The Choice Between Subbed or Dubbed for Anime

Anime has become mainstream. Millions of people enjoy Japanese animation nowadays and a lot of animes have become multi-million properties. Anime is now enjoyed by both young and old alike. And some have even become incredibly rabid/hardcore fans… sometimes to extremely absurd levels.

But there has always been this weird divide within the anime community. Each of them have taken sides on this issue and every anime fan has an opinion regarding this question and it has sparked a lot of debate. And that question that has split anime fans may seem innocuous, even trivial to outsiders. But it’s a very serious subject for fans: Do you prefer Subbed or Dubbed anime?

Even though there are millions upon millions who love anime, not many otakus (that’s people who’ve become obsessed with anime and manga/Japanese comics) have ever bothered to learn the native tongue of Japan. They do know some simple words and phrases. A lot of them have even memorized the lyrics to their favorite anime theme songs. But a lot of them haven’t reached the level of fluency where they can have a casual conversation with a native Japanese speaker.

And vice versa, apparently.

So, in order to actually understand the shows they love so much, anime fans have to rely on getting their hands on translated copies. And this is where the debate comes in. Some fans have a strong dislike for dubbed anime and others just hate the subtitled versions. Honestly, both sides have pretty solid and strong arguments as to why they feel that way. And I myself have swung both ways in my time so I do have a good knowledge of what both parties are thinking.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of dubbed anime first. For one, it’s much more natural to have someone speak and hear what they’re saying instead of having them speak and the read whatever they’re saying at the bottom of the screen. It’s much easier to watch something if yoy can understand the words that are coming out of their mouths. Also, when they get really competent actors and actresses to do the voice overs, you’ll totally forget they’re supposed to be speaking Japanese. The best example I have would be the old Viz Video Ranma 1/2 dubs.

Unfortunately, not all companies that dub animes do the same quality work Viz did with Ranma 1/2. Some of them can be really atrocious and painful to watch for various reasons. Sometimes, the vocal performances just stink. The delivery can be incredibly stilted and awful. Also, the writers/translators are constrained by the lip movements of the original animation. They have to work in dialogue that fits within the timing of the original speech as well as capture the essence of the lines. That’s pretty difficult and sometimes the original message can get lost because of this.

Now, since subtitled animes retain the original Japanese voice work, they aren’t boxed in by the same problems as their dubbed brethren. They can just translate the dialogue word-for-word and plug the result at the bottom of the screen. And since they don’t have to recast voice actors and re-record hundreds of lines, subbed animes come out quicker, which means that you can watch the latest episode straight from Japan in just a couple of days instead of having to wait a month or so for the dubbed version!

Of course, subs aren’t flawless. There are still going to be some translation errors and, with transliterated products, there are going to be some cultural gaps you need to be aware of for the dialogue to make sense. Sometimes, they can go overboard with the subtitles as they try to cram as many words into the screen, making it like you’re just reading the lines instead of experiencing the anime. And there’s of course the niggling problem that you have to take your eyes off the action to read the subtitles themselves.

So, how should you be watching anime? Should you be watching the easier to follow dubbed version? Or get the more authentic and “pure” experience with the subtitled versions? Honestly, that’s up to you. It all boils down to personal preference. Anime should be enjoyed the way you want to enjoy it. No one should tell you how to watch it because, in my opinion, there is no right or wrong side in this war.

Personally, I love a mixture of both. I loved the earlier Viz Video dubs of Ranma 1/2. The English dubbed actually sounded natural and the voice casting for each character was spot-on. I did try watching the subtitled version and I still preferred the Viz dub. However, I personally can’t stand the American dubbed version of Dragon Ball Z. I don’t like Goku’s more “manly” voice; I prefer the shrill, high-pitched tone of the Japanese version. Also, I love the energy of extremely memorable Dragon Ball Z’s opening songs… which they replaced with some dumb rock song in the American versions!

In my opinion, it’s okay to swing both ways between subbed and dubbed version. Try out one side and see if you like it. If not, try the other version. You’re not obliged to stick to one side.

How do you watch anime? Do you prefer subbed or the dubbed versions? Let me know in the comments section below!

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