Sub or Dub? Voice Acting and Authenticity

Atsuko Tanaka

Do you watch the sub or the dub? It’s kind of a loaded question when it comes to anime. You’re never quite sure what the asker is trying to get at. Are they trying to assess how hardcore, how “real” an anime fan you are? How do you answer? If you say dub, will they tell you that you have no taste? That the dubs are offensively poor compared to the original Japanese – that you lose any and all cultural nuance? If you say sub, will they accuse you of being a pretentious weebo (a term I particularly hate). Or even a wannabe Asian? If you say both, will they believe you?

Firstly, for anyone who doesn’t know, let me clear up what a sub and a dub actually are. Anime mainly comes from Japan and so, obviously, it’s written and performed in Japanese. When it comes to showing anime in other territories though, production companies have to make a choice. Do they simply translate everything and subtitle the show/movie? Or do they spend the time and money hiring actors and a voice director to re-record (or dub) the dialogue into the new language? It used to be that fans of anime outside of Japan didn’t get much of a choice. Before anime had reached as big an international audience the companies that brought it over didn’t have the resources to do anything other than subtitle the works. As anime gained mainstream popularity, however, it was assumed that a dub could reach a wider audience. So in the days of VHS tapes, where you couldn’t pick between two versions on a menu, fans were stuck with often poor quality dubs whether they liked it or not. Bootleg, fan-subtitled versions were available to the resourceful however. Times have changed since then though, and dubs of even relatively obscure shows are becoming more common and better quality, both in terms of acting and translation. All the while, the age of the internet means that access to subtitled works is now also easier than ever, with many Anime studios in Japan even choosing to release subtitled versions of anime simultaneously with the Japanese language versions. With choice, however, comes conflict. The sub vs. dub debate has been argued between friends, at conventions and on internet message boards since anime first went overseas. It’s surprisingly enduring and what’s more, it can get surprisingly vicious.

Which is silly, because in reality most of us watch both, depending on what we can get our hands on. As I said our options are increasing but there are still practical limits. For example, I watched Spirited Away in the cinema and Howl’s Moving Castle on Film4, so the English dubs were my only option. All of us have a preference, though, one way or the other. Now, I don’t really mind which way you go, but what I find really interesting are the reasons that people give for their choices. In my experience, the standard response of people who prefer dubs is, “I don’t want to read a movie/TV show.” Fair enough, it can easily feel like you’re missing out on some beautiful animation if your gaze is focused on the bottom quarter of the screen. Another, more interesting, and probably more frank response that you hear occasionally is, “I can’t really understand the more subtle performances of the Japanese actors.” Or, at least, can’t understand them as well as the Western ones. This contrasts nicely with a favourite response of people who prefer subtitles (apart from “the acting/translation in the dubs are really bad”), “When you’re watching a sub, the experience is much more authentic.”

Let’s assume, for now, that the quality of acting in both the subtitled version of an anime and its dub are the same. Let’s assume that both translations are pretty much the same quality as well. Which version is more authentic? At first I was always tempted to say the sub – hearing the Japanese actors must obviously be the more authentic option. After all, they gave their performances first. But is that it? The order in which they were given doesn’t change anything inherently about either the Japanese or Western actors’ performance. Acting is an interpretative art form. Both the original Japanese and the subsequent dub’s actors were given a script that passed through many hands. Firstly the original writing team, which was probably at least two people, then multiple editors and then optionally a translator and then multiple editors again. A few more steps in the chain can’t really be seen to warp the original intention of the writer/director that much more. Perhaps even the idea of an “original intention” is confusing, since any kind of film and animation is such a collaborative art form, with big creative choices having to be made at every stage and at every level of the process. And so, why is the response of a Japanese actor necessarily more authentic than anybody else’s? Even if those responses are wildly different? The Japanese creators of El-Hazard: The Magnificent World, supposedly consider the portrayals by voice cast of the American dub the definitive versions of those characters. But can we really say that any actor, or set of actors are the “real”, “authentic” voices of the characters they play?

When we judge the quality of an actor’s performance, whether they’re speaking our own language or not, we should judge it on its own merits. We shouldn’t judge it on how similar or dissimilar it is to some idea of an “original” performance. A good example of this is the Japanese version of the (amazing) romantic comedy anime Ouran High School Host Club and its American dubbed version. There’s a major differences in the way the actors are directed in the sub and the dub. In the sub the Japanese actors all play their characters earnestly, with the humour coming from how seriously all the characters take the very ridiculous situations they’re placed in. In the dub the actors sell the lines just a little more, the voices are a bit sillier. It’s difficult to put your finger on it but basically the actors/characters seem to recognise they’re in a comedy. The humour comes from silly characters acting silly. Both interpretations are totally valid. I happen to think that the sub works much better, but that isn’t to say that the dub actors are “doing it wrong.” It seems to me that a dub, especially the performances of the actors in it, shouldn’t be considered a secondary thing, and shouldn’t be judged as good only as far it reproduces what was done in the original version. You can still think it’s worse, of course, but there isn’t anything inherently less valuable about a dubbed work.

