Answerman Talk Like A Man
by Justin Sevakis, Aug 30th 2013
Hope your week is going better than mine. I made the horrible mistake of running a mountain trail, going a little too fast on the downhill, and rolling my ankle. After a fairly spectacular wipe-out, I now sit at home, an injured, scabbed up, fairly useless mess.
On the plus side of things, this is giving me a chance to catch up on the Summer anime season. I FINALLY got a chance to check out Attack on Titan, and while I understand why it's popular (it's an exciting, visually inventive show of action and bizarre horrors), I have to admit that I find its completely over-the-top histrionics a little off-putting. But I'll probably watch more.
Anyhoo, time for some questions.
In many anime in Japan, the roles of young men are played by female voice actors. Shinji in Evangelion (Megumi Ogata), Ed and Al in Fullmetal Alchemist (Romi Park and Rie Kugimiya, respectively), and (the not-as-young) Himura Kenshin (Mayo Suzukaze); yet in the English dubs, these same roles are often played by male actors--Shinji was voiced by Spike Spencer, the Elric brothers by Vic Mignogna and Aaron Dismuke, and Kenshin by Richard Hayworth. While this isn't always the case (Ash in Pokemon, Naota in FLCL, and in American shows, Bart Simpson of The Simpsons and Dexter of Dexter's Laboratory), I'm curious why anime dubs often have males play these roles, especially given that there is a precedent for having women play male roles in American animation as well. Is this simply about the pool of available talent, or is there some kind of philosophical difference?
Casting boy voices is one of the hardest parts in making an anime dub. There are only a handful of convincingly young-sounding male actors. Child actors are hard to work with, subject to difficult scheduling issues, and can't be used at all if the anime is too raunchy. And as for casting grown women, there are surprisingly few good American voice actors that can really pull off sounding like a boy. The handful that do seem to quickly get snatched up by higher echelons of voice recording (women such as Nancy "Bart" Cartwright and Christine "Dexter" Cavanaugh), who are completely out of reach by the comparatively poorly paid world of anime dubs.
Japanese audio directors cast women in male voice roles not just for boys, but teens and even adult men like Himura Kenshin. That would never happen in the US, because they just wouldn't sound right to us, and the sociology of American media consumers definitely plays a part in that. The Western idea of what guys sound like is simply lower: Japanese men, on average, tend to have slightly higher-pitched voices than Westerners. There are very few Japanese baritones. Everyone is simply a little higher-pitched.
In Western, and particularly American society, we take voice pitch as a measure of masculinity. From radio DJs to rappers to announcers, the aesthetic has always been low-pitched and intimidating. A low voice usually means a bigger body, and therefore (hypothetically) stronger and more imposing, and we subconsciously don't take higher-pitched voices as seriously. For decades, American radio DJs would chain smoke, intentionally trying to lower their voices to give themselves an edge. While obviously we don't expect exactly the same for boys, there is definitely an expectation that they sound substantially rougher and lower than women. Whether this expectation bears out in reality is another matter: when I was a pre-teen before my voice changed, people would confuse me for my mother over the phone all the time.
Add to that, a centuries-old Japanese tradition of women cross-dressing as men, in everything from samurai stories to Takarazuka Theater, and you simply have a gulf between one country that naturally buys into higher-pitched sounding male characters, and another country that doesn't. You also have a female voice talent pool that's more used to "roughing up" their voices in order to sound like boys. The art of adapting and dubbing anime is full of little nuances like this. Japan can seemingly get away with all sorts of things we just can't for whatever reason.
We sometimes hear how shockingly poor the pay for animators is Japan is for long hours of piece work; it seems as if they have cause to envy the compensation and working conditions of employees at MacDonald's. What seems less reported on is what the compensation structure for other production staff is. How well are designers, writers and directors paid for what amount of work under what conditions? Has the compensation structure of the industry affected its ability to attract and retain talent?
They're definitely not as bad, although it'd probably be a mistake to assume that anime directors are rolling in the dough. According to various figures I've heard over the years, most anime directors manage something in the US$50,000 range annually. Writers are a lot harder to figure: while both work on a freelance basis, some writers can churn out a lot more than others. It's not unheard of for a head writer (series kosei, usually translated as Series Composition or Scenario) to be working on two shows at once.
While that's not terrible pay, it's also not great. But you must also remember that the series director and kosei both get a 2.7% royalty on DVD and international sales grosses, so their take-home could actually be much more. If a director or writer manage to get a long-running gig that also does well internationally or on home video, their income could be much, much more. Suddenly, it all makes sense why Kunihiko Yuyama has been working on Pokémon for 15 years of his life, doesn't it?
The pay still isn't very good compared to other creative pursuits, and industry pundits in Japan regularly worry about not being able to attract good writers, who frequently jump ship to video games, light novels, and other forms of pulp writing. But the problem is worse for directors, since new talent is usually discovered from within the rank and file animators, and THEY are so poorly paid that most of the talented youngsters just never get far enough to rise through the system.
Figuring in royalties, the pay is lower, but actually not substantially lower than what writers and directors make on US cable television.
With all the recent news about FUNi and Sentai picking up old titles, it has me curious what exactly goes into a license rescue. I've spent years wondering why Paranoia Agent never got saved from Geneon's scrapheap. It came from a well-known and celebrated director, had a great dub, and had already had a TV run that made it well-known to anime fans. But while all their other popular titles like Trigun and Samurai Champloo found new homes, Paranoia Agent remained unclaimed and now it's impossible to find it without shelling out a couple hundred bucks. So, what goes into a license rescue? Does the Japanese company play any significant role in it? Is there a separate deal required for a rescued show's dub or bonus materials? Are there any big kinks in the process that could make a show unable to be rescued?
While hardcore Satoshi Kon fans love Paranoia Agent, the show didn't do all that great for Geneon back in the day. According to our ANNCast with Chad Kime, it lost money. Mind you, I have no idea what they paid for it, and it was during that era where rights to all anime were insanely overpriced, so expectations might have been unrealistic. I would certainly love to see it, as well as all of Kon's feature films, back in print. All The Anime has announced Perfect Blue on Blu-ray in the UK, so who knows, we may get lucky Stateside soon enough.
License rescues basically work just like licensing something for the first time. After the original license's rights have expired, everything goes back to the licensor, and a new company comes in and has to renegotiate everything from scratch. Chances are, some time has passed, and the things both companies are looking for in a contract are quite different from the first time around. The new license probably includes online rights, for example, while the licensor will probably want much more oversight over translations and box art and the like.
The one big difference, though, is that stuff like dubbed audio, subtitle scripts and DVD extras probably already exist, and some amount of detective work must be done to find those materials, which may or may not have been sent back to the licensor, or might be in some sort of legal limbo. It's not uncommon for the licensor to shrug and say, "do what you have to," while the new publisher quietly buys old discs on eBay and rips the subtitle track.
And that's all for this week! Got questions for me? Send them in! The e-mail address, as always, is answerman (at!) animenewsnetwork.com.
Justin Sevakis is the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap, and check out his bi-weekly column on obscure old stuff, Pile of Shame.
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