How Is Funimation Producing So Many Simuldubs?
by Justin Sevakis,
It's been absolutely incredible how Funimation is able to have many shows dubbed only a few weeks after it airs in Japan. How is Funimation able to pull off their simuldub schedule while other studios take months or even years to produce a dub?
Surely it's no accident that I got this question on the same weekend the dubbed version of the most dramatic episode of Funimation's most popular simulcast, My Hero Academia, finally started streaming: “Deku vs. Kacchan, Part 2,” an emotionally pivotal episode that finally saw its least sympathetic character break down, revealing an emotionally complex and fragile person under the surface. I was truly impressed with how the English version came out. Not just with Clifford Chapin's stirring and nuanced performance as Bakugo (how he even still has a voice after all the screaming is a mystery), but with the realistically teenaged-sounding dialogue by Jeramey Kraatz, and the sensitively handled voice direction (by Chapin and Funi dub veteran Colleen Clinkenbeard). I have many thoughts about that episode. Maybe I'll share them at some point.
Anyway, simuldubs are still something of a marvel to me. Dubbing is already difficult, and having to create one that debuts nearly simultaneously with its original Japanese release is a task that I've seen nearly ruin the lives of dub veterans who had tried it in the past. And of course, Funimation isn't the only company making them -- Sentai Filmworks/HIDIVE releases one or two "dubcasts" every season (Funimation trademarked the word "simuldub"), and dubs being made for Netflix exclusives by SDI, Bang Zoom and others are fairly close to being simuldubs.
But Funimation manages to do that with SIXTEEN SHOWS AT ONCE. That just boggles the mind. Of course, My Hero Academia is their biggest title, and it gets the white glove treatment. I'm sure everyone works really hard, but it's pretty obvious that other shows sometimes don't get QUITE as much TLC put in. Most of them turn out just fine -- I've enjoyed their work on Heroic Legend of Arslan and Hinamatsuri quite a bit. Conversely, I'm sure working on Handshakers a few seasons ago felt like being caught in a trap, and the staff involved just got it done as quick as they could.
Funimation has been dubbing a lot of anime for a long time, and they've built up a very, very large production team over the years. As a result, they were able to adequately staff and streamline a team of people who are at the office full-time, and can work on multiple shows simultaneously, assembly-line style. At the same time, their relationships with Japan have allowed them to get full cooperation in making the process work. Getting materials from Japan in a timely manner is always the hardest part of releasing anime overseas.
With a simuldub, the first materials, including the show script and a rough version of the animation (with recorded Japanese voices, possibly unmixed) come in a couple of weeks before the show airs. Early on in a season they get it earlier, but if a show's production gets delayed later in the season, it might be much closer to air. A translator gets on the episode immediately and pounds out an annotated translation with notes for the writing team about style, formality, and cultural or lingual notes they'll need to adapt things like puns. Then that script goes to a timecoder, who stamps timecodes not just on every line of dialogue, but every grunt, reaction, and vocal tic that happens in the show. It then goes to the writing staff for script adaptation.
All of that happens in a normal dub too, of course. But with a dedicated dub team, getting the materials early enough to start work on it, and having enough people working full-time, with a set schedule, ready to do their part and hand it off to the next person in line, is the key to the operation running smoothly.
The recording can't begin until Funimation gets the final animation from Japan. If you record against early versions, last-minute animation tweaks (often to match the Japanese voices) can completely throw off the lip-flap of the dub. But once recording is underway, things work just like a normal dub: every individual actor records their roles one line at a time, in a small booth directly into a ProTools workstation. Funimation has quite a few studios running simultaneously, with different directors and engineers in each one, sometimes working on recording different parts on the same shows. Creative casting choices allow many of the same core voice actors to float from studio to studio and from show to show, knocking off multiple roles each week.
It's doubtlessly a very high pressure environment, and I'm sure that if I were to take any of the core simuldub staff out for a drink, I'd hear no end of war stories about things that went careening out of control. The usual "greatest hits" for cursed dub productions include corrupt and deleted recording session files, missing lines in the script that don't get caught until way too late, sick, disappearing or difficult voice actors, and Japan being uncooperative. So, so many things can go wrong. An overzealous new writer could try to put too much of a spin on an adaptation, and there wouldn't be time to pull them back in line. Communications can sometimes break down between staff members, leading to mis-reading of the mood and tone of scenes, or jokes not working well in English.
There's just not enough time to fix things before they go up. At the end of all this craziness, the episode is mixed, approved, and someone in Funimation's video department has to sync everything up with the final delivered video from Japan, export it in the myriad formats required for VRV, Hulu, and whoever else they're working with, watch everything through to be safe, and upload them. And I'm sure, every week, the staff holds their breath, and waits for the inevitable fan feedback. With any luck, they haven't broken out the pitchforks.
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Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for over 20 years. He's the original 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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