My focus here is on voice acting but this idea factors into the translation of the anime too. Obviously certain words and expression from any one language won’t have direct translations into any other. They certainly won’t carry the same subtleties, especially when they don’t exist in the context of their original culture. But is that important? Does that de-value a dub in any way? Well it does, only if totally discount the translators creative input into the work. Only if we consider his job a tragically futile attempt to reproduce the original work – with all it’s contextual significance and linguistic flair – identically, but in a different langue. If we believe this then any translation, sub or dub, can never be anything other than an “inauthentic” distortion of some “true” original work. A work you will never be able to access unless you can speak the language. This doesn’t make sense though because, even if they don’t believe it themselves, a translator has to make a huge creative contribution to the work. They deciding what to try to convey and how to convey it! It doesn’t make sense to look at that as taking away from the original work, or even as adding to it. Why not look at the work of a translator, and of the dub actors, as transforming the work into something different? Not necessarily something better or worse than it was before they worked on it, just something different. Why not think of translators and dub actors as being just as much a part of the production team of the show/movie as the Japanese creators, rather than as people who’ve found a finished piece of art and “messed with it”?

I’m not saying you should only watch dubs from now on, by the way. Far from it. I’m saying don’t discount one or the other, especially on the pretence of authenticity. Atsuko Tanaka and Akio Ōtsuka’s performances in the Ghost in the Shell series are masterworks, but if you’re an English speaker and you watch the sub of Full Metal Alchemist, you miss out on Vic Mignogna as Edward Elric – whose performance isn’t just “good for an anime dub” but is an astonishing piece of acting in its own right. We’re normally only offered different actors’ interpretations for a few, very special roles – Hamlet, James Bond, Lady Macbeth etc. But in anime, we’re pretty lucky. We get the luxury of choice with almost every role. And when you think about it, that’s pretty amazing.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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60 Comments

  1. V Padilla
    1

    I do not make a decision. I enjoy both. I have got different moods, sometimes I am too tired to read and other times I must switch the sound off. And I love to compare different versions of an anime.

  2. When it comes to deciding sub or dub, I decide the advantages and disadvantages to each. Sub is essentially the go to for new up to date animes where dub would take at least a year to dub. The disadvantage being that you need to be a fast reader to catch not only details in what is said, but also to watch the anime in general. Dub takes the advantage of the fact that you can just watch and enjoy the anime without much hassle. Though it is also important to keep in mind what company does the Dub.

  3. SUB! Always sub man. Dub is never as good as sub man. Japanese voice actors do insane amount of training before they even get any kind of roles. Schools etc you name it. These english voice actors are nothing of the sort. There is no passion nothing in their voice. Tbh I feel like any old joe can be better than them.

    • Trung Huynh
      0

      You must be pretty ignorant if you think sub is always better. Only a wise one would know its all about who’s the better voice actor, not this crap.

      If sub and dub were in equal term the answer is simple, Dub would be the choice. The fuck you reading subtitles for. You hear to watch, not read. Before you reply, hence equal term.

      • joreldo
        0

        both of you guys sound retarded now first of all i apologize for calling you guys that but yea trung you say equal term but all you did was say that dub is better than sub and using your logic of who is the better voice actor then sub would be the winner considering they are better japanese are pros and will always be better than american actors and i admit there are times where american is better but this is rarely and last i checked i didnt come to read or watch i came to enjoy at the best of quality which in my opinion is sub but there is nothing wrong with either oh and kyle honestly i insulted you but i actually agree with what you said but you must be fair and admit that dubs can be good as well so trung was actually right about equal term…but only that 2 words and then you trung besides the words equal term you are completely off and the true ignorant person here. Now then children lets burn justing beiber to the ground

    • You’re an idiot

  4. Dan Mccoy
    0

    I mostly watch sub, partly because I’m learning Japanese, partly because it usually sounds better because Japan has so many more dedicated anime actors who take anime very seriously. For example, Death Note seemed to have a decent dub but Bleach has an awful, awful dub in my opinion, especially Rukia’s voice, who in the English has the no-talent ex-powerranger as her voice but in the Japanese has the fantastic Fumiko Orikasa, also actress of Riza Hawkeye in FMA Brotherhood.

    • I really hate the Japanese dub for Bleach. It’s not only Ichigo who sounds like a 30 year old man, but the whole cast just sound boring and generic to me. Frankly, the Japanese dub sound just awful and I refuse to watch it. Michelle Ruff (rukia’s va) is talented. She has the ability to use her voice for any kind of character she needs to portray. If she needs to be shy like in Lucky Star than she does that. If she needs to cute like, she does that. She needs to fierce like Rukia, she does that. If she needs be kind like Euthimia, she does that. If she need to be emotional like Nagato, she does it. There is a huge difference between each character she plays and how she plays them, no character she plays sounds the same, and I’m amazed by it. She also does emotions great. The same person who did Euthie, did Nagato? They are really poplar opposites. So I really don’t know what is your deal with her.

