Written by: Esosa Osamwonyi
The Dilemma of Anime Dubbing Within America
by Esosa Osamwonyi on July 05, 2010
The dubbing of foreign media has always been something that has interested me. It’s really something I have not thought about for a while. I remember those old kung-fu films and how they were dubbed over in English as well as other foreign films too. It was a good way to introduce the product to a new audience. Nowadays though, you don’t see too many films being dubbed. Many are now subtitled to hold the original authenticity, themes and message. Another thing to consider is that it may be that the culture is more accepting than it was in 1980’s towards showcasing the original content.
Dubbing is used in a variety of ways in the media. Two of the biggest things to consider are anime and video games. For this article I will focus on the process of anime dubbing simply because video games is an entirely different matter to consider. Anime is defined as animation originating from Japan, and just as certain countries have cartoons, Japan has anime. Its origins go back as early as 1900′s, and for quite some time, it remained an isolated form of animation. It wasn’t till the 1960’s that it began to spread overseas and wasn’t until the 1980’s and 1990’s that it grew as a major cultural export. The way it would work is that would anime distribution companies would handle licensing and distribution outside of Japan. Licensed anime is modified by distributors through dubbing into the language of the country and adding language subtitles to the Japanese language track. For many of us, this is how we were introduced to such works as Akira, Gatachman, and many other titles. People were now aware of this thing called “Anime” outside of Japan, but I personally believe it wasn’t until anime started appearing on mainstream television channels such as Cartoon Network, Colours, Sci-Fi Network, Adult Swim, etc. that it really took off. It was also an excellent way to advertise their product(s) and sell more merchandise to a worldwide market outside Japan.
Now let’s fast-forward to the present day. Technology is advancing at a rapid rate—the Internet and computers play a major role in most of our lives today, and one has to consider there is so much anime available because of this expansion. Anime is not shown as much on television as before though but it’s definitely more popular due in part to the growth of people using the Internet for means of entertainment. It seems to me that the really popular titles are the ones that receive dubbing. Which brings me to what to what I want to discuss further—the question of it being possible to dub every anime.
Of course, the immediate answer would be no, but should it be necessary to do so? Again, probably not, but that certainly doesn’t stop licensing companies from trying. A licensing company getting the rights to an anime title is similar to a sports draft of sorts. Imagine if you will a convention in which representatives of the company come out to announce their picks and then provide small details on when to expect said product to hit the stores. This is the first step of the dubbing process. From there they go on to finding voice actors to fit the available roles. Depending on the company, the product may see the hands of the consumer in several months up to a year (if all goes as plan). Which brings up another concern for me—I certainly begin wonder how patient can an anime fan be in a situation like this? I mean, in that time of waiting, one could seek out “other means” of viewing media if possible—and they certainly do.
Not to say that the idea of dubbing anime is a bad thing—in fact I think it’s a very noble cause—however, my point is that many licensing companies need to be able to adjust and alternate. Some companies are now streaming anime on the web through various measures (Hulu and Crunchyroll for example) and showing anime episodes around the same time as its initial release in Japan. DVD’s are also only being released in Japanese with subtitles–with the absence of an English dub entirely (amongst other languages as well). The problem is that it’s simply not done enough. In order to attract attention you have to give attention. No longer do we have to rely on conventions and magazines to get information on topics that serve our interests. In this day and age, information gets around much quicker and easier. Anime voice acting in the West is something that is still growing and will continue to grow, but it’s simply not at that size to have that “voice over everything-mentality”. A lot of major companies pick up too many anime titles and think they can voice over every one of them. The results are that some are never finished and go to the wayside, where fan-subs are the only way to finish a series or title. A “certain” anime company is known for this. But in the end, when does one know when too much is simply too much? This is one of the dilemmas facing dubbing industry today and only time will tell what the future will hold concerning its outcome.