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Old 09-17-2018   #1
NCZ
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Default On game dubs and role reprisals

This is not a response to anything in particular, but more something that has been on my mind a lot in the past little while. This is totally stream-of-conscience, but I thought writing something up would be good for helping this all get sorted out and make sense in my brain. There's a lot of broader points in general here that I could write a whole similar post about, but I'm just going to focus on the reprisal side of things, and on games because I personally feel more passionate about that area than with anime dubs. This is gonna be kind of a weird blog post/rant I guess. It's not gonna be totally coherent but I don't care. Sue me.

I think fans of non-union dubs have been conditioned to resign themselves to the idea that an actor might not keep their role or stick around forever, and I think it's unfortunate that this has often manifested as blaming the actor for "getting too big" rather than blaming the company for not making the effort. It genuinely saddens me that I see people call certain actors "dub traitors" or say they got too big for their britches or what have you. And yes, I have genuinely seen that around the internet.

I guess where I can start out is my history with this sort of subject, which is why I'm writing it. 2012 was a pretty good year for game dubs. We had a lot of actors on top of their games. We hadn't quite had the boom yet of the current talent pool, but some of those actors were still active in early roles (e.g. Cristina Vee, Christine Cabanos, Kaiji Tang, Lauren Landa), and we were getting a lot of familiar actors from late 2000s dubs on top of their game (e.g. Liam O'Brien, Travis Willingham, and the big two who inspired me to write about this topic, Laura Bailey and Troy Baker).

At this point, when Persona 4: Golden came out, it was not even in question that those actors would be back. This year also saw the anime adaptations of Persona 4 and Tales of Vesperia both get dubbed. While the latter had a lot more holes, Funimation still managed to get Troy Baker and Sam Riegel back, and that's something people would consider unthinkable today compared to actors like Eden Riegel or Joe J. Thomas.

2013 was when we saw the first crack, but it was only really in 2014/2015 that this started becoming the rule. I think it's worth noting that the circumstances behind Troy Baker not returning for part 2 of P4 Animation are different than those behind him not coming back to roles in later years.

Troy did not do part 2 of the animation because he was on his honeymoon. Kanji is my favourite Troy Baker role to this day, but this didn't upset me. Because this, frankly, is a pretty important thing to do in your life in the grand scheme of things, and I think it's ultimately more important than any acting/work commitments. Plus, honestly, the anime is a retelling of the game. It doesn't replace it to me, it simply exists alongside it. If they did a remake of the game and there was no Troy, that would be upsetting to me, but Troy not working on part 2 of the anime dub or the later spinoffs to me does not change that his performance is still there in the original game and Golden, and those are what count.

I think situations like this only started bothering me more in 2016, when Troy and Laura started taking on fewer roles, but the roles they accepted were larger and more intensive, often mocap. This is when a lot of older dub roles started falling through. A good example of one that bugged me is in Zero Time Dilemma. The sequel to Virtue's Last Reward which featured Troy as Sigma and Laura as Luna, recast Sigma with Matt Mercer, and Diana (the woman Luna was based on) with Eden Riegel. While I still liked him in the part, Sigma is not my alltime favourite Troy Baker role, and in fact he didn't even technically voice him in the game due to plot reasons. This recast upset me more because of the principle behind it - Zero Time Dilemma is a direct sequel to VLR. For a game that was supposed to wrap up the trilogy and tie everything up nicely in a bow, the lack of continuity with 999 and VLR felt alienating. Junpei and Akane's characterizations are totally different, and Sigma and Diana sound different. Only Phi felt consistent. A grand finale not being able to get the whole gang together is disappointing to me. The game had dual audio which alleviated things, I think Matt did a fine job on his own merits and Eden brought the best performance in the game, and to be honest the game itself kinda sucked anyway, but this was a situation I felt was much more unfortunate.

Now this brings me to two games in particular that there is a lot of questioning about - Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition, and Catherine: Full Body.

I don't think it's any exaggeration to say Yuri Lowell is Troy Baker's breakout in the JRPG scene. The triple whammy of him, Kanji, and Snow established him not only among RPGs, but in video games in general. Vincent is similar. Troy himself promoted Catherine heavily when the game came out, talking about it constantly on Facebook and doing a number of interviews for game sites. Speaking personally for myself, Vincent is quite possibly one of his top 5 best roles, ever. He NAILED it and I cannot picture anyone else in the role. What really sparked my curiosity is his special Retro Replay episode when he watched WatchMojo's ranking of his top 10 best game roles.