    • some damn guy
      0

      Death Note’s English dub is considered by many to be just as good as the original Japanese. I concur. With Bleach, there are quite a few roles that I prefer in English (just because of how the voices sound, not the actual performances). Ichigo, Rukia, and Old Man Yama are hands down better in English IMO. Ichigo’s Japanese VA is too rough and old sounding. Rukia’s Japanese VA is so undignified and boyish; it doesn’t have a single trace of femininity. Old Man Yama’s Japanese VA is straight up hilarious! It doesn’t sound like an old man at all! It sounds like a teenager imitating an old man. I’m puzzled by it. It doesn’t sound good at all!

      On the other hand, Aizen’s Japanese VA was a lot more talented than his English one. I liked both their voices, but I prefer Japanese in this case. Ginjo’s Japanese voice was PERFECT. I like the English interpretation as well though, and whoever’s acting it is doing a decent job thus far. Chad’s English voice is awful. It’s fine when he’s just talking normally, but whenever he starts to get emotional, the voice is just so flat and forced. The Japanese one is much more natural.

  5. Personally, I prefer the English subtitles over the English dub just because the Japanese voice actors have a hell of a lot more emotion in their voice, and in some cases, it can even help people pick up a new language(Japanese). It also improves reading speed.

  6. Gladys Holt
    0

    I really don’t like how anime fans discredit English dubs. It’s one thing if a voice turns you off. I’m not a fan of Shinji Ikari. However, there’s no reason for the hate that dubs get nowadays. If an anime from Japan is licensed, it always justifies a dub, (at the very least) , so this “battle” that sub elitists are fighting is one that is already stacked against them. Also, no English dub since probably 2004 has been low quality or bad AT ALL. While subs are the only way to get the true feel of the original intent of the dialogue, nowadays most any dub (Save for Hetalia Axis Powers and Shin-Chan) will be very faithful to the original intent of the Japanese dialogue. It will also sound clear and fine to listen to.

    • Dubs aren’t bad. But they were. If you want bad dubbing, go look at Salior Moon, Cyber City Oedo 808, Fist of the North Star’s first dub, Genocyber, Violence Jack and anything Manga Entertainment put out in the late 80’s and 90’s. Still, it’s all matter of preference and this is a subjective. But this is true: Dubs aren’t terrible and take a lot of effort, translation-wise and money-wise. Give dubs a chance, after all most people speak English.

      • Jordan

        Exactly this. I listen to early 80s and 90s dubs and I wonder why people still complain nowadays. The improvement in quality is ENORMOUS.

  7. Freddie
    0

    The one thing I don’t like about an anime with subs is when the characters are talking super duper fast, you don’t have enough time to read what their saying. For example, The Tatami Galaxy. That show is very interesting, but I have never finished it yet. Reason is that I just don’t like the idea about watching a show, and then pausing it every second to read the these unusual, random, and crazy lines each character is saying. It’ll take almost an hour just to finish a 23 min episode. I mean, yes, it’ll be like reading a manga, but I want to see the damn video in motion, in which I can follow along an enjoy the humor. Funimation picked up this title and Sadly they probably will never be a dub for this because lack of viewership.

  8. Austin Bender

    I think a good dub can work well, but sub works the best, for the most part.

  9. True anime fan watches both!

  10. I am not biased to either subs or dubs. I enjoy both equally when they are well done. I actually hate the DBZ subbed the japanese voices make bad ass characters sound like little girls screaming. And series like Naruto dubbed are fucking HORRIBLE all around, terrible voice acting.

  11. Alfonso
    1

    Here’s what. First time watching anime I absolutely fell in love with the voice acting. I did not know Japanese, but I understood the subs, even though English is not my first or second language. It really did not even occur to me to watch anime in other dub, since I have not gotten used to that. In my country nothing is usually dubbed. This is how we get accustomed to English as well. And guess what happens after listening translated language for a long time? You start to learn it. Nowadays I don’t even need the subtitles; I have actually learned some of the language by watching anime. So it has been an interesting learning experience. Maybe it is the same for someone else out there.

    Practically speaking, having watched some English dubbed anime, I felt the voice acting seemed dull, almost empty. The English voice acting did not carry the emotion as Japanese had. The difference comes from the fine details of pronunciation, and actually breathing life into the characters. The small things like sighing, yawning and groaning sound realistic. I have found that Japanese voice actors/actresses are able to create lots of different types of characters by manipulating their voice, to the point where you might not even recognise the actor/actress in a different anime. This is something I have not heard in the English dubs. For me, watching an anime with the dubs feels wrong nowadays, since I have gotten used to Japanese. Personally, I prefer the whole experience the way the creators made it, with every small detail. That way it seems more intact.

    There is something to be said about any translation ever made, which is mostly that the original nearly always loses some of its content during translation. Any person who has studied different languages knows this. The language carries many cultural details with it, which may not even have words in the other language it is being translated to. The most important fact here is the time to actually say the same thing in different language. I’ll give you an example: Finnish language has huge amount of phrases and words for this simple thing, snow. I’ll even give you a link about this, if you’re interested. http://everything2.com/title/Finnish+words+for+snow
    Because it snows nearly half a year in Finland, there are lots of words for it in their culture, many of them very hard to translate. One word might need a complete sentence to describe the whole meaning. It simply does not work in anime, with the time frame given for each line.

