For as long as anime has reached western audiences, the topic of dubs has been a contentious one.  What cannot be disputed, though, is that dubs have been a point first exposure to countless franchises for many fans.  As time marches on, some of these dubs have been replaced, or they’ve been lost entirely to the flow of time. Personally speaking, I’ll be the first one to admit that an episode of Sailor Moon feels incomplete without the “Sailor Says” segment at the end. I won’t defend the content and regional changes made to the show, but I will argue that it was the dub I watched at a particular time in my life, and that it is significant to me.

With Neon Genesis Evangelion’s Netflix debut just a few days away, the promised new dub leaves unanswered questions. The fate of ADV’s original 1997 is has not officially been stated, though many assume that it will be  discarded, never to be seen again. This would mean that  the dub that so many fans came to know and love over the course of twenty years will wither on aging VHS tapes and optical discs, never to officially be available in-print again.

Think about that for a moment. ADV’s dub has held influence for more than twenty years. Now, with time, it could vanish forever… at least in the eyes of most viewers.

Of course, not all dubs are fated to vanish in the sands of time like Sailor Moon’s Cloverway adaptation or, presumably, ADV’s version of Evangelion.  Some are preserved through fan efforts, through collections, and in some cases, through the anime industry itself.

Discotek Media has prided itself on collecting as many dub versions as possible for anime titles it releases under its banner.  They released Samurai Pizza Cats, the western “localization” of Kyatto Ninden Teyandee, and they’ve gone so far as to include the obscure UK dub of All Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku from the short-lived “Crusader Video: to their SD-BD release of the franchise.

In the case of a lot of these old dubs, the task of securing copies is usually left to Discotek alone, as the licensors retained no copies of their own.  Discotek’s Mike Toole and MediaOCD’s (A disc authoring company often contracted out by Discotek) Justin Sevakis were kind enough to share a few details from within the industry.

Ashley Hakker: For a lot of older anime, the rights and contracts involved in their dubs are far less straightforward than they are today. What legal obstetrical can be present in bringing an older dub back to disc?

Mike Toole: Generally, the second-biggest obstacle to rescuing a lost dub is paperwork. In recent years, most English dubs produced by western video companies are the exclusive property of those companies… until the series has ‘broken even’ in sales, at which point the ownership of the dub materials reverts to the Japanese licensor. But this wasn’t always the case– some older dubs, in particular ones produced for TV, remain the property of the overseas production company, or are bound by other rules.

There’s one particularly frustrating case for Discotek, in which we’re 100% certain that the Japanese publisher owns the dub, but can’t prove it, and have been unable to convince our partner in Japan that they own the rights to the dub. There’s no trail of paperwork, so we can’t receive permission to include the dub! Thankfully, such a situation is rare these days. Just because a licensor can grant us the rights to include a dubbed version doesn’t mean that they have the original materials…! This is actually the biggest obstacle to including a known dubbed version, materials issues. We’ve sourced English dubs from PAL videocassettes multiple times, the Crusader Video dub of Nuku Nuku is just a more recent example.

It’s also been necessary to source dubbed versions from older DVD releases, US videotapes, and in a couple of early cases, taped-from-TV telecasts! This can sometimes be very challenging, because VHS tapes are fraught with issues like analog noise and bad hi-fi tracks, and older DVD releases sometimes include audio compression artifacting. We always do our best to include the best materials we can find.

Justin Sevakis: The Crusader Video dub was found by Mike Toole and provided to me as part of a big project we did some years ago, where we pooled our resources to buy used VHS copies of every UK-exclusive dub that we knew to exist.

Mike Toole: Justin had a friend in the UK who patiently hunted down tapes for his purposes. Justin did NOT have a PAL-NTSC universal VHS deck. But I had one! So Justin reached out to me, and asked me if I’d take receipt of the tapes and dump them onto a more flexible media, like DVD. I quickly agreed, and then I got a MASSIVE box in the mail.

Ashley Hakker: Some series have newer dubs produced to replace their old ones, such as Sailor Moon or Escaflowne. What do you think has been the market drive towards redubbing series?  Has Discotek ever considered redubbing an anime?

Mike Toole: The market drive towards redubbing older series is the result of challenges both technical and legal. Sailor Moon seems to be the most complicated – the DiC version of the series is both extensively edited and features some new CG graphics for framing/transition purposes, and a whole bunch of new music. Getting that version to home video would involve making a deal with DiC (probably not that difficult), acquiring masters in good condition (more difficult), and receiving permission from Toei and the original creator to release the DiC version (likely the most difficult). 

