Over the last couple of weeks I have slowly, but surely been making my way through Steins;Gate Elite, a remake of the original Steins;Gate visual novel which spawned spin-offs, a sequel, an animated television adaptation of both it and its sequel, as well as a film sequel. It’s even getting a live action Hollywood television adaptation in the near future. My first experience with Steins;Gate was through the anime adaptation after it was licensed and dubbed by Funimation Entertainment, as a result I have no attachment to the Japanese cast. However, all Steins;Gate visual novels and supplementary materials lack English dubs despite being localized for North America, meaning instead of J. Michael Tatum’s rendition of Okabe Rintaro, I get Mamoru Miyano’s original portrayal. Mind you I’m not saying the Japanese dub is terrible, it’s actually quite good and entertaining. I’m used to being stuck with Japanese dubs so I can live with it. However, my older brother is a lot pickier than I am. He watched the anime dubbed as well, and refuses to touch the even better visual novel due to its lack of a dub.
Now, you could ask, why wasn’t the visual novel dubbed? After all, it actually released in the States long after the anime adaptation so there was an established cast they could hire to dub the game. The problem, I imagine, was two fold: 1) The game is extremely dialogue heavy and the cast is by no means tiny. They would have to hire the actors for all characters with voiced lines and pay the actors accordingly for all the dialogue they’ll have to record which far exceeds that of the television adaptation. And 2) It all comes down to cost. Voiceover is by no means cheap, especially if you want talent. And how much an actor gets paid, as mentioned before, depends heavily on just how much dialogue they need to record. And that’s not counting any other additional crew members they would need to hire to help bring the dub to completion, such as a director and possibly even writers. In the case of Steins;Gate Elite and the upcoming Steins;Gate 0 Elite, there’s also the issue of timing the English actors performances to the lip flaps of the characters, something not present in the original version. At this point hiring writers to edit the script to make it work becomes a “need” rather than a “want.”
When deciding whether or not to dub a title, be it a game or an anime, the creators have to consider if they can afford it, and if so, would it be worth it? Could they recoup the costs? Visual novels are niche, so the likely answer is that no, they don’t believe they could recoup the cost on a dub. Even in the realm of anime, there’s no guarantee that a release, be it a stream or home video release, will generate the revenue needed to recoup the licensing costs, let alone the dubbing costs.
This of course is where a platform such as Kickstarter comes in. If the creators know how much the dub would cost, run the numbers and all that fun stuff, and contact the actors beforehand to ascertain whether they would be interested in reprising their roles, they could host a funding campaign. If the goal is met, the dub is produced. If not, no one loses any money and the project doesn’t go ahead. By crowdfunding the dub, the creators no longer have to worry about losing money on the dub and their only responsibility is to now take the money donated to them and actually produce the promised quality product.
Now, this isn’t some new concept. Some publishers/developers have done this in the past as part of their Kickstarter campaigns. They fund the entire localization of the game and an English dub is one of the stretch goals. This has also been done for anime, namely ones from Right Stuf/Nozomi Entertainment. They fund the DVD/Blu-ray release with English subtitles as the goal and then add an English dub as a stretch goal or have the English dub be the entire point of the Kickstarter. However, despite these successful attempts, the practice still hasn’t become particularly commonplace and it’s a shame. Aniplex of America opts to not dub even some of their high profile shows as they deem it unnecessary or not worth the expenditure even though it could reach a wider audience. And publishers such as Bandai Namco, who produce video games based on the some of the largest and hottest anime and manga properties in the industry often choose to not dub their games even if the western audience for that particular IP is large. Take the recent video game adaptations of My Hero Academia as an example, the My Hero Academia: One’s Justice series. Both titles in the series are subbed only, despite My Hero Academia having an extremely large fanbase in the US. They don’t even really dub One Piece games anymore if they ever did. Mobile Suit Gundam? Again, huge fanbase, but no dub for the games. And then of course you have smaller developers and publishers who want to bring their games to the States, and do, but can’t afford dubbing costs and ultimately release sub-only.
The people who buy these shows and games are the ones who don’t mind reading subtitles and listening to the Japanese audio. But there are also plenty of viewers and players out there who may be interested in the title, but aren’t interested in reading walls of text or listening to a language that isn’t their native tongue. Not providing a dub limits the potential audience than an IP reaches, but it also cannot be asked that these companies spend more money than they have or can reasonably afford and run the risk of not selling enough anyway and losing money or worse.
Some people may argue that you don’t need a dub, that some properties are better off not dubbed. And there may be some instances where you are right, but there’s no downside to having a dub. It only expands the potential audience for a game, movie, or television series. You may raise the concern that companies shouldn’t need the fans to bankroll them, and again you may be right in some instances. A publisher such as Bandai Namco should have more than enough money to fund a dub and not really feel it if the game doesn’t entirely pay off, but as I mentioned before you have smaller studios, smaller groups of creators, who cannot afford that risk, but who want their work to reach as many people as possible. So why not champion the idea of Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaigns to raise the funds to broaden a titles reach?