Why Doesn't Yaoi Anime Get Dubbed?

by Justin Sevakis,

DL Warner asks:

I see this lament on every Page or Blog dedicated to BL every time there is a new BL Anime simulcast. Why isn't BL ever dubbed? Is it because there is more of a stigma in the West for Voice Actors to do Gay roles? Or is it more of a money issue? BL is a niche market. Is it that distributors in the west don't think it's worth the extra money?

It's true, BL ("Boys' Love") and yaoi anime pretty much never get dubbed. Literally the only two gay romance-themed anime I can think of that ever got dubbed was Yuri!!! on Ice (obviously) and Descendants of Darkness. That's a gap of fifteen years in between where nothing got dubbed at all, unless I'm missing something.

[EDIT: I was. Gravitation, Mirage of Blaze, and a handful of others.]

The business reasons for this are pretty obvious: yaoi by its very nature is unlikely to be a "crossover hit" -- that is, something that can transcend its core fan base and reach the attention of the wider market. Gay romance and erotica themes turn off the vast majority of straight males. Only some women like it, and while some gay men like it, others are turned off by the writing, which for most yaoi titles, tends towards what women want to see rather than what guys actually are like.

That remaining audience of only some straight women and gay men is a pretty small portion of the anime audience, so the amount of success any yaoi property can have is inherently limited. That's true in Japan too, which is why most yaoi and BL anime are fairly low budget affairs. Releasing this stuff CAN be good business: the fans are passionate and can usually be counted on to support a new release. But there's only so many of them, so costs must be kept low if profit is to be made.

I think it's also worth bearing in mind that most anime companies are still run by straight guys who don't personally understand the appeal of yaoi and BL content. That's not an inherent flaw -- everybody has some type of content that they don't "get," so if they're going to serve that market, they have to rely on the tastes of other people. But when you do that, you tend to be a little bit cautious with how much you invest in the things you aren't personally familiar with or acclimated to. These days, with most shows being simulcast, there are streaming numbers to rely on, making the case for dubbing the hits a much easier one.

I don't think finding people to dub yaoi would be a problem. Gay people are so prevalent in acting circles that almost anybody who's gone to acting classes probably has at least a handful of gay friends, and would be quite comfortable reading some homoerotic stuff into a microphone. In fact, I'd bet that most straight voice actors would actually be excited for the challenge. (I mean, recording a dub would mean they're alone in a dead silent room, making eye contact with nobody, so this isn't exactly a huge leap outside of most reasonable people's comfort zone.)

Yuri!!! on Ice shocked the hell out of everyone. It was just SO GOOD that it blew away all expectations and became an actual hit, honest-to-goodness crossover hit, not in spite of its subject matter but because of it. And will you look at that: it got a dub! But it's hard to say if and when something like that will happen again with another show. Given what they are, yaoi and BL anime mostly remain a niche market release, something that will sell too few units to pay for dubbing costs.

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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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