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Hey, Answerman: DUB Edition

by Zac Bertschy,

Things I am officially sick of talking about right now:

* Fansubs
* The "collapse" of the R1 industry
* Kodomo no goddamn Jikan

So this week we're all about dubs. No, not dubs versus subs, no, not "how can I become a rich and famous anime voice actor and buy myself a 2008 Maserati with the fat checks I'll rake in from voicing "adorable fairy #4" in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha", not any of that. We're going to try and cover some territory not usually discussed.

Key word there is try, of course.

Dear Answerman, I have noticed lately that more and more dvds are coming out without an English voice track. As a fan of dubs this is an unsettling trend especially with all the hubbub about Geneon and now ADV laying people off. Will we see less dubs in the future? Why are they cutting dubs out of DVDs now? Is it cheaper that way?

Okay, so I guess this sorta has something to do with the annoying endless "SKY = FALLING" talk that's been going around, but basically, yes, dubs are expensive and companies like Media Blasters are leaving them out of some of their recent series, specifically titles that likely won't recoup the cost.

Dubs aren't cheap to produce. Well, they are if you use crappy overseas production houses like Odex which charges maybe a third of what a decent
American house will charge, but right now the average price to dub one volume of an anime series is around $30,000 - $40,000 dollars; figure $7-$8k per episode. While back in the day those numbers (which used to be higher, by the way) weren't so daunting, in today's market, you have to wonder if it's worth dropping that kind of coin to dub a three-volume, 13-episode series with limited appeal (for instance, something like Ramen Fighter Miki or Gakuen Heaven). Is it worth spending around $100,000 to dub a series that in its lifespan will likely sell 5000 units or so? No, not really. So they toss out the dub and rely on sub fans. It's just business.

That said, as for whether or not we're going to see fewer dubs in the future thanks to the market downturn, I'd say probably. I don't think studios like ADV or Funimation will cut back, given that they both have in-house studios and since their engineers and other technical staff are generally salaried folks, dubs generally cost them a bit less. However, Media Blasters seems to have found a decent balance - things people really want, like Genshiken or Ikki Tousen, will be dubbed, but more obscure stuff will be sub-only. Bandai might start doing fewer dubs, or at the least use the international studios more (we're all excited to see what comes out of New Generation's Shanghai studio).

I have had the pleasure of meeting a lot of american voice actors at conventiosn during their panels and they have all been really nice to the fans, it is always nice to meet them. however i have a question. I wonder if that is just an image that they put out so the fans dont feel insulted. are american voice actors really nice like that when the fans are not around. do you know any voice actors personally and are they as nice as they are to the fans?
Well, you're trying to make a blanket statement about a group of people where blanket statements rarely apply. You can't say "Yeah, all VAs are as nice on a personal level as they are to the fans at public events". Some of them are, some of them, not so much.

I've met a lot of voice actors in my time as a writer in this industry - they are the most accessible guests you can snag for an interview. Generally they are also very friendly to the press. In my time I've had the pleasure of meeting some intelligent, unique, funny and genuinely solid folks, like Taliesin Jaffe, Greg Ayres, and Michael Sinterniklaas, among many others. In situations where they don't have to be "on" (meaning being entertaining for their fans), they're decent, normal human beings just like anyone else, just as friendly and easygoing as they are on panel discussions. The question itself is a little strange - frankly, nobody in a public speaking situation is going to be exactly themselves. What you get in a panel discussion is their public image regardless of who they are when they're among friends.

That said, no, not all voice actors are charming wonderful people. Like in any line of work, there's a majority of nice normal folks and then there a handful of people who are basically tremendous douchebags. Some of the stories I could tell would curdle your blood, which is a tease, so I'll just give you some quick anonymous anecdotes of some of the things that have happened at cons. No, I will never reveal the people responsible for these anecdotes. Don't email me about it. No, the variable letters used are not "clues" and many details have been left out, but here's a brief taste of some of the unfortunate things that have happened at the hands of some of the few less agreeable VAs out there:

* [X] agreed to attend the birthday party of a down-and-out fan at the request of said fan's concerned father, only after demanding that they serve a certain kind of cake. When the time came, [X] blew off the party for a chance to perform on stage.

* [Y] interrupted another voice actor's focus panel, announcing to the room that [Y] was signing autographs at a table outside. The room cleared in the middle of the other VA's panel.