    But let’s throw in an example of American animation, where similarly Japanese dubs might not fit in. I recently watched Batman Gotham Knight, first in English, as it was the original language, then in Japanese dub. For the context, I felt that English was better, but for quality it was Japanese which felt more realistic. I have also had a field day with some videos here, which have Hollywood movies in Japanese dub, and they are hilarious! The Japanese phrasing simply does not work there.

    Personally, I don’t care to hear something pronounced completely wrong, like most of the Japanese names used in anime. I have found that Japanese, and other similarly phonetic languages, are particularly difficult to pronounce for native English speakers. So dub just cannot do justice for the names. It feels simply wrong for me. And vice versa, sometimes Japanese voice actors simply lack the ease of pronouncing English words, which may sound really awkward in anime.

    I might also point out the fact that voice acting in Japan is much more major thing than in the US. It employs so much more people, and they make their careers mostly by voice acting alone. Therefore, there is lots of competition, and perhaps, also better results. They are clearly prominent in this industry.

    Finally, I believe that the original Japanese voice acting is better in quality and enjoy watching anime in Japanese dubs, rather than in English dubs. The same applies if it would be released in my country, dubbed my native language.

  12. Lexandra
    1

    japanese voice acting is so amazing, and different from western stuff, it’s just an experience on its own
    i dont wanna watch some pretty cartoons. i wanna watch anime, and that means japanese voice acting.

  13. Some of us are learning Japanese through these shows and their subs…..I also enjoy the anime! I’m 47 and like what it has to offer. I don’t like the sexual bull crap but hey each to their own.

  14. Louise Robinson
    0

    Most people, from my experience and understanding, feel like voice actors who do the English dubs don’t as much emotion into their vice acting as the Japanese do.

  15. As a speaker of both Japanese and English, I am annoyed at both bad acting in “dubbed” material and bad translation in subtitles. Which am I more annoyed by? The “dubbed” stuff definitely. For one thing, dubbed material is first translated by one person and then acted out with interpretation by the actor. Therefore, the possibilities of changing the meaning, direction and tone of a line of dialogue can be greater. At least with subtitles, the viewer is exposed to both the real dialogue and the translated subtitles, thereby allowing the viewer to be exposed to the true intentions of the original actor, writer and/ director.

    • I experienced true emotions many times before watching anime in English. I never understood that statement. When Shizou scream Izaya in English, I can really feel it very well. I never had that lack of emotions. So I disagree.

  16. “… don’t discount one or the other.” This speaks to me the most in this article, and in my opinion is the essence of the question. Both mediums are effective at what they do. Whether or not they impact you the best is for you to decide. So in essence, there really is not wrong answer to the question, “Which do you prefer (or watch) dub or sub?” On a side note the elitist attitude taken on by most in communities is wrong and only hurts the community.
    On a more personal note I have been watching the recent Funimation dubs of One Piece, my most favorite fictional story hands down, and so I repeatedly watch the sub versions and when the dub comes out I can’t wait to see how they handled some of the more impacting scenes.
    Honestly, I have had mixed feelings, both initially and current not just on choice in voice but script as well. Whitebeard’s voice, I feel, does not fit him at all in English. I am quite sure the voice actor is a good actor, but I just don’t feel the impact I feel I should be getting. Now this dose not mean that this is in fact a bad choice or that the dub is [now] inferior to the sub, but rather what I said “I feel,” is what is important. Other might feel it suites him better.
    Franky was another fault to me – at first. Is English voice has actually started to grow on me and I feel now it does suite him. Brook on the other hand… well we have yet to see in detail, and I do hope for the same result as Franky.
    Point being that we, as a community should stop passing a judgment as final on which format is “superior” than the other, because it just is not fair. Each format, if anything, should be judged on its quality within itself, not verses an entire other style of portrayal.

  17. Softdrink

    I have very mixed opinions on the sub/dub debate. I’ve certainly received a fair amount of criticism from some of my more ‘informed’ friends about the ‘proper’ way to watch anime.

    My general approach is to watch a little of both, and then go with what sticks. But I will sometimes switch between them mid-series, or even go look up a fansub if I feel like the official translation is inauthentic. I will admit to having a soft spot for shows with legitimately good — or at least consistently enjoyable — dubs. But if I feel like the dub compromises the experience I will always switch back to the sub.

    Some shows, as you mentioned, seem absolutely perfect for their dubs. Cowboy Bebop comes to mind. There is, I think, always going to be some reinterpretation between how a show is originally conceived and presented and the direction taken by the dub, but I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing as long as the original artistic intent is maintained as closely as possible.

    I wish that I understood the Japanese language (I hope someday soon to learn), and the cultural and connotative elements of the original subbed performances so that I could make a more educated distinction. As it is, I have seen amazing subbed performances, and amazing dubbed performances.

  18. its difficult, usually the right answer is subbed. And a big reason for that is the change in language. For example profanity is needed to really get the emotion across and due to several reasons they cant do that in dubbed.

    but let me ask you this…DBZ subbed? it just doesnt work. Whether the language is changed or not that is real emotion carried out by the actors and no amount of subs will ever change that.

