Do Companies Ever Go Back And Dub Shows They Released Subtitled?

by Justin Sevakis,

Matthew asked:

If an anime company licenses an anime but chooses not to dub it, is there ever a chance that it might get dubbed in the distant future? When Fate/Zero first came out, I was certain that it wouldn't get dubbed after Aniplex started selling import copies, but I was pleasantly surprised when they did decide to actually dub it. What I am asking is, if an undubbed anime is licensed and brought over here to the US, are the chances of it ever getting a dub after its release at all decent, and if so also what are the factors that could influence an undubbed show getting a dub later on in its life?

Companies going back to shows that got subtitle-only releases and dubbing them is a pretty rare thing, but it does happen. NIS America did it with Toradora!. Bandai Entertainment did it with Gurren Lagann, although it was the plan from the beginning to release the show subtitled-only at first, just to get it out on shelves -- the title was delayed a year due to the license being pulled from the flailing corpse of ADV Films, and the heat was beginning to fade from the franchise. Sentai Filmworks did it with a handful of their early titles. There are a few others.

There's only one reason for a company to go back and dub something they've already released subtitled: the realization that the show played to a broader audience than they originally thought, and by not having a dubbed version they are missing out on sales. These sales might not be on DVD/Blu-ray necessarily: it could be that Netflix is only interested in a show if it's dubbed, and they really need that one show to make a compelling package deal. It could be that it's a show that's doing unexpectedly well, and is thought to be a better contender for XBox Live or iTunes than originally thought. Basically, it's a do-over.

This doesn't happen very often, because it's not very often that an anime distributor doesn't go into a release primed to milk it for all it's worth. Anime fans have such varying tastes and platform preferences that the distributors have gotten used to spreading it to as many places as possible in as many forms as possible. Since most anime are also simulcast now, they also have some idea of how popular a given show is. They're not caught by surprise very often, and weird circumstances in which they have to release a show subtitled-only at first (such as Aniplex selling imported Japanese Blu-rays before a dub is ready) are very few and far between.

Dubbing a show is a very expensive prospect, so you can bet the companies only do it when they're pretty darn sure they'll make their investment back.

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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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