). With the disappearance of Geneon and ADV, two of the old "Big Three" of yesteryear have now passed from the dubbing scene. The third remaining player of the old "Big Three," Bandai, has become rather erratic in their dubbing decisions. On the one hand, they have poured a lot of resources into dubbing Ghost in the Shell, in fact, perhaps too much of their resources. When they released the compilation movie versions of the Stand Alone Complex television series (both the first and second series), they contracted Ocean Productions in Canada to provide new dubs for them, instead of trying to reuse the Animaze dub which the television series had. I do not, of course, understand the intricacies involved, but I would have thought that it would have been less costly to recut the TV dub, and call in the actors to do the required "pick up" lines that would have been needed where the compilation movies either use new animation or recut certain scenes which would throw off the original audio track.

Then there is the curious case of Innocence (the second GiTS movie). Since the first English dub for that was originally created for a PAL (European) video release, the audio would have to be reprocessed in order to be transferred to NTSC format (what is used here in North America). Apparently, it was too difficult to engineer that properly, and a new dub was commissioned, using Animaze and the TV series actors (who had largely been involved in the UK dub that could not apparently be transferred properly). This could not have been a small expense. To continue with Bandai's "erratic" dubbing behavior, there is Clamp School Detectives and Galaxy Angel X. For the former, Bandai decided to contract Coastal Carolina Studios to provide a new dub to a 12-year-old show that had originally been released years ago on VHS sub-only. If you were to ask me how many 12-year-old shows with a previous VHS release that was sub-only get a new DVD release with a shiny new dub…I can't really give you another example. And then there was poor Galaxy Angel X. While apparently the franchise has not been doing well, Bandai decided to cut funding for the dub, a dub which they had been funding from the very first GA series, now only 1/3 of the way into the final season of the show. So, we have dubs for GA, GA Z, GA A, GA AA, but only 1/3 of GA X is dubbed. If the franchise was doing so poorly, why not stop at, oh, I don't know, Z?

The only major player left in dubs is the company that at first joined the "Big Three" to make a "Big Four" for a while, FUNimation. Once derided as nothing more than the "Dragonball" company, we all now know that FUNi has risen to the position of dominant player in the entire North American anime industry. As such, they have the corporate resources to continue dubbing all of their products, so far. I respect the level of quality that FUNimation manages to provide for their dubs, but if they become the only game in town, this game is going to get old fast. All monopolies result in a much more monochromatic, or perhaps in this instance, I should say monoauric, world. I'll throw out one more "mono" word: monotony. If you hear the same 10 voices again, and again, and again…their freshness and vitality, no matter how talented, will begin to wear thin.  

Among the smaller companies, it has not gone unnoticed that Media Blasters have curtailed dubs as well. They have not abandoned them. Tweeny Witches, of all things, got not just a good dub, but a very good dub from BangZoom! in California. The T&A show Ah! My Buddha (Amaenaideyo!!) got a dub. But their successful yuri (lesbian-themed) line of shows have all been sub-only. A niche market, certainly, but any more niche than some other narrow interest genres of anime? 

The greatest shame has been the disappearance of Right Stuf, whose production division is now called Nozomi Entertainment. The old Right Stuf was responsible for funding several not just good, but superior quality dubs. The Irresponsible Captain Tylor, Ninja Nonsense, and Comic Party all had superior dubs. His and Her Circumstances has possibly what is one of the single best dubs ever created in the modern anime dubbing era. And yet now, we have nothing from them but sub-only releases.

There are no villains here, other than the lack of buyers for anime DVDs and the cruel logic of the market. There is no conspiracy by a cabal of dub-haters who wish to force us all to have to read our anime instead of being able to see it. It is the lamentable result of the downturn of the home video market in general, which preceded the great financial mess that the world seems mired in right now. It is the result of many "fans" preferring to watch the shows in pirated form, and not wishing to buy legitimate product. 

I am afraid that there is little I can do except mournfully look onwards to a future that is far bleaker for any dub fan.





