It doesn’t matter if you’ve been watching anime for a week, a year, or a decade. There’s one debate as old as anime itself. One that has raged for years on end. The very debate that tears family and friends asunder, no matter how close. When you watch anime, should it be subbed or dubbed?
For the two of you who don’t know, but mostly for the sake of setting the stage for this post, subbed and dubbed refers to the way you watch foreign shows, but for our sake, anime. Subbed is the original Japanese audio captioned in other languages. Dubbed is the same thing, but the Japanese voice actors and actresses are removed and replaced with VAs that perform the lines in their respective languages, often English.
The perk of that is clear. You don’t have to read your TV show. You can watch it as you’re supposed to. But dubbed come with issues as well. The most apparent being the drop in quality. Many dubs are not as good as their sub counterpart, or at least that’s what many people think.
This has created the aforementioned war. Sub purists think that people who only watch dubs are inferior to them because they won’t watch their anime as intended. Dub watchers clearly don’t like being called fake fans, but as you know, no argument is one-sided. No one’s innocent. In actuality, only a small group of people are upset about this stupid debate, but it’s still fun to think about. So let’s put on our thinking glasses, ok? It makes us seem smart.
Now, I promised you an answer, so while I’m still high off my intelligence boost (the effect of the glasses wears off with time), I’ll give you what you all crave. Is sub or dub better? It’s, wait for it, neither. Yes, if you think that sub is better because it preserves the original content but don’t feel like reading subtitled, the answer is clear. Learn Japanese!
Yes, all you have to do is learn a new language! Then you can listen to the original audio without bothering to read. You can even watch anime while being on the computer, writing, whatever else. You don’t need to look at the screen constantly. It only takes some of your attention. And you can do all this and more without listening to that pesky dub. So just go pick up your preferred language app or go take some classes, and spend a few years learning the wonderful language known as Japanese. It will help you when you go to Japan too.
In all seriousness, if you can do this and have the motivation and commitment too, you’re awesome. Go for it, and I truly wish the best for you. I tried to learn Japanese for a long time, and I had a blast, but eventually, it all started to add up, and I decided that I needed to focus on other aspects of my life. If you can take the time to do it and do it right, I know it will be a fantastic decision. It won’t only help you with anime. A whole new world and culture will open up to you. So, please go do it, if you’d like. But’s it’s time we really get into this, so pay attention!
Which is better, sub or dub? Those of you who know me will probably predict my stance on this. Here’s a hint: it’s whatever you like. Oh, wait, that’s the whole thing, not a hint. It doesn’t matter either way. It’s fine. If you like sub, watch sub. If you like dub, go watch dub. You can argue endlessly about this being superior to that for this reason as much as you want, but at the end of the day, it’s not a fact that one is worse than the other. It’s all just that word we tend to forget about. It’s an opinion.
Whether the sub is better than the dub because of quality or whether the dub is better than the sub for convenience reasons are both equally true and equally wrong. It depends on the person. Everybody will think about it differently, and their preferences will reflect that.
Put it this way: what kind of anime do you typically watch? I generally watch romance, mystery, and fantasy. You may like action, adventure, or whatever. You watch them become you get the most enjoyment out of them. It’s the way you prefer to take in the medium. Why is the way you watch the medium any different? It’s not. How you watch and what you watch are the same. It’s whatever you feel best about.
Just because you prefer to watch this genre over this other one doesn’t mean the other is inferior. You just enjoy it more, and the audio you choose to listen with further improves that experience. If anything, I do feel like I’m somewhat qualified to speak on this for once. I watch quite a few subs and dubs, and I have for a long time.
I can’t really say I have one preference over the other. There are certain series I would never watch subbed and certain that I always watch subbed. There are some series like Toradora that I’ve seen both ways multiple times. Watching subbed and dubbed just give me different experiences, neither of them bad. Each has its perks that I take advantage of.
Take a pretty average anime I watched a while ago called Sky Wizards Academy. I have a strange desire to finish every series I watch, even if I don’t enjoy it that much. So even while I feel the dub was a drop in quality from the sub, annoying voice actors, not as much talent, etc. I still made the switch away from sub so I could half watch the series while doing something else. It’s not something an English speaker like me could do otherwise.
But on the other hand, if I’m sitting down eating breakfast, lunch, dinner, what have you, and I’m investing all of my time and attention on what I’m watching, I generally prefer subs. I’m also just forced to watch subs more. Unless I want to be behind a few weeks in a season, I can’t wait for Funimation to pump those dubs out. Dubs that are of much higher quality, by the way.
I think the idea of dubs being inferior is a bit of an outdated notion. I don’t think I’ve watched any recent dub by Funimation (and they do a ton) in the past few years that I would consider bad, or even mediocre, really. Dubs of older series are far worse than the kind of stuff we get today, so I can’t help but think sub purists need to pick up another recent dub or two by my friends at Funi.
