Crunchyroll announced the English dub cast for Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury on Wednesday, but controversy over the Suletta role has reignited discussion over the company’s move to in-person dubbing in Texas and representation within the industry.
The dub is set to premiere on the streaming service on Sunday with Jill Harris as Suletta and Natalie Van Sistine as Miorine. Voice actors in the anime industry have indirectly referenced the casting on Twitter, including actor Nazeeh Tarsha who will appear in the series as Lauda.
Tarsha wrote, “It pains me to write this on a day that should be filled with nothing but celebration and admiration toward my peers. To feel as though there is a corporate flyer with a risk assessment eval stating how much one can get away with before receiving an inordinate amount of backlash. We can sit here and argue the merits of “right for the role” vs “auto cast because of ethnicity” but let’s also not pretend that the quality provided by minority actors is less than the quality of their peers. Inclusion gives us the ability to tell the stories of our backgrounds.” Tarsha went on to mention “character coding,” a term used when a story does not outright reference a character’s minority background but the context within the narrative points to the character’s minority status.
In the case of Witch From Mercury, viewers have shared that Suletta is Middle Eastern or North African-coded [MENA]. This interpretation is based on the anime’s “Prologue” episode, where Eri (presumed to be a young Suletta) and her parents are first introduced. Eri’s father is Nadim Samaya, a name that has Arabic, Hebrew, and Indian origins.
Multiple anime voice actors shared Tarsha’s Twitter thread. In a now-deleted Twitter thread posted yesterday, Anairis Quiñones (Sword Art Online The Movie – Progressive, Attack on Titan) wrote, “It’s very disappointing that, despite all the resources publicly available to find diverse talent, minority voice actors still cannot have the opportunity to represent themselves for an (extremely rare/groundbreaking!!) minority lead in anime. ESPECIALLY a MENA queer lead.” Quiñones has since deleted her Twitter and Facebook accounts.
The discussion of resources and representation came to a head last year as Crunchyroll moved back to in-person dub recording at its studio in Texas. After dozens of dubs produced remotely, many using talent from around the country, Crunchyroll confirmed in May 2022 that they had moved back to bringing Texas-based talent into the studio. ANN confirmed with multiple industry sources familiar with Crunchyroll‘s dubbing procedure that the company is not only bringing Texas talent in-house, but is focusing on casting Texas-based talent in its dubs. The Crunchyroll representative did not confirm that the company had told ADR directors to focus on only hiring Texas-based actors or was actively avoiding hiring talent outside of Texas. Crunchyroll roles going to talent based outside of Texas in the Spring 2022 season dropped to less than half that of Winter 2022. This is partially explained by heavier use of Texas-based ADR directors compared to last season, but even shows directed outside of Texas had significantly fewer remote castings than in the winter.
In public Twitter threads and private conversations at the time, actors complained of roles being recast from remote actors to Texas-based ones, with directors in some cases reportedly told not to cast outside of Texas. ANN did not find anyone willing to go on the record with specific examples, and many performers feared retaliation for speaking out. Notably, Texas is a right-to-work state, meaning that state laws curtailing unions will likely make organizing actors to demand a contract much more difficult.
While discussion over Suletta’s casting took center stage, that does not mean the anime’s cast lacks any representation. Alejandro Saab, who will voice Shaddiq, let his fans know he is one of two MENA actors featured in the dub. The dub cast list also includes actors of Caribbean, African, and South Asian heritage.
As one of two MENA actors in this cast so far,
I’m happy to announce that I voice Shaddiq Zenneli in @Crunchyroll‘s dub of Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury
Thanks for having me be a part of this @HEYSUEZO! Been a fan since G-Gundam! Can you blame me?
ITS DBZ+GUNDAM🤩 pic.twitter.com/umREH2S3n5
— Alejandro Saab = Cyno (@KaggyFilms) February 1, 2023
Voice actors and fans were quick to point out that the decision not to hire a MENA voice actor for the role seemed like a missed opportunity and one that rarely arises in anime. However, most comments on the situation were veiled and didn’t directly reference the Suletta character or allude to ongoing unionization debates.
Congrats to the new Gundam cast. Neither I nor @nyav_post were involved. I would also like to remind people our last 2 Gundam dub casts had TX actors in lead roles 😉.
— Stephanie Sheh (@stephaniesheh) February 2, 2023
Jason Lord is directing the English dub with assistant director Aaron Roberts. Noah Whitehead is the ADR engineer with assistant Coco Caesar. Bonny Clinkenbeard and Jarrod Greene supervise the English script by Alex Mai. Olivia Harris is handling ADR prep.
The anime’s announced cast is:
The anime premiered in Japan on October 2 on MBS and TBS and aired on Sundays at 5:00 p.m. The anime’s first part ended with its 12th episode on January 8. The anime’s second part will air in April in the same Sunday 5:00 p.m. time slot on MBS and TBS as the first part. Crunchyroll streamed the anime as it aired.
Hiroshi Kobayashi (Kimi no Iru Machi, Kiznaiver, Spriggan) is directing the anime at Bandai Namco Filmworks/Sunrise, with Ryo Ando (Interviews with Monster Girls, Double Decker! Doug & Kirill) as co-director. Ichiro Okouchi (Code Geass, Princess Principal, Sk8 the Infinity) is credited for series composition and as a scriptwriter. Mogumo is credited for the original character designs, and Marie Tagashira, Juro Toida, and Hirotoshi Takaya are drawing those character designs for animation. Takashi Ohmama (Castle Town Dandelion, Mobile Suit Gundam Twilight AXIS) is composing the music. The anime’s mechanical designers include JNTHED, Kanetake Ebikawa, Wataru Inada, Ippei Gyōbu, Kenji Teraoka, and Takayuki Yanase.
Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury – Prologue, the prequel episode for the show, debuted on the Gundam.info YouTube channel outside of Japan on September 1. The prequel anime also debuted on streaming services in Japan on September 4 and later aired on MBS and TBS on September 25.
The anime’s official website published an English translation of Ichiro Okouchi‘s “Cradle Planet” prequel short story for the anime on November 10. The story is told from the point of view of the Gundam Aerial and is also the basis of the lyrics for YOASOBI‘s opening theme song, “Shukufuku” (The Blessing) for the anime. The anime’s Japanese website published the short story on October 2.