The Tragedy of Cheap Localization

I wonder if there are any intangible benefits to dubbing a show, in the context of how a lot of shows are now sub-only as released in the US. I think that’s not looking at the big picture, after thinking for a bit. The point is, ultimately it’s about how much money you are willing to spend to produce a show. Given a certain price point and demand, you will only be able to extract a certain amount of revenue from a show. If dubbing makes this unreasonable then that’s too bad, but there’s more to a dub than the dub itself.

In other words, it does not stop there. In order to slim down on production costs dubs are not the only thing that gets cut. I’m basically just making a beeline argument for the value of marketing.

For most people, marketing is worthless beyond a certain amount. However I think that also means the marketing problems that I have begin to outline earlier will not get fixed if no money goes into marketing. The value of marketing extends beyond just advertisement, or sending review copies out, or partnering with RightStuf and send out snailmail postcards about specific titles to their VIP customers. For one, people like myself benefit greatly from marketing not via the aforementioned things, but via, say, convention partnerships and seeing some of my favorite creators at cons I go to.

But that’s not even all there is to it. Two basic points.

First, we need to internalize is that today’s popular media is largely commercial. It’s almost miraculous to see Homestuck or Touhou taking up such a large thought space both in the scene, at a con, or in certain online circles, but those are exceptions. Marketing contributes a great deal to that sort of thing/think. If we graph out the ideas and memes from popular culture that gets passed around on the internet today like it was territory, much of it would have to be commercial. This is not quite it, but it works as a proxy to show you how it breaks out. Note that a lot of those sites are used for marketing; people read/post/network with it. When you cut marketing, fewer people will, even if it is an artificial thing.

A good example is Strike Witches’ marketing about War On Pants. It’s cute and catchy and it helps to bring awareness to this title to a largely mute American audience. I don’t know how well it did but I guess the title sold enough to warrant the S1 BD re-released by FUNi. This is purely a localized creation and it’s that sort of effort in which adds to the internet meme compost pile. Or in other words, enriches the lives of the people? I don’t know. It’s a far cry from, say, Ufotable cafe or, say, OGISTAR MEMORIES C82. But given that Funimation is made up of dub actors, graphic design types, marketing people, video nerds and business people, I think they could do something pretty neat if they put their minds to it. Under the banner of brand management, there are more arsenals and more creative ways to both contribute as fans do but also as a way to advertise, that hasn’t been put into use.

Second, dubbing (or bigger localization efforts in general) helps marketing. It’s one thing to parade your dub actors around the local con circuit to promote a new dub, it’s another to sell through your dub actors because he’s worked on all your shows, so his fans will buy your shows. It might not sound like much but if we think of domestic DVD sales in the 4-digit scale, at an Otakon or AX you could push through a couple hundred easily just to promote that dub guest, during the various autograph sessions or what not. That’s not to mention every time that con does PR for that guest, your show gets a nod, and there are dozens of cons all across North America each year. In short, dub actors are PR people too, and they sell shows they worked on.

The convention context is where my gripe comes from. I like marketing from Aniplex and from NISA and RS whatever. Through their marketing, a real-life meet & greet with people like Yui Horie and Tatsuo Sato and Ai Nonaka were made possible. I think it’s a big loss for some of us when the US industry trimmed that down, although it might not matter much for most. In the reverse, I can’t say if people wouldn’t have had opportunities to do so even without the help of some of these companies, at least financially.

I really didn’t think about the implication of low-cost localization until I looked at how K-ON is treated. It’s safe to say that K-ON is a show with some mainstream success in Japan. It’s not a reliable indicator of its success outside of America, but I feel that it is a waste to see a title like that simply sits Sentai’s library, getting what little marketing treatment that it had. K-ON  gets as much marketing as, say, Book of Bantorra or Oblivion Island. Heck, probably less than Oblivion Island. It’s not given any chance to really thrive in a capacity where marketing is required. The whole word-of-mouth thing has limitations. Another tangent with K-ON is to see how the marketing was for K-ON when it was a Bandai title, and how it is now. Anyway, all this is to say that it feels like the whole thing is kind of under-promoted for whatever reasons.

2 Responses to “The Tragedy of Cheap Localization”

  • math4origami

    “First, we need to internalize is that today’s popular media is largely commercial.”
    The issue is, Japanese comic media’s popularity in the US is largely not-commercial. That’s why fansubs/dubs exist in the first place. I think the popularity of touhou shows how much the fanbase has been built up due to their own self-initiative. Same with Vocaloid. To reach to these potential customers, I think localizations companies need to do less localization, and more importation.

    • omo

      Japanese comic media’s popularity in the US is largely not-commercial? I guess for starter that statement is probably false however you look at it–touhou manga is not at all popular. Touhou is more like homestuck, except it’s based on a bunch of memes and video games. No part of it has to do with manga. But that’s only when we make the concession that it is “non-commercial.” Truth is touhou is as commercial as anything else–it’s not given away for free without advertisement. Just because it is doujin doesn’t mean there isn’t an assload of money being exchanged in the process.

      Vocaloids…are as commercial as Hello Kitty.

      Fansubbing’s impact and viewership regarding what makes of anime’s popularity worldwide is tricky to describe, but I am pretty sure in America it is at best a secondary factor. Pretty much everyone these days got into anime because they saw it on broadcast TV first. By the time you could say “CLANNAD is my favorite anime” you probably have already made it past the gateway of “becoming an anime fan.” To that extent most casual viewers would list titles like Sailor Moon, FLCL and Cowboy Bebop as their favorites, because that’s what’s on TV.

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