Dubbing, Why I Think 100% Of Anime Do Not Need a Dub.
It is interesting how times change. About four years ago I was 100% in favor of dubbing all anime that came across the ocean. I like many people have a hard time reading subtitles and the dubs were always a great way to enjoy my anime. Over the last few years, watching the anime industry struggle, and many companies fail, my stance has changed to one of “Situational” dubbing.
So, the question arises:
Why the change of heart?
I will start by saying that the majority of the dubs of today are still light years ahead of the quality that we had in the 1980’s and most of 1990’s. While there are bad dubs, the majority are easy on the ears.
Is it the translations? It isn’t the the translations or adaptions of the anime to the dub. I have never been the absolute purist of what the characters are saying. My thought has always been to adapt it English and make it accessible to the American audience. If that means a few sections of dialog are changed, so be it, as long as the meaning of what is said isn’t lost. No matter how it is said, if the intent is there and it makes sense to the viewer, God bless the dub. Literal dubs are not easy on the ears as the dialog sound forced and rather phony. The Japanese language does not have 1:1 mappings of words and phrases, so interpretation is necessary.
So, it has to be the current crop of voice actors? Nope. While I believe that a significant number of the “Voice Actors” of anime are nothing more than actors who lend their voices to the show, it is not that. As an aside, I will site a few true voice actors in my opinion: Steve Blum, David Lodge, Tara Strong, Richard Epcar. The rest, like Vic Mignogna are actors (some bad) that lend their voices to characters in the same way each time.
Have I grown an absurd obsession with the original Japanese cast? Again, I am not a purist in any way. The idea that the Japanese cast is better than an American dub may or may not be true in some instances, but each stand on their own merit. My personal take on that is SOME of the anti-dub people feel more comfortable watching cartoons if they are have subtitles. It gives the show a sense of maturity in their minds, thus they can accept it as an art medium. There is also the situation that some dubs in English are creepy and can make the viewer feel dirty. I know I have had a number of shows that meet that criteria. Over all though, unless I find the subject matter creepy and awkward in English, I’ll take the dub.
So, I have covered a significant number of the arguments as to why people choose subs over dubs. It still does not answer the question, why the change of heart?
It arises from a business stand point. It comes down to the cost of producing the dub and now with streaming subtitled simulcasts I question the need to dub some anime, especially if it not getting a broadcast television airing.
This comes back to a few years ago when Best Buy actually had a large anime section. I would walk down the aisle and see major series like Bleach, Naruto, Full Metal Alchemist, and a number of others. Then I would see ten copies of Nerima Daicon Brothers, Welcome to the NHK, Ghost Stories, and a number of esoteric titles that the average DVD buyer would never touch. They would not touch the titles for one reason or another. Welcome to the NHK is one of the shows that should not have had a dub because the concept of a NEET (Not Employed, in Education, or Training) or being a Hikikomori (basically a shut in) for a person in their twenties is not something the average fan would relate to. The people who would understand the concepts of the show and would buy the DVDs are the people who switch to the subtitles and Japanese language. With that title particularly, I watched it happen. The people who bought it were purist who understood the culture around this series.
The issue at hand is the cost of dubbing. Dubbing an anime is expensive, there is no arguing it. The DVD and BluRay markets are not an easy market anymore as many people in the fan community have switched to watching their anime on streaming services such as NetFlix, HULU, or Crunchyroll. Stores have to be picky with the shrinking sales of physical media, the cost of shelf space is going up as physical media sections continue to shrink. So after having esoteric title sit on their shelves for years, stores have to pick and choose. This means that producing a dub needs to be exceptional quality and be something that is popular enough to sell.
So, I was looking at Attack on Titan. I watched the show subtitled on Netflix. That was a month or two before the dub cast was announced. I have friends who have significant reading disabilities struggle through the show because they heard how good the show was. Cosplay for the show is prevalent on the convention circuit and has been for some time. Basically put, a significant number of people who wanted to see this show have already seen it subtitled. What need do they have to buy a physical medium of a dub? Unless the series is spectacular most people watch it once and it will sit on a shelf. A dubbed anime NEEDS a way to become accessible, affordable, for any casual potential viewer.
Now, I love my dubs. I will say that the absolute reason, beyond contractual reasons, to do a dub is if it gets a television airtime and it can introduce fans to anime and all the stories that the medium tells. As long as the industry, as Scrooge McDuck says “works smarter, not harder” and chooses wisely with their dubbing projects the industry will survive. So, that is why I have become a situational fan of dubbing my anime.
As an update to the original draft and the episode of OTDT that talked about Attack on Titan, we did believe that the reason the show would get a dub this late was to shop it around for Television. We were right, the show was picked up by Cartoon Network and will be aired during their Toonami block as the lead off program.