The world of anime is a tough business. Nearly everyone involved in it is criminally underpaid, including the actors that bring us the dubbed episodes so quickly. And with more and more simuldubs hitting the schedule every season, fans have come to expect an English dub of episodes within a few weeks of the show hitting Japan.
I say this as someone who generally prefers dubs to subs (Heresy! – Ed.): this is a really stupid idea. Simuldubs are great because they make it easier for more people to enjoy anime and to participate in the conversations surrounding new shows, but there is a mounting body of evidence that suggests that maybe this pace isn’t sustainable for an industry that is still rapidly growing.
Simuldubs are almost always rushed
Most anime fans don’t truly know the breakneck pace at which most anime episodes are produced. From storyboarding to animating to recording, shows are often produced in a matter of weeks. The final product might not be ready for broadcast until a few days before it is due to air, which is the earliest that the localisation team will get the episode if they are lucky.
Translation and scripting for other languages, despite what many on the Internet will tell you, are not easy or quick jobs. Actors are brought in to record their part and are often handed the script as they walk into the booth. They need to learn their lines and give them character in a matter of moments, with no opportunity to do a full table read with their fellow actors. Making sure everyone’s performance meshes falls to the director — and perhaps the editors.
The demand for simuldubs isn’t the only reason why dubs are produced so quickly. Dubbing studios produce work quickly in order to save as much money as possible. Dub actors have a difficult task amid all this — it’s impressive that so many can produce some great work at such a breakneck pace. Gone — for the most part — are the truly atrocious dubs of the late ’80s and early ’90s.
Most shows these days feature good to excellent dubs thanks to the talented and professional actors and directors who are involved, but I would love to see what they could all do if they were actually given a few weeks to do a table read together before recording, bouncing ideas for performances off each other like most animated shows in the west do.
Actors become replaceable
Recently, the simuldub of Kaguya-sama: Love is War – Ultra-Romantic was announced, with the cast of the first two seasons reprising their roles. However, one of the leads, Aaron Dismuke, will likely be missing the first several episodes of this season due to being on vocal rest. He said on Twitter that he, unfortunately, injured his voice during a recording session and has been told not to talk for four to six weeks.
Dismuke was quick to point out that his role of Miyuki Shirogane would be covered by the very talented Clifford Chapin. While I don’t doubt that Chapin, who has credits dating back almost a decade, will do a great job, it does feel like this wouldn’t have happened if the role had been live-action. The fast pace that these episodes are produced at demands that actors be available at all times. Injury and illness, which are not always preventable in that line of work, aren’t part of the plan — and thus at any point an actor playing an iconic role might end up replaced.
How do we fix simuldubs?
Again, I am someone who usually prefers to watch the dub of a show, especially if it is a comedy. I find the timing of jokes is often thrown off if I have to read them while listening to them, making otherwise hilarious moments fall flat for me at times. I want every show to get the love and attention that it deserves, and simuldubs are an important part of that in the anime world — but the process for them needs some changes.
Companies like Crunchyroll could fix things by spending more money. Give actors more money per session so they don’t have to have four vocally intense roles at the same time, potentially risking injury and their livelihood to bring us the shows we love. Pay for table reading sessions so that actors and directors can work more closely together to bring these characters to life. Imagine how good the dubs could be if actors didn’t have to hold down other jobs and could just focus on being actors. The industry loses great actors every year because the pay is so dreadful.
Like most things in life, it all comes back to money. I have always been sceptical of the Funimation and Crunchyroll merger, but if it means that the companies can spend some of that sweet, sweet Sony money to pay their actors better then I will honestly call it a win. It is still early days for the situation as the merger is only just reaching its final form, but I still hope that actors will be able to benefit — partly because it will give them a better quality of life, but it will also give anime fans a better product to enjoy. Crunchyroll has the resources now; it can and should do better for its cast and crew.
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