The Curious Case of Dub vs Sub

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There isn’t an anime fan that hasn’t heard it before, or participated in a debate. When adapting a piece of material that is culturally different from yours it will always be inferior to the original, just like movie adaptations of books, and reboots of classic movies, but especially anime. For some reason the anime fandom has had this unending war on whether or not Dub is better than Sub, or vise versa, and for some strange reason you have to pick a side. Well, as someone who’s been on both sides I decided to try and unravel this impending Pandora’s box.

It doesn’t matter what kind of anime fan you are, the chances that you discovered anime through dub is very high. We all have probably watched Pokemon, or Digimon, when we were kids thinking it’s just a normal cartoon (and getting confused when Brock refers to what’s clearly not a jelly doughnut as a jelly doughnut), and a good chunk of us probably were introduced to something called Dragonball Z with mystics that can change their hair color to grow muscles, but at some point in our lives we connect the dots that these fascinating cartoons were not from our culture. For me, that was when I discovered Naruto and One Piece. I loved their dubs, thinking they were just a very creative cartoon, until I went online and found that they were really Japanese.

Now here’s where fans start to split. When people realize that the dubs were changing names, dialogue, and even the animation itself they decided to check out the original with subtitles so that they can get the full exposure. I was one of these people after I realized that One Piece was much bloodier, and foul mouthed than I was led to expect. And you know what? I fell in love with anime. Soon I was starting to watch full shows in only subtitles, wanting to hear what they were really supposed to sound like. No more “Believe it,” no more”jelly doughnuts,” it was time I realized what these unfamiliar cultural references mean…..even though I never actually investigated. I was just filled with glee that there was so much I could watch. And before I knew it, I was absolutely disgusted with dubs. I would snarl at them, flip them off, curse their names at ruining what was perfect.

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This lasted a good few years, maybe five, maybe seven. I really don’t know, but I was having a great time. But then something happened. Sadly I can’t remember exactly what the changing point was, maybe it was from reading so many Dub vs Sub forum wars, or maybe I was starting to dabble in buying anime, but at some point down the road I sat down and listened to a few dubs.It was tricky at first, because once the voice actor started to talk I immediately wanted to turn it off. They just weren’t my voice actors that I knew and loved. But I forced myself to sit through it, making sure that I gave it a fair chance since I heard of tons of people who would just listen to a minute of their voices and proclaim to the world that they suck. And to my surprise I was starting to enjoy it. Whatever the dub I started out on I was starting to get into it. Listening to their minute differences and slowly understood that they were not only doing a good job, but started to get the idea that English voice actors are different from Japanese voice actors.

The dub that really started to flip my switch on this whole debate was Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad. I initially watched all of it subbed, but I absolutely loved it enough that I went out and bought it the next day after finishing it. Being curious as to how the dub sounded I put it in and started rewatching it, and to my surprise it was done really well. No, not even that, it was done incredibly well. One of my fears was how they would tackle the songs, and to my shock they were not only faithful, but I prefer their version over the Japanese one. My mind was blown!

After that I started to really assess this whole dub vs sub argument. There were plenty of points on each side, and my respect for dubs was growing by the day, but the one question that kept popping up in my head was “When did I become a sub elitist?” I mean, for a while I absolutely avoided dubs. I listened to clips whenever Funimation, or another company got the rights to an anime I liked, and after listening to only two minutes of dialogue I was ready to open the gates of hell of shit talk. And after looking through how I reacted to dubs without watching the subs I noticed that whichever voice I heard first was usually how I associated the character. Like, Chopper’s 4kids dub had him have a big powerful voice whenever he transformed, but in the original Japanese anime he always has the squeaky voice no matter what form. When I saw, or rather heard, that for the first time I laughed my ass off. I couldn’t believe that the Japanese version didn’t deepen his voice, and in fact I found it to be incredibly annoying, but as I continued to watch I started to get used to it. This is exactly the same situation people go through when switching over. It’s new, and foreign to your ears so your initial thought is to not like it, but you have to understand that you need time for your brain to readjust. You’re going from one language to a completely different one. Of course there are going to be things that are different, because there are different ranges, tones, and inflections that reflect the culture.

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One of the biggest problems people have when going from Sub to Dub is the fact that the dub changes words to better suit a Western audience. In the early days of dubbing studios would outright change their names and whatever else sounded Japanese, thinking that an American audience wouldn’t relate, or understand. Within the last five to ten years, however, we’re seeing less changes being made. In fact the only real changes is when they’re literally translating what the Japanese name means. For instance, say a character screams out his attack and a sub watcher will hear the Japanese word and associate that attack as said Japanese word. However, when they dub it the word doesn’t gain anything from staying in Japanese, so the studio dubbing it will literally translate the word so that the English audience will understand. The dub watcher will then get all huffy and puffy about the translation, saying that it’s ruining the appeal and feel of the show, even though it’s literally the same word but in two different languages. More often than not, that’s the case.