This video came out 2 months ago. I watched it then and it really stuck with me. When WatchMojo talks about Yuri, Kanji, and Vincent, Troy lights up. It has been 10 years (7 for Vincent) since those games came out, and Troy is in a completely different place as an actor now compared to then. And yet he talks about them with such detail, such knowledge, and such love and care, not only regarding his process of how he personally approached them, but them as characters in their games, even divorced from him. He shows great respect too for the developers and the series themselves. These are characters that all still have a big part in his heart. Troy sounded genuinely impressed that Yuri made the list at all, and sounded almost hurt that Kanji was not ranked higher. I actually feel a little sad that Nolan was so jokey when Kanji came up, because there's no other way to say it - this is still a role that Troy feels very strongly about and very connected to, not simply on a professional level, but personally, artistically, and as a fan.

Why does this bother me? I worry that this whole acceptance that Troy and Laura aren't coming back to certain roles conditions people into thinking that even the best actors are expendable. Like if you get "big enough", people will just accept that you are too good for a certain medium.

I also find it a little weird that it's mostly Troy and Laura this happens with. If Steve Blum, Crispin Freeman, or Kari Wahlgren have a big role come back to anime, you can bet they will probably unionize to accommodate them. Why should games like Catherine: Full Body or Tales of Vesperia DE be different? Catherine was Atlus's biggest selling game at the time and Persona 5 just sold over 2 million copies. Tales has a devoted fanbase and has managed to reach a pretty good spot when it comes to selling near the millions for bigger games. DE is a remaster, so most of the work has already been done, it's one of the most popular games in the series with 10 years' of word of mouth, and it's coming to Switch, PC, and PS4 for the first time - the WIDEST possible audience for RPGs and full of fans who have proven themselves hungry for them. Troy and Laura's roles in these games are not exactly small potatoes either. They are the main characters. The whole game hinges around them. The entire dynamic of both games would be fundamentally altered in English if someone else replaced their work. Surely THIS can justify whatever extra expenditure is necessary?

Let's look at a good counterpoint - Square Enix. Square Enix have consistently proven themselves to have the best track record of any Japanese publisher when it comes to getting their VA casts back. On the western side, they did have the snafu with Life is Strange: Before the Storm becoming the most notorious and high-profile game affected by the SAG-AFTRA strike, but as soon as the strike ended, they made the point to get Ashly Burch and Hannah Telle back for the game's bonus episode. That is IMMENSELY commendable.

I think the thing here is simple. Most publishers are content to move along according to whatever they're capable of. I think they need to do a better job of stepping up to the plate and accommodating the actor on THEIR end. They need to offer and provide better terms that match the actor's timing, logistical, and maybe even financial needs. Clearly, Square Enix have been able to manage that. Laura and Troy both returned for Dissidia NT and World of Final Fantasy recently, so they clearly do not have a problem returning for dub roles IF the publisher can make it work for them. The union thing is a common argument, but the fact that the two of them have dropped union roles in the past (notably, Naruto for Troy) shows it's really not that simple. Maybe not every situation can be negotiable, and that's fine. But if Catherine FB and TOV: DE come out and don't have either of them when they are so crucial to the game, that's the kind of thing that just makes me think a foot has to go down.

I just think it's frustrating that people have resigned themselves to the idea that actors can be "too good" for a medium, and I think this is a consequence of the fact that game companies themselves are complacent. Actors are not disposable and there is no one-size-fits-all for every single one of an actor's roles. The game industry is bigger and healthier than ever. In the past you could rationalize it by saying these are smaller companies putting out niche games for a small audience. But with numerous RPGs and seemingly "cult" games smashing sales records left and right - Persona 5, Nier: Automata, Octopath Traveller, Monster Hunter World (ALL of which were dubbed non-union, mind) - I think that justification for cheaper dubs is behind us. The line is blurring between cult and mainstream. I think it's time for game companies to pony up. They should be negotiating according to the actors' time and needs, not the other way around. Because at this stage, to do otherwise I feel is just cheap, and disrespectful to the actors and fans alike.

This was a really long post and I apologize for that. Hopefully I made SOME level of sense. By all means feel free to debate me on this, but I just thought maybe if I write something up, I can at least end up having said something meaningful somewhere in there.

tl;dr screw capitalism I'm a hipster

Last edited by NCZ; 09-17-2018 at 07:10 PM.
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Old 09-17-2018   #2
Shaun Ince
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Default Re: On game dubs and role reprisals

This was a pretty good read and I totally understand where you're coming from here. I'm glad you mentioned the Retro Replay/WatchMojo collab video where Troy was going over the Top 10 list that they made for him. When it came to those parts of the video, I was impressed on how much he could remember from those games. Even though he doesn't voice Kanji anymore, you can clearly see how much he cares for that role in particular. His love for those games and even the process behind them is one of the reasons I find Troy Baker so intriguing as a person. That's a quality about him that I really like.
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Old 09-18-2018   #3
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Default Re: On game dubs and role reprisals

