Saturday, April 4, 2009

The West Strikes Back - In Defense of Dubbing

Ahh, the dub/sub debate. Nothing throws non-Japanese speaking anime fans the world over into little hissy fits quite so effectively as this timeworn argument.

Anyway, since every single bastard on the internetz seems to have an opinion about this, I thought I'd throw in mine as well.

And whilst I'm certain that I'm in the minority when I say this, I'm going to anyway;





Now I've heard all the popular arguments from pro-subbers, how they like anime to sound as it's meant to be, how the Japanese VAs are infinitely superior to their English speaking counterparts and so on. And quite frankly, these arguments sound like utter crap. Nonetheless, in the spirit of discourse, here are my arguments for why dubs are awesome:

We understand what the shit they're saying

The fundamental reason why dubs exist in the first place; so that English speakers can understand what on earth is being said. Now I realize subs serve the same purpose, but there are several reasons why they are fundamentally inferior.

Firstly, subs are often abbreviated so as to not clog up the screen with text. This runs the risk of losing meaning, or at least unique styles of speech a character might have. In contrast, dubs are allowed greater freedom for verbosity, thus allowing dialogue to be as intricate and eloquent as in the original Japanese. Furthermore, verbal tics, styles of speech and accents can be preserved (or at least appropriated) in a way that subs are incapable of.

Furthermore, subs alone do not portray emotions. Now I know that is the job for the Japanese dialogue to accomplish, but the problem is, unless one is accustomed to listening and speaking Japanese, all but the least subtle nuances of speech would be lost on us.

As a viewer with only limited understanding of Japanese, I can only pick up the most obvious changes of tone in Japanese speech. For the most part, it all simply sounds like unintelligible sounds with variations in volume.

In contrast, dubs allow the viewer to appreciate the full extent of the subtleties of the spoken word. From pitch to tone to pacing, familiarity with the English language allows one to pick up these subtleties as portrayed by the voice actors, thus providing far greater insight into the character then subs would be capable of.

And as an added bonus, dubs mean that I don't always have to have my full attention on the screen to understand what's going on. When cleaning the house, cooking dinner or so forth, I enjoy doing these mundane activities with the tv on. English dubbing allows me to follow the story without having to pay too much attention to the screen; a feat that subs are incapable of.

English speaking VAs are actually quite skilled. It's just that weaboos won't fucking admit it

Another popular argument in favour of subs is the supposedly inherent superiority Japanese voice actors. Now I'm sorry, but that's fucking bullshit.

English voice actors are just as talented, dedicated and passionate as their Japanese counterparts. If you want proof, just look at the amount of fan interaction a lot of these people partake in, all the cons they attend in order to get fan feedback, all the forums they browse to get an indication of what fans think of their performance.

And all this, despite the fact how every third person they talk to is some douche who complains about English dubbing without ever listening to it to begin with.

Many proponents of subbing seem to be stuck in the mindset that dubs are still been done by tiny companies with like 10 staff, with just as small a pool of voice talent to choose from. Those days are past. In fact, they've been past for like 10 fucking years!

Today, localization companies have hefty budgets and a large array of talent to choose from. Many of whom are very talented individuals who I'm sure weaboos would be worshipping had they spoke Japanese rather then English.

Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, Johnny Yong Bosch, Crispin Freeman, Christina Vee, Lisa Ortiz, Yuri Lowenthal and Steven Blum are but a very small number of talents that the English speaking anime community takes for granted.

In Closing
As would be obvious by now; I vastly prefer my animes dubbed rather then subbed. Oftentimes, it's the dubbing that most strongly influences me in buying anime dvds.

Of course, I readily admit that not all dubs are good, and some are quite obviously horrific. The Genshiken dub still haunts me in my sleep.

Nonetheless, just as how as how some English dubbing efforts fall flat, some Japanese productions are also poor. The fact that the voiceacting is in Japanese doesn't magically prevent the effort from sucking.

In the end, there will always be some people who will always prefer subs for whatever reason. Whilst I would probably never share that preference, I can somewhat respect it.

What I want to see however, is that idiots stop lumping all English dubs into a blanket term of suck, rather then taking the time to evaluate and appreciate each dub on it's own merits.

