Subs vs. Dubs

When I started watching anime, it was dubbed. The voice acting didn’t really bother me but mostly, I wasn’t interested in having to read subtitles and miss some of the amazing visuals.

But since those early days, I have stayed far, far away from dubbed anime. After recently catching a dubbed episode of Bleach on TV I was reminded of why. It also made me want to start a discussion about the rift that exists between subs and dubs and how I think dubs can be improved.

The number one advantage of watching dubbed anime is that you won’t miss any on screen action. I don’t buy the whole “accessibility” argument – audiences that are so lazy that they won’t bother reading, probably won’t enjoy the content (which is the reason why, I think, foreign films don’t do so well in the US). Anime is all about a story coming alive in line and colour and a dub allows you to be fully immersed in that world. However, because of the current state of English dubs, I am willing to make that sacrifice.

My two main problems with dubs are Americanization and over acting.

Many companies, in the hopes of making anime more accessible to US audiences, will change jokes or cultural allusions. Most subtitled shows – especially fansubs – leave all the cultural context in place because, guess what, this was made elsewhere. I strongly feel that anime isn’t simply another form of entertainment, it’s an opportunity to get a little closer to Japanese culture through its storytelling.

But overacting is the thing that turns my stomach about most anime dubs. I realize that this might be going on in the original Japanese but that still doesn’t excuse it.

And before I go any further, let me say that I am a huge fan of The Venture Brothers and it is full of overacting. But it’s supposed to be. It’s an over-the-top parody of 70s cartoons and each character is a caricature. However, most English anime distributors seem to think that all animated shows need voice acting that is BIG and RIDICULOUS.

I know there are some reasons why voices are unrealistic: a limited number of actors means some have to play multiple roles, thus having to exaggerate their voices for effect. Also, there is the unfortunate practice in the US of recording all the voice actors separately, so they never have an opportunity to interact like real people. I have recorded drama for radio and I know that as soon as actors are recorded separately, their scenes become much less natural.

So I implore all anime distributors to let your actors act like they would on stage or in a movie: with their real voices. Or how’s this: hire an actor who naturally has the voice you’re looking for. And please respect the cultural context the storytellers worked so hard to inject into their work.

What do you think? Do you prefer dubs to subs? Why?


5 comments so far

  1. Laura on

    I would have to say I’m all for subs, though I wasn’t like that to begin with ^__^; Back in the day when I watched anime on YTV it was all dubs, but the minute they started showing reruns I got onto my computer and started watching the original Japanese Episodes, and man was I surprised. To me watching anime with subs comes off way more natural, the voices suit the characters and the voice foley done is always to an amazing extent (for instance Bleach).

    There’s also that case when you start to hear the same English anime voice actor over, and over again, and I know that there’s not a lot of English voice actors out there, but companies could always scout the theaters and find new talent. It’s always hard to hear the voice of Ed from Fullmetal, or Chrono from Chrono Crusade coming from a totally different anime character. (Yes I know Japanese Seiyū do many different anime roles too, but just look at their range of performances. For instance Mamoru Miyano who voiced Light in Death Note and Tamaki in Ouran Highschool Host Club; characters not even in the same league with each other.)

    So I would definatly watch Subbed anime over Dubbed anime any day ^__^.

    And there…my rant has ended. XD

    (PS. Nice to see you’re back posting Pedro!!!)

  2. Jalisa on

    Wow, I was actually thinking about this stuff this afternoon while catching a quick sample of Shounen Onmyouji dubbed in English. Not only did the voice acting not match the characters in general, but the overall quality is poor.

    I’m the type of person that can often waver between Dubs and Subs, but because I’m such a nit picker for originality and sticking to the script, I often end up critiquing the quality of the English voice acting that has been done. Orphan is probably the anime that sticks out in my mind as being the absolute worst anime dub I’ve ever sat through. In fact , I couldn’t even sit through the whole episode because of it’s poor quality.

    Then you get the voice casting that has a half-decent cast. Take Chrono Crusade for example. Hilary Hagg and Greg Ayres did a phenomenal job on their part playing Rosette and Chrono. Then you get to meet Satella Harvenheit who’s supposed to be German in the story, but in the English dub one scene she seems to have a French accent, another time a more Transylvania-like accent, and sometimes even no accent at all. So I’m forced to click the “audio” button every time she comes on the scene, just so I don’t have to consider freaking out.