  19. This kind of comparison is absolutely meaningful, but I also think we should take into account the audience. Most children and senior citizens prefer dubbed ones–seeing subtitles are weary. For me, since I became a foreign language learner, I’ve never seen dubbed movies. In addition, the choice also depends on how popular the language is. To take English as an example, most non-native speakers in the world are learning English or know at least a little bit about English, thus to see subbed English movies is not that difficult and people would be most interested in seeing a subbed English movie than a subbed, say, Korean movie. In consequence, dubbing will not be that profitable for some movies.

  20. I’ve never really understood the stigma of dubbed anime. I mean, usually your preference is for which ever version you heard first, dubbed or subbed. For example, I have a friend who, when she was young, lived in China and saw a subbed version of Digimon. Flash forward ten years or so and she asked me how I could stand the dubbed version. I shrugged. It was what I had grown up with. It didn’t sound bad or weird or anything. It just was. I tried watching the original subbed but it was like watching a bizzaro world Digimon.

    That being said though, usually I try to watch subbed anime, because I feel like the flow of the dialogue is better. Sometimes the English dubs can sound stilted, which is understandable. After all, English and Japanese are completely different languages in the way they’re structured, and the animation team is timing the animation with the Japanese script in mind. The dub team has to account for that, and it often results in weird pauses and strangely stilted sentences. Its not necessarily “bad”, but, personally, I’d rather just listen to the sub.

  21. While I understand both arguments, I’m definitely for subs. Not just in anime, but in all sorts of visual media. Maybe it’s just me, but I put on the subs for everything possible even if the original work is in English. Also, some things get lost in translation in a dub. I’m not saying the sub translation will fix the issue entirely but at least you get to hear the original voice actors’ emotion conveyed. (Plus, it won’t be as weird if you see a little annotation at the top explaining the thing that gets lost in translation if you’re already watching a sub, at least for YouTube videos.)

  22. Some anime are just better dubbed based on the subject matter. Shows based around Japanese society are better in japanese because much of the terms used do not translate well and sound awkward in English. Shows like Baccano, where the story takes places in the United States and consists of characters from different ethnic backgrounds are better dubbed because the use of accents is important in making characters memorable and realistic. Also Baccano is just awesome to begin with.

  23. Marlena Matute

    I actually prefer dubbed anime due to the fact that I can enjoy the story and animation without having to read through some awkward translations of the dialogue. Sure at times some of the performances by the voice actors may fall flat but more often than not the dubs can be just as compelling and authentic as the subbed originals. Case in point Vic Mignogna in Full Metal Alchemist and Ouran High School Host Club.

  24. FluxAxiom

    Yeah for me it really comes down to if I am too tired to read, usually how late at night it is.

  25. Ivan

    This is always debated between friends and fans of anime. Which is better? The chicken or the egg? I feel strongly that it’s matter of preference. Yes, in some cases, the dub might be better than the sub. I especially liked your last line comparing anime to Hamlet and James Bond. We are lucky enough to have multiple choices through different voices and interpretations of the source material. It’s amazing to watch an anime multiple times throughout with different takeaways. That’s beautiful.

  26. Justin Wu

    First of all, sub fan speaking here.

    “Why not think of translators and dub actors as being just as much a part of the production team of the show/movie as the Japanese creators, rather than as people who’ve found a finished piece of art and “messed with it”?”

    My rebuttal will be that it’s because they aren’t technically part of the production team, hence they will be implementing their idea of what it should be like instead of what the original production team thinks should be like. I respect translators and dub actors, but I much prefer hearing and feeling the original voice since I believe those will be closest to what the production team hopes to achieve. Along that line is the issue of cultural context and words that can’t be directly translated into English/other languages, which might result in awkward voice acting. Perhaps it’s not that big of a problem to me as an Asian, who has a rough idea of what certain Japanese words mean even though translating them will be hard.

    In the world of translating, people actually do care how skilled the translator is in translating original passages without changing the tone. That is why sometimes when reading translated novels, sometimes people say the readers are reading the voice of the translator instead of that of the author. Though, to be fair, I think this will depend on how skillful the translator/voice actor is in this case.

  27. Dennis Fulton

    I normally watch subs, but there is no doubt that there are a crap ton of good dubs out there. Some of which are better than the original (DBZ, Desert Punk, Cowboy Bebop.) I personally find that American dubs of comedy animes are normally better. That is because I more often than not, find japanese comedy inferior to american comedy. If someone names an anime that makes me laugh more than Archer or South Park, I’ll totally redact what I said, but I don’t think anyone can. With dubs, a bit of american humor is put into the anime, which makes it funnier for me. Best example of this for me would be highschool DXD. The japanese version was pretty funny by relying on pervy humor (always a popular one with japan) but the dub version added a lot more to the humor than just funny faces to bare boobs.

  28. Mary Awad

    I usually watch the sub on account that I thought it was in fact more authentic than the dub. With the exception of Ghibli movies, which are great examples of good dubs and good acting, I am strictly dub (unless I’m with friends that don’t want to ‘read shows’ as you said). But this puts a spin on things. Not all dubs are bad, some are actually pretty great. FMA, OHSHC, School Rumble, all very good dubs. It’s preference but also how you interpret what the actors are doing in their own right. Great read, thank you for writing it.