Tags: anime, dubs


Showing items 1 - 8 of 8
insaneben 4/29/2009 6:42:31 PM

I also was greatly disappointed when Right Stuf/Nozomi announced that Emma and Aria would be sub-only. I thought that the purpose of releasing anime on DVD was to attract new fans (while appealing to the already-established fan base). If you release any legitimate anime DVD sub-only, you're scaring away potential fans who'd rather not read to enjoy the show. Cost-saving or not, such a tactic only serves to kill sales, not increase them. Granted, I'll allow exceptions to shows that never had much of a following in Japan (such as Rocket Girls or Haunted Junction), but stuff like Emma and Aria (which not only could've been dubbed, but also could've salvaged New York's anime dubbing business) being released sans-dub is a deal breaker. And here I thought that "The Third" being dubbed was the start of something big. Shame on you, Nozomi, for shame.

I'm letting Media Blasters off the hook, since Ramen Fighter Miki and Girls High never had much of an audience in the U.S. to begin with, but dubbing Ah My Buddha? That's just a waste of resources (I just hope it doesn't kill the chances of seeing a dubbed Genshiken 2).

Have we learned nothing from Bandai Visual USA, that sub-only is not the way to go? Not only were their prices outrageous, they even had the audacity (stupidity?) to release one episode (or two) on separate DVDs at a painfully-slow rate (minus a ton of extras). They took too long to rectify their mistake, and now, they've been absorbed by Namco Bandai. Thankfully, every other anime company has since taken heed, but ADV's decision to release Clannad sub-only was a major deal-breaker for me. They could've at least gotten off their stagnant butts and brought back the old voice actors from, say, Kanon together for one last dub, but no. They chose to cheat a lot of people out of a potentially-solid series by releasing it sub-only and sans extras (much like a lot of their re-releases). Look, ADV Films (or Sentai, or whatever the hell you guys call the now-comatose and dying ADV), if you're going to release a top-tier series, you have to go all out, dub included (cost be damned). Otherwise, you're going to end up like the-late Central Park Media (bloated with re-releases, dying ever since fumbling your best licenses, and bound to die a slow, painful death from having learned nothing from past mistakes).

So, to summarize my long, rage-filled rant:

Bandai Visual: Never no good for no one.

Right Stuf/Nozomi: Dub re-release for both seasons of Emma and all of Aria, please (hey, you did just re-release both the Captain Tylor TV and OVA series, so why not?)

ADV Films: You're as good as dead (and the license to Clannad After Story will be picked up by Funimation after you announce having it, then fumble it six months later, just like every other title you picked up since mid-2007. And it will be dubbed, cheapskates).

Realsmartask 9/7/2009 1:44:25 AM

Hello, all.  New here, and I joined because I wanted to find a forum to discuss the dwindling dub market for anime.  I have been collecting for a long time, and the majority of my anime is dubbed.  I prefer to keep the animation clean while I enjoy my viewing which is why I am concerned about the recent spate of sub only releases. 

In fact, talking about various series that started out dubbed and then quit would include the most recent offense:  Lucky Star.  I have heard that Bandai lost a lot of money in producing the Special Editions, (supposedly that's why #6 didn't come out with that version), but to dub the TV series, and then sub the OAVs isn't going to get me to buy the OAV product.  I wrote Bandai to tell them so. 

In fact, the thing about RightStuf/Nozomi started for me when they picked up Gals second season and released it sub only.  I have a wide range of anime tastes, and I did enjoy the ADV dub of the first season.  I was hoping that they would pick up the second, but maybe the fates had already spoken about ADV with the Sayuki series being picked up Geneon at roughly the same time.  At least Geneon tried a decent replacement dub for the 3 and 4th seasons.  But I had a feeling about RS/N that wouldn't go away, even with the release of Shingu and The Third.  And my fears have been realized.  RightStuf is the online store that I usually do business with, and am signed up for their press releases.  And for the last year plus, I have responded to each release with a "Sorry, I won't be buying your product because it is sub only".  

As I said, I have been trying to find a format to talk about this, and I am glad to have found this.  The other sites that I have been to are either busy trying to follow their particular anime "star" to do so, or are indifferent to the needs of someone like myself, and will pick up anything dub or sub.  These people of course don't seem to realize that buying the sub only product only reinforces the companies decision to do so, and further puts the English VA's out of work.   

