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"Subs vs. Dubs" Response

6 MAR
2011

The Subs Vs. Dubs debate is rather predictable. I've seen it pop up counteless times on countless forums. Each time I would carefully articualte my response, only for the thread to fade into the background (or even get deleted), and another to pop up in its place. I eventually grew tired of rehashing the same points, so I created this; my own Copy-N-Paste response that works perfetly in any such thread with little to no adjustments.

 

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I generally do prefer dubs. I'll happily tolerate a mediocre dub (i.e. Elfen Lied) simply for ease of viewing. I have no problem with watching something subbed. The first fansub I ever saw was a subbed VHS of Gundam Wing I found in Chinatown (New York) when I was 11, and I've been watching foreign films (with subtitles; Live Action films get a special "Death to Dubs" clause in my book) since I could read. However I will generally try the Dub first, and then decide which to watch based on what I hear. There are plenty of cases where I've originally tried the Dub and simply stuck with it (Evangelion, Ghost in the Shell) because I had no problem with the English voice actors. Likewise there are plenty of times where I've tried watching something in English, only to switch to subs (Clannad and Saikano come to mind).

One constant sub-only argument is that English dubs tend to be Macekred. I remember the 90's, and yes, it did happen. But that just doesn't happen all that much anymore except in certain instances (such as shows that are syndicated in the U.S. with dubs meant for younger audiences). Macekring has become the exception rather than the rule. These days, changes in dialogue are rather insignificant, and can sometimes even improve the original work (Balalaika's confrontation with Hansel in episode 15 of Black Lagoon is a prime example.) The most extreme changes tend to come from adapting jokes, such as Yukari of Azumanga Daioh going from an English teacher to a "Language" teacher in the dub. Sometimes these changes don't work, but Azumanga Daioh pulled it off pretty well.

Sometimes the improvements aren't even that obvious. In the Japanese version of Kino's Journey, Hermes (a talking motorcycle, for those unfamiliar with the series) is given a pretty standard voiceover. It's good, but it sounds just like any other voice role. Contrast this to the English dub, where ADV cast Cythia Martinez, and altered her already throaty voice with a metallic reverberation effect. The result is a voice that the viewer is much more willing to believe is coming out of a talking motorcycle.

Then of course there are some English dubs that, regardless of the quality, are just more believable because of the setting (Gunsmith Cats, Baccano!, Chrono Crusade, Hellsing Ultimate). Watching characters who are supposed to be in your own country speak in a completely different language is a little jarring, to say the least. This also applies to titles where, while they're not necessarily set in an English speaking country, it's implied that the intended language is English (Several of the jokes in Black Lagoon as well as the nationalities of the majority of the characters point to English being the intended language, and the fact that Ross Syllabus is from Chicago coupled with the all-English signs in Armitage III suggest that they mostly speak English on Mars).

Ghibli's movies earn a special mention, as the current Buena-Vista/Disney dubs (and any changes made) have to be approved by Ghibli, and they are not allowed to cut or alter a single frame. On top of that, I've yet to find a Disney dub of a Ghibli film that I didn't like (save for Princess Mononke, but I blame Billy Bob Thornton for that one), and for most of them I've found the English versions to be just plain better (My first reaction to hearing the Nausicaa dub was "Holy $#!* it's Patrick Stewart", who could win an Oscar for reading the phone book aloud. And I thought that Tina Fey and Liam Neeson's performances in Ponyo absolutely made the film).

Another reason I tend to prefer dubs it the fact that many of my favorite series are very art-oriented. When watching something such as Millenium Actress or Gankutsuou, where the visuals are one of, if not the main attraction, dubs allow the viewers to immerse themselves into the visual side of the work without the beautiful scenery being marred by lines of text. Voices of a Distant Star earns a special mention here; the gorgeous scenery (especially in the sequence on Argatha) is half the reason for watching the film. Unfortunately, the characters talk rather quickly, leaving irritating walls of text on the screen. While the English dub isn't wonderful, it's very tolerable and allows the viewer to observe Shinkai's visuals without any obstruction. Of course, this principle means that I find it even easier to watch something subbed if the art is only "OK", such as When They Cry (I loved the story and the suspense that came from trying to figure out the various mysteries within it as the show progressed, but the animation's budget shows and it leaves a little to be desired).

Of course, there are a few of my favorite titles that I dread the thought of being dubbed simply because the original cast was perfect (Library War), or because I've already bought the sub-only DVD (The Skull Man) and don't want to shell out money for a second copy.

comments

Chriskat777 avatar Chriskat777
Oct 23, 2013

@MOJ

On the case of not being able to see the action clearly while reading. I have learned to move my eyes slighty below the middle of the screen, showing the subs and most of the action. Then I read fast and quickly move my eyes back to the action. I've also got 3 monitors, the middle and right have 2 different subbed animes playing and the left has miscellanious stuff on it. I take in all the different things going on and barely miss anything.

Now, a lot of anime has some questionable stuff in it to most American viewers. It's nice to be able to not worry about someone listening in and go "What the hell are you watching?" Let's say that Highschool DxD or Kiss X Sis had a dub, and I was watching it on my tablet in the living room with other people in the room. In any of the ecchi scenes that happen, people can understand what the character is saying and I'd have some explaining to do. Say I was watching it in subs, I could mute the sound and just read the subs and no one would bat an eyelid.

Finally, a lot of dubs have voice actors that will sound like they are hushed or don't fit the character. I don't know how people are supposed to sound in Japanese. In subs, I can't tell the difference in the voice if someone is stuttering, mispronounces a word, or sounds horrible.

Xplayer avatar Xplayer
Mar 29, 2011

I think the subs only arguement is slowly dying out as the dubbig industry improves. Personally, I watch my anime subbed 80%+ of the time. However, I'll acknowledge the fact that there are plenty of good dubs (I've even made a list about them). Still, I prefer subs in general as I'm a big proponent of the vision of the original voice caster. There's a reason that companies go out and get Rie Kugimiya or Kana Hanazawa as voice actresses, because they're the best in the business and add quite a bit to the anime. I don't find that good subtitles distract too much from the artwork, but excessive fansubs with motion effects are annoying I must admit. In the end, it comes down to the anime on an individual basis. I'll default to the sub, but if the English is better, I won't hesitate to watch it.

MOJ avatar MOJ
Mar 7, 2011

I truly agree with you here. How many times have i had to pause the anime in order to look at the actual animation? So much time is spent reading the text that i don't even know what the characters are doing. Though this is not always the case, it does become annoying especially if you are watching animes longer than 50 episodes.

There are some special cases where the English dubs completely massacres the anime. Take for example the anime "Familiar of Zero". In subs the voices give feeling to the conversations and events. They sound original and crisp. In the dubbed version, however, the anime's quality fell down 2 stars right there and then. It sounded like something taken from the 1980s.

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