How Do You Cast Celebrities In An Anime Dub?

by Justin Sevakis,

John asks:

When you cast a dub full of celebrities like Only Yesterday, how is that process different from casting a "regular" anime dub that uses the usual pool of actors?

Anime dubbing is a decidedly low-end affair when it comes to the entertainment business. Usually, there's not much time or money, and getting well-known actors in voice roles is just not on the radar. The goal is to get a dub done well, and cheaply, and quickly. To do that, the people in charge of casting dubs pick from a small list of people that they know can do the job and fit the roles.

But sometimes, albeit rarely, an anime publisher feels the need to go for broke, and cast some actual big names in the dub. The usual thinking behind this is that it's a way to get mainstream entertainment press to pay attention to the project. It's debatable whether that actually works. Anime fans largely don't seem to care -- they just want a good quality dub.

Since "stunt casting" a dub is usually a one-off affair, there's no process in place when it comes to finding celebrity voice talent. Often, the dub crew will get together and try to figure out who might have connections to recognizable names, and who might be up for a quick job that won't require any hair and makeup (or travel). The crew makes a short wish list of names, and they go down the list reaching out to agents to see if they're interested.

Stunt casting is exceedingly rare. Geneon, then called Pioneer Animation, once attempted it a few times, casting Kiefer Sutherland and Elizabeth Berkeley in Armitage III, Robert Loggia in their hacked up dub of the Dog of Flanders movie, and probably a few others. Disney, of course, casts household names in its dubs of Ghibli movies. But of the companies that (semi) regularly put out anime, only GKids makes a regular practice of it -- and having grown out of the New York Children's Film Festival, the organization is well connected within the higher echelons of the showbiz community.

There are a ton of reasons not to cast big stars in dubs. First of all, they're usually orders of magnitude more expensive than a "normal" voice actor. They know that lending their name to a production has financial value, and that their involvement is going to be used as marketing. Unless that actor is a big fan of the show and is doing it out of prestige (as was the case with several cast in the Studio Ghibli films), they're going to want to charge quite a premium for that.

More significantly, working live action actors can be very hard to pin down. Their availability is often blocked out for months and months at a time -- they'll spend six months in Toronto to shoot a TV show, another three to shoot an indie film in Georgia, and then spend four months doing a play. Getting them to agree to do a project any longer than a movie is nearly impossible -- they're simply not available. And even if they live in New York or LA, they're very often just never home.

Can on-screen actors even do voice acting? Some can, some can't. The vast majority are simply not used to dubbing work. Even though the process is very similar to ADR work on a live action project, the work of voice acting can be very unnatural to an actor who isn't used to it. Many genuinely great actors can turn in a very stiff voice performance unless a skilled director can really work with them to get them comfortable with the process. And that takes time. And money.

Even worse, some VERY big stars have attitudes. I've heard stories of one very major celebrity who refused to even attempt to match their character's lip flap, forcing the poor engineer to slice up a million takes to get a seamless performance that worked. Most major actors are just fine to work with, though. It's just that they're very expensive, and often not going to sell any more copies for having their name attached, which makes them of dubious value to anime dubbing.

As an aside, former hentai publisher Adult Source Media once dubbed a handful of hentai with the voices of well-known porn stars, such as Asia Carrera and Kobe Tai. That was obviously a very different era. I can't remember the last hentai that even GOT a dub. (And before you ask, I have no idea if those dubs were any good. I mean, how many hentai dubs were even listenable?)

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. Please note that he does not take question submissions via Twitter.

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