I have pointed this out to both Bandai and RS/N, by writing them and telling them that they are losing me as a buying customer by releasing sub only products.  In fact, my most recent reply to RS/N pointed out that they seem to have budgets to promote their DUBBED hentai products, and special non-DVD related materials (posters, limited release lithographs, etc) of their sub only product.  Both of which only further sell to the niche markets, and ignore the larger English speaking and listening audience.  They are obviously convinced that releasing 4-5 sub titles a year to a more limited audience will pull in more money that 2 or 3 dub titles would do for a more wider audience.   I guess only time will tell if their new business model is right.  For me, it is definitely the wrong decision to do so.  

trunksgotenfuse 10/5/2009 5:11:27 PM

Hi All,

I know it is doubtful, but I wish Anime companies like Rightstuf would actually read these posts. I have purchased over 3500 R1 DVDs from all of the companies, and I have watched all of them with they exception of a few. The Sub-Only anime just does not have the draw to me I like to relax in my theater and watch the show. I don't like reading the lines and taking time away from the animation. It is just annoying to me. I was spending about $800/month on anime before the disappearance of dubs. Now I spent less than $100/month. Not because I want to spend less, but because the anime that I want is being released sub-only. I purchased Clannad and Aria to try and get into them, but I never made more than 3 or 4 episodes before I went on to something else. Now they are just collecting dust.

At the rate the market is going now I am going to have to give up on Anime eventually. I have had a lot of thoughts about this and a few things always come to mind:

One of the big factors in poor anime sales is pirating anime. Well guess what most people pirate sub-only anime because the dubs are very difficutlt to find or the quality is terrrible. If you release anime with sub-only how is that any better than a chinese company selling decent knock off subs for 10% of the cost or less? Ebay paints a perfect picture of this for you.

If you don't have the budget for an untested series then release a sub-only version first. Once the interest has been gained and you have sold enough copies to be satisfied with the public acceptance; created a dub/sub version to pick up the rest of the market. I would gladly buy another copy of Aria or Clannad if they were re-done with a Dub.

If the market is going down they gimping your product is not always the best way to increase revenue. In fact that is usually the worst option. The anime industry needs to do the oposite and work on increasing awareness of non-main stream products. Do some advertising to your market. When is the last time you saw a comercial for an anime release on broadcast TV? How about some free market stuff at some colleges like a free showing of an upcoming series. I can think of dozens of ways companies could work on market awareness, but they don't do any of them. As long as your market stays the same and you continue to destroy the quality of your releases your numbers are going to continue to decrease. I think most people consider the current trends in anime production to be heading towards death in a number of years you can count with one hand.

They have been doing this sub-only downsizing for a while now and I hope that they are seeing huge decrease in sales to the point that maybe they will realize that limiting your market is a bad decision. Providing to both sub and dub fans while also pulling in new fans of either is the only way you will increase sales. Take some marketing classes.

Daimao Raki 11/28/2009 2:52:28 PM

But the sad thing is they did that for years and nobody bought the dub/sub DVDs. 

ajsan 6/27/2010 2:08:34 PM

Mabye I don't have the right to post a comment since I only collect Sub.  Or rather, don't care if a release has Dub, because I'm only going to watch it in Sub.  I find that too much of the Japanese culture is lost to Sub... especially character development. 

One of my first lessons was with Azumanga Daioh, with the manga and anime... one of the characters, Osaka, was translated and Dubbed horribly, and even though all Sub translations are not the best, at least the Japanese voice acting was there to save the character.  The character's personality is obviously more of a space cadet who was expected to have a cool Osaka accent by her fellow classmates after moving to Japan and to be super hip, she failed miserably on both accounts to live up to these expectations.  The manga went so far as to have her be this hip wisecracker who was a bit loud and obnoxious... not the case... the anime adopted this, and even worse, had the English accent be from the South with even a twang to boot... JUST because Osaka lies south of Japan.  Huh!?    What rationality lies behind that, I do not know. 

