Sean Wong August 3, 2007
Depending on how long you’ve been in the anime community, you may have participated in or at least spectated discussions regarding subtitles versus dubbing. Such discussion can progress in an intelligent debate or it may become an all-out flame war, complete with name-calling and personal attacks (the latter seems to occur more often). Naturally, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but when having such a discussion, things get out of hand very quickly because of ignorance exhibited by one or both parties. I’m not going to say one is definitely better than the other; it’s simply a matter of opinion.
In the hardcore anime community, most fans tend to lean toward subs, so I will focus on this group of people. While this is acceptable as it is just a matter of personal preference, what is most irritating is how some (I am by no means referring to all sub-lovers) people in this category speak badly and look down on dubs; it doesn’t help that their reasoning is completely absurd either.
A common argument they exhibit is as follows: “Japanese voice actors always do better than English voice actors!” Now, I’m willing to bet that most of the people who make this claim do not speak Japanese. I think you can see where I’m going with this: How can you make a valid argument saying that voice actors in one language sounds better than another if you don’t even speak that language? Granted, in my experience with English voice acting, it isn’t always executed flawlessly, but such a generalization is absurd. One who does not have a grasp on the language they claim is better would naturally not understand whether the tone, diction, or word emphasis is best for the situation. Such a generalization isn’t reasonable; there are always exceptions. For example, Cowboy Bebop is one series where I actually prefer the dub over the original Japanese track. There are many more series with very good dubs - Full Metal Alchemist, Samurai Champloo, FLCL, and Cromartie High School to name a few.
At the same time, it is usually these sub purists who bash any form of animation that come from any country other than Japan. The whole ordeal of Japanese anime vs other animation is completely absurd. Standards for animation often vary by country; Japanese anime can be targeted towards kids to adults, whereas American animation is usually targeted towards children. It’s also especially unreasonable to judge that one country’s animation, as a whole, is greater than another country’s. There are incredible anime series out there, but think of how many awful series there are as well. It’s about as reasonable as saying that American music is better than Japanese music. You should not make such a generalization. There are good artists and bad artists in both countries, and even then, it’s all in a matter of perspective; art and music are extremely subjective.
Don’t think that I hate subs for these reasons. I like to stay in between the conflict, as there are a number of dubs that I do enjoy, but I tend to lean towards dubs. My reasoning is that anime companies write the script for the series with the Japanese language in mind. I doubt they take into account how translators would translate it into English. This is especially true for anime with a lot of Japanese cultural references involved. The fact of the matter is that in this case, many things get lost in translation. So when people view these the English adaptations of these series, they will either be very confused, or they will not grasp the original meaning that the writers intended. Of course, this isn’t always the case. Cowboy Bebop is a series that is about as western as one can get. You have characters with western names, a western soundtrack and atmosphere, and even western cultural references. As a result, the transition from Japanese to English was probably an easier one than, say, Azumanga Daioh, which is full of Japanese cultural references.
I think a discussion on whether subs are better than dubs or not is ultimately futile since the nature of the subject doesn’t allow for a clear-cut resolution. It’s a very subjective matter. One shouldn’t feel obligated to choose a side. If you prefer some anime subbed, then watch it subbed. If you prefer some dubbed, then watch it dubbed. It all depends on what you want. Anime is meant to be enjoyed, so enjoy it however you feel you should enjoy it.
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Category: Rants & Raves