How Do Anime Companies Quality-Check Their Work?

by Justin Sevakis,

Brian asks:

What sort of QA process to anime companies have? I ask this because it seems to me that I've come across a whole variety of issues that at points seem unacceptable for a retail release, such as a sub only show completely missing a spoken line, and dubs where they forgot to put in a voiced line. Sometimes companies are willing to publicly acknowledge and fix the problems, but some companies just never say anything, never fix the problem and it leaves a bad impression for me to buy from that company again.

Quality control, or QC as it's known in the entertainment business, is a thankless, difficult job. It's also a low paying entry-level job, one that often ends in burn-out. Basically, you get paid to sit there and watch anime... which sounds pretty spectacular until you realize that you have to sit through the WHOLE THING. With every single language and subtitle option turned on. Possibly multiple times. No matter how much you might love/hate the show. And you can't zone out even for a second, because success or failure hinges on your ability to proof-read and spot tiny audiovisual errors.

The process for doing this varies greatly from publisher to publisher. Many of the smaller publishers don't really have a formal process -- someone at the office simply has to watch through the whole thing. If they're busy, or not well-trained in what to look out for, it's quite possible for mistakes to slip through the cracks. Funimation and probably Sentai have dedicated in-house staff who are trained in how to check a disc for issues.

Middle sized publishers tend to outsource QC to specialty companies such as Check Disc Labs, BluFocus or 3rd i Digital Media, all of which are LA-based facilities that specialize in that sort of thing. Based on the directions of the client, those companies will come up with a big list of potential issues, ranging from gigantic show-stoppers ("episode 4 has a giant glitch at 12:34") to minor things (the audio language code during the main menu is set to English, but the song that's playing is in Japanese). Sometimes they'll flag issues that are just part of the show, and there's nothing that anyone can do about it. Whoever's producing the disc can then go through the list and decide what to fix and what's safe to ignore.

Optimally, a newly arrived master from Japan should immediately be QC'ed to check for any drop-outs or glitches in the supplied materials. Subtitles need to be proof-read, dub audio needs to be listened through. Audio also needs to be checked with a scope to verify that stereo sound is in phase and set consistently to the proper volume. Subtitles need to be checked for legibility, placement, timing and consistency, to say nothing of whether they're consistent or not. Menus need to be checked for navigation, and to make sure certain features are locked out at the appropriate times. (For example, you shouldn't be able to pause or fast-forward while the main menu is open.) The order of what direction you go in when you press the directional buttons on your remote must also be checked. Extra info, like the disc name, the thumbnail graphics that pop up on a Playstation, and region code are also factors.

With so many moving parts, and such a ridiculous laundry list of things to check, you can imagine it's REALLY easy to miss checking something, or to overlook something if you're short on time. Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes a dumb mistake gets though. Bigger operations like Funimation and the outside QC vendors have long, exhaustive checklists to go through. But even with such tools, it's easy to miss little things, like a misspelling in a subtitle. Given how complicated these discs are, it's a miracle more gigantic show-stopping bugs don't end up on discs (that subtitle error you see in the header image for this article is from the Kaze release of Bakuman in the UK).

All of these tests are performed on a DVD-R or BD-R copy of the disc before it's sent to the replication plant. If a mistake is found after the replication plant has prepared a glass master for stamping out discs, it can cost several thousand dollars to go back and make any additional changes. Sometimes it's just not worth it.

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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