FEATURE: How Anime Gets Localized
How did your favorite anime get created? It’s a pretty big question that has an equally big answer. Japanese animation has a highly unique and specific workflow from start to finish, and there’s very few comprehensive explanations of that workflow available in English. That’s where this article series comes in!
Welcome to How Is Anime Made? a series of articles that will guide you through the entire lifespan of an anime, from the initial seed of an idea to watching it here on Crunchyroll. This series is organized into six articles that break up the creation of anime into broad concepts. We’ve explored how each episode of anime is created, and today we’ll be learning about how anime is localized.
In this article we will be taking you through licensing, translation, subtitling, and ADR dubbing for anime. All of the articles up to this point have made use of extensive sources and outside experts, but a great deal of this article is based on my own experience from working nearly 8 years in the US anime industry. Let’s get into it!
Licensing anime is handled by multiple teams representing different companies working together to ink a deal (via My Senpai Is Annoying)
As with most things in the world, all localization work is preceded by a contract. Traditionally, distributors like Crunchyroll will negotiate a licensing agreement with the Japanese company or committee in charge of the rights for the anime series in question. The rightsholder is the “licensor,” and distributors are “licensees.” Back in the ’80s, ’90s, and early ’00s, these deals were almost exclusively centered around home video and television broadcast rights, but, as you might have guessed, these days they’re centered around anime streaming.
These deals usually have an expiration date, at which point the licensee will no longer be able to do anything with the intellectual property. Without getting too specific, these licensing agreements can also contain rights for merchandise distribution, sublicensing anime to different companies, and myriad other creative, promotional, or live event applications. Once a company has finalized a licensing agreement, the localization process of an anime can truly begin!
My first job in the industry was as a subtitle timer, and I felt like this all the time (via ONIMAI: I’m Now Your Sister!)
Subtitling, in the simplest terms, is taking text and applying it to audio-visual media. Crunchyroll produces anime subtitles using teams consisting of translators, timers, editors, and reviewers. The teams use subtitling software to output a file that includes both the text and the timing cues for when it will be displayed. The output file is adjusted depending if it is for streaming or home video, but the core process is the same. I had the opportunity to talk with our translation manager, Sarah Lindholm, about the steps from video to the final English script.
Note: For our purposes here, we’ll be describing the process for English subtitling, but Crunchyroll has specific localization teams dedicated to the different languages in which it distributes anime.
Step 1: Translation is the step most associated with anime localization, and it’s certainly the most foundational. Translators adapt the Japanese dialogue and onscreen text into their own language, and the key word here is adapt. Sometimes literal translations work perfectly, while other times translators must go beyond making a direct one-to-one translation to account for the difference in cultural contexts between Japan and the market for which they are translating.
In order to translate anime, there is often a step before the part you imagine where a translator sits at her computer and types out sentences of dialogue. And that step is… research. The translator may need to read the source manga for My Hero Academia, or learn the rules of table tennis to prepare for Ping Pong, or play the Utawarerumono games. Crunchyroll even has a few people who do this kind of research in advance for upcoming titles, so that when the translator begins working on a show, they already have a few resources available to them. Sometimes the translation editor takes on certain research duties to divide the labor with the translator (see below). But even with a team of people helping, research will always be a part of the translator’s day to day.
During the translation process, there may be certain approval steps that happen in conversation with the licensor, such as agreeing on character name spellings, where and how song lyrics are allowed to appear, etc. Licensors may also support translators’ efforts by fielding questions about the creative intent of the Japanese staff. Once an anime episode’s translation is complete, it moves on to…
Step 2: Timing is usually done after translation. Once the subtitle timer receives the translated script, the subtitle timer will match the translated lines to the Japanese audio and on-screen text, such as signs, to when they appear in the video before exporting a timed subtitle script. In some workflows, timing is instead done first, before translation, and the translator will fill in the timed script.