The newer dubs of Gundam SEED and Escaflowne do address some technical challenges, but it’s also savvy marketing to introduce a brand-new version of a classic with contemporary actors. In Discotek’s case, we’ve never once discussed redubbing a series that already has an existing dub we can use. For us, it’s both a matter of preservation, and costs– making a new dub is expensive!

Ashley Hakker: Are there any other stories of “extreme means” needed to secure out-of-print dubs for re-release when the license holder is unable to provide them?

Justin Sevakis: I recently had to have a second-hand Betamax tape of an edited dub of Sanrio’s Nutcracker Fantasy captured at a specialty company, which I then digitally restored and used to recut the “international version” that was produced in the early ‘80s. I was able to recut video from a new HD remaster of the Japanese version to match, and my frequent collaborator Brady Hartel was able to recreate the English title screens. It was a fun little exercise. I’d done something similar with the “international” recut of the Space Warrior Baldios movie a few months earlier. There will be a few other projects like that soon.

Sadly the number of dubs that the anime industry have saved from the darkness is small in comparison to how many obscure dubs there are.  Anime has been dubbed in English not only for North America and the UK, but for South America and, Asian countries including Singapore and as far east as India.  Many of these were only ever broadcast on television and never saw home video releases.  While series like ‘Sailor Moon’ or ‘Cardcaptors’ are easy to name, when one goes digging they find so many dubs that it wouldn’t be possible to list them in an article such as this. 

In addition to these, some dubs never officially saw the light of day such as ADV’s own dub of Gurren Lagaan, where the company shut down most operations prior to release of the first volume.  Copies of the screeners made it into the hands of some individuals and a run of five thousand retail discs is rumored to have been manufactured and then destroyed.

There is also collecting out-of-print media but this can become pricey depending on what one searches out and the budget available to them.  I’ve personally been seeking out all the DVDs of Nelvana’s ‘Cardcaptors’ even though there was never a complete release of the series in either North America, The United Kingdom, or Australia.  In some cases, I’ve found single three episode discs priced in excess of $50 USD.  Prices of ADV’s Evangelion release has slowly climbed since the series evaporated from retail channels in the late 2000’s, though it can still be had.  One also never knows how lucky they can be on the used market or a flea market.  This year, I saw a friend find Bandai’s Gunbuster OVA release, in its entirety, for all of five dollars.  None of these are highly accessible options when contrasted to on-demand streaming services available for a reasonable monthly fee or in-print discs bought online and delivered in a matter of days or even hours.

One may champion piracy at this point, and they would not be entirely wrong.  There are many fan efforts to preserve dubs.  Out-of-print versions can survive on torrents, in usenet and on pirate streaming services where the concerns of licensors are ignored.  There are some groups that have gone so far as to mate the subtitles and dubbed audio from out-of-print western DVDs with the video of in-print Japanese Blu-Rays to produce their own bilingual Blu-Ray disc images and distributed online.  The limits that these efforts can reach is finite, and in some cases, access can be restricted to clandestine invite-only groups where one “has to know a guy” to gain access.  Piracy, even pirate streaming, has a technical barrier to entry that makes it inaccessible to some.

The more obscure or hidden sites, often with the much more eclectic or rare content, are only available to a chosen few in the right online circles. It’s ironic to see content that was once broadcast free over the air for anyone in range with an antenna to find itself hidden behind the closed doors of an invite-only region of the internet.  To say that piracy fills the entire void is simply untrue, and it leaves massive gaps in that void for all of the above reasons.

I’m sure that some would cheer at certain dubs being lost, but I’ll argue for the cultural significance of any content, including dubs that made changes or castings that some would find disagreeable.  Something does not have to be “good” to have made an impact on our culture.  In the end, as consumers and viewers, even when co-operating, our options can be limited.  But maybe one should think twice before they throw away a DVD or tape with an old dub on it or see if someone else would take ownership of it and keep it in circulation.

As Netflix’ release of Evangelion approaches, I’m eager to hear the new dub and am even planning a marathon with friends who know the old dub all too well.  I hope to see both dubs available as audio options, but despite my fondness and nostalgia, I am very curious to see what kind of dub can be produced twenty years after the original. personally, I look forward to the experience. … I’m just not about to throw away my ADV DVDs either.

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