Crunchyroll’s Return To In-Person Dub Recording Sparks Union Discussion
Back in March, I wrote about a growing group of anime voice actors demanding more union productions in the anime dubbing industry. Since the publication of this article, the conversation has only intensified, and on Wednesday, April 13, the Coalition of Dubbing Actors (CODA) answered by a virtual round table to answer questions about unionization. The conversation took place in the shadow of a new development at Crunchyroll: company returns to in-person registration, two years later Crunchyroll and FUNimation switched to remote check-in in response to COVID-19.
The panel discussion began with an introduction to the anime and video game actor’s union dubs. Marin Miller (Izanami in B: The beginning), who then gave the floor to representatives of the union covering actors in the United States, the Screen Actors Guild-Association of Film, Television, and Radio Actors (SAG-AFTRA). One thing Miller clarified: CODA is not part of SAG. It’s an independent group that champions dub actors, pushing for more union shows and better union contracts. The two-hour discussion and Q&A from the audience highlighted the benefits SAG provides to its members (minimum wage, health insurance, pension) while exposing persistent questions from non-union stakeholders about the impact that greater union density will have on the industry, and the path to get there.
Miller described the anime dubbing industry as being in a “once-in-a-generation, industry-wide moment of flux”. Citing COVID, the rise of remote check-in and the Crunchyroll and FUNimation merger, they acknowledged that it’s a scary time for voice actors, who often struggled to find consistent work even before the pandemic. But according to Miller, the newly merged Crunchyroll represents a “stranglehold of power”. Crunchyroll commits to producing many of its shows in-house rather than outsourcing work to outside studios, thereby signing that company a union contract – as SAG was able to do with netflix — would instantly turn hundreds of non-union shows into unions.
CrunchyrollThe move towards in-person check-in complicates these ambitions. After dozens of remotely produced voiceovers, many of which use talent from across the country, this season Crunchyroll confirmed that they had returned to bring Texas-based talent to the studio. ANN has confirmed with several industry sources familiar with CrunchyrollAccording to the company’s voice acting procedure, it not only uses in-house Texan talent, but it also focuses on casting Texan talent in its voice acting. the Crunchyroll The representative did not confirm that the company told ADR directors to only focus on hiring Texas-based actors or actively avoided hiring talent outside of Texas.
An ANN analysis of recent castings as of May 10 reveals the proportion of Crunchyroll roles given to talent based outside of Texas in the spring of 2022 have fallen to less than half of those in the winter of 2022. last season, but even shows made outside of Texas had considerably fewer ranged pitches than in the winter.
In public Twitter threads and private conversations, actors complained about the recasting of roles from distant actors to Texas-based actors, the directors in some cases reportedly told not to cast outside of Texas. ANN found no one willing to record specific examples, and many performers feared retaliation for speaking out. Notably, Texas is a right-to-work state, which means state laws restricting unions will likely make it much more difficult for actors to organize to demand a contract.
Why change all of a sudden? According to Crunchyroll, they’ve “reopened and expanded,” and that’s just part of that process. The company also recently upgraded its studio space and likely wants to leverage its investment. During the roundtable, Miller also acknowledged the additional costs of remote recording, including audio engineering work to standardize sound quality between different recording spaces. Whatever the reasons, the new approach has hit players outside of Texas hard, and many have complained that they were never officially notified of the policy change. In a Twitter thread, Risa Mei (Inui in My darling dressing) highlighted the importance of remote check-in for actors with disabilities like her, calling the abrupt return to in-person recording “inhuman”.
According to Miller, SAG encourages remote check-in but probably wouldn’t be able to enforce it even if Crunchyroll unionized. At the very least, he can enforce HEPA filters, regular cleaning, masking, and other COVID-19 safety protocols in the studio. Without the union, Crunchyroll can not only require in-person recording, but also require actors to consent to any security rules (or lack thereof) they have in place.
The fate of international players is closely tied to remote recording, which was a hot topic during CODA’s Q&A session. SAG representatives assured the public that they do not make casting decisions and therefore the union will not prevent any clients from hiring international talent. Maggie Russell-Brown, National Organizing Manager for SAG, put it bluntly: “Employers have the right to hire and make decisions about their business. The workers have the right to accept it or not. When these workers collectively refuse to accept non-union work, they give SAG the power to bind the company and negotiate a contract. “That’s where the organizational piece comes in,” she said. A recent example: the actor Reba Buhr got a higher rate for Ancestry of a Bookworm Season 3 was chosen as a condition for her to return to play Myne. “I wasn’t willing to accept the same low rate I had received in the past,” she said. tweeted.
“There is power in numbers,” said Stephanie Sheh (Used in Sailor Moon), coming from the audience during the session. The more productions that sign a union contract, the more union work is available. The reverse is also true, however, and this catch-22 left some audience members unsure whether they would be able to pick up enough work if they joined the syndicate. But as Miller pointed out at the start of the presentation, the netflix contract flipped everything under their umbrella, extending the benefits of SAG to many more players. “I’m paid 30% more than last year,” they said. If SAG and CODA can overcome the new policies regarding remote check-in to do the same at Crunchyrollit could fundamentally change the way anime dubbing work is done.