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Why Are Dubs Only Made in L.A. and Texas?

by Justin Sevakis,

Luke asks:

Since the turn of the decade, it seems the only places to record dubs are Houston (Sentai), the Dallas-Fort Worth area (Funimation) and Los Angeles (Aniplex, Bang Zoom!). Canada used to make dubs, including Death Note and the Dragon Ball Z dub that gave us "It's over 9000!", but has done next to nothing recently. And with things like Xenoblade Chronicles and their practical monopolizing of the industry in that area, I'm pretty sure England and Australia's Madman Entertainment respectively could make a dub, along with other such English-speaking countries. So why does only America record dubs?

I answered a question similar to this a couple of years back, but I think this subject could use a do-over in a little more detail.

It's true, the vast, vast majority of anime dubs currently being made are being made in Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles, and occasionally New York City. This didn't used to be the case. In the past, anime dubs were made in Vancouver, Toronto, Wilmington (North Carolina), London, Singapore and Hong Kong, and many more dubs were made in New York City. (I'm unaware of any dubs being produced in Australia.) Each of these cities has their own reasons for things being the way they are.

That said, the entire post-production business has taken a huge hit over the past decade. The double-whammy of the financial crisis and the advance of technology has seriously diminished the usefulness of post-production companies in general. The easy availability of ProTools software, low-cost and high-quality microphones, and fast, cheap laptops have made it so that many jobs that were billable hours for these companies are now things that can be done at home in a closet with an iPhone and a $100 external microphone.

Anime dubbing is not one of those things that can be recorded in a home closet, but as a task that usually must be done on the cheap, it's subject to the whims of the greater entertainment business. Many of these same companies used to also do video post-production, and that, too, has become ludicrously easy and cheap to do on a standard computer. As a result, there has been a huge culling of audiovisual post-production facilities. And now that we have high speed internet, there's no particular reason a facility needs to be local to the publisher if they're to be supervised closely. Casting, mixes, and anything else can be monitored by a client from anywhere in the world, in real time. But back in the day, it was far better for publishers to work with someone local. They could drop by, interact directly with the voice actors, and supervise every aspect of production.

When the anime bubble started to pop in 2005-2006, there was a lot of pressure on dub vendors to cut their rates, which really put a squeeze on production and made the whole business far less lucrative. Production companies stopped trying to actively chase anime dubs because the money often just wasn't worth it. A few, like Bang Zoom and NYAV Post, kept at it simply because they liked anime, but diversified into other, better paying gigs. No dubbing studio that isn't owned by an anime distributor can exist anymore simply by dubbing anime.

Anime dubs are made in Dallas and Houston simply because that's where Funimation and Sentai Filmworks operate. Real estate is cheap in Texas, and as both companies (and ADV Films before) grew and matured, they decided it made more sense to hire full-time studio staff and build their own dubbing facilities. ADV also had a studio in Austin, called Monster Island, for a few years before the bubble burst. Over the years, the companies were able to foster a local community of voice talent, and achieve a fairly consistent level of quality (for the most part).

Los Angeles is home to Studiopolis (who works for Viz, GKIDS and Saban Brands), Bang Zoom (Viz, Aniplex, Pony Canyon, Sunrise, TMS and others), NYAV Post (Viz, GKIDS, Sunrise, Anime Ltd.), Dubbing Brothers (Sony Pictures), SDI Media (Netflix), and a ton of other post-production studios. The fact that LA is the entertainment production capitol of the world helped all of these companies weather the storm, and now that Netflix is putting a ton of money into having multiple language versions of everything, the dubbing and subtitling companies are quite busy these days. New Generation Pictures, once a regular vendor for Geneon and which now mostly does games, is here too, but Animaze (who mostly worked for Manga Video and Bandai Entertainment) and Media Concepts (Geneon, Bandai, Manga Video) did not survive. Nor did Sky Quest Entertainment, who did Princess Mononoke for Miramax, along with most of Urban Vision's catalog, or Elastic Media Corporation, who once did a handful of Bandai dubs. Recently, Japanese post-production powerhouse Imagica (with the help of government Cool Japan money) bought SDI Media, which dubbed Knights of Sidonia for Netflix.

