Manga Drama

August 24, 2008

This past year, anime companies have been claiming that fansubs are killing the anime industry as we know it in the US.  The people involved with dubs are especially vocal about this, the producers, directors and actors, since it is their side of production that is most affected.  Here’s a thought for these people; instead of crying doom and gloom for the anime industry, why don’t they try an area that fansubs CAN’T compete with them on?   Audio Dramas based on manga.

Before the advent of TV, people used to listen to the radio, and in the US, this was the golden age of audio dramas.  You could listen to programs from practically any genre, and even hear movies dramatized.  While these died out in the US, elsewhere in the world, such as England and Japan, they remained popular.  In England, Doctor Who was kept alive through audio dramas from Big Finish Productions, and they have expanded into several other science fiction and fantasy series’.  In Japan, popular manga titles will get audio dramas that can sometimes lead to an anime (presumably if popular enough).

These audio dramas are sometimes original stories, and sometimes dramatizations of the manga, usually about an hour long.  Manga titles tend to get this treatment most of the time, although sometimes popular anime will get them as well.  Any genre can get this treatment, including BL.  The strength of these is that the story and the acting has to be good to carry it.  There are no pretty pictures to distract you.  And there is no way to subtitle them.  The only way for these to be successful is for them to be dubbed professionally.  That’s where anime companies can come in.

Manga audio has only been dabbled with here in the US, with Tokyopop trying it a few times with some of their OEL titles.  But, it doesn’t seem to have gotten anywhere, or Tokyopop dropped the ball (more likely), or both.  But anime companies are in a unique position to pick these up.  They already have the equipment, expertise, and the actors to do it.  And it would be easier and faster to do in the long run since there is no lip syncing to do.  Translations can remain more accurate.  Picking titles to bring over would be easy since there’s plenty of data on what titles already have a fanbase.  And I’ll bet the licensing of an audio drama would be a lot cheaper than an anime.  There isn’t much of a demand for them at the moment.

Marketing these would be very easy too.  Manga and anime companies are already working together to cross-promote titles.  Adding audio dramas shouldn’t be all that much more work.  Selling them would be easy as well.  itunes and Amazon already have well established stores they could be sold on.  The popularity of audio books and podcasts make this a market that’s just waiting to be tapped.  Especially since there isn’t a lot of merchandise for manga.  Manga fans are always hungry for more stories about their favorite characters (hence the popularity of fan fiction and doujins).  And if the same voice actors are used from an anime already available, it may create interest in the anime dubs as well as in the manga.  This could be a win-win all around!

While I’m not personally interested in anime dubs, I would be willing to buy audio dramas of manga, especially if there isn’t an anime of it available.  Audio dramas are not something that can be easily fansubbed and enjoyed.  The whole reason for a dramatization is to be able to listen to the story without being tied down with reading.  Whether you’re working, driving, or exercising, portable audio has become a popular way to pass the time.  ipods, smart phones, and mp3 players have made it convenient and easy for people enjoy stories they wouldn’t be able to read otherwise.

For an industry that is worried about continued drops in sales and job loss, isn’t this a no-brainer?

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9 Comments for this entry

  • jun says:

    While I’m not personally interested in anime dubs, I would be willing to buy audio dramas of manga, especially if there isn’t an anime of it available.

    Me, too!

  • Adam Arnold says:

    This is an interesting idea, but as much as I love those Big Finish audio dramas they have in the UK, I just don’t see Japanese audio dramas ever taking off in America. The biggest factor is the cost of dubs are already where some anime releases can’t even justify having anything other than a sub release. And for a product with only have voices and sfx, that makes this a very expensive product to produce. Yes, selling them on iTunes and Amazon would be perfect…I just don’t see companies jumping to license any of the popular, existing Japanese audio dramas and dubbing them.

  • I did a post to give my full thought’s on this, but the crux of it is that as the dubbing industry stands at the moment, it hasn’t any cance of reviving with radio drama.

