Mike McFarland has directed and acted in the dubs of numerous anime series for FUNimation Entertainment, among them Fullmetal Alchemist, One Piece, and their latest hit Attack on Titan. I had the chance to interview Mike at Anime Boston this year.
RB: A lot of the shows you’ve worked on, Fullmetal, One Piece, Attack on Titan, the EVA movies, the Hosoda moves (Wolf Children and Summer Wars), these are all very big, popular, beloved anime. Out of all these projects, on which did you feel the most pressure to get things right?
MM: I do that with everything I work on. Depending on the approach of what it is, I try to do that with everything. The approach thing I only mention because I haven’t had the opportunity to work on a Shin-Chan (comedy series with a very liberally translated dub to make the cultural references more understandable to Americans) or something where to get it right, we have a specific goal in mind and it isn’t necessarily what the Japanese did with it. I haven’t worked on something like that, but with all of my projects I’ve worked on, I keep the intent as close to the original performances, as close to the original everything as possible. I try to research all the names, all the proper nouns and make my actors say them properly so we don’t have people used to the subtitles going “Aah, they’re saying the wrong stress! It should be this syllable, not that syllable, or it should be no syllable at all because of the stress in Japanese!” All these sorts of things to try and make that information flow and sound natural. Same with the casting. Obviously every director everywhere is going to have certain people they tend to lean on and rely on because they always do good work for them, but I try to vary up my casts quite a bit. In the Titan cast, there’s several people who’ve never worked at FUNimation before, or this is their first time doing any anime dubbing anywhere. Different things have different sort of focus on them, but always the focus is to put out the best thing possible.
RB: How much oversight is there from the Japanese companies when you’re dubbing?
MM: It depends on the series. For most of the time, most series and projects that I’ve worked on, all the pre-production, there’s a lot of going back and forth with the Japanese license holder. They’re very protective of their material and they should be. They put a lot of time and effort into it, and they’re allowing the rest of the world to know these stories and see this work and experience these characters and what they go through… Sometimes there is a hands-on in the voice casting process, sometimes there’s not, sometimes there’s two or three different parties involved. It could be myself and the producer and maybe Gen (Fukunaga, FUNimation CEO) or somebody else at FUNimation, plus the license holder, plus the director of the Japanese anime, plus the manga-ka (manga author), it could a whole ton of people, or it could be just myself and the producers. It depends on the project. We do have the official materials from them, the final video, all the music and the elements. We do have hard copies of the script in kanji and katakana, so we can go through that versus what is spoken aloud and if something’s different on the script versus what’s been spoken out loud, follow up on it with the licensor so that we know there’s a reason for this difference. We try to be very thorough before we open the floodgates and start working on it. All this is sorted out in advance. Most of the time, once we start working on it, that’s when it’s up to me to just keep abiding by all the information we’ve been given up front in our pre-production.
RB: There many first-time voice actors in the Attack on Titan dub. When casting, how much do you try to seek out new actors versus sticking to the FUNimation stable?
MM: I look for new talent all the time. One Piece is a good ground to find new talent since there’s so many characters, so many characters with only a few lines, and it’s cartoony, since first-time voice actors tend to go cartoony and on One Piece you can let them do that. It’s rare to hire someone for their first acting job ever. In the case of Elizabeth Maxwell (Ymir in Attack on Titan), she had no ADR experience but she’d done video game voice acting before and I think that Dusk Till Dawn show in Austin. I always try to find new people. I’m not as harsh as some are, but I get people who are like “It’s that guy again, I know that guy from this other show and associate him with this character.” I’m always looking for new talent and working them up.
RB: For younger characters, how do you go about deciding whether to cast an actual kid/teen or an adult?
MM: It depends on whether any good kids audition. With Alphonse (from Fullmetal Alchemist), Aaron (Dismuke) already did some work on Fruits Basket and Yuyu Hakusho. Very smart, well-read kid, now he’s in college. I worked with a few other kids on Mushi-shi, but it doesn’t happen much. Recording schedules don’t allow it to happen much, unless they can schedule evening recording sessions so they can do it after-school. I know some high school students have a 3-4 hour gap in the middle of the school day due to having enough enough credits or something, so we can record then sometimes and that’s pretty cool.
RB: As far as attracting new audiences, how do you think streaming sites like Hulu and Netflix work versus traditional TV outlets like Toonami on Adult Swim?
MM: I do know it seems like if there is an event like Space Dandy (premiering episodes on Toonami Saturday nights), that generates lot more buzz than putting something all up online at the same time like House of Cards. Streaming’s done great for us, but I think having a specific time for everyone to watch these shows, like a sports event, is an advantage over streaming.