Jonathan Klein and Reiko Matsuo

by Jonathan Mays,
Established in 1998, New Generation Pictures has emerged as one of the foremost anime dubbing studios in North America. The Beverly Hills studio has provided translations and English adaptations for over two hundred anime releases, including fan favorites NieA_7, Haibane Renmei, and R.O.D -The TV-. They also did Ikki Tousen, and they're darn proud of it.

First, mention a few dubs you've done.

Jonathan Klein: I directed Haibane Renmei, Texhnolyze, currently working on Paranoia Agent. We're both producers on Hellsing, R.O.D -The TV-, and NieA_7.

Reiko Matsuo: I directed Angel Tales, Licensed by Royalty, and I'm currently in the middle of Ikki Tousen.

What, to you, makes a good voice actor?

JK: You need quality in the voice. It shouldn't just be a weird voice—it should be something that you can hear, in their voice, a performance. You can hear that they're able to illustrate the character just through his or her voice itself. Now there's a difference between just flat reading and being able to emote a character through your voice.

Often we get a lot of these demo tapes that are just announcers. So it's all commercials going, "Are you looking for this product?" You can't tell their acting abilities from that. You have to be able to see beyond that. A lot of times we don't use voice-over people; we use voice actors.

RM: I think, for me, I don't think of voice actors as "voice actors." I think "actor," just like TV or movies or stage. So I always feel a person is a good actor because he or she can quickly pick what the director is trying to express. Some people can just say the line loudly, or crying, or laughing, but they have hundreds of different emotions in there, one of them I'm trying to express.

A good voice actor can pick very quickly, like when I explain, "This is what's going on, and you have to feel this way," a good actor can say exactly what I want immediately. And then some people I have to explain ten times, ten takes, over and over, and it still doesn't come out. It doesn't mean they don't have the ability to say that way. It's more like they don't get it because they don't have enough life experience or just can't act, you know. Speaking and acting are two different things. A good voice actor is a good actor for any situation.

JK: There are a lot of great actors out there, but not every actor can be a good voice actor. There's a difference between acting on film or on stage and acting in a small booth becuase your hands are tied behind your back. You can't use your facial expressions, you can't use your body movement to give life to the character; it's all in your voice. So it's a very unique talent you have to have to be a good voice actor.

Give me some of your favorite voice actors or performances of all time.

JK: I've the opportunity to work with lots of great people, past and present. Carrie Savage, Crispin Freeman, Patrick Seitz.

RM: For me, it depends on the show, because some voice actors are great for a particular show. For example I like Wendee Lee for Cowboy Bebop. I love her performance very much. But for others, like in Hellsing, I love Crispin Freeman, so I can't tell who is my favorite overall because it depends on how they fit the role. If they fit the role perfectly, it'll be a great dub.

How long have you two been dubbing?

JK: About six years.

What's changed the most since you got into the business?

JK: Well, I would say the technology hasn't significantly improved. It's gotten faster, but now there's an established market for anime. So as a result, the fans know what they want, and they know what they don't like.

RM: I also feel anime dubs used to be targeted for anime fans. But recently, we've been thinking more generally. Lots of cable TV stations are picking up anime these days, so I'm not only targeting hardcore fans, but also general audiences who aren't familiar with anime.

JK: Fifteen years ago, or the dubs in the late 80s and early 90s, those dubs were done on the cheap and the quick by studios that didn't understand the market. Now the market's completely opened up. We have fans of all ages and nationalities who watch anime. So you have to have something that has a very solid work to it. Otherwise, it's like it was before: just making it fit without caring about performance. In those times, I think matching lip flap was more important than getting a good performance out of the actor. I feel now it's more important for us to get the best performance out of the actor.

RM: I agree. These days it's not about choosing between matching lip flap and getting a good performance. Today's voice actors can do both.

JK: Of course, we don't do it the same way the Japanese do—

Together in groups—

JK: but there are so many veterans in this industy now that they know how to do it well and how to do it quickly.

