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Why Does Classic Anime Get Re-dubbed?

by Justin Sevakis,

Justin (not Answerman Justin) asked:

Why is Gundam SEED and Gundam SEED Destiny getting re-dubbed? There is already a dib available for these shows that is well liked by many.

There are several standard reasons why the English dubbed version of a classic anime can't be used in a reissue. The big and most obvious one is that somebody in charge, either at the Publisher or on the Japanese side of things, didn't like the dub. Perhaps the translation the original dub staff worked off of had problems, or they changed too much in the dialogue rewrite. Maybe they changed some music or added a bunch of sound effects without authorization.

Perhaps the dub had technical problems, or any good quality master copy of that dub is lost. There were also a few dubs made for the UK market (such as Patlabor 2: The Movie) that were dubbed with the film sped up slightly to adjust for regional technology differences, and slowing it back down would sound too weird. Finally, in the case of some old dubs, the original publisher that produced the dub retained the rights to it, and the Japanese licensor never bought those rights back. If there's bad blood, any licensor wouldn't be interested in paying them any money.

In some cases, the original publisher owns the dub, and is no longer around -- it's unclear if there's anyone left to even ask for permission. In that case, the Japanese licensor would tell the new publisher, "if you want to include it, we won't say no, but it's at your own risk." If the new publisher doesn't want to take the chance of getting sued by someone, they won't include the dub.

But the show you're talking about is Gundam Seed, and that's an even more extreme version of the reason another Sunrise show -- Escaflowne -- was re-dubbed. In Escaflowne's case, six episodes were recut -- a few of them significantly -- for home video release, but the existing English dub was of the original broadcast version, and when it came time to release a Blu-ray, there was only an HD master of the home video version. Some cuts were lengthened, others shortened. Some were reshot entirely. A couple shots were even removed. The old dub simply didn't synchronize with the picture anymore.

In Gundam Seed's case, the show's reworking was even more extreme. Since Gundam Seed was a show produced at the very beginning of anime's switch to digital animation, it really doesn't look very good by today's standards. Colors are garish, the 2D and 3D animation don't blend very well, and everything is pretty jaggy and low-resolution. This is pretty standard for shows of that era; in fact, compared to its contemporaries it's one of the better-looking examples of TV anime from those early years. But today, almost everything from that era looks pretty ratty.

Rather than just blow it up to HD and hope for the best, Sunrise drastically reworked the show. Several recap episodes were eliminated, and every episode has been reworked quite a bit. Many, many scenes were re-animated, pacing was altered, music queues were redone. The rework was so drastic, it's almost as if the creative team used the original scripts, storyboards and layouts, and remade the show from scratch, simply pulling shots from the old animation when they could.

Needless to say, the old dub wouldn't match the new Remaster at all -- it's practically a different show. The pacing and timing, background music and sound effects queues are completely different. There's basically nothing about the old dub that could be reused at all.

But why can't the old dub simply be rejiggered to fit the new animation? Or in the case of Escaflowne, why couldn't the existing dub have its dialogue recut to match the new edits? It's simple once you realize that anime (or any motion picture) soundtracks aren't JUST dialogue: they're also music and sound effects. In order for a recut of an existing dub to work, the dialogue would have to be edited BY ITSELF, and then combined with a new music and sound effects track that works with the new version of the show. Also, any new dialogue would have to be recorded, and if the original voice actor is still around and willing, they likely don't sound the same over a decade later.

In most cases, this is impossible. Until quite recently, dub studios would only ever deliver a final "mix-down" of the English version -- the unmixed vocal tracks (or "stems" as they're called) were very often not preserved. A few of those unmixed stems were archived quietly by the dub staff, but most were either thrown out, or archived in a format that didn't surivive or has become unreadable today. Old hard drives crash and die all the time; DAT, or Digital Audio Tape, which was a format commonly used for professional audio in the late 90s and early 2000s, is very prone to failure after over a decade of storage, and the later DA-88 format (which used consumer 8mm videotapes for 8 channel audio) also hasn't aged very well. In most cases, that "final mix" that was released to audiences is the only elements of the dub that still exist. And sometimes even THOSE masters are lost.

Recuts of old dubs have been done before, but it's very very rare. The only obvious examples I can think of (aside from recap movies that were dubbed shortly after the originals) were for Ghost in the Shell 2.0, the weirdo recut/re-tint of the 1995 Mamoru Oshii film; and for the recent Discotek Blu-ray of Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie, in which several versions of the dub were retooled to work with the completely unedited Japanese master. (Full disclosure: I worked on the Blu-ray of the latter.) Both projects were unusually high budget to begin with, and still had to be resuscitated off of very old master elements -- a great deal of luck was involved. Unfortunately, most anime would not be so lucky.

Thank you for reading Answerman!

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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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