Step 3: The timed script is sent to the editor who works closely with the translator to accurately represent the characters’ voices, tones, and overall readability of the timed script. They are responsible for punctuation, grammar, sentence structure, and the fantastic typesetting used on Crunchyroll.
Step 4: The edited script is sent to the reviewers that perform a watch-through looking for issues. In this step, it is reviewed again by a translator in case new issues or questions regarding translation need to be addressed. After the necessary changes are made, the final script is sent to multiple departments; if the series is going to be dubbed, the final script is sent to the ADR team along with a sheet with notes and terminology compiled by the team during the subtitling process.
A voice actor bringing her character to life in CUE!
Some anime fans prefer to watch anime with Japanese audio and subtitles in their own language, while others prefer to watch anime with voices in their own language.
The dubbing process in anime — also known as Automatic Dialog Replacement or ADR — begins with an ADR Script Writer — someone who adapts the translated script so that it is ready for dubbing. The process is quite meticulous, requiring that the writer watch and rewatch frames of animation at a time to ensure that what they’re writing matches up with the character’s mouth animation. Depending on the company in question, the ADR scriptwriter will usually submit the script to a scriptwriting lead for revisions and approval.
Separately, the casting process of an anime is handled by the ADR Director, someone who oversees the dubbing recording process. The ADR Director hires voice actors, many of whom they will have worked with before, according to their discretion and who they think fits the role best. Sometimes this involves an auditioning process, but often the ADR Director will simply cast from their own stable of actors they’re familiar with.
Unlike seiyuu, voice actors in the US are almost always recorded one at a time in a single recording booth. The actor is shown a screen with the scene they’re recording along with a separate screen showing their lines. The ADR Director listens in on the performance and gives notes while the ADR Engineer oversees the technical aspects of recording the actor’s performance. After recording the ADR Director and ADR Engineer assemble each of the performances into the final dubbed episode. Most episodes of anime have separate audio tracks for dialog and M&E (music & effects), making the ADR Engineer’s job easier by simply being able to mute or take out the Japanese dialog as a separate audio track.
Once the audio is recorded and placed within an anime episode, we have reached the final point of our journey. The episode is ready for publication on a streaming service or authoring onto a home video disc.
From conception to completion, anime is a medium that survives off of the burning passion of thousands of individuals. Every episode of anime is touched by countless hands that leave their own mark on the final product. No matter if they are a director or an in-between animator, an executive producer or a translator, every single person in this process is irreplaceable and necessary. Anime is made by people, and each and every one of those people fill every frame with love and dedication. That is how anime is made. That is why we love it.
Thank you for joining us in this journey through the production process of an anime. I hope you’ve learned something new, and can appreciate all of the hard work that goes into whatever you watch next!
Glossary of terms we’ve learned about anime localization:
- Licensing Agreement: A contract made between a Japanese rights holder (or licensor) and a non-Japanese distributor (or licensee).
- Translation: The act of adapting the Japanese dialogue and text of an anime into a different language.
- Subtitling: Timing and formatting the translated script to the anime video file.
- ADR: Short for Automated Dialogue Replacement; the process of re-recording dialog in a different language to replace the original Japanese dialogue. Known colloquially as dubbing.
- ADR Script Writer: A writer who adapts the translated anime script so that it is ready to be performed by dub actors.
- ADR Director: The person who oversees the entire ADR recording process from casting to directing actors to placing the dialog in the episode of an anime.
- ADR Engineer: A sound engineer who records dub actor performances, mixes them, and works with the ADR Director to place them in the episode.
- Dub Voice Actor: An actor who records new dialog in their own language to dub over original Japanese performances in anime.
- M&E Track: Short for “music & effects” — an audio track that contains all of the non-dialogue audio in an episode. This sound data is kept on a separate track from dialogue for ease of dubbing.
Currently available articles in this series:
Cayla Coats is the Editorial Partnerships Manager at Crunchyroll. She tweets @ceicocat and you can watch her YouTube channel here.