Why Do Voice Actors Perform Multiple Roles In Dubs?

by Justin Sevakis,

Kevin asks:

I've been notching that in the credits that some of our voice actors play 3-5 characters. While in the Japanese's cast all voice actors have a different person and only play one person. Why is that? Also some voice actors in japan play characters that have only a single line and its always deferent person while the english voice is played by the same person who is currently playing other characters.

You can probably guess this, but it's largely a matter of economics.

Japan's voice actor industry is quite big and very developed. There are quite a few agencies, and a whole pool of veteran and new and upcoming talent that are all always looking for work. These new and inexperienced actors are constantly seeking out bit parts to build their resumé, and their agents are always looking to get them jobs so they can climb the ladder.

The American dub industry is nowhere near that organized. Very few voice actors are surviving by voice acting alone -- the pay is so low that anime work is often thought of as secondary income. While there are management agencies for voice talent, few of them bother with anime work. As a result, casting is something of a chaotic process where the dub staff goes through their rolodex and chooses a handful of people that they know to be decent actors and perhaps fit the roles. There's really only time to hold auditions for significant roles.

That leaves bit parts, which would take a ridiculously long amount of time to cast and yet only a few minutes to actually record. If the voice actor is union, they'd have to be paid as if they spent at least two hours in the booth. It's simply not cost effective to bring in another person. Under these conditions, it's hard to bring in new and untested talent, which is also a reason why we don't see new actors show up very often. When time and budgets are tight, you have to stick to people you know are up to the task.

Many dubs over the years have simply brought office staff into the booth to do a quick cameo. This often leads to poor results, wherein the main cast of a dub sounds fine, but all of the incidental characters are nails-on-chalkboard terrible. Eventually it became clear that it was easier to give those lines to someone who already has a part in the show, and simply ask them to perform in a different tone of voice. Some voice actors have range, and can really mix it up. Some can't.

The good news is that by not wasting money, dubs can continue to be made. And to be honest, very few people ever pick up that multiple roles are being voiced by the same people.

Dubbing costs have never really recovered from the cost cutting that occurred as the anime DVD bubble was bursting back in 2006 and 2007. There's still a huge need to keep casts small and recording time as efficient as possible. Moreover, the switch to faster, closer-to-Japanese-release dubbing (simuldubs) has necessitated a much less ambitious approach. Dubs have to be turned out fast if they're to be profitable at all.

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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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