The VA Effect

With 2018 right around the corner, I figured I’d discuss something that’s been bugging me about certain subsets of the Otaku community as of late:

In June of this past year, FUNimation voice actor Chris Ayres, known for his dub role of Frieza in Dragon Ball Z Kai, was admitted to a hospital in Texas following a near-fatal illness. I can’t claim to be an expert on the details, but it was sad to hear. Ayres’s been a steady actor in the Texas voice acting and ADR scene for years, and this sudden news was tragic.

Needless to say, not everyone thought the same. It’s not unreasonable to expect people to dislike certain actors and actresses’ acting abilities (I’m not big on Jerry Jewell’s work), but there’s a certain level of protocol expected when discussing their personal lives. Unfortunately, said protocol was violated following Ayres’s news, as many critics of anime dubs blasted Ayres as a person and called his illness “justice” for “ruining a beloved character forever”. The backlash became so bad that Chris Patton got involved and Tweeted his frustrations:
“There are "anime fans" making shitty comments about Chris Ayres being ill because he's a dub actor... seriously. If you've let "fandom" consume you this much, and turn you into this much of a monster, perhaps consider whether you really are a human being.”

He’s right. Say what you will about Chris Ayres as an actor, or an ADR director, but shaming him because he does voice acting is crossing the line. Period. VAs are still people, still prone to the same illnesses as people and, therefore, deserve the same level of respect when they fall ill as people. This is no exception.

Patton’s response, though a bit extreme, was echoed by several VAs in the Texas dubbing scene. Ayres deserved better, and that his friends and co-workers stood up for him was truly heartwarming. It also reflected poorly on his detractors; after all, Ayres is one guy. He’s not the only person responsible for dubbing anime. Why single him out?

If you’ll recall, discussing and criticizing dubbing on Infinite Rainy Day isn’t new for me. It’s my modus operandi, so to speak. So whenever I have a chance to criticize or defend dubbing, like now, I take it. And this deserves defence simply because of how absurd it is.

Let’s start with how dubbing isn’t the sole responsibility of one person. I recently watched a video essay that discussed the nuances of the dubbing scene, how it works and why so many VAs sound so “similar”. The gist was that, like it or not, voice acting doesn’t exist in a bubble. VAs often have years of experience in their field, similar to their Japanese counterparts, and they’re frequently used and reused because of their range and talent. This is doubled by certain ADR directors favouring specific VAs, much like live-action directors, because they work well together and can get their best performances from them. Bottom line, dubbing’s a multi-effort industry.

However, people tend to point at one or two individuals in particular, namely those that stick out the most, when something goes wrong. From a certain angle, this makes sense: the average person isn’t familiar with the intricacies of a mass-collaboration art form, so they gravitate to whomever they recognize most. If you want an example, Jake Lloyd, the actor who played Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars Ep. I: The Phantom Menace, was blamed for years for “ruining Star Wars”. This included bullying and shaming, to the point that Lloyd burned his Star Wars memorabilia, disavowed acting and slowly spiralled into delinquency in his later years.

The issue with pointing to one person specifically for “ruining” something beloved is that, more often than not, that person isn’t solely responsible for said property being ruined. It’s like Mark Hamill, the actor who played Luke Skywalker, said in an interview: Jake Lloyd was doing what was expected of him. Remember, he was 9 years old when the movie came out. Child actors are hard enough to train as is, so why would anyone expect him to deliver on all fronts even if you ignored what we got? Is that really fair?

Jake Lloyd is a microcosm for the daily stresses people face in entertainment. Acting’s hard work, after all. People spend many years honing their craft, and many give up along the way. The ones you see are usually because they persisted, because someone liked them enough to give them a chance, or both. Doubly-so with voice acting, which I’d argue is even harder than regular acting because all the work has to go into the voice alone.

When a performance “fails”, it could be for numerous reasons. Perhaps the person in question was having an off-day? Perhaps the person in question was miscast? Perhaps the director was bad at communicating what they wanted? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

This goes even more so when a talented individual does a good job, but can’t meet unrealistic expectations. Rey, from the newest Star Wars movies, is a perfect example. She’s one of the best parts, due largely to Daisy Ridley’s immense charisma and charm, yet she’s seen pushback from angry fans insisting that she’s a “Mary Sue” and “SJW pandering”. It’s plagued her character unjustly since 2015, and it doesn’t seem to be going away.

I mention this because it’s important to treat an actor or actress with a realistic level of respect even if you don’t like them. They’re giving up their time and energy to entertain you, time and energy they’re not getting back. When they’re shafted for something they have no control over because you don’t like what they had to offer, well…it’s dirty and unfair. Chris Ayres, whose only real crime was voicing a character that was already beloved in another language, is no different. And it breaks my heart to see him not given the dignity he deserves.

It also hurts personally because of my own situation. Right around the time I started writing for Infinite Rainy Day, my dad suffered a near-fatal heart attack. He’s fine now, but the Summer of 2014 was a living nightmare that I’m amazed I got through. Having to wait day-after-day, listening to the news and feeling the anxiety of those close to me, in hopes that something positive would come from this mess was excruciating, and even now, three years later, I occasionally see the side-effects of my dad’s trauma. I can only imagine how much worse it’d be if my dad was a famous actor with the burden of angry fans on his shoulders every day.

I get it: blaming is easy. Blaming can be fun. Blaming can be cathartic in times of frustration and stress. But blaming’s also unfair, especially when it boils down to a simple case of “I don’t like _ because of _”. Because VAs deserve better than that.

However, if that’s not reassuring, think about it this way: would you like it if you were stuck in Chris Ayres’s unfortunate position?


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