Ask John: Can You Explain Sentai Filmwork’s Liberal English Dubs?
Can you please try to explain what is going on with the nonsensical ad-libbing occurring in some Sentai Filmworks anime dubs? It’s as if they’re going out of their way to make fun of the anime they are dubbing, regardless of what the original intentions of the material were. It’s like “Mystery Science Theatre 3000″ or “Adult Swim Comedy,” and it ruins the mood of what are supposed to be fairly serious productions. I’ve heard it might be a quirk of the specific ADR director, but where is the professionalism? Does the company even know this is happening?
Especially anime fans that don’t regularly watch English dubbed anime may be somewhat unfamiliar with the name “Steven Foster,” although every American die-hard fan for any length of time has heard passing discussion of the ADR director’s reputation. Having never met Mr. Foster myself, I can only pass along legitimate observation that he appears to be the present generation’s Carl Macek – a figure equally respected and loathed in the anime localization business. Steven Foster began working on English language localizations of anime for A.D. Vision in 2001 and first came to infamy with his direction of the English dub of the Sorcerous Stabber Orphen television series that received widespread criticism for its liberal translation & attitude that presented the anime to English dub viewers with a tone unlike its original Japanese version. Mr. Foster received even more criticism for the English language dub of the Gakkou no Kaiden (“Ghost Stories”) television anime. While the original Japanese anime was a serious horror anime for pre-adolescent viewers, based on established Japanese themes that have appeared in countless contemporary Japanese horror stories, the English dub that Mr. Foster directed was a satirical parody that “punched up” what A.D. Vision considered a lifeless, dull and difficult to market show into something more bouncy and appealing to mainstream viewers. As Foster personally explained in a 2007 interview, “But the Ghost Stories studio was like ‘yeah, do whatever you want to it, we don’t care’.” Mr. Foster again received heavy criticism from the American anime community for his direction of the English dub for creator Makoto Shinkai’s tragic romance film Voices of a Distant Star. Foster was accused to compromising the integrity of the original film’s tone by not being faithful to the melancholy and regretful attitude of the original anime.
I’ve seen Mr. Foster referred to as “the Uwe Boll of anime,” and read fan criticism that since Sentai Filmwork’s launch in 2008, “Some of Foster’s dubs have taken a different tone: low-budget, zero-effort dubs that feel like they’re improvising off the subtitle scripts to match mouth flaps.” Certainly the loose, seemingly improvised English translations in Steven Foster directed dubs including the Golgo 13 and X’amd television series do seem to support the fan observation. But Mr. Foster also has supporters. For example, “Ghost Story and Saiyuki, both of which were excellent, not in spite of the dialog changes but because of them. Saiyuki, for me captured the spirit of the original and presented it a manner that would relate to the Western psyche.” And, “What Steven Foster did was very ballsy… I give him mad props… When I bought the ‘Generation Gawl’ [sic] DVDs, I was completely shocked at how different the dialogue was… the dubbed version made the series more comedic and emotional.”
The adage “no publicity is bad publicity” may be applicable in this case. Obviously, Sentai Filmworks, formerly A.D. Vision, is satisfied with Mr. Foster’s ADR directions, and by this time he’s a valuable commodity because he has years of experience handling voice actors and getting English dubs produced on time and budget. Few people refuse to purchase an anime because they object to a loose or inaccurate dub translation. (I’m probably one of the very few people that did consciously boycott the initial release of A.D. Vision’s “Ghost Stories” DVD release because I didn’t want to encourage the continued production of official “parody” dubs.) As Foster explained in his 2007 interview, “It was a business decision.” While purists and those who prefer subtitles may balk over English dub translations that play fast & loose with the original integrity of Japanese anime, many mainstream viewers and viewers that prefer accessibility and entertainment value over artistic integrity may appreciate and enjoy Mr. Foster’s English language dubs that “Americanize” anime for American viewers.