Another big complaint about Dubs come from the voice acting itself. Fans say that it sounds unnatural, emotionless, and at times annoying. These were the same points I would make when first getting into Dub, trying to convince myself it wasn’t worth it, but you have to realize that there are so many obstacles to overcome that it’s a miracle at all that we can get a dub. While technology now is starting to help the way we voice over these anime, actors still have to go through so much work that prevents bits and pieces of their acting. The first hurdle are the lip flaps. Lately, technology has been able to erase and make new lip flaps, making acting easier, but before that people had to actually time their words to match the character’s mouth. That means that they are limited in ways to convey what they want, and since Japanese speech is faster with less movement than English it makes the performance sound funny. Almost like watching a Dub of an old Godzilla movie. Actors also have to emanate what their Japanese counterparts did in most cases, so that they can at least help long time Sub fans ease into this transition. Unfortunately, not everything Japanese actors can do with their voices translates well. The biggest example are high pitched women. For whatever reason the Japanese women playing these roles walk the line of being cutesy, and overly annoying, but whenever I hear an English dub of that type of character I can’t help but block my ears. It’s probably more of a cultural idea, but I always associate high pitched voices as snooty, annoying, and a waste of a character usually.

But for every “Bad Dub voice acting” I must ask, how do Sub only watchers know what good voice acting is in anime? When watching a subbed version of a show you’re splitting your attention between reading, and watching the show. When you read, you’re automatically thinking of a voice saying that, but doesn’t a voice actor only lend their sounds to a Subbed watcher? Would you even notice how good, or bad, their acting is if you’re altering it with your imagination? Have you ever noticed that Japanese voice acting is different from American? Western cartoons aren’t bombastic and passionately acted. They take a very natural approach that lends subtle acting. Take Young Justice. The acting in that is the same kind of acting you’d find in any live action show, it just happens to be animated. In One Piece characters are bouncing off the walls, literally, and screaming their lungs out. Seriously, you can tell that these actors were screaming their lungs out compared to American actors screaming. Loony Tunes has cartoon physics, just like some anime shows, and even though the animation laws of reality may be similar (big mouths when screaming) the voice acting is completely different from say Naruto, and what I think is the biggest hurdle for fans to get over is the fact that anime voice acting is similar to theater in that it’s big, loud, and in your face, whereas American voice acting takes more of a film approach to acting and doesn’t try to make everything so obvious. If your ears aren’t trained to catch an actor’s slight changes to convey different emotions, it could sound very emotionless to subbed watchers.

What dub has to overcome; cultural references, Japanese terms, styles of voice acting, and so much more, its like a miracle to witness how great Dubbed anime has been getting over the last few years. Studios are finding new ways to really let their actors act, and in that I think more people are picking these anime up.

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Now, just because you’ve tried dubs before, and can’t ever get into them, doesn’t mean you should attack the people who do like dubs. When I was in my Subbed only phase I was seriously baffled as to why people just didn’t watch anime in it’s original form. It was until years later when I was experimenting with Dub that I realized how much people hated to read. It’s not that they don’t like to read, but when you’re watching anime the dialogue comes fast, and most of the time people can’t keep up so they have to keep pausing and reading ever few seconds just to understand what’s going on, and what’s the fun in that? When watching something subbed you’re taking your attention and splitting it between reading the subtitles, watching the show, and listening to the voice actors. Surely you’ll miss something when juggling all of those. So, a good chunk of anime fans will only watch dub. And since dub is only getting better as each year passes they’re getting as close as they can to the experience of a subbed watcher.

The fact that people actually hate on anime fans who only watch dub is stupid. You both love anime, for Goku’s sake! Just because you watched more anime doesn’t mean a dubbed watcher is inferior. It usually means that they don’t have time to watch as much as many subbed watchers have. And that’s okay, but what goes on in the heads of some of these subbed watchers makes me flabbergasted. I’ve read numerous times where people said they will not support the English releases of anime, because they would be supporting the dub. This just sounds crazy to me, because not only are these studios offering people who don’t watch anime subbed an option to experience anime in the West, but more often than not there’s an option on those discs that allow you to turn Japanese audio on with English subtitles. At this point you’re only hurting yourself as a fan. If you love this show, and want to own it, and show your support, then get those discs. It really baffles me when I hear some of the reasons people have for not buying anime. The one I do understand is money, but don’t let your bias ruin your enjoyment.