I've also been extremely let down by Dub, and poor voice acting, et cetera.  Not saying there isn't good Dubbing out there... there is.  I was extremely impressed with Geneon's Disgaea Dubbing, along with others.  I also understand that Dubbing is extremely costly for these anime distributors... I suppose I see Dubbing as just another 'bonus' if it's included with a release and not a necessity.  You get used to reading subtitles and train your brain to read AND look at the anime, it comes in time, and quickly.  I can't see Dubbing being the ONLY thing selling the franchise to U.S. collectors.  And, during these economic hard times, I think something is better than nothing. 

moneenerd 5/6/2011 4:53:49 PM

 The only dub that I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed over the sub was DEAD LEAVES, only because the voice acting was hilarious and the humour didn't translate too well on the sub. But that film was so off the wall crazy and fast-paced, one almost *needs* to watch the dub to fully appreciate it. Oh yeah, and the first dubbing on AKIRA is memorable (the new dub is boring and stiff) but only because the time I saw it during the VHS age. Other than that, I absolutely detest dubbing. I just recently cancelled my Netflix account because of the retarded amount of dubbed anime and foreign films, with no option to watch them subtitled. Face it, when these distro's dub their films, they are taking away half of the actors' job. Buddy Whatshisname didn't work 6-12 months, going over his script five times a day, and acting his little heart out just so you could dub over it because someone doesn't want stupid things like words cluttering up his flat screen. I have been watching subtitled anime religously since I was 16 (I'm 27 now), and have never once felt that I was missing out on anything because I had to read the translation instead of hearing it. Sure, it's a pain in the ass to have to rewind to a scene because I was distracted by the litre of ice cream on my lap, but who cares? The film and anime that are worth watching require full attention, especially on the first view.

But I guess the dub vs sub argument is a little different when it comes to anime because it involves only voice acting, but with anime being from Japan, a culture vastly different from our own in English speaking countries, a lot of things just don't translate well over to dub when they are trying to fit so much information that might be shared rather easily and quickly in Japanese but is longer and more convoluted in English, and at the same time trying to match voice to mouth movement. You are also hindering your viewing experience when you watch dub because you are not watching it as it was MEANT to be seen. 


moneenerd 5/6/2011 5:02:16 PM

 Sorry for the above rant, since this is really about the decline of dubbing, not whether or not I feel dubbing is worth anyone's time. But just imagine how better and quicker children would learn how to read if Pokemon was aired on US TV subtitled instead of dubbed? And you get the extra bonus of learning a new language! I do rather find it hard to believe that these anime distro's are relying on their dubbed fan base so hardcore. It is only on MANIA that I ever hear/see anyone rant about the lack of dubbing on a DVD, whereas the majority of MUBI, Twitch Film, and AnimeNewsNetwork are diehard sub lovers. (That's an observation, not a criticism). And is dubbing really all that expensive? I remember in the time of VHS, I had to pay nearly an extra $9 if I wanted the subtitled edition of an anime. I was paying extra for LESS work?! Something is definitely shady here.

trunksgotenfuse 5/17/2011 10:48:04 AM

It's amazing this topic is still open after a few years and still on the main page. It is nice to see that dubs are actually becoming standard on a lot of releases again, and amazingly they dubbed Clannad the release I was most disappointed about a couple years back. To the few sub viewers posting above; That is great for you. Everyone knows the pros and cons of subs and dubs. The fact still remains that not everyone enjoys subtitles. Do you honestly think the biggest animes of all time in this country would be half as popular if they were sub only. Think titles like Pokemon, Naruto, and DBZ. They would never even have aired on TV if they were sub only and I really don't see a bunch of college kids sitting around a public drom TV reading DBZ, but I saw them all the time watching it in dubs. In fact it was always on during CN airings. The sub market is a much smaller and hardcore market. Making money is the name of the game. Catering only to the hardcores will not land you in the green, and hell even some hardcores prefer dubs (self-included).

I have introduced dozens of people to anime for the first time, and created a few addict friends of my own. All of them I got started with a dub title to lighten the load. Some of them do watch subs now, but for the most part dubs are still preferred. Since most of my friends are around 30 can you imagine trying to introduce them to a complex anime in dub. Think titles like Ghost in the Shell. Just no freaking way they would sit past the second episode, but that is the anime that I drew my 54 your dad into anime with. Both ways have thier place in anime, and I never want to see that change. I will be buying anime for the next 50 years if I make it that long :) Close to 4500 titles now and I pre-ordered like 15 more today.



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Date Joined: January 20, 2009