New York City used to have quite a few dubbing studios, but was hit perhaps the hardest in the digital age and the economic crisis. NYAV Post does half of its production there, and DuArt Film and Video still dubs Pokémon there, but many of the prominent studios of the 90s and 2000s, including Taj Productions, Mercury Recording, Matlin Recording, Skypilot Entertainment, Audioworks Producers' Group (all of which were used by Central Park Media) are all out of the anime scene now. Audioworks still dubs cartoons from Italy, but the rest are gone. Headline Sound, which was frequently used by Right Stuf and occasionally Manga Video, is a 30-minute train ride outside of New York City, and is still around. Recently, Media Blasters has dubbed a handful of their own titles in New Jersey. (Thanks to revolutionotaku in the forums for pointing that out.) 4Kids Entertainment is obviously also kaput, as is their dubbing studio.

Wilmington, North Carolina has been a prominent film and video production area for decades, and it used to boast several prominent dub studios. Coastal Carolina Recording, who produced dubs for AnimEigo, Media Blasters and Bandai, went bankrupt but later respawned as Coastal Studios. Swirl, a studio that calls itself the "#1 Urban Film Production Company," once dubbed for AnimEigo and Media Blasters (mostly their hentai). Southwynde Studios was host to AnimEigo's early attempts at more hands-on dubbing. All three are still around, but no longer deal with anime. Similarly, Arvintel Media Productions, based in Atlanta, once churned out low-end dubs for Media Blasters, mostly for pervy or hentai titles. They are still around, and seem to have a diverse client base, as quite a lot of American and Hollywood-based production has moved to the area.

Vancouver has also long been a production hot spot, and Ocean Group was one of the earliest "big name" Anime Dub vendors, doing most of Viz Media's VHS-era releases, and later work for Bandai and Geneon. The company has never had a website, but is still dubbing anime through their sister studios Westwood Media Production, which also worked for Bandai and Geneon, and Calgary, Alberta's Blue Water Studios (which has recently done work on World Trigger and Bushiroad shows like Cardfight!! Vanguard.) Elsewhere in Canada, Optimum Productions in Toronto was famous for the original DiC dub of Sailor Moon, but was also used by Toei Animation's old sales agent Cloverway for a few other shows as well. They appear to be gone.

London was home to quite a few anime dubs back in the 90s, but most of them were produced by Manga Entertainment, initially for UK release. Central Park Media distributed many of these dubs in the US, and a few were distributed by Manga themselves once they opened a US office. Once they started hitting financial troubles, dub production was moved to Cardiff, Wales before the UK office was closed, and dubbing was moved to American vendors. Games are still dubbed in the UK, but anime happens only very rarely, such as with the UK version of The Secret Life of Arietty and the Professor Layton movie. (thanks SpacemanHardy)

There was a short time where local distributor Odex Pte. Ltd. out of Singapore dubbed anime for Bandai and Geneon, but their quality was too low (their prices were about 1/4 of an American production), and as that tiny country's miniscule market for DVDs dried up (and the local fans revolted after they sued torrent downloaders), Odex mostly faded away from public view, although they are still active as a licensing and distribution company. The only dubs that are still made in Southeast Asia are occasional productions for cable TV network Animax, but those are uncredited, so we don't really know where they come from. This is not unlike international sales dubs of OVAs like Dallos and movies like Locke the Superman, which are believed to have been dubbed in Hong Kong back in the 80s. Those dubs still show up on Discotek DVDs occasionally.

Today, anime dubs are made almost entirely in Texas, Los Angeles and occasionally New York. The Australian market isn't really big enough to support dubbing shows by itself, and on the rare occasion a UK company produces a dub, they hire an American studio. Anime dubbing is a peculiar thing, and fans are very demanding, so there simply isn't time or money to risk trying out a new company that's never done it before. In most cases, the whole world gets the same dub of a given show these days, and thanks largely to the internet, they usually get it fairly close to each other. I don't expect that trend to stop any time soon.

Full disclosure: I do contract work with Bang Zoom! Entertainment and have worked with NYAV Post.

Thanks to @Divinenega and @Mendinso for help in clarifying what's going on with Blue Water Recording.

Got questions for me? Send them in! The e-mail address, as always, is answerman (at!) animenewsnetwork.com.

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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