KUROSUFAIYAH!

by Zac Bertschy, Feb 25th 2003


Zac: Welcome back to KUROSUFAIYAH!, Anime News Network's spot for anime discussion. This week's special guest is Izobel Carol, an animation student at CALArts and an activist in the English dub community. Welcome, Izobel. Joining me also are our regulars Bamboo Dong and Rebecca Bundy.

Zac: Our topic today is, of course, English dubs. I'd like to start by having everyone list off their favorite dubs and why they're good.

Bamboo: Actually, the first dub that I remember really liking was Perfect Blue. I watched the subtitled version first and absolutely loved the movie. Being adventurous one day, I decided to check out the dub, and I was pleasantly surprised. Ever since then, I've known to respect dubs and Perfect Blue has always been my favorite. The actors were amazing, and they were cast extremely well. It was the first time when I ever realized that, "hey, I forgot I was watching a dub" and it's been important in giving me a more objective stance (and profound respect/appreciation) on dubs.

Izobel: Well, I of course have a profound love for The Slayers dub but I think hands down the best dub I've heard is Cowboy Bebop. Cowboy Bebop is particularly "American" in its treatment. It's more in the style of American cinema, but the skill with which it was adapted and performed gives credit to Mary Elizabeth and her incredible cast. I also love the new Spirited Away dub. Thank you John Lasseter!


Zac: I'd have to say that, hands down, Hellsing is my favorite dub. I prefer it to the original Japanese. It's what finally turned me around on dubs. Since then, I've been watching them more and more, and being a lot more objective than I was before. Jon Klein and his staff at New Generation Pictures did an absolutely perfect job. Since then I've found that I also like the X 1999 TV dub, and the dub for ADV's Dai-Guard.

Rebecca: Hellsing would be at the top of my list for favorite dubs. Selecting British voice actors for the British characters helped to establish the location of the film, and the voices express the feelings and emotions of the characters, instead of the static voice that one uses when reading directly from a script and not acting a part. Outlaw Star and Inuyasha were both good (and bad for a few voices) because they picked voices that match the Japanese voices. Normally though the dub is better if the American voices are unique from the Japanese voices.

Zac: You think the dub is better if the Japanese and American voices are really different? Most people don't feel that way.

Rebecca: I do. If they sound identical, what's the point of watching both? If they're different, it gives the viewers the chance to experience the anime in two different ways

Izobel: There seems to be this obsession with "exactly matching" the Japanese seiyuu. Frankly, I don't care one way or the other if the Japanese voice is matched, so long as the performance is good and the voice does justice to the character.This idea of some profound "original" Japanese performance that is somehow sacred is a little ridiculous. Considering they "dub" their animation after it's animated anyway.

Bamboo:: Actually, I like it when the dub actors somewhat match the original Japanese voices. I don't care if they're not exact, but I like to have it so that their personalities match. I've always liked a dub that let me believe that the two dialogue tracks were interchangeable. Just the same, I expect that when the Japanese dub an American-made movie, they'll try to keep the voices somewhat within the same range.

Zac: I'm sorta with Izobel on this one. I don't care what the voice sounds like, so long as it looks like a voice that character could have. Witness the chicken thing in Yami no Matsuei that has a scratchy, high-pitched voice in the Japanese while he sounds like a large black man in the English dub. I just want the acting to be good, you know? The problem with dubs isn't that we as fans don't like watching cartoons in English. The problem is that half the time these studios use seemingly Z-grade actors to fill these roles. Now, the bulk of what I see coming out of companies like ADV and Pioneer is pretty good. But a lot of this other product, the acting is just flat out bad. That's what kills a dub for me.

Rebecca: The acting is poor for many dubs, or the voices are too generic and don't add anything to the personalities of the characters. I agree with Izobel that the voices should match the personalities of the characters and bring them to life, whether or not they match the original japanese. But you need to have better or more experienced voice actors to do this.

Izobel: If you want better acting, please PLEASE for the love of god lobby the studios to start doing their work UNION. The reason the acting is bad in the majority of dubs is because the actors being hired are being paid NOTHING because the companies refuse to do their work under SAG specifications Reign: The Conqueror, is one such victim, as are most other anime coming out now on TV, too! you'd think they'd do their theatrical and television work legitimately, but believe it or not, the Pokémon actors and the actors on Cartoon Network anime get paid $50 an hour, with NO residuals. When you consider that an episode of anime might only have a few lines for each character, it's not that many hours to get paid for.

Zac: Absolutely. A lot of these voice actors, even the especially talented ones, can't afford to live off the money they make doing dub work. I assumed that one of the reasons you see 2 or 3 different names for voice actors is to get around the SAG rules so these companies can exploit the system and underpay people to dub these titles.

Rebecca: I know that the large majority of theatre/movie actors cannot live off of what they make through acting alone, so the unions are there to help them survive while they work in a career they love. A lot of the VA's in America do incredible jobs, and I've only seen the dubbing industry improve in quality as time progresses. It'd be nice if they could devote their time completely to dub work and survive off of that alone. It'd result in better quality dubs and likely more money for the American companies.

Bamboo:: In Japan, voice actors and actresses are idolized, some even more so than theatrical ones. Naturally, the more one is willing to pay for good actors, the better they will be. Many of these dub actors are willing to go cross country to conventions, simply just to meet their fans and talk about the jobs that they love. Since I've been watching anime, I have to agree that the dub quality has certainly gone up. Imagine how much better it would be if these people could devote their lives to something they love, rather than doing it as just a side hobby, as many of them do. As I see it, dubs can only get better. It's just a matter of how to maximize that.

