The Frustrations of Dubbed Anime

I’ve made it no secret that I’m a fan of dubs. Not only did I write a column defending them last year, but I also think there’s inherent value to them on an artistic level. After all, talented voice actors and actresses exist all-over the world, and since anime mouth flaps are pretty basic anyway there’s always room, like adaptations of classic stories, for an interesting-yet-faithful reinterpretation of something that’s been done before. It also allows for mainstream access to something that, prior to said dub, had limited appeal. But that’s not what I’m here to talk about.

No, today…I’d like to argue the flip-side. Sure, dubbing is great, but with it comes certain limitations. Admittedly, some of these are avoidable, it’s subjective preference, while others aren’t. So it’s only reasonable to share my frustrations with you. (Okay, maybe not every frustration, but a few.) Here goes:

The first of these is an obvious one, but I still think it deserves mention: being up-to-date with current anime. I’m not talking being up-to-date with what’s popular, mind you, but, rather, being up-to-date with a current anime season. Anime series have schedules that are constantly ahead of North America, and they’re tied down to seasons. However, even with the internet and streaming sites helping to cut down on the inevitable delay times between East and West, that they’re still relatively new means that dubs don’t exist yet. And since they resort to subtitles, something I’m not quite comfortable with, to compensate, I’m always at a disadvantage.

For example, two of the biggest shows of the Winter anime season of 2015 were Yuri Bear Storm and Maria the Virgin Witch. The latter, while well-received, I can wait for, but it’s the former that I’m curious about. It’s an Ikuhara show, for one, but it’s also the first Ikuhara show that I’m actually anxious to see. And yet, it’s not fully available in dub form yet. It’s still in simulcast mode, so while certain episodes are online in English on FUNimation’s website, its dub is neither official nor finished. In other words, as of me writing this, I gotta wait.

And while we’re on that topic, Space Dandy is another series I can’t watch yet. Remember how everyone was talking about how awesome that series was, and how its ratings on Toonami were at an all-time high because of the deal FUNimation made? Well, because Toonami isn’t available in Canada, I had to wait. I was forced to constantly avoid Twitter every time Toonami was on because I couldn’t watch it, which was really annoying. Also, I didn’t want it spoiled.

Speaking of which, spoilers. I bet you guys and gals are well-aware of how frustrating it is to have something spoiled for you. On one hand, I shouldn’t be surprised that spoilers are easy to share these days, especially with the globalization of information, but that doesn’t make them any less frustrating. Because, let’s face it, they are, and anime is no different. Especially when the anime you’re interested in isn’t available in English yet.

For example, Season 1 of Attack on Titan was floating around in subbed form for a year before its dub release. Subsequently, its dub came weekly to Toonami, which meant two days of anticipation before its upload to FUNimation’s website. In both cases, there were opportunities for the show to be spoiled, and parts were; in fact, I had to ask someone I Followed on Twitter to tone down the spoilers for Episode 21 because some big stuff happens in it…and I wanted to experience the shock for myself. I’m still bummed, and I’ll be even more bummed if Season 2 becomes a repeat of that online.

This leads to my next frustration, licensing. Ignoring the waiting game and spoilers, sometimes you end up waiting a while before a dub materializes. Toradora!, for example, only received a dub recently, and this was after many years of there not being one available. And, even then, it was largely thanks to the popularity of its sibling series, Okami-San and Her Seven Companions, already having one. I know the “years of waiting” complaint isn’t as relevant as it was a decade ago, but it still happens.

What also happens sometimes is there being no dub at all due to licensing/lack of licensing. For example, Shirobako, another show I’m interested in, has no dub announced. Why? Because it’s a Sentai Filmworks license, and they don’t always dub the shows they pick up. They’re not like FUNimation, where they’d dub something even if it sucked, they only dub what they think will sell. And while I can’t think of many examples off the top of my head, there are shows out there, like the Monogatari franchise, that have yet to be licensed from seasons past.

This issue of lack of dubs is a big one. Because of my problem with subtitles, I end up being at a disadvantage compared to other Otaku. I have a hard time focusing on text and visuals simultaneously, so a show that isn’t translated has to be skipped. I’m, therefore, either behind on the conversations that are had on it, or can’t discuss it at all. And this also frustrates me.

It’s additionally annoying because the options of dubbing studios are a lot smaller now than even 10 years ago. Back then, you had the big four, Geneon Entertainment, Bandai Entertainment (which always outsourced), ADV Films and FUNimation Entertainment, competing with small-fries, like Bang-Zoom!, Central Park Media and Ocean Studios, for licensing. So you had a lot of options to choose from, even if not everything was dubbed timely/at all. These days, only Bang-Zoom!, ADV Films (aka Sentai Filmworks) and FUNimation Entertainment are still doing any real dubbing, making the pool that much smaller. And given Bang-Zoom!’s track-record, as well as Sentai Filmwork’s business practices, it’s really only FUNimation with any sort of consistent clout. For someone like me, who only wants to watch dubbed anime, it’s a problem.

And no, Disney’s only ever been concerned with Studio Ghibli’s work, so they don’t count here.

Finally, there’s the issue of bad dubs. I’ll admit this isn’t as bad as it was in the 80’s and 90’s, as most dubs back then were pretty bad. In fact, if anything has been learned with the Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball franchises, it’s that re-dubs of older shows can actually be an improvement! But that doesn’t mean bad dubs still don’t exist. Because they do, and sometimes it’s bound to happen with a well-loved show once it makes its way over to North America.

For example, Mawaru Penguindrum’s dub was handled by former ADR director Stephen Foster. Foster, notorious for tackling Guin Saga and the re-dub of Grave of the Fireflies, had a bad habit of not caring about the shows he received, and Ikuhara’s 2011 series was no exception. Even FUNimation's J. Michael Tatum, while a fantastic voice actor, has a tendency to “Thesaurus vomit” over his scripts, making for “fancy” words in places where they don’t make sense. (See Attack on Titan.) In other words, the curse of awkward-to-bad dubs does still exist, and as a dub-only anime fan I run risk of that.

In short, being a dub fan can be difficult. Does that mean I’ll stop watching dubs? No, but it does mean that there are disadvantages that, unfortunately, come from that decision. Then again, considering that there are worse problems out there, I should really count my blessings…


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