From Japan to America in 5 Easy Steps
By Judy DeFrieze, Assistant Producer, 2004
Anime DVDs - they're those magical little coasters that give us hours and hours of entertainment. But have you ever wondered what it took to bring your favorite show over from Japan and turn it into that shiny disc spinning in your player? Before working here at Right Stuf, I was always curious about the art of bringing anime to America, and now that I've seen the process up close and personal, I thought I'd give you all a bit of an insider's view!
1. THE QUEST FOR GREATNESS! (Finding Just the Right Anime)THE QUEST FOR GREATNESS! The first step in licensing anime is - you guessed it! – finding a title. We always have out "ears to the ground," so to speak; we keep track of what new titles will be airing in Japan, what's most popular over there, and what shows seem to be catching the attention of the fans here in America. (So remember, your licensing requests aren't in vain – we're always listening!) Once a title catches our eye, then we launch into research mode: how many episodes is it? How good are the characters designed and the plot? Most importantly, do we ourselves like it? Kris and I know that if we pick up a show, it'd better be a quality title because we'll be watching it roughly half a million times before production is done… (Okay, I'm exaggerating; it's probably ¼ million at best.)
2. SHE SAID WHAT?! (Translation)SHE SAID WHAT?! So the show is designed and the contract is signed… now the real work begins! Once we receive the Japanese scripts, they're immediately handed to our translators, who go right off and work their little hearts out. At this stage of the game, when we're just getting raw text straight from the scripts, it's important to make sure that everything stays consistent. For instance, there's a character named "Jiltosh" in our upcoming title, Shingu. But he's around for quite a few episodes before anyone says his actual name; up until that point, even the scripts have the lines being said by "Aloha." If things like that aren't caught, then when the actor for Jiltosh comes in to act out his lines, half of them will get missed because they're under the name Aloha!
3. HOW DO YOU PROUNOUNCE THAT? (Making the English Dub)HOW DO YOU PROUNOUNCE THAT? Once the translation has been finished, the dub work begins. Unlike other companies, we don't have an in-house dubbing studio (there aren't that many actors in Iowa – go figure!), which means that we work with professionals in the field to get the recording done.
First a director is chosen, and then a list of all the show's major characters is compiled and sent to the studio. There, the director sends out a casting call, and actors come in and read through sample lines for particular characters. After all the auditions are done, everything's sent back to Iowa, and the final casting decisions are made here at the Right Stuf headquarters.
Casting sounds like it would be really simple, right? To be honest, it's not. With each character, we try to match the feel of the original Japanese voice as closely as possible, but it's not always easy. Sometimes an actor might be perfect for the part, but they aren't available due to scheduling conflicts. And sometimes, it just happens that none of the voice actors quite fit what it is we're looking for for a particular character; in that case, it's back to the drawing board (or in this case, back to auditions) again and again, until we can get a good match. Gravitation's Tohma and Yuki were especially hard to cast – it took many, many casting calls to find voices that could approach the timbre of Ai Orikasa and Kazuhiko Inoue!
4. MAKE THE SPARKLY REACH OUT! (Packaging Design)MAKE THE SPARKLY REACH OUT! Next, out valiant graphic designers step up to the plate. There are a lot of things that require a designer's hand: covers; silkscreens; DVD menus; and if there's an artbox, that needs to be designed too. Content managers guide the designers to make sure everything keeps with the look and feel of the show; and just like all art, most designers go through a lot of revisions before the final look is achieved. Even after all that work, all the designs must be approved by the Japanese licensor! For example, the four Comic Party cover girls were originally Eimi, Reiko, Minami, and Yuu, in that order; but at the last minute licensor request, the girls were changed to Mizuki, then Minami, then Reiko, then Yuu.
Also, this is the step where Limited Edition goodies come to life! Some shows are easy - backstage passes were a natural fit for Gravitation's rock band theme. But others are a little more difficult… When ideas are harder to come by, we have a big brainstorming session (usually involving lots of sugar and caffeine), then we figure out if what we want to do is A) possible under our contract, and B) possible at an affordable price. Tylor was the latest show to undergo this little ritual - if all goes well, you should really enjoy the upcoming Ultra Edition Sets!
5. THE END IS NEAR! (Disc Authoring)THE END IS NEAR! Finally, the last big step is authoring the discs. If you're a sub fan, this is your favorite part, because this is when the subtitled version is made! Through creating the translations is the very first step, the subtitles can't actually be matched up to the video until the disc is created, and the disc can't be created without the dub. So if you're ever wondered why anime companies screen their really new titles at the conventions in either dub or raw Japanese, there's your answer!
This step is when the disc comes together as a whole; all the subs are synched-up and checked for grammar, and the menus are tested to make sure every selection takes you where it should. When testing is complete, everything gets sent out the door, and it's time to take a big deep breath and relax.
This entire process has to be finished three or more months in advance of the street date for everything to be replicated and delivered to stores on time; so a DVD that you can buy in September has technically been "done" since at least June.
So that's it - five little steps to bring an anime over from Japan, and turn it into the form of that shiny R1 disc in your hands. Though in truth, this process is far from simple…it's actually a collaboration of the hard work and talent of a lot of different people, from translators to voice actors, from sound mixers to the folks at the authoring house. We all love this stuff and we love bringing it to you; and hopefully you can join us in this crazy biz someday! Until then, thanks for being an anime fan, and we'll see you in the next issue!