Wednesday, April 26, 2006


I've been going on about theme for a while, so I thought I'd change things up a little and talk about the anime industry in America, specifically the dub aspect. I'm not quite a "sub" purist, but I do tend to lean towards Japanese seiyuu - and with good reason, as the worst seiyuu are for the most part better than the best American voice actors. There is a good reason why the industry has this problem of weak performances by American voice actors: money. AD Vision started it, from what I know, by buying series for dirt cheap (back before anime was a billion dollar export business) and then using in-house voice actors paid with tiny salaries to dub the series and pop them out onto VHS as fast as possible. People who never really knew the non-digital age of anime distribution will probably not be familiar with AD Vision's American voice cast, but such familiar faces as Hilary Haag and Laura Chapman might ring bells for those who were forced to buy those extremely poor quality voice-overs.

Sadly voice acting as an "occupation" has never really taken off in the US, due to the fact that anime is a niche market and does not have the money to pay high-end talent what they are accustomed to. For the most part good voice actors are, not surprisingly, good actors in general, which explains why big name actors typically mean that the dub version will have some feeling. Case in point is the release of Karas which was hyped partially on the fact that big-name Hollywood actors were taking part in the dub. All the Ghibli releases have received similar treatment, and with good effect - they are some of the best dubs in the industry.

What has surprised me the most about the state of dubs in the industry, however, is the fact that Cowboy Bebop still stands as one of the best, if not the best, dubs ever produced. The voice acting cast assembled for the project never ceases to amaze me with how exceptional their performances turned out. I prefer the voices of Steven Jay BLUM, Wendee Lee, and John Billingslea to their Japanese counterparts - they really just capture the characteristcs of Spike, Fay and Jet in a way that the Japanese can't. I think this has to do a great deal with the fact that Cowboy Bebop is set in such a multi-cultural environment, and Japan is such a homogenous nation. The US, on the other hand, is home to so many different, integrated ethnic groups, that it makes sense to have Americans voice the characters in Cowboy Bebop.

As a contrasting example, I prefer to bring to the forefront Crest of the Stars. Never before have I seen an anime butchered so mercilessly in the dub than in this case. Jessica Yow and Matthew Erickson, the voices of Lafiel and Jinto respectively, proved themselves incapable of conveying emotion to the viewer. In many cases their voices are either monotone or obscenely high-pitched. It seems throughout the whole series that both voice actors are actually reading directly off a piece of paper, rather than looking at the script for reference and having made a conscious decision of how to say their lines beforehand. Lafiel and Jinto's conversations are punctuated by a high degree of humor inherent in Lafiel's naive arrogance, and Jinto's unusual situation. The American voice actors fail to communicate either aspect, resulting in a completely underwhelming performance.

Much of this can be blamed on poor casting by directors. Being able to tell who should play what role is a major part of how good a dub turns out, and it is apparent from the state of dubs that this is still a major problem today. Luckily, it's getting better. All the Ghibli films have been well-produced, with good casting for the characters. In fact, most anime movie releases domestically have come with above-average voice talent on the dub side. However, things still need to improve as far as regular series go. Dub actors still don't understand how to connect with their character counterpart, something that they will need to learn in order for dubs to take the next step forward in quality.


At 6:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

re-dubbing great anime, wow, now there is a voice-over gig I would love to have. man. i act sometimes, and thought about doing some voice over at one point, but was turned off by the thought of commercials. also, apparently, here in quebec there is a kind of monopoly on the voice over scene. a lot of people talk about how only a tight crew of bilinugual actors get all the gigs. i know other folks who haven't encountered that problem at all though, so who knows. mostly i got busy and left it. but man doing the voice for anime characters would be insanely fun. i'm going to rent that one that you say sucks and see what i think. you know what would be so cool- to do a live voice performance with good actors and even musicians, with the movie showing on a big screen in the background, but with the sound off.

btw- have you seen Laine? Our beloved geek friends who reccomended Samurai Champloo claim that we'll love Laine even more. It looks like it's going to rain here today.. maybe i'll walk the two blocks to the good video store and immerse myself in anime.
cheers dude, keep good. r

At 8:17 PM, Blogger Michael said...

By Laine, are you talking about Serial Experiments Lain? If so, that's an awesome series, but I am definitely a much bigger fan of Shinichiro Watanabe's works, and Samurai Champloo, IMO is much higher on the quality list.

I never knew that the voice-over community was so closed to outside talent. That might explain why we get so many horrible voice-overs. And yeah, I'd love to have the chance to do a dub production myself - unfortunately I don't have the acting experience you do, so I don't think my performances would be quite up to the level they're looking for.

Also, if you're interested in the conditions for Japanese Seiyuu, I recommend you check out Riuva (in my anime blog links on the right). It's got a ton of extremely interesting information on how much they get paid, their living conditions, etc. It actually isn't all that great to be a Seiyuu (it sucks).

At 12:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey, i checked out that site and read up on the Seiyuu business, and even posted over there. i linked back to you too.

so is "crest of the stars" good despite the bad dub? i didn't end up renting it yet. would it be worth playing around with?

And yeah, I was talking about the Serial Experiments LAin, as it turns out. i still haven't seen it. but we make websites n stuff so apparently we'll extra like it. anyway, cheers. r.

At 7:06 PM, Blogger Michael said...

Crest of the Stars is what some would refer to as a classic "space opera." It's very focused on characters, and the creation of a world that you can identify as plausible. Most everything is explained, and is rational. It's definitely paced much slower than Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, or other series, but it makes up for it by creating a compelling cast of characters that interact naturally with one another. So yes - aside from the dub, it's a good show.

And thanks for the link: I appreciate it very much. I'm lucky to have someone so talented think so highly of my little blog.


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