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Jun 21, 2012 6:56 PM
Anime Relations: Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, Bleach, Yuu☆Yuu☆Hakusho, Pokemon, Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon, Yu☆Gi☆Oh!, Sonic X, Gedo Senki, Soul Eater
The Debate. The Dub v. Sub is the most divisive topic in anime fandom— whether watching anime is better with the original Japanese track with subtitles, or dubbed over by English voice actors. Everybody has their own opinion, but I find that it’s those on the Sub side of the debate who are, if not in the majority, at least the most vocal about it.

Me personally?

I don’t like sub purists.

Let me rephrase that to “I don’t like the in your face sub purists”.

Now, I completely understand the arguments. That dubbing compromises the integrity of the original voice actors and intent; it’s insulting; a lot of English dubs are bad, and all that jazz. I know. But to assert that they have absolutely no place?

I’d like to ask everybody to think back to their first anime experiences— and most likely, it was something off of Cartoon Network or WB. Shows like Sailor Moon, Pokemon, Digimon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, or anything off the Toonami and Adult Swim programming blocks. How are most kids exposed to anime? With really terrible 4Kids dubs.

But unless you really care about whether Ash is eating rice balls or doughnuts, how harmful is it really? Anime programming 4Kids picks up is, for the most part, for young children. Now that fans are old enough to know the difference, great. Go watch in Japanese; but when I was eight, I didn’t know what a rice ball was. Does it really take away from the show in that respect? So they censor out the guns in Yu-Gi-Oh!, what else would you have them do?

The fact of the matter is original content has to be changed for American audiences, because we’re talking about two radically different cultures. The values, sense of humor, and levels of appropriateness are going to be different no matter which country you’re talking about.

So Sonic the Hedgehog needed major script edits to write around the fact people were shot to death. If you’re old enough to be watching shows like Bebop or Bleach, is it that important? Sure its clumsy, sure English producers throw music and lines around and break dramatic moments, okay fine so in Pokemon they replaced a giant rice ball with a sub sandwich. But without the edits, young children wouldn’t have these gateway anime to turn them into hardcore otaku later on.

I grew up in a time where it was bad English dub or nothing. There was no internet where I could watch free media whenever I wanted; and back then, anime DVDs were wildly expensive. I couldn’t have known any better, I just ate up what I got. And as a result, I have my own experience of watching my shows in English; to go back and watch a show like Yu Yu Hakusho in Japanese just doesn’t feel the same.

It’s disrespectful to the original Japanese seiyuu. Now I’ll give you this, I just said I would eat anything I got up, so production studios stateside could have done whatever they liked with the script and spent as little time as the voice acting as they wanted, and I still would have thrown my money at them.

Anime is an extremely niche, and steadily less and less profitable market in the U.S. as evidenced by DVD sales continuing to plummet, manga publishers going out of business, etc. Kudos to the studios that bring it over at all. Back in the 90s and early 2000s when it was just beginning to be a thing in the states, nobody knew what they were doing. That’s how we got literal script adaptations and campy English voice actors. But it’s just as disrespectful to completely reject an entire industry’s body of work, especially when they work so hard to make it accessible to American audiences.

Say what you want about Japanese voice actors, but think of poor Johnny Young Bosch, who has hung on to and been tied up by Bleach for over 250 episodes. Or all the wonderful English voice actors like Steve Blum, Chris Patton, Laura Bailey, and Bridgett Hoffman. It isn’t disrespectful to completely discredit their line of work?

I won’t say all, but you can definitely tell when Americans voice actors and producers love and appreciate anime as an art and storytelling form, just as much as we the otaku do. They’re otaku too. And all they want to do is bring it over to us in a form we can watch and appreciate. Okay, criticize Sailor Moon, one of the earliest works, but dubbing studios have gotten much much better about remaining true to the original subject matter (maybe with the exception of 4Kids) and make a point to release unedited and uncensored versions on DVD (which have also gotten much more affordable).

The fact is, some dubs are better watched in English, and some even superior to the original. Everybody can cite Cowboy Bebop in this case. What about series that are set in the United States, or something like Trigun, where Vash the Stampede admits to not being able to read Japanese characters because the language of the planet is canonically English?

But here’s the thing I like the least— conversations that go like this:
”That anime? I didn’t like it.”
”Oh, I bet you watched the dub, right?”

Look, guy. I am capable of judging a work based on it’s plot, characters, storytelling elements, etc. Yes, voice acting and adaptive scripts can definitely make or break a show, but a bad anime is a bad anime. When I watched Tales of Earthsea, it wasn’t bad because I watched it in English; it was bad because it was a meandering, poorly adapted, two hours too long bore.

It’s not as if everything the Japanese put out is gold just by the merit that it’s Japanese. Japanese seiyuu with poor acting ability exist. A show can be just as badly written in Japanese as it can be in English; I can cite several examples of that. And I don’t speak Japanese; I don’t even know if the subtitles are correct, much less correctly assess a seiyuu’s ability to act. I’m too busy reading.

Which by the way, in my opinion, reading subtitles is putting as much faith in the people who translate the thing, as you are by adapting the script. I don’t know what they’re really saying, and I think it can be just as problematic. Here’s an example: in Soul Eater, one character, Crona, is presented with ambiguous gender, and that’s an integral piece of Crona’s character. In Japanese, pronouns work differently, so it’s easy to talk about Crona without ever revealing Crona’s gender. So this is a reason to watch the series in Japanese right? But pronouns are different regardless of the language you watch it in. As you can see, that’s just as awkward to read in English, as it is by just randomly assigning the character a gender.

Direct translation isn’t effective whether you have to read it or listen to it. Humor doesn’t translate; puns and rhyme don’t translate. And a lot needs to be understood in context. And I understand. Watching Disney movies in Spanish, it’s kinda funny to hear Mr. Potatohead translated to Tio Papa (Uncle Potato), but it’s something that has to be done. I don’t expect little kids to read subtitles for an hour, but I would never deny them the experience of watching a Disney movie just because it wasn’t originally told in a language they understand.

And I honestly don’t like sitting and reading subtitles either. Dubs are more accessible, and I can focus on the spectacle and the visuals, without having to split my attention between the action and the words at the bottom of the screen.

Sure I love marathoning my anime, but I’m not the kind of person who can just sit around and watch TV all day in bed. Reading subtitles, glues your eyes to the screen; no getting up for a second for water, no working on homework simultaneously, no tumbling at the same time… And most anime aren’t even terrible offenders. If I can sit through a show, in a language I understand, and still get all the meaning, that’s good enough for me.

So I generally prefer dubs over subs. This is also the reason why I don’t address it in my reviews, or rather I can’t. I know bad English dubs exist, but so could bad Japanese tracks, I don’t care to watch series in both languages enough to badly attempt gauging the acting ability, and I know that everyone has their preference regardless. I wholly acknowledge that unwatchable English dubs exist, but for me personally, technical aspects like art and animation quality, music, and language tracks, become less and less important, the better the story, characters, and thematic elements are.

But that’s not even the most important thing. Anime fans, we are a teeny community. Only we understand each other. I say we should just drop the debate and go cosplay together instead. Kay?
Posted by animelambie | Jun 21, 2012 6:56 PM | Add a comment