Sunday, October 26, 2014

Industry Talk: Dub-I-Dub

Let's talk about dubs this week, specifically why some shows get dubbed while others don't. All of this should be common knowledge to longtime fans, but it's something that I want to put out for newer fans as it is important for them to know if they care about what gets dubbed or not.

Sentai Filmworks recently put out their February 2015 release slate, which includes a fairly well-known title that has been a long time coming: Space Brothers. However, this first 13-episode set of the series, and likely the rest of the 99-episode show, will not be dubbed. Meanwhile, also on the slate for that month is a re-release of Leviathan: The Last Defense, released sub-only earlier this year, but now with a dub. A number of fans have gotten quite riled up that a "crap" show like Leviathan is getting dubbed (and re-released with a dub, at that!), while a "masterpiece" show like Space Brothers gets the sub-only treatment.

So I think it's time to set some things straight. First of all, I think Leviathan is a perfectly okay show. Sure, it's exceedingly average and not something I'd consider "good" by any means, but if you're looking for a brainless, fun fantasy action show, it's perfectly fine. But that's pretty much irrelevant to all of this.

Anyway, why do some shows get dubbed while others are sub-only? Simple: dubs cost money. A lot of money, too; I don't have the exact numbers, but the numbers I've seen point to a cost of several thousand dollars per episode. Let's say it's $5,000 an episode; for a 12-episode series, that's $60,000 the show has to be able to profit in order to make up the dub cost! What this boils down to is this: a dubbed show has to sell really well.

Now, certainly, dubs increase sales. A number of anime fans are only interested in or largely prefer dubbed titles to sub-only titles, for various reasons. And anime companies wouldn't dub shows if they didn't think there was at least the possibility to bring in so much more sales with a dub that the cost of the dub is worth it (especially since dubs help improve the long-term value of a show, as well as the overall image of the company itself). However, the question comes down to this: can a show bring in enough additional sales to cover the cost of the dub?

If not, the sub-only treatment makes sense; rather than lose money on a dub, they'd rather lose some sales but still sell enough to the smaller but devoted customer base that's fine with buying sub-only shows to make a profit. And in some cases, like Leviathan, if the sub-only release turns out to sell well beyond expectations, to the point where the company can feel like a dub might be profitable, they can always go back and re-release the show with a dub.

The most important thing to remember is this: whether a show gets dubbed or not has nothing to do with how good it is. It has everything to do with how well it can sell with the crowd that primarily or exclusively buys dubbed releases. Now, there are all sorts of theories for what titles are popular with that crowd and what titles are not; generally, action-heavy shows are more likely to get dubbed, while slice-of-life shows are very likely to not be dubbed. Also, longer shows like Space Brothers are disadvantaged by the greater cost of having to dub a lot of episodes (if you thought dubbing 12 episodes was expensive, consider having to dub 99 episodes!).

The thing is to not get angry over a show you really like not getting dubbed, or a show you think is bad getting dubbed. These companies are just trying to do what makes the most business sense, and for various reasons, the shows that sell the best aren't necessarily the best-quality shows. If you really want to try to get shows you like dubbed, your best bet is to try to promote the show while it is airing and increase the streaming numbers, as those are one of the indicators companies use to determine whether a show might be popular enough to be dubbed. And sometimes, you just have to resign yourself to the fact that great shows like Non Non Biyori and Engaged to the Unidentified just will never be dubbed... at least, as an eternal fan of slice-of-life shows, that's the reality I have to live with every month...

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