    Also, the Attack on Titan dub comes out soon…that’ll be interesting to see.

  29. I myself watch both, with a tilt in preference toward subbed. Sometimes I will watch my favorite shows once dubbed and then return later to watch the subtitled version. I don’t mind reading while I watch a show, however I do tend to multitask and it is sometimes frustrating to miss a crucial element because I looked at a text on my phone, which makes the dubs easier/less of a complete attention commitment. However, as far as authenticity, these are shows that originated in Japan and voice acting aside, the shows were originally intended to be viewed with an understanding of Japanese culture in mind, so some subtleties can get lost in the dub. Also, especially when referring to older shows that were produced in the VHS days, many shows would not even hit the dubbing stage unless the original show had a certain amount of success. So although a show may get the opportunity to be dubbed with amazing voice actors that trump the original, if the original was a flop in the first place it may never even reach that stage. Japanese animators rarely base their success on how well a show is received overseas as opposed to home. All that aside, as an American bathed in American culture, it is fun to see dubs that take Westernized approaches to ultimately convey the same concept as the Japanese originals, just in a way that is easier for Westerners to understand.

  30. Forget the sub/dub debate, and I say let’s just congratulate the author on a well reasoned, thoroughly thought out argument in favor of equality for both. We’re all anime fans, after all. Why anime fans have to hate other anime fans for some preference is beyond me.

  31. It annoys me when people go on about “anime losing it’s originality in English” I don’t know how, it doesn’t happen to me. I watch both depends on the anime and the voices. There are tons of English voice actors that I adore and appreciate. Japanese anime voice actors can be better than some English because anime is from Japan so they more trained vas or something like that… But there are tons and tons of great Eng voice actors to appreciate that are not appraised as much. As for Ouran, I liked the dub more. And I came across anime I can’t listen in Japanese before. I also find it funny when people say something about emotion and all that funny stuff. English vas can of as well and better with the emotions than Japanese.

  32. Helen Parshall

    With friends trying to get me into anime lately, I’ve been having trouble finding a niche in either sub or dub. My friends are all very much advocates of subs, but I like the ease of dubs… it’s hard to know which one is the more authentic version of the story. Thanks for your piece!

  33. I want to see more english dubbed anime. I get tired of reading subtitles constantly. Let’s give the english voice actors a chance.

  34. master race
    0

    What about those of us who watch our anime raw? Articles like this always ignore that there are more than two options.

  35. For me, whether I watch an anime in its subbed or dubbed version depends on where it takes place. For example, for an anime that takes place in Japan I prefer subbed, because it makes sense within the context of the story for the characters to be speaking Japanese. However, if an anime doesn’t take place in Japan or none of the characters are Japanese, it doesn’t matter to me which language it’s in.

  36. The only thing i felt that sub is much better is because there are words that are lost in translation and cannot be reinterpreted in English well.

    reason? because it is in japanese.

    For example, a well known one would the sounding “aho” made by crows.
    We all know “aho” means idiot in japanese and coincidentally, it is the supposed sound made by crow. That really linked up really well. i won’t expect a crow to be flying around shouting “idiot! idiot!”.
    but to be fair, it’s just a minor difference

    if anyone ever watched “konjiki no gash” aka “zatch bell”,
    the character “zatch bell”/”gash bell” has a basic lightning spell called “zakeru”. During the 1st epi(?), bell accidentally cast this spell when his master shouted “fu-ZAKERU-na!”(don’t mess around) at bell. well, i can understand that in japanese sub easily. i watched the dub once and i can see that the dubber is trying really hard to do it but it doesn’t sound natural.

    The words used, especially those that relies heavily on japanese phonetic would be harder for dubber to convey the ACTUAL message

  37. I’ve watched anime since the Golden Era, which means that I’ve watched the majority of titles HORRIBLY dubbed into English. I always proceed with caution when an anime series or movie is licensed because of the laziness of American distribution over the years. So you can understand why a lot of people (especially from my generation) doubt the integrity of English dubs.

    With that being said, strides have been made to lessen the gap in performance in American VA-ing. There are some REALLY good dubs out there. Plus you have some VAs who actually take the time out to watch the series/movie in its native tongue first or who actually know Japanese. The issue is that the stellar direction and casting for those exceptions are limited to just those studios and not across the board. So, while you have maybe 2 or 3 good dubs in one direction, you have a dozen of subpar dubs in another.

    I, myself, have studied Japanese for 8 years and was always a fast reader, so the issue of “distracting” subtitles has never been a thing for me as I’ve also learned to use peripheral vision while I’m reading the sentences. I don’t gain a thing from English dubs. It’s going backwards for me.
    So subs in general make my experience better.

