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Coastal Didn't Belong

by Jonathan Mays,
On Wednesday, March 19th, 2003, Coastal Carolina Studios turned off the mike for the final time. After nine years as one of the best--arguably the best--dubbing studios in the United States, Coastal is finished. The reason? They're out of projects. Sadly, superior quality doesn't matter if no one will give you work.

It's hard to believe that such a spectacular dubbing studio would have any trouble at all finding anime in need of an English voice track. In North America, anime is at a peak in popularity. It has entered the mainstream market, and demand for English dubs has never been higher. But as the Japanese animation business becomes more lucrative in the West, it also becomes less amicable towards companies like Coastal who put quality above all else, including profit.

Over the nine years that Coastal Carolina raised the bar for English anime dubbing, the world of anime distribution changed dramatically, and they were left behind. Sensing the opportunity to maximize profit, some local distributors have formed their own recording studios. Rarely has the in-house product approached the level of Coastal work, but in the harsh reality of anime business, it didn't matter. In-house recording was cheaper, a very real consideration in today's anime industry.

It wasn't always this way. Once upon a time, anime in North America was a love and a hobby--nothing more. It was a time before DVD, a time before Cartoon Network, a time before the true possibilities of anime marketing were fully explored. But that time has passed. Today's domestic anime world is one of television contracts, of co-productions, of fierce competition, and it is a world in which Coastal has no place. For, as director Scott Houle explained, Coastal was more interested in consistently high standards than profit margins. Such an approach is noble, but the high road was too far removed from the aims of dollar-oriented licensors.

Certainly the North Carolina location did not benefit Coastal's efforts to find work. But even if they had been located in the middle of Los Angeles or New York, their business model of sacrificing profit for quality would have doomed them eventually. In a business world rarely sensitive to quality unless it impacts the bottom line, Coastal was simply too idealistic.

Coastal's gone, and few other companies like it remain in the anime business. AnimEigo is one--in fact, they enjoyed a long relationship with Coastal--but their release rate is slow, and they're yet to prove their ability to obtain new licenses. Super Techno Arts is a new entry, and their A.P.P.P. connection assures them a modicum of material, but it remains to be seen how far their fans-first, non-competitive attitude will take them. But beyond those, it's difficult to find an anime company with a Coastal approach. It seems the era of quality-above-all in anime releases is coming to an end.

Of course, Coastal never did care about profit, so they can't be disparaged for failing to attain something they never desired in the first place. Money aside, Coastal succeeded in two important areas: they produced high-quality English dubs, and they raised fan expectations for all anime dubbing. Unfortunately, they can't build upon their success with future works. But all involved with Coastal over the years may find solace by realizing that their achievements have forever impacted the domestic anime world.

For their contributions Coastal will never be forgotten. Even years from now, fans will be able to tear open a copy of You're Under Arrest or Shinesman or Elf Princess Rane or Blue Sub 6 or Crusher Joe or Spirit of Wonder or any other production with a Coastal dub to enjoy the fruits of their remarkable efforts. In this way the business world is kind to Coastal; anytime someone listens to a Coastal-dubbed show in English, it's almost certain to be a Coastal dub forever. Their products will enjoy a life far longer and more prolific than the niche studio will ever see.

The anime world will remember Coastal Carolina. They will remember the philosophy that founded the studio, the attention to detail that created so many exceptional recordings, and the stubborn refusal to submit to business competition that eventually brought their end. But above all, they will remember the quality of their English dubs and the passion of all those at Coastal who took a dream of quality and made it a reality.

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