Chris Beveridge, anime expert at Mania.com (formerly of AnimeOnDVD), wrote up a thought-provoking article on the fall of the anime voice acting industry. I have to agree with pretty much everything he had to say. Unfortunately, the anime voice acting industry (and U.S. anime availability in general) is starting to go through a pretty big contraction period right now. Publishers have been closing their doors, and those who remain open are not licensing as many titles as they did in the past. But publishers’ attempts to curtail extra expenses does not stop at licenses, it’s simply more cost-effective for them to offer subtitles only on new DVD releases. They only have to pay salary to a handful of translators, writers, editors and typesetters, instead of them plus a slew of voice actors. And while some voice actors do also work on scripting, it’s not true for all of them.
While I openly admit that I generally prefer subtitles, there have been some truly fantastic dubs; the first two that come to mind are Cowboy Bebop and Golden Boy (for Doug Smith’s portrayal of Kintaro, if nothing else). Furthermore, the overall quality of dubs have gone up significantly in the last decade or so, which has only served to increase the reach of a once extremely niche market. Sadly, the fact of the matter is that the anime industry may very well lose exposure because there are fans who don’t want to (or can’t) read their anime. I can think of a few people I know who love to watch anime, but their interest almost completely disappears if their only option is subtitles, and it’s probably going to be a hard sell to children if they have to read their shows instead of watching them. If they start losing sales due to the lack of dubs, that’s only going to continue to put the squeeze on production companies, causing more cost-cutting measures. This could create a vicious cycle that only further cripples the reach of the anime industry, and reduce the availability of dubs even more.
While the anime industry is suffering a recession of its own right now, the same cannot be said for the voice acting industry. In his article, Chris Beveridge notes that some anime voice talent has started to look into other industries for steady work, and perhaps the one offering most opportunity is the video game industry. Fifteen years ago, due to size vs. quality tradeoffs, voice acting was a luxury in video games, but as data storage systems have improved, virtually every game sold can afford the space. And to be a top-tier game in many genres now, voice acting is a key component. Some voice actors already do cross over between industries; Johnny Yong Bosch and Michelle Ruff who did voice for Bleach and Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya also provided voices for Magna Carta 2 and Disgaea 3. Of course, a story-driven genre like role-playing games is an obvious place for voice actors to find employment; however, it’s certainly not the only one. Once a much more mindless action driven genre, first-person shooters have begun adding much more substance to their games in recent years, and with the substance comes dialogue. FPS games like Halo offer plenty of cut-scenes and dialogue during play, and someone has to give a voice to all the characters involved. However, there are still genres that offer relatively little opportunity for dialogue such as racing games and building simulators, but even these can offer a few opportunities for voice actors through interaction with advisors and the like. Granted, these and other genres may never offer the expansive character lists of role playing games like the Suikoden series with their 108 Stars of Destiny, it does allow for much greater variety in exposure for voice acting talent.
While the “death of anime dubs,” as Chris calls it, is lamentable, and perhaps unavoidable, another opportunity is just starting to grow into its own for voice acting talent, new and old.
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