I want to believe they'll make an exception here and unionize Catherine to get Troy and Laura back.
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Old 09-18-2018   #4
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Default Re: On game dubs and role reprisals

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I want to believe they'll make an exception here and unionize Catherine to get Troy and Laura back.
Like I said it doesn't even necessarily have to be union, if money is the issue there's no set rate on non-union titles so they could offer them a million dollars if they wanted to.
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Old 09-18-2018   #5
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Default Re: On game dubs and role reprisals

Even though I knew in my heart of hearts that Troy wasn't a "dub hater" like I've seen others call him (what dreck), it was something else to see him recall his roles so fondly in that video as if he just did them yesterday. Troy truly loved Kanji, Yuri, and Vincent. I dunno, it's really nice to still see him love those characters and analyze them in such a detailed manner when he hasn't played them for years and they aren't nearly as mainstream as his Joker, Booker, or Joel.

Also I found it hilarious how, save for Booker, Sam and Joel (for good reason), he seemed pretty lukewarm at best on the other AAA stuff in the video.

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Like I said it doesn't even necessarily have to be union, if money is the issue there's no set rate on non-union titles so they could offer them a million dollars if they wanted to.
But Troy is full union

I hope they do whatever it takes.
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Old 09-18-2018   #6
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Default Re: On game dubs and role reprisals

This is nothing new. Voice actors have always been expendable. If you're a fan of Canadian voice actors, you've been through the ringer in the 2010s, with wholesale cast replacements (which is worse than what usually happens in LA) becoming more of a norm than the exception because cheaper options were available. We've gotten to a point where there is a small handful of people who will unironically state they believe there's a conspiracy to erase Canada's impact on the Japanese entertainment industry. While I won't go that far, it's frustrating to see those actors not get the opportunity to grow with a role. Alyson Court clearly loved playing Claire Redfield, but she'll likely never get to play that character ever again because Capcom has decided non-union LA is the way to go. There are lots of fans of the Toronto cast of Sailor Moon, warts and all, yet Toei and Viz decided not a single one was worth bringing back, even the ones that lived in LA weren't asked to audition. Same with Sunrise and Gundam Seed. It's my own personal conspiracy theory that the reason Viz hasn't touched any of the modern Japanese live action Death Note productions is because they have no interest in dubbing them in Vancouver (like the earlier three) and know they will get heat for that.

I've seen people justify the above in weird ways. Lots of claims (including those from people who should know better) that Ocean doesn't exist anymore, so there's no way of doing a proper cast reunion because apparently a city as large and rich in media production as Vancouver has just a single audio studio. Ocean hasn't closed and even if they did, obviously there are loads of other audio studios in Vancouver. Of course, there's my favourite, "this show was recorded __ years ago, literally every single person involved with it has retired." Then it sure is really weird how so many of them still appear in new shows ...
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Old 09-18-2018   #7
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Default Re: On game dubs and role reprisals

Whenever I see a show done in Canada get the cast replaced by American actors it kills me. I realize I'm probably biased in saying it, but seeing as how Vancouver and Toronto don't get the same amount of dubbing work they used to, it just feels a lot more generic to me. Like it just feels way less unique if you're going with the dubbing pools that every show already uses instead of one where it'd be pretty cool to see them do more. I feel the same way even when it's other talent pools getting replaced (e.g. UK or some of the more unconventional/alternative US scenes). Like yeah, I love LA, Texas is cool, but you don't want them to do EVERYTHING, do you? Variety is the spice of life.

Claire especially saddens me. I could go on about Capcom but they are one of the worst culprits of this complacency. I mentioned Monster Hunter World in the OP and I can throw Resident Evil 7 in there too. Resident Evil 2 Remake is GUARANTEED to be one of the biggest games of next year and the fact that they're cheaping out on it is pretty messed up. Even Dead Rising 4, which was done in Vancouver, seemed like it was non-union*. I legit do not think they have a single union series left. MAYBE DMC5??

And it's true, there is a lot of weird info about Ocean going around. A lot of people just use "Ocean" for anything recorded in Vancouver. People still often don't know that Blue Water is part of Ocean.

*Capcom Vancouver was shut down just today. What a world, eh?

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Old 09-18-2018   #8
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Default Re: On game dubs and role reprisals

I imagine Laura Bailey is probably just as passionate about her roles (Rise, Lucina, etc) that have been lost over time.

I remember when the news first came out that she Rise was being recast for Persona 4 Dancing All Night that Laura tweeted that it was because of scheduling conflicts. I wonder if this is more the case for her, Troy, and Travis as far as why they've had to drop more roles from Anime to JRPG's rather then just a wholesale decision to just move away from those kinds of roles (funnily enough, all three are in Catherine).

