Over the last year or two, the existence of a certain anime – or version of a certain anime – whose very nature seemed baffling and entertaining, appeared to me. First from anime reviewer GR Arkada and then from Ruki, I’d seen bits of the anime in various compilations and found it hilarious. From the edgy and controversial humour to the strange and amusing underlying meta-joke that this all got LICENSED and distributed officially by a dubbing studio, I fell in love with what I was seeing. At least, I fell in love with the idea of it. However, permeating my positive reaction to the anime on a number of levels was the belief that despite everything I still didn’t think this anime could stand on its own two legs. It was clear that the dubbing artists were taking the notion of artistic freedom to the extreme here and the chances that we’d be getting a coherent piece of entertainment that could endure a full twenty or so episodes without running out of steam were slim. As a result, I decided not to go further with this anime than the compilations I’d seen and the things I’d heard. That was a mistake the extent of which it only took me until I watched it in fully to realise.
What the hell happened here?!
In short, the back story here is that the original Japanese anime flopped in its country of origin, and when handing it over to be dubbed in the US, the studio were given veeery few restrictions with how much they could change from the original script besides names of characters. Result? The writers, direcors and actors having a brilliant time constructig the most unhinged, whacky and hilarious abridged version of the series they could come up with.
One day, though, on catching up with the seasonal anime I’ve been following this season (shoutout to any other To Be Hero, Yuri on Ice, March Comes In Like a Lion and Nanbaka fans out there reading!), I felt like I just hadn’t had my fill. For whatever reason. Ghost Stories was on my mind in those last few days, and I decided “what the heck, one episode can’t hurt”. I was far from disappointed.
#Let’s get down to business#…
In fact, Ghost Stories really did a better job than most English dubs I’ve heard before. Below I’ll list a couple of things I heard in the Ghost Stories dub which really stood out to me compared to most anime dubs, and how anime dubbing VA’s (voice actors)/directors should take note of this and use it to improve their own projects, as well as perhaphs highlighting what a wonder it is that English anime dubs haven’t pulled their socks up yet when we look at them from outside the anime bubble.
1 – it’s an adaptation, not a direct translation!
The first thing to note about this dub is the thing it has that other anime dubs (for the most part) don’t: charm. You can really tell that the actors are comfortable with themselves and each other and the chemistry between them is refreshing and enjoyable to hear. It made me comfortable and more open to their jokes. Not only that, but it turns out English anime voice actors can in fact speak normally (shocking, I know) if given more freedom to play their role naturally. Now I don’t have any idea why dubbing a Japanese anime in English should mean actors have to try and do a sort of ‘direct translation’ type thing with their acting, but for some reason this is the case. The results are obvious, too. People hate on anime dubs more than marmite haters hate on marmite: a lot. And while I disagree the extent to which English dubs deserve this aggression, I can understand why people feel such animosity towards them. It’s because when you translate something, be it a book, film or anime, trying to do an ‘accurate’ or ‘direct’ translation is the not the right way to go about it. We end up with stuttery, awkward dialogue which might reflect the original well (or not, who knows) but in doing so fails to accommodate for the language it is in. I’m talking about the little idioms, quirks and characteristics, both in terms of the words used and the intonation of speech (which is far more noticeable in dubs of course).
2 – just act natural!
As overused as the saying is, in my opinion one thing English dubbing teams need to do that Ghost Stories performed in flying colours is to make the ‘character’ the VA is playing sound remotely human. I know this partly relates to the previous point, but of course it goes further than this. I’ve heard this said before but moe doesn’t seem to work in English the way it does in Japanese. The simple reason for this is that people just don’t speak like that, even those with cute voices. BUT obviously there are cute voices in English speaking countries (duh), so the best route to go down here for any VA’s placed in this apparent predicament is to do their best to put on a cute voice that sounds naturally cute in English, i.e. something that would sound cute and not cringy if used by an English speaker to their fellow English speakers. Of course, this is just one (admittedly large problem VA’s seem to have in playing their English anime roles. If it’s that hard, just learn from your fellow VA’s doing a comparably sterling job in English cartoons like Rick and Morty, Archer, or even some of the excellent Ghibli dubs out there which are examples of anime dubbing done right). When we compare most anime dubs side by side with these better examples, it’s clear that it’s not just a problem with English-speaking VA’s in general. All you have to do is look in other media which handle voice acting comparably better.
Final word – what’s great about English dubs, and the fact that Japanese dubs aren’t as perfect as you might idealise them to be
I love – or want to love – English anime dubs. Despite the faults of shoddy English dubbed anime, the one invaluable thing I appreciate about them is the fact that I can immerse myself so so so much more in the anime because I’m not sitting there with my eyes darting all over the screen to take in the atmosphere, art, narrative and also read the subtitles. For those of you who want to argue that the Japanese sub will always be more natural, you’re wrong. As somebody with Japanese friends and started learning Japanese so I could find my way around the country, one of the most surprising things I learned was that people don’t speak like they do in anime in real life. The difference is, for us, we just can’t tell – but that doesn’t mean we have the right to roast English dubs when comparing the two.
Thanks for reading guys, and I hope you enjoyed and maybe even learned something new here. If you want more like this, please subscribe to have this good stuff sent right to your wordpress reader and/or have you notified every time I post something new.
See you next time.