There was a period of time in the 90s and early 2000s where Canadian voice talent was a huge part of the anime dubbing industry in North America with companies like Ocean Productions in Vancouver handling the English versions of many beloved series. While times have changed this to some extent, many dubs are still made in Canada, continuing the legacy of the country’s involvement in anime. Join us in a short exploration of the history of dubbing anime in Canada, some famous studios and series, and more! Let’s get started, eh?
Early Onroads - Why Dub in Canada?
When anime was on its way to becoming a big deal in North America in the 90s, many distributors decided to do their dubbing in Canada, the reason: mostly economics. At the time, there wasn’t a big established anime dubbing industry like there is today so distributors basically had 3 options to choose from (if they didn’t already have their own dubbing studio): 1. Hire expensive unionized voice talent in the U.S., 2. Take a gamble on cheap, non-union actors in the U.S. with questionable quality, or 3. Work with relatively inexpensive union actors in Canada. The currency exchange rate between the Canadian and U.S. dollars (and Japanese yen), along with tax breaks for the entertainment industry to produce locally made “Canadian Content” (which is a little ironic considering we’re talking about Japanese anime) were also considerable factors in making Canadian dubbing attractive because it was low cost and high quality.
Vancouver, in particular, had become (and still is) a major hub for the TV and filmmaking industry in the 90s which meant there was a large supply of talent available for companies like Ocean Productions to draw from. Ocean also invested in the latest ADR technology including DAR SoundStation equipment that included a special feature called WordFit which partially automated lines to sync with mouth flaps which helped to streamline their productions and let them take on a huge amount of work from Bandai Entertainment, Central Park Media, Geneon Entertainment and Viz Media in the 90s and early 2000s.
Famous Canadian Dubs!
Ocean Productions—from it’s main Ocean Studios unit in Vancouver and Blue Water Studios in Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta—is the most well-known Canadian dubbing company, known especially for its connection to Sunrise anime series, Rumiko Takashi adaptations, and its convoluted involvement with English versions of Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z. Ocean would handle the many Gundam dubs, including fan-favorites G Gundam and Gundam Wing which would be many American fans first introduction to the series. Some other notable Ocean dubs include Death Note, InuYasha, Monster Rancher, Black Lagoon, Hamtaro, Ranma ½, and Cardcaptor Sakura (under the name of Cardcaptors).
Another very famous Canadian dub is the original English version of Sailor Moon which was handled by Optimum Productions in Toronto under the oversight of DiC Entertainment. Canada’s connection to Sailor Moon and its popularity in spreading anime fandom to North America is beyond the scope of this article but is very significant, even if some folks bemoan the heavy censorship and editing of the localization.
What About Canadian French Dubs?
Obviously when talking about Canada one should not forget that a considerable amount of the country is Francophone. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to find too much information about companies focused on French anime dubbing in Canada and many French dubbed anime shown there are originally from France from companies like AB Groupe (now Mediawan Thematics). Supposedly Cinélume, which is most famous for dubbing European animated series like Winx Club, did handle French dubs of Astro Boy and the 2012 CGI anime series Gon but anime is definitely not their focus.
One bizarre mystery surrounding Canadian dubs again goes back to Dragon Ball Z. In 2005, Kraft Canada (yes the macaroni and cheese folks) included a DVD called “The World of Dragon Ball Z” in certain Kraft Dinner multi-packs that had a special compilation video and episodes 124 and 125 dubbed in English and French. The French dub in question is definitely Québecois (a distinctive dialect of French spoken in Québec) but the French credits are just a translation of the English ones with none of this dub’s voice actors nor the ADR studio mentioned (they erroneously list the English voice actors and credit the production to Funimation). Its subpar quality seems to indicate a rushed, low-budget job just to satisfy French language requirements.
Nowadays, multiple factors have contributed to less prominence of Canadian anime dubs. Likely, the main factor was the U.S. economic recession that hit in the late 2000s which saw two the largest commissioners of Canadian anime dubs (Bandai and Geneon) fold and the industry as a whole experience a downturn that made budgets quite small and cheap, non-union labor in the U.S. a more common choice, paving the way for a more robust anime voice acting industry to develop in America. Other contributing factors might be a greater focus on convention appearances (most big conventions in North America are in the U.S.), cheaper, software-focused ADR technology, and/or American voice actors generally having a stronger social media presence (since dub voice actors are now somewhat expected to be “influencers”).
In any case, while many modern anime dubs have moved to non-union productions out of Texas and California, Canadian companies like Ocean Productions and others have continued to make some great dubs with some recent examples including Gintama, Kiznavier, and many ongoing kids series like Pretty Cure and Beyblade. OLM and Level 5’s Yo-Kai Watch anime series also recently moved its dubbing to Vancouver with a new Canadian cast.
Altogether, Canadian dubs have a surprisingly rich history and continuing legacy in bringing anime to a wider audience. While not always fondly remembered, which is probably more to do with the times than the place they were made in most cases, we at Honey’s are certainly grateful for Canadian contributions to the anime experience in North America and beyond! Let us know your own thoughts in the comments section below and be sure to stick around Honey’s for more of all things awesome, anime and otherwise! For sure! See ya~