  38. I agree with this, except for authenticity part. I love to be as close to the original I can get. I love to know where everything started. I am even learning Japanese at my high school just so that watching the originals will take less work and to let me in to some of the jokes and puns. I would call the people who don’t watch the subtitled version lazy, but not for the reason everyone thinks. The only people who watch dub I call lazy are the ones who’s reasoning is firmly because they don’t like to read. I find it a poor excuse not to watch the originals.
    Besides, there are a few anime out there that I love to watch in English dub. Most are Studio Ghibli movies, especially Spirited Away and Summer Wars, Ouran High School Host Club, and even the action packed anime Inuyasha. I’m not against it, I just prefer sub over dub. I just don’t like the ones that are badly dubbed like some of the fandub. I’m not sorry to say that those are just atrocious and a bad joke.

  39. I mostly prefer subbed anime to dubbed, but to me it really depends on the kind of anime I am watching. Like in One Piece the dub is garbage compared to the subbed version, as you miss out on both the cultural references as well the unique voice acting that is so important for the characters of One Piece, but on the other hand, in Gungrave the dubbed version absolutely kicks ass and is one of the best I’ve ever seen. It’s set in a mafia type world, and feels really weird to hear the Japanese voice actors pronounce words in English (it’s kind of distracting) in their accent.

  40. I usually try to enjoy dubs as much as subs, particularly because I’m a fan of some of the English voice actors. Some of them are hilarious and charming in real life, and despite popular internet opinion, many of them are dedicated actors (usually coming from a theatre background).
    Dubbing is a REALLY hard thing to do. The voice actors are acting in a vacuum so they can’t play off of others, they have to match lip flaps because the animation’s been made… etc. I think they get too much undeserved enmity, which is too bad because a lot of them really to try.

  41. I did really enjoy the fullmetal alchemist dub. But many dubs have a few characters that sound “off” like the voice doesn’t belong to them. And then there are times when the Japanese voice actor was so good that even though the English dub is good it isn’t quite as good. For example Durarara has a good english dub, but in the japanese the voices are more fluid, like they adjust a bit depending on the emotion, they really really fit the characters. aah DRRR is soo good either way 🙂

  42. infinitezenith

    I roll with what works more naturally, so for me, it’s never been a point of contention: sometimes, the dubs sound very compelling, and sometimes, the subs allow me to hear the anime with its original emotional tenor.

  43. David Santos
    0

    I think it depends. Some dubs are bad, some are not. The same applies to subs. There’s also the question of whether it’s official or fan-made, and even that doesn’t say by itself if the translation is good or bad. I’ve seen official translations whose quality pales in comparison to fansubs, and I’ve seen the opposite as well.

    I prefer fan-made translations because they tend to keep the original content intact. American distributors often enough decide that the content is too “edgy” (based on some criteria that might be ill-defined or not, and sometimes even because of laws or regulations) to be distributed as is, so they might cut or change scenes in order to remain family-friendly. The hack job that Viz Media did on the first couple of episodes of Zatch Bell is enough of an example. Of course, that’s not to say that every American distributor changes every anime they get their hands on, and when they don’t I’m totally fine with an official dub.

    Fandubs tend not to be up to par with official dubs, and that’s completely understandable, but it means that, to me, all that remains is fansubs.

    I must say, though, that the argument that a translator’s contribution doesn’t diminish from the work only holds water if the translator is good and creative, and even then it depends on the source material. Sometimes it’s just not possible to translate a sentence without losing meaning (and that’s where creativity and good judgment enter, so that the translator can decide what part or the meaning to compromise and/or if just discarding the original and rewriting the sentence altogether might work better to convey the meaning faithfully).

  44. Jonathan Leiter

    For a good while, back around 2007, I was getting my hands on a lot of earlier 1980s and 1990s Animes, half of which had terrible dubs. I couldn’t stand to listen to them, so I opted immediately to watch the original Japanese with subtitles, because at least then the acting sounded honest and believable. The dubs at that time unfortunately took attention away from the story, and took away whatever quality may have been there, depending on how good or bad the anime actually was despite the voices.

    These days, I mainly stick with dubs, not because I don’t respect the Japanese voice actors, but because I do so much other stuff during the day, and I often watch Animes while in bed, that I can’t keep my focus split between the visuals and the text at the bottom of the screen. Realistically, I’m sleeping on my side, trying to watch my TV at a large slanted angle at the other end of my room. So there’s no way I’m going to be able to read all of the dialogue as fast as they expect me too without over-focusing my vision, and trying to stay completely awake. I also have a hard time watching subs during the day, because I like to do other things while I watch stuff–not constantly, but on and off–but I can’t do that if I have to completely keep my attention on the screen the whole time to read the dialogue. I’m more than capable of paying complete attention, and even reading subtitles to a film if I’m out at the movie theater, because in that case I’m away from home, and I like to be immersed by the cinema. At home, it’s a much different story.

    Even Bennett the Sage, who runs an anime video review series, “Anime Abandon,” prefers to avoid subs when possible, because he doesn’t like his attention taken away from the visuals and the story. Constantly reading text takes him out of the immersion, and he isn’t even doing something else while watching.

    I do have a few Japanese actors which I am a fan of, and a few films that I often prefer to watch (at least half the time) in Japanese. But beyond the few special films (“Tokyo Godfathers,” “Genius Party,” “Memories”) which have not been given the dub treatment, but deserve my utmost attention anyway, it’s pretty much dubs for me.