Dubbing's certainly improved over the years, but what do you think still needs to get better?

RM: I think we need more actors. This world is too small right now.

JK: The actors that are out there right now are great, but the point is that—and I don't mean this in a bad way—we do hear the same actors playing the same kinds of roles over and over. One of the things we try to do is to find fresh talent. A lot of our shows don't use the same LA talent pool that's out there.

RM: Of course we like to use good people who are currently working in anime, but I always try to cast somebody new, a fresh voice, at least for a small role. And then I try to train the person to make it quicker, better.

JK: But sometimes we've taken chances and given fresh talent big roles. Carrie Savage started out with us, in Strawberry Eggs, her very first show.

What's the typical timeline for a dub, from when you first learn of a new project to the time fans see it on store shelves?

JK: The client will come to us and say, "We have a show." Usually they'll give us scripts, sometimes video. Sometimes the video's still being worked on in Japan so we only have scripts to work with. We'll start the translation process. It could take a month to hammer out the first volume of a show, especially if there's no video of it; it takes a lot of time when you can't even see the show. We'll still not work on the show until we actually get to the video because we want to make sure that what these people are translating and transliterating is actually what's on the screen. Sometimes the dialogue changes completely in the video and is nothing like the original script.

Speaking of script, how much control do you have over the final English script?

JK: Depends on the client.

RM: It depends totally on the producers. Within even one company you can have five or six producers, and some producers give us total creative freedom, except maybe for some special requests, like a character's name, from the original creator. Some producers want to be very hands-on and they check every single word of the script and want certain changes.

JK: Some people will compare it side-by-side with the Japanese and say, "We want it more like the Japanese," and sometimes they'll say, "The Japanese is too stilted. We need it to be more colloquial." We do our best to balance, because we always want to be faithful to the original script, no matter what.

RM: I try to be faithful, but also if you are too faithful, it's too stiff. Certain times we don't have any choice, and we have to change things. We don't want to change the core meaning, but sometimes we need different words.

Going back to the timeline, let's say you have a regular four-episode disc, first volume of a new show. How long would it take to get it done?

JK: From script and raw materials to final product, about one to two months. It depends on how quickly they need it. Sometimes they say, "Oh, we need to have a preview disc ready as quickly as possible. Can you get it to us in a month?" And we'll burn the midnight oil and get it done. Sometimes they give us a couple of months, and we can take our time. But on average, about 1.5-2 months.

Tell me something about your job that people don't know or don't appreciate.

JK: People think that we do this simply as a business, that we're doing this for money. And that's not the case. We enjoy the creative elements. I grew up watching anime, and I love anime, and I try to take very serious care of the projects given to us because I want to make them sound as good as possible. There's a lot of effort that's being put into the final product, not just on the producer's part and the director's part but on the talent's part, as well. Everybody cares about the work they put into these things. It's not just like, "Oh, let's do it quickly and get a paycheck and run." We're not doing that.

RM: Last night I went to a screening of Ikki Tousen, and I wanted to watch people's reactions. I like comedy shows, so I usually try to make them as funny as possible. It's fun to see how people react to certain comedy scenes. Sometimes I also put hidden jokes in the script that only a few people might get.

Got an example?

RM: In episode two Hakufu mentions “Rakurai High School” and then Kokin corrects her: “It's not Rakurai High School, it's Rakuyou High School!” I was hoping for one or two people to get it. But nobody laughed. “Rakurai” refers to people who are expelled from class. So I like to put hidden jokes like that, ones that will make some people laugh a lot. And I hope the people who get the secret jokes will explain to other people, too.

discuss this in the forum (21 posts) |
bookmark/share with: short url

back to Sunday Spotlight: Yuki Kajiura, Jonathan Klein, Stu Levy, Kevin Lillard, Reiko Matsuo, Toshiharu Murata
Interview homepage / archives