The Existential Crisis of the Anime Industry: Voice Acting, Scripting, and fan perception.
This article was inspired, and will be the last pertaining to, Another Anime Convention 2014 in Manchester New Hampshire. This is foremost a plea to me fellow anime fans, as well as a declaration of appreciation for every single member of the Anime Industry who is never thanked or appreciated.
Fellow fans, I had an epiphany as I sat and listened to Patrick Seitz and J. Michael Tatum discuss Steins; Gate at a small panel in a decent but not overwhelming room in Manchester. Anime, as an industry, has become synonymous with voice acting. If you ask yourself what you think of when you think of english dubs, you will most certainly say it is the voice actors. Yet how many of us can reference Gen ‘Urobutcher’ Urobuchi, the mad mastermind behind ‘Madoka Magica’, ‘Fate/Zero’, Aldnoah(I have not personally seen this one, this is just to clarify that people actually know many things he’s done, even if they don’t know it). . .Kamen Raider GAIM, and many other masterpieces? Indeed, we find it fitting to consistently recognize certain faces as directors or creators in the original language, but so many of us seem to forget the actors outside their roles.
There may be some of you reading this who think, I know who these people are!, and I’m happy you exist. Truly. But to tell you the truth, so few of us do. Before I attended this panel I never consciously thought to look beyond the names I recognize as voice actors and attribute them to scripts, directing, and voice casting. Even as Tatum and Seitz themselves discussed being scriptors, many in the audience seemed to take the point of being a script writer to mean synonymously casting who would be the actor. This wasn’t a problem with the person’s intelligence, many of us just don’t seem to connect that there is importance in the anime industry even if it is not directly correlated to being a voice.
What happened to us, fans? When did we stop thinking of the English translators, script writers, voice directors, and producers. . .as important elements? Even the voice directors importance in our minds seems to be limited to ‘gives you a role’, but they are so much more. Without good voice direction many amazing actors flounder and lose some of their majesty. Voice directors are needed and yet when many of you think of the name Colleen Clickenbeard, don’t you think of her roles first and foremost? Truly, that is what people in this industry are recognized for. When you ask who a person is, is it not fair to assume most of you think ‘That was okabe, or that was Isshin, or that was so and so” and not “so and so directed”. Even further, do not many of us seek the approval and affirmation of these people to further our own careers as potential actors?
I think J Michael Tatum summed up the importance of English Script writers best. We all take for granted that scripts in Japanese changed to English with no context would not be true to the nature of the original. If we merely translate, so few english viewers would genuinely feel what can be felt in the Japanese. A good script writer does not in fact take it upon themselves to simply transcribe, but to breathe life into a script so that it’s original context translates well. Further, script writing is integral to voice acting as a bad script can leave an actor feeling wrestless and unsure of themselves, which can easily lead to a bad performance.
So why does this matter, you might ask? The scripts were Japanese originally. It’s the Japanese who did the most work, and in such might deserve our praise more. But that’s an insult to the integrity of our source material. If we depreciate what it is to translate the spirit and words of a show to english, we depreciate what it is to be a part of this industry. So many of us want to jump right down the hole into acting because it’s that simple. But what about our counterparts in original media? Don’t people aspire not to act, but to be directors, and writers, and even contribute so much more than we understand?
My hypothesis is simple: People want to leave a mark on the anime industry and they feel the best way to do so is by bringing a voice to the table. But that idea is so. . .wrong. No, you are not writing an original script as in Hollywood. But how is that different, how is that bad? The service of those in the anime industry to translate is so vastly underplayed solely because you are not making something up, but you’re making it your own. Maybe not in the way people think, but you’re putting a part of your life into it! Even if these kids are in Akihabara Japan, you are bringing their voices and their story naturally to America in a way Americans can understand. And no one wants that, no one is excited to do that. Voice Actors who script and direct are so surprised when panels about things other than Voice Acting do well.
Don’t get me wrong, voice acting is not a bad goal. I have friends who want to do it more than anything. My partner Hideki has devoted his life to the idea of this industry and wants nothing more than to voice act even miniscule roles. This is not a post saying that voice acting is stupid, because it isn’t. I don’t think a single voice actor who scripts and directs thinks, man, I hate voice acting and I’m glad I’m doing this instead. There is a genuine feeling in voice acting that I know must be difficult to emulate when you have a media you cannot originate entirely, though Funimation is working on that, and it’s one many people are searching for. But we’ve forgotten the people who make voice acting a reality at all. Hell, we’ve forgotten that the voice actors are amazing for reasons on top of their voices!
Maybe that’s the issue with our existence as fans in the first place. We depreciate fan subbers, we depreciate translators, and we depreciate scriptors. That’s how it works now. Guys- most of us are people who will have to study for years to understand Japanese. I am one of those few who is in the middle of Japanese, with my third year of it, and it’s hard. It’s difficult. It’s not, I’m going to take a year in college and call it a day. It requires discipline and love to master, and the writers at funimation take it to a whole new level. They keep the integrity of the writing, even if they get rid of the original situation.
THIS is the magic of the industry. Voice actors who put their talents into all facets. People who are so underestimated, so disliked, so HATED for the things they do- things they do with love. Things that fulfill them as people. To all of you who desire to be voice actors and want it with your hearts, that feeling is what they put into all of their jobs at Funimation and elsewhere. Patrick Seitz is not a Funimation exclusive worker due to his location, but Tatum almost exclusively is.
And they made me cry folks. I walked around in a stupor after this panel. I’m still walking around in a stupor. This is what anime takes. This is what it earns. It’s more than voice acting. We have to critically examine all parts if we consider ourselves real fans. We can’t just listen to a voice for five seconds and decide we hate it, so the whole dub is bad. I implore all of you to re examine the anime you look at. The Japanese is only the skeleton of what these creators made it into. The transformation from a foreign language, one that is not even based in the same origin (thanks latin), to this? This is amazing.
We’re all fans. We’re all people who this media has touched. I hope all of you can realize from now on that the importance of the industry is not simply in the acting, but in all the things that go to make that a polished masterful piece of art. Whatever your goal is, whether it be simply watching or instead becoming a part of the magic, keep in mind just how much work goes to make it this artform that has so changed many of our lives.
Excuse me. . .I’ve got to go cry some more.