  45. Many of my friends had this debate when more of us started getting into anime. I really liked how you capitalized on both being valid art forms because I think the process of a person judging a voice actor performance is akin to how people who ‘read the book first’ feel when they go to see the movie. Usually, after the book, a reader has created an image in their head about a character – their looks, voice, style, etc. – and sometimes the movie version is very far from this and they may not like the defamiliarization that occurs. I usually go with subs, but part of that is my interest in language and enjoying the aspect of listening to the different pronunciation rules than my own. I like dubs as well, but sometimes I find that the voice just doesn’t match for me or that the emotion is being conveyed a bit stiffly. I go with whatever gets me closest to the pure emotion of an anime.

  46. Dub is so much better, the people that are saying subs are better
    because of emotion is just nonsensical and using justification to mask
    there weaboo side whether they like to admit it or not an or whether they
    know it or not. well the ones that are any way and I’m sorry but saying the
    original is always better not even close to true, sure most of the time but all
    the time hell (NO!) sorry but when it comes to anime that is based on western culture though some of them have a combination of sci fi
    an fantasy like

    Glass Fleet
    Chrome Regios
    Blood Trinity
    Chrono Crusade
    Black Cat
    Attack on Titan
    Snow White with Red Hair
    D. Gray Man
    Akame Ga Kill
    Last Exile
    Full Metal Alchemist
    Hellsing
    GunXSword
    RomeoXJuliet
    Berserk
    Black Butler

    they wont sound better in the original because it will and or would
    make more sense to hear it from the dub, and lol to the people that think
    that originals will always be better just cut the crap an stop lying to yourself
    with the. (“you can hear more emotion in the original!”), I hate to brake it to you but I’ve heard emotions in the dubs. saying the dubs don’t have emotion
    is a complete lie an delusion and hallucination, not to mention I’ve heard the
    originals before. but they just don’t feel emotional at all. the only thing I’m hearing from them is just screaming an yelling and some times exaggeratedly

    that goes for their crying, whining, complaining an other emotions they don’t feel real at all no matter what the so called weaboo or sub lovers say and of course some times if not a lot of the times the voice’s sound similar or don’t differentiate itself enough to sound different.

  47. Dub is so much better, the people that are saying subs are better
    because of emotion is just nonsensical and using justification to mask
    there weaboo side whether they like to admit it or not an or whether they
    know it or not. well the ones that are any way and I’m sorry but saying the
    original is always better not even close to true, sure most of the time but all
    the time hell (NO!) sorry but when it comes to anime that is based on western culture though some of them have a combination of sci fi
    an fantasy like

    Glass Fleet
    Chrome Regios
    Blood Trinity
    Chrono Crusade
    Black Cat
    Attack on Titan
    Snow White with Red Hair
    D. Gray Man
    Akame Ga Kill
    Last Exile
    Full Metal Alchemist
    Hellsing
    GunXSword
    RomeoXJuliet
    Berserk
    Black Butler

    they wont sound better in the original because it will and or would
    make more sense to hear it from the dub, and lol to the people that think
    that originals will always be better just cut the crap an stop lying to yourself with the. (“you can hear more emotion in the original!”), I hate to brake it to you but I’ve heard emotions in the dubs. saying the dubs don’t have emotion
    is a complete lie an delusion and hallucination, not to mention I’ve heard the
    originals before. but they just don’t feel emotional at all. the only thing I’m hearing from them is just screaming an yelling and some times exaggeratedly

    that goes for their crying, whining, complaining an other emotions they don’t feel real at all no matter what the so called weaboo or sub lovers say and of course some times if not a lot of the times the voice’s sound similar or don’t differentiate itself enough to sound different.

  48. Subtitles are superior.

  49. I’m sorry but how slow do people read for them to complain about subs? I mean I never even considered this a problem until people online kept mentioning it! I found absolutely no problem reading the translation and watching the animation, then adjusting my interpretation of what’s going on by combining the two. I prefer subs simply due to the sheer subtleties and pure emotion only japanese voice actors seem to convey to its highest potential, but I do watch the very occasional dub and remain unfazed about it. Seriously though! How slow do people read?!

  50. And not to mention, that “guest” dude… Wow. Just wow. I sure hope to hell that was sarcasm.

  51. I think it’s also just this ingrained, elitist point of view that if you don’t watch subbed Anime then you’re not a real Anime fan. Since Anime is Japanese, watch it in Japanese. And that’s kind of unfair to say.

    When it comes down to it, it’s just personal preference, I think. One big reason I sometimes like the dubbed versions is because it allows me to focus on the show itself, rather than constantly reading the subtitles. I feel like I miss out on whats happening because I’m too bust reading. Then again, I will always choose subs over dubbed because to me the Japanese voices sound more genuine and more connected with their characters. I just generally enjoy hearing the Japanese VAs. But there are many english VAs that I love and compel me to check out the dubbed version.

    Reiterating, it’s all personal preference. To claim one as the superior over the other is unfair, and completely subjective. Enjoy whatever it is that you enjoy, and be happy with it.

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