ShutoCon 2015: How to Adapt Anime into English

Although a huge majority of anime is streamed to English-speaking audiences now–with websites like Crunchyroll simulcasting some shows subtitled mere hours after their broadcast in Japan–there’s still a huge market of fans who want to see anime dubbed into English. Licensers like Funimation, Sentai Filmworks and Viz Media have whole teams of writers and actors who help give anime a wider audience, and sometimes even improve on the original version.

But there’s a lot more to scripting a dub than mere translation. At a panel on Friday, March 20th at ShutoCon in Lansing, MI, acclaimed voice actress and script writer Monica Rial explained and took questions on the adaptation process.

Rial–known as an actress for her work on Black Butler, Soul Eater, Dragon Ball Z Kai and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood–has an extensive second career as an ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement, the video production industry’s technical term for English dubbing) writer for shows like Fullmetal Alchemist, Ouran High School Host Club and the popular adventure series Fairy Tail (where she served as the head writer for four years). She’s currently the head writer on the dubs of Tokyo Ghoul √A and Yona of the Dawn (where she also voices the title character). At her panel, she explained what happens when Funimation acquires the license for an anime.

The company, Rial revealed, receives a variety of assets from the original Japanese studio at its Flower Mound, TX headquarters. This includes the video, animation artwork, sound tracks (vocal and music) and scripts. The raw script, she went on, is translated by two people per episode: 1 a native Japanese speaker, 1 a native English speaker. The completed translation is then converted to subtitles and matched to the original Japanese audio.

Each show the company acquires, Rial explained, is given to head writer John Burgmeier, who assigns it to a particular writer and any size team they might have based on their strengths (Rial noted that she tends to get handed more broad comedy series). The head writer, she went on, proceeds to get “super-familiar with the show,” writing up character lists and synopses (which are used in the eventual audition material).

As a head writer, Rial also explained that she had to do time-coding, which she explained as “counting down frame by frame to a lip flap [a character speaking] through the countdown numbers already stamped onto the video” then making a note of that. She said that, for her, adapting a script means both making it more conversational in English and making it fit what’s happening on screen. She said she sees her job as finding the intent and feel of a scene and making that come across in writing.

Rial explained that she works from home–using dual monitors so she can see both her script and the video (on a larger monitor) she has to pair it with–and reads aloud constantly while writing. “This script is meant to be spoken, so you have to read it aloud,” she said. Rial added that if she thinks a certain actor would be good for a particular part, she writes roles with them in mind. She also admitted that it’s very weird to write for herself, as she does on Yona.

Rial also explained her personal notation system. This includes notes for engineers and directors, such as where a filter is needed, what the cut times are for a bit of dialogue and when to fade in and fade out on a character screaming. She also said that, while it can vary per show, writing a typical half-hour script takes about a week, although scripts with huge amounts of exposition take more time.

Rial also spoke about working on Tokyo Ghoul and Yona as part of Funimation’s Broadcast Dubs initiative. Unveiled last October, the initiative has Funimation stuff script, cast and record a dub of an anime with episodes going up online mere weeks after Japanese broadcast (available only to subscribers to its Elite streaming service). Rial confirmed when asked that the shows, while the cast is set in stone, will be rewritten with tighter scripting and use improved footage for the English home video release. She said that, as some scenes are censored for broadcast, the script writer has to guess how the scene is going based on the translated audio.

When asked what the hardest series she’s ever worked on were, Rial pointed to Fairy Tail, because of all the specific Japanese puns, and the fantasy series Shakugan no Shana because she had a bad translation done by another company (which originally had the license but lost it) to work from. She then praised professional translator Sarah Lindholm, who helps her with translations when needed.

When asked about whether she purposely writes dialects for characters, she said that that kind of decision usually falls to the director, who then lets the writers know. Ms. Rial also stressed that adapters, in her view, should write for the character, and reminded the audience that “[n]ot everything written is what’s seen on screen. It changes in the booth” depending on improvisation and other factors, she said. She added that she has had to be strict with actors, telling them not to change a line to preserve the integrity of a scene.

Rial then concluded by thanking the audience for coming and said she hoped to see them at her other panels throughout the con weekend as the room erupted in applause.


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Categories: Anime

Author:Tom Speelman

A lifetime of reading comics and watching television has left Tom with an inexhaustible supply of pop culture knowledge from the obvious to the obscure. Rather than keep it all in his brain for use at parties, Tom turned to writing a few years ago to help him share that knowledge with as many people as are remotely interested. Tom writes for several websites including The Mary Sue, Strange Horizons, Loser City and others. For even further rambling, follow him on Twitter @tomtificate.

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2 Comments on “ShutoCon 2015: How to Adapt Anime into English”

  1. 03/27/2015 at 3:22 PM #

    It’s notable that you were able to make that technical process understandable to me. Granted, I have some knowledge about sound recording and translation, but this part of the business is opaque to me.

    One thing I would love to talk about is how the conversion of a raw translation into more conversational English necessarily changes the meaning. I would be interested in the reactions of a bilingual person to these kinds of alterations.

  2. 03/27/2015 at 4:17 PM #

    Thank you Jon!! And yeah, I wondered about that myself after this panel; there are some bilingual comics journalists (like Deb Aoki) who probably talk about this and are worth looking up.

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