So in closing, here's a dubbed scene from Mahou Shoujo Nanoha A's. Enjoy (and beware spoilers):

So that's my two cents. What's your opinion on the dub vs sub debate? And feel free to advocate subbing; I'll respect your opinion despite how wrong you are ;)


  1. If you honestly want my opinion, I prefer subtitles for two very personal reasons: I have trouble with American accents, so that I can only detect the least subtle nuances of speech in an American voice; and having grown up without television, I'm very textually-minded. I prefer to read my dialogue and come up with voices for the characters myself — it is, after all, what I've always done when reading books.

    Neither of those particular, individual problems has any bearing on the universal question of the relative merits of dubbing or subtitling, of course.

  2. @ iknight
    To be fair, Japanese accents should presumably be just as alien to you as American accents. In fact, more so given how they aren't even speaking English (unless of course you speak Japanese, in which case this argument is entirely void).

    Your second reason however is perfectly valid.

    Ultimately, my post is less about trying to argue that dubs are superior, and more of a reaction against people who insist on the superiority of subs for the reason other then some perceived superiority of all things Japanese.

  3. I watched Card captor sakura in english and it was not that bad. Thank goodness they never dub the song in english. LOL

  4. @ Leon
    Really? I've never seen Card Captor, but I'll take your word for it! >=D

  5. I think one bad experience with dub really turn one off from it. I had one really bad dub, and it was so cringingly bad that I did not want to the risk of experiencing that again.

    I tried listening to the dubs here and there. I noticed that I didn't mind the dubs by the male voice, but when the female voices trying to imitate the cuteness of the Japanese voice then all is lost. And I start cringing again.

    I agree there are some really good ones, but filtering the good and the bad takes too much time and might as well just watch it the way I like it.

    Your argument: "This runs the risk of losing meaning, or at least unique styles of speech a character might have."
    I would think the dubbing, trying to rewrite all the dialogues to fit into the characters' mouth would lose more of the meaning than trying to fit the subtitles in. And recently they've also dubbed "God Knows..." in the The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Trying to fit an English translation of a song into the melody is quite a feat, but I can't help see some of the meaning lost in it. However, there aren't a lot of dubbing that do anything with the songs.

    Oh and somehow dubs don't catch my attention as much. I've put on the video you embedded as I was typing this and I totally forgot what they were saying...

    Hmm... starting to sound like a rant, so I'll cut it off right here. I'm just listing my gripe about dubs here, but in my opinion, just watch the way you want it and not worry what others think.

  6. I cant really comment on the English Dubs since i cant really detect the undertones and nuances of emotion in the english language.It isnt my first Language so theres nothing i can do about it.
    Personally I prefer Subs over dubs most of the time.This is pretty much to the fact that German Releases get horrible dubs compared to AAA Movies/Series.

    In lets say 85% of the cases you end up with a pool of maybe 15 German Anime Dubbers that are on an amateur level.
    Another thing that really strucks is the fact that the Producer of the dub dont seem to have an ounce of knowledge about a fitting cast for a character.
    I always like to take the Haruhi Dub as an example since they actually casted the dubbers with Help of the fans in an epic long time.
    Guess what?The Dubbers still dont fit..

    I cant really tell if youll notice the feeling emotions in the actors voices but give this a go:

    I think that its unbelievable that they spent weeks on finding suitable actors >.<

    Heres one more with Haruhi aswell

    There are some good dubs out there like the Ergo Proxy or GITS dubs but they are in the minority.
    I just cant take bad acting and wrong translation .

    I wont bash anyone who likes dubs though

  7. I'll watch dubs or subs. Usually if dub is available I'll watch it over subs, but sometimes I like to rewatch with the subs to see how the original voice actors sounded. I think Ikkitousen, FLCL, any Miyazaki film, xxxHolic and Chobits all had great dubs, of course that's just off the top of my head. Now I wanna see the full dubbed Nanoha A's XD I still love my subs, especially since I'm studying Japanese I like to watch the kana/kanji some openings and endings provide with the subs, etc etc. Another thing is, my son can't read very well yet, only a few simple words here and there, so when we watch dubs he picks up what's going on a lot better. So I'm for dubs and subs equally I guess. There's only a few cases where dubs just don't work at all, and I've seen plenty of horrible subs.

