Why Are Some Gundam Series Getting Simultaneous Dubs?

by Justin Sevakis,

Matt asks:

I've been surprised how first Gundam Unicorn and now Gundam the Origin have been getting simultaneous dubs upon release. Even though Unicorn's North American release got thrown into the chaos surrounding Bandai Entertainment's closure, Unicorn consistently released dubbed alongside its Japanese audio counterpart. Besides these UC series Bandai hasn't put much effort (until Iron-Blooded Orphans) in promoting or releasing even subtitled releases in the West. Is it because they're OVAs that they get this sort of treatment?

Gundam Unicorn was extremely popular in Japan, but even before it came out it was considered a "prestige" release -- a big-budget spectacular that would serve to restore the franchise's standing with old school fans who had long since checked out of the scene, and bring in new ones. Calling it the Gundam equivalent of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is probably putting it too strongly, but it's basically the same idea.

Sunrise is no stranger to producing English dubs. The company was extremely hands-on when it came to supervising dub production during many series' initial release at Bandai Entertainment, and the initiative to simuldub Kurokami The Animation back in the day really started with Sunrise.

So when it came time to figure out what to do with Gundam Unicorn, Sunrise tapped Michael Sinterniklaas at NYAV Post, who happens to be a good friend of mine. He verified for me that the reason the dub was made, at least initially, was to give such an important Gundam installment a true international release. The original producers could tap a dub studio of their own choosing, and directly supervise production, at the same time as the Japanese version is being made. Audio directors can compare notes. The show director can convey thoughts and intention to the ADR director while it's still fresh in his head. Ideally, the English version can better reflect the creator's intentions.

The initial plan was to distribute Gundam Unicorn through Bandai Entertainment, just as repackaged Japanese Blu-rays. When Bandai Entertainment shut down, Right Stuf was quickly brought in to fill the void, and they quickly produced lower cost DVDs. I don't think Sunrise ever really intended the show to be a big, blow-the-doors-off hit in the English speaking world, but rather, they simply wanted to make it a worldwide event to anybody that wanted to see it. Some marketing dollars were spent, but this project was always intended for old school mecha fans, not a general audience. That's the nature of OVAs. And at Japanese prices, it doesn't need to sell very many copies to make a good deal of money. Just selling a few hundred copies overseas can make the whole thing worthwhile.

Truly dubbing a show simultaneously like this is far more time intensive and expensive than a normal dub, or even a slightly-delayed dub such as what Funimation does. Initial recording is done to pencil tests, much like the Japanese version. There are lots of retakes once the animation is finalized and the lip-flap is set in stone, and notes from the original producers are incorporated into the show.

Is it worth it? We'll never know how many units Gundam Unicorn moved outside of Japan (its Blu-ray price was quite high, after all), but the show was a resounding success in any event. And evidently Sunrise was satisfied enough by the experience that they're returning to do Gundam the Origin in a similar manner.

While these are both highly-funded, top-shelf productions, and this manner of dubbing is likely not workable for anime on a TV schedule, it is yet another example of Japanese companies becoming more involved in the English release of their shows.

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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