Why Are Adapted Dubs Still Being Made?

by Justin Sevakis,

Mitchell asks:

So I wanna know, why do bad dubs continue to exist to this day? I find it odd that dubbing companies out there still continue to do things that they know will annoy the fans like replace background music, throw in bad puns that they have no business making, cover up Japanese related stuff, and other practices that are seriously frowned upon. 4kids (the biggest offender of bad dubs) went out of business years ago, yet for some reason their unpopular practices continue to be practiced with dubs like Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh Zexel, which might as well still be under 4kids control. Why haven't these dubbing companies learned from the successes of dubs like Naruto, FullMetal Alchemist, Inuyasha and Attack on Titan that you can have a good true to the original dub, and be successful? Also if these dubbing companies refuse to get their act together, what advice do you have on saving them from further harm?

Frowned upon by who? The "fans" you're referring to -- teen and older otaku who are still following these shows -- likely number in the low thousands. For Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh to be successful, they need to cater to literally every kid under 14 in North America, of which there are roughly 65 million (and usually even more on other continents, who get their versions modeled after ours). Many of these kids are too young to know anything about foreign countries. These shows are broadcast in areas where parents may not appreciate any perceived "foreign-ness" in their kids' entertainment. The shows are edited to correspond to fit TV broadcast regulations for kids' programming around the world, and timing-wise, fit something resembling a common standard for broadcasters for a half-hour timeslot.

All of this is necessary, and is done with the complete approval and supervision of the Japanese producers of the franchises. The shows themselves are DESIGNED to be re-scored and adapted based on Western tastes. Japan likes to score music in a way that's a little esoteric by Western standards, and their goal with these properties is to make them as unchallenging and palatable to kids and families from every possible walk of life. And so the music is replaced as a matter of course.

The entire reason these shows continue to exist is to keep the related merchandise -- Yu-Gi-Oh cards, Pikachu plush dolls, you name it -- selling in quantities that other anime properties could only dream of. Their goal is for the image of these characters to be imprinted on young minds, so that for the next 30+ years any related stimulus will result in the urge to buy that merchandise, for themselves or their kids. Every mass market cartoon franchise, from Mickey Mouse to Dora the Explorer, works this way.

And it works. Pokémon video games still sell around 8-14 million units per release. Yu-Gi-Oh has a Guinness World Record for most popular trading card game, having sold over 25 BILLION cards between 1999 and 2011. Due to their mass appeal -- carefully crafted to have as few sharp corners and Japanese-isms as possible -- these are the two biggest money makers Japan has ever produced, and they are still hugely important to their respective companies. (I mean, Pokémon's owner is LITERALLY called The Pokémon Company.)

I know you want these shows dubbed faithfully. Unfortunately, the number of people that want this is too few to matter. In fact, producing two separate dubs has a risk of confusing less educated customers, and could potentially damage the brand. Imagine a mom selecting a "weird version" of Pokémon for her kids to watch on Netflix, and in this one Ash is called Satoshi and Misty is Kasumi. The kids would complain, the mom would be angry, and both would possibly have less interest in Pokémon going forward. The dub might appease a small handful of older fans (you among them) but sales of that version would barely be enough to cover the cost of the additional dub. And there's a whole lot of potential downside.

The "success" achieved by Fullmetal Alchemist, Inu Yasha and Attack on Titan is, frankly, nowhere near good enough for these properties. Not one of those titles ever cracked a million units sold on DVD, and most of them probably petered out somewhere around the 100,000 unit mark, or a little less. That is absolute peanuts in the world of Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh. Anime fans are used to having their tastes catered to, but when a property is this mass-market, they simply don't matter one bit. They are not the target audience, and their numbers are so few that they are but a blip on the radar.

What on earth could you possibly do to "save them from further harm?" Nothing. The answer is nothing.

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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