  8. As someone who doesn't mind either subs or dubs, I find it interesting how strongly some people are for one side or the other. While most items released in the US mitigate that this problem, when a company like Right Stuf releases recent niche properties as sub-only (which comes from things like expectations about how many people will buy the show to justify the cost of dubbing, as well as the types of fans watching the show and whether or not they care about it), the reactions from people who say "I'm not going to buy this because there's no dub" makes me realize how strong the feelings still are. And it makes me wonder at the same time "Is it really that important? To me, no, but I can't complain when other don't feel the same way. :P

  9. Snark, I saw that on our local english channel. they sound cute too.

  10. I like dubs, I prefer dubs and I buy my favourite series which contains dubs but it's not always a good dub.
    I don't have anything against VA's but when I can see it's a bad dub, it really is. Some ppl can't tell because, they watch most of their series in dub and they prefer that than reading the subs. In all honesty, watching anime is not suppose to be reading, it's suppose to be watching the animation.

    Most of the time, when u watched a series in sub, it's hard to switch over to the dub as u already got accustomed to the japanese VA. It's hard to make the switch as a different voice means, a different perspective of what u see in the character.

  11. Agree with Optic - Dubs are great unless you get the Jap dubbing first.

    Ghost in the Shell, Cowboy Bebop are both great dubs that I'm happy to watch repeatedly though (watched both series in both languages, too).

    The American accents though.. do bug me. Apart from that, I just prefer the originals. Nothing against dubbed content at all.

  12. Honestly speaking, I prefer subs most of the time because dubbers can't display the emotions well. Mostly monotonous. Or maybe this applies to Singaporean dubbers only.

    The only dubbed animes I've watched like are probably DBZ, Pokemon and Ghost in the Shell. (Might try Cowboy Bebop one day)

    What you say about 'losing the meaning' is sometimes right though.

  13. @ Lightning Sabre
    Yeah, I must agree with you that it's ear cringing listening to English voice actors doing high pitched voices (Hilary Haag and Larissa Wolcott did great jobs with Excel Saga though), but that's mainly because I hate high pitched voices in general, in both English and Japanese.

    Going to have to disagree with you on God Knows however. I personally thought that was one of the greatest feats of dubbing I've ever seen. And whilst I realize that the lyrics weren't a word for word translation, I found that they encapsulated the original song very nicely without sacrificing song quality.

    You're right though, ultimately it' up to the viewer to watch it however they like. Nonetheless, weaboos who insist that Japanese > English for no legitimate reason still piss the shits outta me >_>

    @ Blowfish
    Well, to be honest, I can't really comment on the German dubs. I know about as much German as the Rodimus Prime figure sitting on my desk (re: none), so it's pretty tough for me to tell if lines are being delivered flat or not >_>

    And yes, I will definitely agree that the GITS and Ergo Proxy dubs are ear porn. Though whilst outstanding, I really don't think they're in the minority. I find most dubs these days to be of a very high quality. In the past few years, the only titles I've seen with genuinely bad dubs have been Pretear and Genshiken.

    Obviously this is in regards to English dubbers. So I sadly still can't comment much on your situation with German dubs -_-

    @ Persocom
    Heheh, it's pretty fun to listen to shows in both English and Japanese and see the kind of differences in voices ^^ Though I generally just rewatch specific scenes in Japanese rather then the entire series =P

    And yes! You should see the dubbed Nanoha A's! For both the fact that the dubbings great, as is the series! And this is coming from someone who abhors the concepts of moe, and underaged magical girls!

    Also, good to know you're starting your son on anime early. Never to soon to introduce a kid to the world of otakudom! >=D

    @ thebign
    Heh, yeah, subs and dubs can stir up surprisingly strong emotions in people. Personally, I still think the dub tracks a fundamentally important feature of any anime dvd I buy. I'd imagine I'd still buy series if it was released sans dub, but it'd definitely put a damper on things.

