Answerman
Why Would A Licensor Require a Dub?

by Justin Sevakis,

Ryan asks:

I have never thought of this until I read about the Skip Beat! kickstarter. Why would a Japanese company require a english dub for an American company to license a property? Wouldn't they be just as happy with a sub only release as long as its getting released here. Its money in their pocket either way.

Full disclosure: I am slated to work on Skip Beat if its Kickstarter campaign is successful.

To be sure, requiring there to be an English dub is not a normal condition for the release of a show. The vast majority of the time such decisions are left entirely to the American publisher of a show. Most licensors would prefer that a dub get made -- having an English version potentially unlocks a more mainstream segment of the fanbase that requires one to watch it. But they know that this isn't 2002, and that not every show has the sales potential to be able to support the cost of a dub. Deciding which is which is something they prefer to leave to the Western publishers, who know the market better than they do.

I can think of a few scenarios where a licensor would require that a dub be made as a stipulation of overseas release. Most of those scenarios include either the show's producer, original creator, or both, dreaming of some international credibility for their work, simply wanting there to be an English version. Both of these people are incredibly powerful when it comes to anime licensing, and it could very well be their own desire to see the show dubbed in English that would make it a condition of release.

It's not without precedent, however. In years past, licensors would commission English dubs themselves when such an occasion came up. Take, for example, Sunrise's recent production of their own dubs of recent Gundam series. Previously, Tezuka Productions considered the English version to be so important that they commissioned their own dub of the Black Jack OVAs and movie before even soliciting the rights to an overseas distributor. (Central Park Media only took charge of dubbing the final four episodes of the series, which followed years later.) In that case, Black Jack was something of a prestige title that had a distinctly international feel. Shows like Macross Plus and Kite both got special English-with-Japanese-subtitles releases (even if the last episode of Macross Plus had to be re-dubbed with a different cast due to a materials-related squabble with Manga Video). If we go back even earlier, we have the "International version" of Megazone 23 Part II that was commissioned for Japanese release.

English dubbed versions of anime were never all that common in Japan. Some hardcore Japanese otaku do import the US releases of their favorite shows and check out what their favorite characters sound like in English, but that's not all that common. When an English dub is released on a Japanese disc, it's usually a prestige thing: the producers are extremely proud that the show made a mark overseas and want to showcase its success. I don't know whether Skip Beat's English dub will get a Japanese release or not, but just the fact that a dub might get made could mean something to the show's creators.

The other reason I could see for this happening is as something of a test. Kickstarting anime releases, particularly for previously unlicensed niche shows, is still a new thing. Most of the successful campaigns from the past few years were for short movies or OVAs, most of which already had a dub and several old releases behind them. And while Pied Piper had phenomenal success with their Time of Eve Kickstarter, it's not yet clear if they can replicate that success for a somewhat long TV series.

I don't see stipulations like this ever being a common thing, but I can definitely understand why, from the licensor's point of view, it would make sense in this case.


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


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