Would this be less of an issue if companies were more invested and patient when it came to localizations?

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Old 09-19-2018   #9
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Default Re: On game dubs and role reprisals

Much of the J-game companies not choosing to reprise existing VAs for future appearances, as well as not unionizing bigger games (i.e. Persona 5) can be chalked down to them just cheaping out. Since the Musicland meltdown of 2006, J-game companies can't spend as lavishly as they did before (you know how J-game companies and anime companies overlap). This, combined with the late-2000s anime crash, has caused the J-game companies to develop a cynical mindset that favors low-budgeting to avoid tanking when a game flops. That's why they stick ostensibly with non-union, even when they have well more than enough to unionize.
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Old 09-19-2018   #10
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Default Re: On game dubs and role reprisals

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Much of the J-game companies not choosing to reprise existing VAs for future appearances, as well as not unionizing bigger games (i.e. Persona 5) can be chalked down to them just cheaping out. Since the Musicland meltdown of 2006, J-game companies can't spend as lavishly as they did before (you know how J-game companies and anime companies overlap). This, combined with the late-2000s anime crash, has caused the J-game companies to develop a cynical mindset that favors low-budgeting to avoid tanking when a game flops. That's why they stick ostensibly with non-union, even when they have well more than enough to unionize.
Well that's the whole point I'm making. Those excuses made sense in the past. The ceiling for cult games was a lot smaller in PS1/PS2 era and you didn't need as much to be profitable to begin with, PS3/360 era had pretty much an endless array of AAA Japanese console games bombing which called their future into question, PC hadn't proven itself as welcome for Japanese games or as a genuine mainstream option, and only now does Nintendo have a viable console that's strong AND flexible enough to appeal to Japanese devs. Now things are different, the game industry is ridiculously healthy all around, Japanese AAA games are back in the mainstream, and my point is those excuses for cheap dubs really do not fly anymore.

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I imagine Laura Bailey is probably just as passionate about her roles (Rise, Lucina, etc) that have been lost over time.

I remember when the news first came out that she Rise was being recast for Persona 4 Dancing All Night that Laura tweeted that it was because of scheduling conflicts. I wonder if this is more the case for her, Troy, and Travis as far as why they've had to drop more roles from Anime to JRPG's rather then just a wholesale decision to just move away from those kinds of roles (funnily enough, all three are in Catherine).

Would this be less of an issue if companies were more invested and patient when it came to localizations?
Yeah, my post mostly ended up being about Troy, but I can imagine it's definitely the same for Laura. People gloss over the fact that she came back for base game of FEH a lot, and she also did a Swan princess movie last year. That's both pretty recent. It's pretty blatant that scheduling conflicts more than anything are the issue for her when it comes to reprising old roles, and losing Rise apparently gutted her pretty bad.

Localization is a big thing, but I wouldn't say it's necessarily that companies aren't invested or patient enough. Games are a global market now more than eve,r and companies have made so much more of a point to ensure simultaneous or at least near-simultaneous worldwide releases wherever possible. Even then though, it's a huge logistical investment, so the fact that companies are able to pull it off at all is nothing to sneeze at. Even Square Enix have said the reason KHIII is taking a little longer than planned is specifically because this is the earliest they can possibly get it out everywhere in the world at the same time.

I don't know if I can answer the details cause I honestly don't know a lot about the financial side about how localization is handled between the various different companies involved. For the most part a lot of localizations are done "inhouse" in the sense that they're done by various global branches of a company, but each company is different when it comes to how much autonomy they have from HQ. Atlus US for example we know are ridiculously hamstrung by Atlus Japan which is why they still have such late localizations or had to fight to get dual audio in P5.

The one thing I can say is that I know NOA and NOE have separate budgets they get per year. NOA passed on Xenoblade because they didn't have the budget for it, but NOE could afford it so they footed the bill themselves. The question I wonder is if this is the case with most other companies, where they get their funding per year, how much they have to work with, if it's something the Japanese home companies can help with, etc.

Apparently a big reason why companies often skip unionization is because there's a lot of paperwork which can drag the process down. BOTW for example I'm pretty sure they cheaped out on because the game in general was ridiculously down to the wire. They were doing English recording in SEPTEMBER which is cutting it ridiculously close for a major release. So at least with Nintendo for example I'm pretty sure the decision to go non-union is on NOA's side and other companies are probably similar too, though that's just a hunch.

Basically I think as a layman, the solution would basically just be to kinda work out the logistics and budget accordingly so that they really have no excuse to cheap out on dubs, but again I wouldn't be the person to give details on that.

Last edited by NCZ; 09-19-2018 at 12:35 PM.
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