December 27th, 2008

Voice actors are respected in Japan, and within a certain segment of the market, are even revered.  Which is odd, because: they suck.

The vast majority of them work within the anime industry, which means, to be honest, the bar is pretty low.  Sure, Japan’s anime industry is enormous, and sure, comic books are read by a huge swath of the populace, from young to old.  But there is a common western misconception regarding this: the anime market is not the same as the manga market.

Manga are read by all ages, by the educated and the ignorant, by a wide range of demographics.  Anime, on the other hand, is, *for the most part*, watched by children and geeks.  No, that’s not universal.  Everyone watches Miyazaki movies.  Lots of folks of different ages watch Sazae-san.  But for the most part, anime appeals to a much, much smaller segment of the population, and one with less discerning tastes.  Or, rather, one whose discerningness is aimed at different aspects than, for example, someone who liked movies in general.  So anime fans don’t look for realism in voice acting, they look for a certain anime-ness.

This would be great if it just restricted itself to anime, but the problem is the bleedover to dubbing of regular movies.  The dubbing of movies here is atrocious.  It’s all very professional, of course.  None of the stuff you hear about in Southeast Asia or Eastern Europe, with one person doing all the voices in a movie, both male and female.  But the actors doing the voices stick to the standards established by anime.

So you have a set of fixed ways of speaking.  You have the “gruff tough cop” voice.  The “sexy woman” voice (which, for some reason, is always a “sexy woman in her 40s” voice, regardless of the age of the sexy person on screen).  The “refined woman” voice.  The “old man” and “old woman” voice.  And maybe three or four more.  These are assigned to the characters in the movie based on the role, regardless of whether the personality actually fits the character.  So, for example, the same actress would do the same style of acting for the mom in Home Alone and Scully from X-Files, despite the fact that they have totally different personalities, because they are both women in their 30’s/40’s.

This was thrown into high relief a few years ago when I watched a dubbed movie on TV (I didn’t have a bilingual TV at the time).  It was some forgettable suspense movie, with a scheming evil wife who was causing all kinds of grief.  Then the climax of the movie came, where it was revealed to the audience that the bad guy was: the scheming evil wife!!  …which made no sense, because we KNEW that through the whole movie.  And that’s when I realized that we never saw the wife do anything bad or sketchy through the whole movie.  But since she was the bad guy in the movie, they assigned her the actress who does the “evil woman” voice.  So, while in the original, she was played by an actress acting like a normal, friendly wife, making the climax where she’s shown to be the bad guy a big surprise, in the dubbed version, you knew she was the bad guy from the moment she opened her mouth.

It’s as if they had dubbed the Sixth Sense with Bruce Willis’ voice in the stereotypical “scary ghost voice” from old cartoons.

Leave a Reply