Izobel: There are many actors and directors in anime who really care about the quality of what they produce. The problem is that the production companies really hold all the cards. Even in domestic animation, all the voice acting is going to Canada. Canada has subsidies in place that make it more profitable for the work to go there. Thus, all the Canadian studios shovel work out as fast as they can, with varying levels of quality, and the American voice actors have to pick up the scraps. I know some close personal friends of mine have tried to make a stand and have refused work because it wasn't being done union, and they have been pushed aside for other desperate actors who will work for less. What is really sad is that union rates are generally only about $10 an hour more, and it's not like the big production companies can't afford that. They make a stink about it, but what it comes down to is the fact that they don't want to spring ten bucks for an actor's pension and health under SAG
The result, inevitably, is bad acting and unhappy fans.

Zac: Perhaps there is hope for the future, people just need to start talking about it. I know I'd like to see these people getting their due and being treated fairly and compensated for a job well done.

Bamboo:: I agree. People always complain about companies hiring low-rate actors, but never stop to think why. They say that companies are cheap and go for the studio that lets them spend the least. No one really stops to think that the opposite would also be true. If companies spent more on actors, the quality of the actors would also go

Zac: Okay, next topic, our final topic for this discussion. More and more dub-only DVDs are coming out and there are more and more Japanese productions that are being recorded originally in English. With this trend, do you think we'll see the quality of dubs go up or stay the same? As anime gets bigger and bigger in America, how will things change?

Izobel: Well, I don't think we can expect things to change quality-wise unless the current business model is changed. The problem is that television viewership has become more and more niche-oriented and fractured. The same number of viewers are divided among many more channels, meaning animation production budgets must go down, not up. Even though anime is gaining acceptance in this country, it is still considered a "niche market" and production companies will of course continue to do what they've always done, which is to make the most money with the least investment. Anime is already looking like a gold mine to them; they as of now don't care much about the quality of the English version, because anime fans still seem to eat it up regardless of dub quality. Kids who don't know any better still watch CN, and those who do know better still buy the same DVDs because they can still watch the Japanese track. The companies have no incentive to step up quality. In my opinion it is up to us to tell them what we want from them- to somehow make it matter to them on the bottom line.

Bamboo: Well, to be honest with you, I think the quality will continue to increase. As it is, bigger and bigger names (whether in the American pop culture or dub circuit) are being asked to do anime voice-overs, and I think this trend will continue. I also agree that companies realize that anime is a gold mine. However, rather than making their products cheaper, they'll cater to the people and do the best that they can. This, however, only applies to the big name releases, in order to attract more future customers. On the other hand, the small name releases will have to try to do the best they can with what little money they're willing to spend on it. So, I guess to sum up my thoughts, I think that the more visible dub-only releases will increase in quality, while the smaller ones may just remain stagnant in their quality. Overall, though, with more releases
being made for an American target audience, this has a great potential to change.

Rebecca: I think dub-only DVDs will sell, but the general public will probably get curious and start looking into the Japanese originals, so DVDs should keep both Japanese and English tracks on them. I think that the Japanese and American companies working together on a single project is impressive and hopefully it will continue in the future. Working together produces anime that'll avoid (for the most part) cultural nuances and focus more on plots and characters that can be enjoyed by both cultures without knowledge of the other. I think that the quality of dubs will increase to the point where the 'what are your favorite dubs?' list will be as long as the 'what are your favorite anime series' list is. Companies are already realizing that there is money to be made in anime, but at the moment a lot of them are trying to find the quickest (and cheapest) route in the gold rush. Once the rush slows down a bit and the companies (and buyers) focus on quality over quantity, the companies will realize that they need to pay more for more experienced actors and the quality will go up.

Izobel: I wanted to add one more thing regarding dub actors and the union situation. Historically, dubs have been done non-union. That has changed recently so that many more dubs are being done union. However, many still aren't. I'd say it's about half and half right now. Pokémon was done completely non-union. Digimon started non-union, but then switched to being a union show once Saban was bought by Disney. Anything done in Canada is clearly non-union.Anime is usually done as a "buy-out", meaning that unlike TV and Film, you get no residuals. This is why non-union contracts are attractive to producers, there's no residuals to keep track of. However, it turns out that the SAG contract for dubbing is mostly a buy-out anyway. You only get residuals if it goes to network (not cable) TV or in the movie theaters. (I think that maybe if they re-run the series more than a year after it's broadcast, you also get residuals, but I'm not sure about that. What a SAG contract does do is allow you to use your own name without fear of reprisal from the union and it also pays into pension and health for actors. But the cost between non-union rates and union rates these days is pretty smalll. Most non-union pays $50-60/hour. SAG minimum is $62/hour.

Zac: Obviously this is a really complicated issue, one we don't quite have the space to cover fully.

Izobel: I just hope this sheds some well-deserved light on the anime dubbing industry, and just as a side-note, I hope the fans better understand the position of power that they are in. It is not useful to simply complain or flame the actors for dub quality.Concerned fans need to help the people in the dubbing industry who genuinely care about making dubs better by encouraging their favorite producers of anime to abide by union standards which will bring in better talent.

Rebecca: People should give dubs a little more consideration as they are getting better.

Zac: Thanks everyone for joining us tonight. See you next time!


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