* [B], [A], and [S] among others, are known for attempting to sleep with their fans at conventions. This is a common practice at most cons, anime or not, to be sure, but the aggressiveness of some of these people is legendary (and particularly embarassing). One was even known for specifically sleeping with a fan cosplaying as a character they played. Think about the psychological implications of that.

This isn't an attempt to out anyone or spill dirt, but it's just an illustration that no, not all of them are super nice folks, but they are in the minority. The majority that I've met have been aces, and I think American voice actors are some of the friendliest people you'll meet in any industry where the creative talent interacts with the fans.

I'm sure you get this a lot but why do some voice actors change their names??

Hey, this is a short one.

Voice actors change their names in order to do non-union work. Hiring a union actor means a mountain of paperwork and increased costs - for instance, your average VA, when working for a studio looking to hire actors willing to work outside of the union, gets paid $30, maybe $40 per hour to do voiceover work. If they go union, they saddle their potential employer with a huge pile of extra work and a salary increase; union rules dictate that the minimum you can pay a union actor for voice work is around $50. It's not THAT much more, but really it's the colossal headache of dealing with the union.

So, to get more work, actors will often assume a stage name and do voice work using that moniker to avoid the union coming down on them and put a little more food on the table. It's a very common practice and it isn't really that big a deal.

Some people ask me "How do you know the flakes aren't doing it on purpose, writing you awful letters specifically to wind you up and get themselves into the flake section?"

Here's an example of a fake flake. I'm pretty good at spotting the fakers.


I get a lot of these, actually, and honestly, they're just not very clever.

This thing is called a Tree Kangaroo. The nose kinda freaks me out but he sure is fuzzy.

Our question last week was "Is Anime Superior to American Film and Television?"

From reader Hope C.:

Is anime superior to Hollywood? Probably not, no. If you were to average all the crap and gold from both nations and analyze it, you'd see plenty of both. But, while it may not be inherently superior, I prefer the storytelling conventions of Japanese anime to those of Hollywood based on (among other reasons) one big factor.

Decent anime doesn't make me feel exploited. Lemme explain.

Clichés are clichés, and both America and Japan's entertainment industries are rife with their own, but, to me, there seems to be a smaller threshold for "we're doin' this just 'cuz it sells"-bred clichés in anime than there is in America. Those kind are BAD because they poison the story arc itself, and not just a small facet of the plot.

American movies like "The Prestige," "Se7en," and on the animated side of things, "The Iron Giant" and "Toy Story" managed to entertain basic audiences without resorting to tried-and-true emotional pullstrings, but the majority of Hollywood films, (comedies and action movies are by far the biggest culprits,) seem hell-bent on giving audiences exactly what they want while being marginally different from every other "summer flick," and sending them home after the hero's misguided past is changed, he's made out with the heroine, and everything is happy again.

(Exploitation doesn't have to be happy endings. Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and ESPECIALLY 3 take a money-making story and favor money for story to a miserable extent. Pick out your own story hacks in those. I was SO disappointed…)

But while anime is horribly guilty of "just like the hero, but slightly different" baddies, faaaaanservice, and trite use of flowers, these surface conventions are a pittance compared to the overwhelming tendency of anime to NOT give the audience what it (thinks) it wants in favor of furthering the overall story. How many "everything's perfect now" endings do you see in anime? Not many, even in the happier, fluffier fare. (Everyone's seen "Fruits Basket," I hope? Managed to be VERY uplifting without resorting to forgettable plug-and-go events.)

Speaking of story events, for every "Psycho" and "Sixth Sense" whopper twist in Hollywood, there seems to be about twenty in even the lesser-known anime titles. Comes with an honest, well-paced story, not a brilliant writer. No twist is entirely new, trust me, they've all been done before somewhere.

Not to mention the extreme popularity of even small characters in various anime over the newest generic character (not actor, mind you,) in Hollywood film. I guarantee you that it's due to good anime's penchant for more realistic, ambiguous characters over "good guy," "bad guy, "hot chick," "nerd" stereotypes in even very good Hollywood movies.

For people like myself who can't tolerate fluffy BS, that's reassuring.

I like the Trigun and Cowboy Bebop anime. Trigun has an OVERWHELMING count of story flaws, and the animation is…decrepit at times. Bebop borrows insanely much from other famous films and stories, and with few exceptions, each episodic tidbit is simple and predictable. And yes, all three clichés I mentioned above are present and accounted for in the shows, but both succeed at telling an engaging story with dimensional characters that does not pander down to anybody, clichés or no clichés. Tone down those surface flaws even more and you end up with a masterpiece like Fullmetal Alchemist, which I can't ever imagine coming out of Hollywood.

