Hetalia’s popularity and the downfall of Funimation’s English dub production
The year is 2010. You’re in middle school. Your friend group is really into anime. I mean, really into anime. There are no chains on their love for anime. One of those friends is an overexcited girl who tries to glomp you whenever you run into her in the hallway.
Have you pictured it yet? There’s one detail I haven’t mentioned, but I know you were thinking it — Hetalia.
Picture this — countries. Now imagine those countries are cute anime boys. That’s Hetalia. It’s a nonsensical anime comedy where a fuckable version of Italy tells the story of World War II.
There’s just so much ridiculousness that happens with this premise, and it’s really, really hard to not want to keep watching. This is probably the reason it’s coming back.
That’s right! Hidekaz Himaruya’s Hetalia: World Stars is getting an anime adaptation. The last season of Hetalia aired in 2015. The manga went on hiatus in 2018, but that isn’t stopping Studio DEEN from bringing it back.
Hetalia’s popularity speaks for itself. Even I had a hand in it, however minuscule it may be. I did something in 2014 that some professional voice actors look down upon — a Hetalia fandub. I played the role of America. It was only a few lines over the two episode lifespan of the project, but it was a lot of fun, and I got to be a part of the Hetalia chaos.
The other thing that comes to mind when I think of Hetalia is the dub Funimation did. It’s a great dub, but it has an interesting history. Scott Freeman, who voiced England, was arrested for possession of child pornography in 2015. Vic Mignogna who voiced Greece — well, we know what’s going on with him. It’s safe to say that neither of them will be reprising their roles.
Despite these deeply troubling facts, it’s still one of my favorite dubs. It didn’t take itself seriously. They also used accents for each country, which is something they didn’t do in the Japanese version. Not for the first two seasons, anyway.
Thinking back on this dub raises a question — what happened?
The quality drop in Funimation’s dubs over the years is noticeable, and it’s frequently called out online. People didn’t talk about them like that back then. Funimation was just another logo at the start of an anime video, like Gonzo or Aniplex. Now it seems that people are only talking about their dubs.
It all started with simulcast dubs.
The first anime to receive a simultaneous release with an English dub was Kurokami: The Animation in 2009. Bandai Entertainment worked tirelessly producing this unprecedented dub, at times having to resort to timing ADR to test footage in order to make their deadline.
It didn’t set the anime world on fire. This is likely because it aired on ImaginAsianTV, an obscure channel that wasn’t widely available outside of New York and California. It was also a union dub. The high cost, added difficulty, and low success rate is probably why we didn’t see another simulcast dub until 2013. That is when Funimation announced that their release of Space Dandy would air with an English dub on Adult Swim a day earlier than the Japanese broadcast.
The days of waiting for an anime to finish airing before starting production on a dub are over. Before simulcast dubs, it was common for fans to wait a year or longer to be able to watch their favorite show with an English dub. If you were lucky, it aired on TV, but in most cases you had to purchase the home release.
Now that we have high speed internet, streaming anime has become the norm. The process of making an English dub is also cheaper and easier than ever. Companies like Funimation and Sentai Filmworks realized this and chose to capitalize on impatient Americans that want their anime dubbed the same day it airs in Japan. This rush to the finish line may lead to a gain in quantity, but it also results in a loss in quality.
Funimation releases a lot of anime, and most of it is simulcasted. While they only produce simulcast dubs for their most popular titles, the extra strain that it puts on their teams cannot be understated. Making a weekly deadline for recording, editing, and mixing a dub is hard on it’s own. The stress only multiples when you realize that Japan and Texas have a 14-hour time difference. It’s entirely possible, and likely, that Funimation often receives materials and begins their work after midnight.
When COVID-19 hit, and simulcast dubs were delayed by weeks, it was a sign that this business model was not sustainable.
Netflix, on the other hand, is more traditional with their approach. They’re a lot more picky with what they license, and they take their time with localization. With limited exceptions, an anime is not available for viewing until it’s completed its run. Fans lament the longer wait, but their dubs are often higher quality compared to the other companies. They also pay their actors union rates, which is not something Funimation can say.
Simulcast dubs kind of ruined anime localization. Funimation hasn’t put out an Ouran High School Host Club-level dub since Panty & Stocking. Rushing a release out the door not only results in lower quality, it also impacts how people are paid.
It’s a lot better for an actor or translator to work on an entire season at once. More episodes equals more work, which results in longer sessions. This is not the same when you’re only working on one episode a week. Maybe your character only has two lines in this episode. It can hurt translators even more because they’re often paid a flat rate per episode instead of an hourly wage.
There are so many shows that fall victim to this. With Hetalia being as popular as it is, I’m worried that Funimation will want to simulcast dub it. It could turn the dub that I loved as a kid into a shell of its former self. This will only make the people working on it miserable.
So this is my plea to Funimation — don’t do a simulcast dub for Hetalia. Don’t do it. Take your time, and put in the effort to make it as good as the last time. Even if the episodes are only five minutes long.