    Laura and I will often try to pick who we think would be best suited for particular roles. Though we understand that there’s funding issues, and that some people can’t get the voice actors they want, they should really try to strive for the best, or else they can kiss their high-rating dreams good-bye.

    One knot that’s got me in a bit of a twist is a rumour going around that Vic Mignogna is wanting to get the role of Tamaki for Ouran High School Host Club. While I love Vic, and appreciate his voice acting as Dark, Kurtz, and Ed, I’m a bit sceptical as to how him as a prestegious and eccentric rich boy is going to work out.

    I agree whole-heartedly with your comment regarding the changing of script. Yeah, so there will be some people in North America who won’t fully understand some of the Japanese jokes that are incorporated into the script, but chances are if they watch the show, they’re likely either going to look it up, or will understand it anyways.

    My advice to the directors:
    Let the voice actors act, let them get the feel for the character, choose people that are actually fitting for the parts– think of the fans that will raid your house if you screw up :3

  3. Karen on

    Bull’s Eye for Pedro!

    Yeah, I watch all my anime in Japanese whenever I can. The dialogue seems to be so much more meaningful when directly translated, rather than just trying to fit the jyst of what they’re saying into the character’s mouths. As well, with the limited number of voice actors, things can get a bit hard to hear.

    Using Vic as an example, as Jalisa did, I bought Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid Disk 1 a while back, and started watching it. The minute I heard Kurtz speaking in his voice in the dubbed version, I switched it to subbed: It just seemed so wrong hearing his voice and not seeing a red coat.

    Now, to be fair, he’s also Fai in Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles, and he adjusts his voice enough that he isn’t wearing a giant “ED/KURTZ” sign on his forehead. As well, sometimes the ‘Who’s That Voiceactor?’ game is fun: I was watching Samurai 7 the other day, and I thought it was so cute when I realized that the little girl sounds a lot like Shippo. Nonetheless, when you hear a voice actor in one role enough, hearing them as someone else can just really throw you for a loop, especially if the new character is nothing like their previous ones.

    It’d be interesting to see some sort of new show on TV – ‘So You Think You Can VoiceAct’ or something. See what sort of voices pop up. I know I have a friend who can do a pretty good Rat-Trap or Waspinator impression (Though Waspinator sounds like he’s gay when he does it) – Imagine what other hidden talents could break the voiceactor shortage!

    Anywho, I think that’s all I have to say for now… I’ve completely lost my train of thought anyway o_O; But Laura and Jalisa have pretty much covered everything already.

    P.S. Found you via them. XD Our friend AJ is in your Anime North interview, and they showed me the clip.

  4. Love&Peace*Girl on

    Until about 3 years ago, I watched dubbed anime. The sole reason I started watching subbed anime was b/c the American distributers had deleted virtually all links to dubbed anime.

    At first I was often wishing for more dubbed episodes, then I got used to the subs, and now I LUV subbed anime!

    Although in all fairness, bad dubbing can be REALLY FUNNY and open people’s eyes about subs. For example, what turned into the die-hard One Piece otaku I am today was YouTube videos comparing the awesome Japanese version and the god-awful 4kids butchered version of One Piece.

  5. Molly on

    It is an unfair world we live in. Why cant we get the same voice actors from mainstream cartoons and CG movies in anime dubs? I know I would love to hear Emperor Kuzco in OHSHC as Tamaki. What annoys me most about the current dubbing situation is the emotions in the voices. As was said it can often be over the top and just plain….sad. But also there are frequent patches of no emotion at all in the voices. In Fruits Basket, the American voice of Kyo in particular actually made me scream in frustration. He sounded like he was reading from a script the entire time.. which he probably was now that I think about it. But the audience shouldnt KNOW that. I think the problem is that voice actors dont seem to be… actors. That sounds a bit harsh and I dont know much about their proffesion, but voice acting seems to be vastly different from “actual” acting.

    Recently a new idea occured to me.
    It may seem that the Japanese voice acting is better simply because I am not used to hearing Japanese voices. Also, because I don’t speak fluent Japanese I rely heavily on the translations. So maybe it is my brain filling in the gaps that gives the characters unique voices.
    Or something….. its a work in progress.

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