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The war of Dub vs Sub will go on, and that makes me sad, but when I watch Toonami and see anime fans that only watch dub talk about new episodes of Hunter x Hunter, One Piece, or any other anime Toonami hosts because they’re experiencing this for the first time, makes my heart feel good. I never thought dubbed watchers would be able to experience Hunter x Hunter, and because there have been improvement in getting anime over to the West it looks like more and more fans of dub are coming out. I’m sure some sub/dub people like me certainly help, but we’re in an age where we can see so much anime. Younger fans are watch seasonal anime, watching like five shows per season. Crunchyroll, Funimation, Hulu, and now Netflix have been gathering more and more anime to their catalogues. This is one of the best times to be an anime fan, so don’t ruin it with pointless biased flame wars. Have fun, reach out, and love and support anime in your own way without makes other fans feel inferior.

 

For more articles I’d suggest these two from Animenewsnetwork:

-Is Anime Translated Faithfully in other Languages:

http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/answerman/2016-04-20/.101244

-Can English-Speaking fans critique Japanese Voice Acting:

http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/answerman/2016-02-26/.99020

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8 thoughts on “The Curious Case of Dub vs Sub

  1. I’ve been watching anime ever since I was a kid. I literally don’t remember a time when I’m not watching anime. I used to watch it with my dad, and I guess it’s kind of unusual because I remember watching Dragon Ball and Yu Yu Hakusho in original Japanese as a kid. Of course I didn’t understand a thing, butt I was still a kid then so all I cared about were the awesome moving drawings on screen rather than understanding the story. I think it was only a little bit later that I watched dubbed anime. But even by then, I was already exposed to original Japanese. It’s also interesting that I got to watch anime in 3 languages: Japanese, Tagalog (Filipino), and English. I would say that Tagalog-dubbed anime are good and there’s not much censorship compared to North American releases. I personally prefer watching anime in Japanese because I’m learning the language and I’m a fan of the seiyuu. However, that’s not to say that I hate dubs. It’s just my own personal preference. Besides, not everyone has the patience to read subtitles while watching. If people are able to enjoy anime in any language, I think that’s what’s more important rather than battling each other about whether sub is better than dubs.

    P.S. Saying all of these, 4Kids still botched ONE PIECE. No doubt about that.

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  2. I’ve never really understood the hatred for dubs. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t get a lot of the censorship (one of my favourites was in the original YuGiOh when they edited a gun to look like a massive finger), but it doesn’t necessarily kills it for me. As to what I watch in terms of dubbed and subbed, I find that it depends on what i’m watching and when. If i’m watching with my kids it’ll invariably be the dub. If i’m watching alone and doing toehr stuff at the same time, it’ll be the dub. If i’m giving ti my full concentration, it’s usually subbed. There are exceptions though. For example, I couldn’t get on with the subbed version of Wolf’s Rain and honestly thought that the English Voice Cast did a better job. There are shows like Digimon that I can watch both subbed and dubbed. Then there are shows like Noragami where I struggled with the dub because the subbed cast were just so good.

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  3. Dubs have definitely improved since the 90’s. I used to refuse to watch a dub unless I couldn’t access the original with subs because the shrill voices and repetitive dialogue as they hacked out parts of the script drove me crazy. However, recent dubs actually do an amazing job (for the most part) of conveying the intention of the script (even if they change it to make it more accessible) and the quality of the voices are pretty good.
    With that said, I still watch the majority of my anime subbed, but I think it’s a great time to try to get other people into anime because the English versions are now pretty good.

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  4. Now, I admit that I’m a little bit guilty of listening to a tiny portion of a dub and writing it off as bad (not just in the past, it’s some kind of reflex action these days). But I thought about it recently and realised something: I don’t speak conversational Japanese, how do I know whether the ORIGINAL voice acting is any good or not? It’s easy for me to say that the English performances are clunky and unnatural, but that doesn’t mean a Western fan can just declare that Japanese voice acting is good; some of my favourite performances could be awful for all I know.
    It ties in to what you said about the difference in style between English and Japanese voice acting. Watch an anime in subs then watch an interview with the same voice actors. Natural Japanese sounds VERY different to Japanese acting of any kind, especially voice acting. Put the two anime voice over tracks next to regular conversation (and voice types) and you’ll actually find that neither of them really sounds that natural. We just get annoyed by English dubs because we KNOW they sound a bit unusual.

    Also, my first anime that I didn’t know were Japanese were Battle of the Planets and The Moomins. Old, crusty anime fans unite!

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  5. Pingback: Last Week Today: Week End Recap- May 22nd to May 28th | Nice Job Breaking It, Hero

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