How Are English Dub Voice Actors Cast?

by Justin Sevakis,

Dakota asks:

After watching Shirobako I gained a general understanding of how the Japanese voice actors are cast for anime. The process was basically what one would expect, but it got me wondering: How do English distributors like Funimation choose who will voice each roll? I know that there are relatively few (at last compared to Japanese voice actors) dubbing voice actors to choose from, but how is the processes similar or different? One thing I have noticed recently is that some of the English cast sound very similar to the Japanese cast. Is this a factor that goes into consideration when choosing who will voice a character?

Anime dubbing is a pretty quick and cheap process, and there's not really a "typical" way they get cast. In fact, there's not even a set person who DOES casting -- sometimes it's the director, sometimes it's a separate casting or talent coordinator. Regardless, someone is in charge of casting a dub.

When a new show is about to be dubbed, the person in charge of casting goes through whatever materials are available -- either the show itself, or if it isn't available yet, any and all promo material that's been made at that point. They write a casting break-down: a list of characters each with a few notes about them and what they sound like, and their general attitude and feel. They note the gender, how old or young they sound, and anything else that they can think of that might help them cast the role. Most of the time, a couple of established voice actor names will spring to mind for at least a few of the roles.

Ideally at this point, there will be time and money to do a full casting call. The actors that immediately sprang to mind will be invited, of course, as will a handful of others from the pool of ready and able talent that all dub studios keep on hand for such things. The voice actors come in, one at a time (not all at once, like in Japan), and read a few lines for several characters. (The character they came in for is quite often not who they get cast as!) Then the director and whoever is paying for the dub sit down, listen to the auditions, and figure out who should play what role.

That's what happens ideally. However, these days not many dubs can afford the time and money to do things the right way. Often the cast will be selected from each actor's pre-existing reputation and work. Since many times the show itself is not yet complete and nobody really knows what direction the roles take, the studio will opt to cast someone that sounds very similar to the Japanese actor -- it's the safe thing to do, after all. However, there are only so many squeaky sounding girls and people that can pass as a prepubescent boy. Boy voices are typically the hardest to cast -- there's not that many American female voice actors that can pull it off well. The talent coordinator will call and see if that actor is available, and if they are, they get the part.

Most licensors don't really care to be part of the casting process, but many want to at least hear the demos of who got cast in each role, just to make sure the project isn't going off the rails. They also would prefer to get a voice actor that sounds like the Japanese cast, since their goal is to have an English presentation that matches the Japanese as much as possible.

Those are for major roles. Minor roles aren't worth going through the casting process, for the most part. Depending on how big or small the role, most dub studios will just find someone who happens to be around the office and say, "hey, got a minute to record a line or two for me?" They go in, do a quick few lines, and walk back out again, often uncredited. There's really not the time or money to do much else. That's why so many older dubs have such terrible incidental performances -- they're literally just people from around the office. These days, since many dub studios have several projects going on at once, there are usually a few known decent actors milling about. So while they're around, they're asked to cameo on other shows.

So that's how dubs get cast. It's usually by the skin of their teeth, and in something of a panic. Just like every other part of this business.

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.

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