    99% of dubs are horrid and painful to listen to, i’ve only found maybe 3 or 4 anime in recent years that i could stomach as a dub, and with 1 exception (Fruits Basket) none since after 2000.

    To make drama’s work they’d need to scrap the dubbing they have now and start from scratch, build it from the foundations up.

  • Adam – It isn’t necessarily the cost of the dubs that killing anime. It’s that there are alternatives to dubs that people are more than happy to take, and the licensing of anime has gotten very expensive. I doubt the license of an audio drama would cost a 1/4 of what an anime does, per episode. Take that out, and the cost becomes minimal (I’m guessing. I’m no industry expert, but the way the industry goes on about costs do seem to be most around licensing fees and lip syncing, neither of which I believe woudl be issues).

    As for the expense of voice and sfx, ask any of the podcasts that do it and offer them for free download. If it was so expensive, they wouldn’t be doing it in their off time.

  • Tiamat – I do agree with you on the quality of dubs. I haven’t listened to an actual dub, except to see just how bad it is, since Yu Yu Hakusho was first playing on Cartoon Network. I don’t know if it just because they don’t think kids/fans deserve good actors, or if good actors wouldn’t do it unless a big name studio is involved (ie Disney), but I do admit that the voice acting would have to improve greatly for this to succeed.

    I see it as a “put up or shut up” move. These companies and actors keep going on about how people just want to steal their product, and never consider that some of us just don’t want their product. Now, they have an opportunity to prove just how great of actors they are, and let the market speak.

  • I agree with you Lori. They whine and moan, but don’t really offer a proper alternative. GONZO are the first to take the inititive with releasing on BOOST and Crunchy, and it seems to be working.

    It’s sad how far the DUB industry has fallen though. When i was a kid and anime was just starting to take off in the west, the DUBs were pretty damn good. On a few shows i’ve found the DUB better than the original. These days however it’s like no one cares, they turn up in robot mode, read the script and go home.

    Sad really, since it was a dubbed anime that got me into anime in the first place :(

    Adam, the problem i’m seeing is that the people doing the DUBing are to full of themselves. THey feel they’re doing the best job in the world and don’t care to hear anything to the different.

    I agree with Lori that radio drama could be a huge source of income. The UK has had several huge hits with radio dramas, some still going on now that have a huge following. Look at The Archers, over 15,000 episodes and it’s been running since 1950.

    The difference is the motivation of the actors doing them. In anime they don’t care, in true raido drama they do. Mayube that’s where they should look for new VA’s, forget actors all together and look at the radio drama pool??

  • Unfortunately, you hit the nail on the head with the bad quality of modern American dubs. I wouldn’t watch a dub if my life depended on it, I’d choose to never see a series rather than be forced to watch the same group of whiny, obnoxious, untalented American voice actors trot through their lines. So long as our voice acting industry is so horrid, there’s no point in trying to do radio dramas since we know it’ll just be more of the same.

    The only people who do good dubs is Disney and that’s because they can afford to hire actual actors, not down-on-their luck waiters who wish they could get an acting job.

  • I would love audio dramas in English, but I don’t see it happening. The visual aspect of anime and manga is disproportionately important to Western fans. You know how awesome manga with bad or even just out-dated art sells like crap? Western anime fans are art-centric. Light novels (with all their lack of art) took a while to get decently popular over here, and we have a huge, developed prose industry already. A Western audio drama industry is practically non-existent. Any company trying to release anime/manga audio dramas would be taking a huge risk and trying to build an industry from nothing…and I don’t see it happening.

  • I think the best value of audio dramas would be to reach the non-fan audience. There are millions of people out there who buy audio books and dramas for themselves and their kids. To them, they could just be more books in whatever genre, which is what I want to see. I don’t see this as building an industry from nothing. It’s adding to an already mature industry – audio books and dramas – and just getting the stories from a different place.

    Of course, to make it work would require something of the anime companies that I don’t think they are capable of – intelligent marketing and good voice acting.

    It’s more wishful thinking, but that’s what blogs are for, rignt?

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