Why Are Some Dubs Adapted So Much?

by Justin Sevakis,

Victoria asks:

I like watching Hetalia since the beginning because of the little references to world history. I tried watching the dubbed version, but all the dialogue changed to have a lot of cursing and pop culture jokes which I can't stand and caused the show to get a M rating. Did Funimation get permission to heavily edit the anime's content? Do companies get certain artistic liberties to edit some anime shows scripts?

The days of an anime getting hacked up and modified without the licensor's knowledge are long gone. These days, every aspect of anime localization is subject to close supervision and scrutiny by the original producers. Everything from casting choices to dub rewrites requires approval that, depending on the structure of the show's production committee, often goes all the way up to the creator of the franchise. While hack 'n' slash dubs still happen once in a great while, all of those modifications are approved. Rewrites generally get approved easier than edits.

All that is to say, yes, for any dub made within the last decade, the show's producers were on board with whatever changes are being made. This doesn't always mean that everyone on the Japanese side is talking to each other -- the licensor might have signed off on script changes but the director himself might not be aware of what's going on. Sometimes the supervision can be lax, and the English script writer might be a little too willing to put his or her own stank on a show, but this is generally pretty rare these days. The dub staff does not operate in a vacuum.

Anime distributors make dubs for one reason and one reason only: to reach a bigger and more mainstream audience. That's what the distributor wants, and that's what most Japanese licensors want. Obviously, this works better for some shows than for others. Localization takes a lot of effort, far more than a regular dub. Comic timing is already difficult, so making new jokes land properly WHILE maintaining lip-flap with pre-existing animation can be quite a challenge.

Shows like Sgt. Frog and Shin-Chan went through multiple adaptation attempts and pilot episodes before all the parties involved settled on a single approach to the material. They chose to adapt because they wanted to reach a larger audience -- those are both very mainstream properties in Japan, and everyone was hoping for at least a similar type of success here. Often, aspects of the original show don't translate, and only the hardcore otaku demand fealty to the original presentation. If they can put a new spin on a show and get it on television, they could potentially have a mainstream hit on their hands, worth way more than what the otaku market can pay for a show.

So what you are seeing with these dubs is largely the distributor and the licensor coming together to try and make a show more successful to a different-than-originally-intended audience. I'm unaware of any recent successes (I sure do know of a lot of failures), but they do keep trying.

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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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