Why Don't Anime DVDs Have Other Languages?

by Justin Sevakis,

Joel asks:

I have been wondering why most anime titles released in the United States only include two language options, the original Japanese version and English Dub. Except for Disney's Studio Ghibli releases and Batman: Gotham Knight, I have not seen any other anime films or TV shows include additional language options such as Spanish or French. Is it cost prohibitive for companies to either acquire a fully produced dub, such as a Latin American Spanish dub, or produce subtitles for their Blu-Ray and DVD releases?

Yes. Subtitles are already difficult to produce, so subtitles that aren't in your native language are quite a bit harder. The publisher would have to hire additional staff or an outside contractor to subtitle those shows into Spanish or French, and if nobody on staff at that company speaks those languages (which is likely), they have no way of checking to see if those contractors or employees are doing a good job. If they want a dub, they are reliant on another company in French and/or Spanish speaking areas to have dubbed it. Staffing up and developing best practices for both production and quality control would be a lot of additional work.

But even if they wanted to put subtitles on their discs in Spanish and French, most of the time American publishers are contractually restricted from doing so. Japan likes to break up their rights not only by territory, but by language. So, for example, a typical licensing agreement might cover all "English speaking territories, including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand," but will also specify that the show may be presented in ONLY English or Japanese.

If they really wanted to, the publishers could push back against this, and might be able to score those additional language rights without spending TOO much more money. But it's not clear that doing so is worth the trouble: the handful of additional sales that the disc might pick up from people who ONLY speak French of Spanish (who would then have to be marketed to in those languages so that they know they'd be able to understand those discs) is likely not worth the additional expense of producing or licensing an additional language track.

Nonetheless, there are a handful of North American anime releases that do include Spanish audio and/or subtitles. ADV's now very out-of-print Neon Genesis Evangelion DVDs had both a Spanish and French dub. Geneon's briefly-in-print releases of Fighting Spirit included a Spanish dub as well. More recently, discs from PONYCAN USA (Yuki Yuna is a Hero, Sound Euphonium, etc.) usually include Spanish subtitles, as does the interrupted Voyager release of Star Blazers 2199.

Full disclosure: I work on discs by PONYCAN USA and did those Star Blazers discs too.

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Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for nearly 20 years. He's 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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