But storytelling is storytelling, so there's always the hope that it will someday. 

Another, from Ellen Kuhfeld:

I'm older than the standard demographic for anime, so I can't speak for everybody. Given that --
I've had sixty years to see what American TV and movies do. By and large, I've seen it all. Been there, done that, have the t-shirt, don't wear it anymore because it's old and faded.
Anime gives me something fresh. It may have been done a thousand times in Japan, but I wasn't there to watch it. "Superior" I cannot say. "Different", I can. After a while, you get hungry for different.

From Petrea Mitchell:

Short answer: Yes, but not really.

Coherent answer: First, there's a selection effect. Only the better stuff makes it out of Japan. I'm sure that, just as American TV is busy trying to make a every possible variation of CSI and American Idol, Japanese viewers are being subjected to a hundred crappy clones of Naruto and Pokemon and Haruhi Suzumiya that the English-speaking world will never even hear about. So the anime that we see is better on average than American TV and film as a whole, but we're not seeing the whole picture with anime.

The other big thing is that anime provides themes and approaches which American TV and film are not interested in at the moment. Sometimes it's a whole type of story-- can you imagine something like Princess Tutu, for instance, being done by an American studio in this day and age? It could be something like arc-based storytelling, which, for all the hullaballoo about Lost and Battlestar Galactica, is not common on American TV. I've discovered that, though I'm not an artist and hardly notice color normally, watching anime and admiring the visuals hastotally turned me off the underlit, undercolored look that most Americanshows are going for right now.

And then, for some people, it's that they want to see tons teenage girls with improbable anatomy.

If you like something that anime has and American TV and film don't, then anime is a superior choice for you. But that doesn't mean American TV and film couldn't do those things very well if they came into fashion.

I see a lot of parallels between anime fandom now and the intense enthusiasm for British TV shows in the sf and related communities in the '70s-'90s. Again, we were only seeing the cream of the crop. Again, the really popular shows were of a type American TV wasn't interested in producing.

The enthusiasm has waned, though. Partly because the BBC changed direction and now produces more American-like shows, and partly because British TV has become more mainstream to Americans. Through cable, and through Americanized copies (American Idol, Big Brother, and Weakest Link, to name but a few), we're seeing a much larger cross-section of British TV, and some of it good, and some of it is not so good.

If anime continues to become more and more popular, I expect to see grousing about how it *used* to be better than American TV and film, but the golden age has passed. And it won't really be that the quality has gone down, it'll just be that we see a more complete picture.

As long as it's still possible to find the good stuff, I won't complain.

Finally, from Andrew Schmidt:


Here's our topic for this week:

Now you've got this week's question, and it's time to get answerin'.

For those of you new to Hey, Answerfans!, I'll explain the concept.

Believe it or not, I'm genuinely curious what you think.

That's right; as much as I love the sound of my own voice, I do love to listen to what other people have to say on a subject. I'm finding that over the last few years, the attitudes, reasoning and logic that today's anime fans use eludes, confuses or astounds me; I hve so many questions for you, and I'm dying to hear what you have to say in response.

Welcome to Hey, Answerfans!

Basically, we're turning the tables. Each week I'm going to ask you a question, and I want you to email me your answer. Be as honest as you can. I'm looking for good answers; not answers I agree with or approve of, but good, thoughtful answers
. People feel passionately about these subjects and I'd like to see that in the responses I get. I'll post the best answers I get, and maybe some of the crappy ones. Sometimes there may only be one or two good ones; sometimes five or more. It all depends on what I get in my inbox! Got it? Pretty simple, right? Start writing those answers and email them to answerman [at] animenewsnetwork dot com.

We do have a few simple ground rules to start with.

Things To Do:

* Be coherent.
* Be thoughtful.
* Be passionate.
* Write as much or as little as you feel you need to to get your point across in the best possible way.

Things Not To Do:

* Respond when the question doesn't apply to you. For instance, if your email response starts with "Well, I don't do whatever you're asking about in the question... " then I'm going to stop reading right there and hit delete.
* Be unnecessarily rude or use a lot of foul language.
* Go off-topic.

So check this space next week for your answers to my questions!

See you all next week!

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