I've Got A Blank Space Baby

by Justin Sevakis,

Oscar nominations were announced last week, and so I got the usual questions this week about The Tale of Princess Kaguya's chances at taking home Oscar gold. I get these questions every year, so I'm not going to do the whole song and dance about how Oscar voters are predominantly old, white, male actors who don't really know or care that much about animation, and don't "get" anime and its unique visual language in general. However, I can say that this year, Takahata actually has a pretty decent shot.

I say this for a few reasons: first, it's actually a good movie that adults can enjoy, which is more than I can say for nearly all of the other nominees. Second, it plays RIGHT into aging Academy members' love of themes of death, passing time, and the bonds of family. It doesn't challenge the beliefs of less cosmopolitan voters that Japan is some far off, exotic place that's very different from White People Land. It's Takahata's final film, and although he's nowhere near as well known as Hayao Miyazaki, simply being associated with Studio Ghibli will earn him some brownie points, as will his having a long and storied career -- with this being his final curtain call.

Is Princess Kaguya a lock? Hardly. Song of the Sea, also a GKIDS release, has just as good of a chance. Or Oscar voters could just throw the category to their kids and relentless studio campaigning and throw it to Big Hero 6. It's a weak year for animated films, and for movies in general. We'll all just have to wait and see.

Jake asks:

I have been wondering about anime disc recalls and trade ins for a while. I am aware that on very rare occasion something will go wrong after the first run or overlooked until its too late. For instance they used the wrong master tape, the packaging fell apart, or the sales were better than expected and they decided to dub said series and they offered a trade in program people who bought the sub only disks. What happens to all the returned copies? Do the simply rewrite the disks or are they recycled or disposed of like the ET video game?

In the vast majority of cases, those discs will indeed end up in a landfill, or hopefully these days, a recycling plant. (All parts of a DVD package, from the case to the insert to the disc itself can be recycled these days.) If the issue is something that went wrong in the disc's manufacturing -- say, the layers of a disc becoming unlaminated, or packaging that's falling apart, samples will be sent to the manufacturer so that the problem can be addressed in the future (and that refunds can be given to the publisher).

But in almost all cases, those discs will be trashed.

James asks:

What ever happened to Vancouver anime dubs? Been watching through both InuYasha series and Ranma 1/2 and this has had me thinking aside from a handful of older shows that have gotten continuations like InuYasha and Black Lagoon it feels like there haven't been many this decade. I remember seeing them rather often in the late 00s but by the start of this decade it seems like they've up and vanished.

There's a few things that happened. First of all, anime dubs themselves became a lot less common. We went from an era where pretty much everything got dubbed, to an era where only a percentage of shows getting US releases were getting dubbed. Of those that were getting dubbed, nearly all were being done "at home" by Funimation or Sentai Filmworks.

Of the handful of companies that were still outsourcing dub production, they mostly ended up moving their jobs to the Los Angeles area. LA dubs have always been more expensive -- good voice talent is usually union, and British Columbia gives outrageous tax subsidies to foreign producers doing work in the area. However, there was also a feeling that Vancouver area dubbing studios simply weren't doing as good of a job as they had in the past.

The "middle class" of anime dubs have disappeared, in a sense. Either you do it really cheaply by yourself, or you hire union talent in LA, which has the widest and most diverse talent pool of any voice acting community in the English speaking world. And even here in LA, dubbing isn't THAT much more expensive. For dub producers, if you're going to pay the money to dub something, it's far less risky to pay a little more and have a better chance of getting a quality dub.

Also, from a marketing perspective, it's easier to get American voice actors to show up to anime conventions, which are predominantly in the US.

Yen asks:

What group usually originates a show's English title? Some shows seem to have indecipherable word salad titles that almost too obviously come from the original Japanese team. And while truly graceful titles sound like they're the product of native English speakers (Kids on the Slope, Sunday Without God), I'm definitely willing to believe that quite a few come from Japanese writers as well.

Your sense is pretty much on the money. The official English names for anime tend to be something of an afterthought during the production process. At some point while the international sales offices are preparing to simulcast the show overseas, someone will inevitably ask what the English title will be. A few people might come up with a list of suggestions based on the Japanese title, and ideally somebody at some point will ask a more marketing-savvy native English speaker for their thoughts. Of course, this is all assuming the originally intended title wasn't already in English, however wonky it might be.

Ultimately the question gets punted back to the original creator, or "gensakusha." This person may or may not actually have a decent grasp of English, but often they think they do, and they might ignore everybody's advice and come up with something that's basically the grammatical equivalent of a 3-year-old pounding on a QWERTY keyboard. There's a chance that, later, somebody might be able to persuade them to change their minds, or point out obvious errors. (Anybody remember Elemental Gelade? It's original English title was "Erementar Gerad"! I love trying to say that out loud.)

People who grew up used to Japanese seem to be much more comfortable with using language in unconventional, playful ways than native English speakers. That's why you get weird things like periods in titles (Kobato., The "Hentai" Prince and the Stony Cat.), uncommon punctuation (Tokyo Ghoul √A, _summer, ∀ Gundam), weird outdated slang (Bodacious Space Pirates) and just plain gibberish (Cool Cool Bye). Checking the internet, it looks like the general favorite nonsense English anime title is "Bleach," a cleaning agent that has absolutely nothing to do with the show or its subject matter. Definitely head on over to the forum to tell us your favorites!

Vincenzo asks:

As I go through credits for anime and look at references I see the name Tetsu Dezaki and Satoshi Dezaki used nearly interchangeably. For example in Helen McCarthy's The Art of Osamu Tezuka it says Marine Express is directed by Osamu Tezuka and Co-directed by Tetsu Dezaki while the ANN encyclopedia lists Satoshi Dezaki as chief director. Why are both names used, which the the more accurate name to use?

Satoshi Dezaki (which is how his name is properly anglicized and pronounced) isn't as well known as his late brother Osamu. His given name, which is written 哲, is a kanji that can also be read as "Tetsu" or "Akira". (By the way, it means, "clear" or "philosophy.") At some point back in the VHS era, the wrong reading of this kanji was used when a licensor was providing Romanized credits to a Western publisher, and those mistyped credits found their way everywhere. I don't know what reference materials McCarthy used for her book, or if she made that mistake on her own, or whether it came from those credits (or a reference that came from those credits).

Japanese names are horrifyingly confusing to romanize, since most kanji can be read in any number of ways, and many creative types take all sorts of liberties with how they like to romanize and/or pronounce them. I once asked a Japanese teacher how the hell you can tell what someone's name is by looking at how it's written, and her answer was, "you ask them." I can only imagine how well THAT works when you're sitting in a waiting room.

And that's all for this week! Got questions for me? Send them in! The e-mail address, as always, is answerman (at!)

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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