    @ Leon
    They were showing Card Captors on local tv? Sweet >=D

    @ Optic
    Woot! A fellow member of Camp Dub! High five! ( ..)/\(.. )

    But yeah, if you watch a series originally in English, it can be pretty tough to switch over. I generally still do however; I saw Gurren Lagann, Nanoha As, Evangelion and quite a few others originally in Japanese, but now I watch them almost exclusively in English (with the exception of Gurren Lagann. I honestly can't figure out what the hell they were thinking when they cast Kamina).

    @ Reijin
    Heheh, yeah, the American accents can be a little offputting. But then again, it's just as odd looking seeing blonde, Caucasian anime characters speak solely in fluent Japanese =P

    @ Konadora
    Hmm...that might be Singaporean dubbers. You guys would be receiving anime broadcasts from Animax Asia wouldn't you? Those guys do their own in-house dubbing, which is quite frankly horrid. They're dub version of Ghost in the Shell was mind bogglingly bad >_<

    Still, they aren't the official dubbers though. Generally, you'll find the official dub tracks to be of a much higher quality >=D

  14. Yes they did but that was about 4 to 6 years ago. I think the local channel of Singapore bought it off from animeX channel. I could be wrong as it was quite sometime back.

    That was one of the dubbed Japanese cartoon back then. Now all are in Japanese with subtitle when it was shown on local TV.

  15. If both dubs are good, I will generally watch the English dub. However, if they are both mediocre, I will generally watch the Japanese dub. This is, simply put, because bad acting is harder to recognize in a foreign language. Subs, therefore, are subjectively "safe;" dubs represent a risk, albeit a small one these days. Unfortunately, there are few resources for reviews of dubs specifically; usually I can't find much more than a paragraph in an Anime News Network review.

    There is also, however, the fact that I sometimes have trouble catching everything being said without subtitles, often leading me to turn them on even when the SPOKEN language is English. And I'm not just talking about anime here.

    I do not despise, revile, or even dislike 21st-century English anime dubs, as a whole.

    In this, I seem to be unique in my college's anime club. When someone forgot to set the Vandread DVD to Japanese, the collective response was along the lines of "GAAH! IT BURNS!" They even screened Cowboy Bebop: The Movie subbed. Friggin' COWBOY BEBOP. What's next? Showing El-Hazard subbed? Getting the Japanese dub of Avatar: The Last Airbender from a Japanese P2P network and editing in their own subtitles? Really, learn some objective judgment.

    Also, a list of dub recommendations, from the Devourer of Time.

  16. LoL sorry, but I have to add one more thing about your defense on dub, that is not having to pay attention to the screen to know what's going on... The reasoning always give me a rise lol. If I do something else while watching a show, I get distracted and not pay attention to what's going on. Plus it kinda defeats the purpose of seeing the pretty animation. ^^;

  17. Kind of agree with Optic in that one of the reasons that people will like subs or dubs is because they first saw whichever one first and they'll get used to it...

    I prefer subs though because I actually want to learn more Japanese and I've picked up a lot just watching Japanese shows lolz

    I don't mind well-done dubs though. However some are just bad (Naruto comes to mind). They should at least pronounce the Japanese names properly...

  18. I prefer subs because I can hear the original audio. Sometimes dubs dont do it too well and there are missing feelings and expressions when dubbed (not all the time, but mostly).

    I go into subs and dubs the same.

  19. @ Leon
    Heh, at least you've got anime shown on the local channels. No such luck here >=(

    @ Izeas GT
    Izeas! I haven't heard from you in a while! Good to see you're alive! >=D

    And thank you muchly for the list! Extra props due to the fact its from TVTropes!

    Also, would you kindly tell your college's anime club that I hate them?

    @ Lightning Sabre
    Eh, perhaps. I personally like multitasking though, and an english dub definitely helps out a shitload with that.

    @ Acesan
    Heheh, yeah, I'll agree with you that there definitely are some horrible dubs out there. =P

    What shits me though, is when weaboos insist on how much better the original Japanese is, irregardless of the actual quality of the dubbing >_<

    @ Phossil
    Really? I honestly reckon that whilst stilted dubbing performances still happen, they're in the minority; with most dubs being of a very high quality.

  20. I don't see why the "english va's suck" argument is bad, it is totally legit. That clip kind of proved it to. They just sound incredibly corny and third-rate, that is all there is to it.

  21. I prefer subs. I used to prefer dubs. But listened to the same people over and over got annoying. And repetitive.
    For the mainstream anime shown on tv I am perfectly happy with dubs, cos at least its getting shown on tv, but cos there are so many anime that never make it here, I've gotten used to subs lol

  22. I typically prefer subs, but I must admit, there are a few amazing dubs out there. FLCL, the dub seemed so much better than the original. To Heart's dub was pretty good, too. Also, not an English dub, but the French dub of Haruhi is amazing. Much like FLCL's English dub, it's one I'd say is better than the Japanese.

  23. @Snark: Ahaha well gotta multi-task when you can. I tend to do other things as I watch Heroes and 24, but if you see my computer and TV setup then you'll see that I don't get distracted as much. And wow lots of comments, eh? lol

    @Acesan: Hmm well long time ago I used to watch both. I didn't mind the dubs, specially the Ranma 1/2 ones, but it was one bad dub makes all the difference.

    @meimi: I tried watching anime shown on TV in English dub. I found my mind wandered and didn't know what the heck happened when my attention returned to the TV ^^;

  24. I can't help but to feel my blog contributed to this...

    Steven Blum is great, there have been GREAT DUBS, dubs better then the subs, but some are absolute shit. Most are absolute shit for that matter.

  25. OMG FINALLY an intelligent post like this.

    Johnny Young Bosch is my fave. I would like to add Richard Hayworth (Kenshin, Legato) and Derek Stephen Prince (Sanosuke, Hiruma, Ishida) to the list of talented English voice actors (dubs). I can wet my pants just by listening to their voices. Oh and they're the reasons I'm hooked back to all things Japanese/anime - so the japanese franchise should be thankful! muahahaha. Oh and Sandy Fox did a good job for squeaky type singing - it's so tough.

    I prefer certain subs and dubs, so all's fair hahaha.

    AND original voice actors to western media IS SUPER JSDJKSHJH AWESOME. like frank welker, maurice lamarche (sp?), the simpsons cast...I salute them.

  26. @ C.Jin
    I fail to see how that clip 'proves' that English VAs suck. They did a fucking great job. It sounds corny because the script IS corny.

    And the language it's spoken in doesn't change anything; it's just as corny in Japanese as it is in English. The only reason Japanese doesn't sound as corny, is because we don't understand what they're saying and to us, we just hear a bunch of cool yet unintelligible sounds.

    @ Meimi
    Aye, one does get used to subs due to the sheer unavailability of most titles >_<

    And yeah, whilst Johnny Yong Bosch and Yuri Lowenthal pretty much appear in everything, my opinion is that if we keep supporting the dubbing industry, it's talent pool is just going to keep on growing.

    It's already grown so much over the years, what's to say it's not going to grow more? >=D

    @ Meganemarshmallow
    Speaking of really good Haruhi dubs, the Russian one was fucking epic. They even redid the opening and closing themes, in addition to God Knows!

    @ Lightning Sabre
    lol, tell me about it. It's tough work just replying to everything! =P

    @ J hicks
    Oh shit yes, Steven Blum is fucking awesome!

    Though I don't agree on most dubs been shit; I find a vast majority of dubs to be if not great, at least pretty good.

    @ Anna

    Just add Peter Cullen to the mix, and I know which group orgy I wanna be in.

  27. i couldnt be bothered reading every one of the above posts but i read a few of them.
    my view is that the fact that pretty much all anime has japanese audio available. so everyone who watches anime is used to it. just like you can tell the diference in a babys voice between sadness and happiness, you dont have to speak the same language to understand someone.

    on the point of the american accent: i think it is a fair shock coming from jap. also, strong american accents just ruin it for me personally; and like Lightning Sabre said, the female voice acting (on MOST occasions) just doesnt compare.

  28. i do admit the vid you included is pretty darn good dubbing :)