There are also some series I just flat out refuse to watch subbed, superior or not. One of those series is anything Dragonball Z. I cannot, for the life of me, deal with Goku having the voice of an old lady. I know that’s iconic in its own right, but my little kid image of him is that strong, stupid guy with a deep voice. I can’t wrap my head around his character otherwise. It shatters my youth.
Then I have less irrational reasons for watching dubs. Haruhi Suzumiya, I think the dub is just better. It’s regarded as one of the best, and I think that’s true. I don’t know if it’s because of a cultural barrier or localization, but I enjoy Kyon’s character so much more in the dub. I think it’s just because I get English sarcasm more than Japanese sarcasm. His character’s great, either way, but I like his dub counterpart way better.
I also won’t watch Pokemon subbed because I couldn’t even follow along with what’s happening. I don’t know any Pokemon’s Japanese name, and if you dare think I’d learn them again, you have another thing coming. I’ve been playing Pokemon since I was 4. You just can’t rewrite things like that. Not using their English names would be like telling me to become lefthanded. I couldn’t do it.
When it comes to dubs, though, you have other problems. One real one is the lack of voice actors there are. Do you ever wonder why you can’t get away from Johnny Yong Bosch no matter how hard you try? That’s why. From what I understand, this is a combination of a lot of things. Partly the fact that not many companies do dubs, partly that the ones that do want well-established actors, and I’ve also heard that it’s just not as profitable to do dubs. It ends up resulting in a lot of reused talent.
This isn’t a problem exclusive to dubs, however. If you see a short angry girl, Rie Kugimiya will voice her. You see a young, somewhat sarcastic guy, and Yoshisugu Matsuoka likely voices him. Aoi Yuuki is starting to become a bit of an Isekai Queen, voicing many female leads. You do see a lot of recurring talent, but it’s nowhere near the same level as dubs. Still, neither are perfect.
I think we all just need to agree to disagree on this one. Both subs and dubs have their advantages and their problems. It’s up to you to decide which is better or be like me. Just don’t choose. There’s no rule that you can’t enjoy both equally. People are always so quick to pick a side in situations like this when it really doesn’t matter. I like sticking in the middle. That way I enjoy both subs and dubs, and I don’t have to hate anyone for it. It’s quite a comfy spot.
If you made me choose, I would say the safest bet is probably subbed. Not because it’s better, but because it’s harder to mess up, if at least because the product doesn’t have to go through another stage of development that can potentially ruin it. And if you ever want to tackle seasonal shows, you need to watch subbed. There’s really no way around it. It’s a helpful ability for an anime watcher. And like people say, it generally sounds better on average, but that’s where I tend to disagree.
Experience with hearing a lot of subs help, but I really don’t think you can tell whether a sub is really great or not unless you’re a Japanese speaker yourself. So many of us that love this medium can’t speak Japanese. It’s why we need it subtitled in the first place. I can tell when a seiyuu really knocks it out of the part and are talented in their roles, but I’m sure I miss a lot of nuances as well, nuances that I don’t miss in dubs since it’s my native language. In fact, that may be why we’re so hard on them.
Japanese is an unknown thing for a lot of us anime watchers. Even though we understand bits of it, it’s still a mystery, and I think that allure is part of the reason so many of us like subs. It just doesn’t really feel like anime if it isn’t in Japanese sometimes, right? It’s a part of the experience. But that in no way means they’re superior to dubs in any way, and nobody is less of a fan for liking them. I don’t care if you’ve never seen or will never see a sub, you’re still an anime fan, and that’s ok. We all like the same thing anyway. Why waste time fighting about the “right” way to like it?
Thank you very much for reading
What do you prefer, subs or dubs? Or both? Or are you one that needs neither? I really envy you people.
This Post Has 5 Comments
I only have one problem with this entire post: how dare you imply that I would ever try to get away from Johnny Young Bosch’s voice, ever!?!??1!??1 (Seriously though, thanks for bringing some common sense to this discussion. Sub and dub hardliners have such idiotic dogma sometimes, and it’s like: you guys get that acting is art, right? Just like anything else about a show? A dub track is just one more chance to fuck up a show’s quality, but it’s also one more chance to knock it out of the park.
I watch English dubs on occasion, but default to Japanese audio with (Anime DB’s most recommended) subtitles otherwise, ‘cause most magical girls shows aren’t dubbed faithfully and that’s most of what I watch these days. (Madoka and Princess Tutu are the only exceptions imo and even then I could watch Madoka subbed too, bc Saito Chiwa. That one bit in Monogatari was not a lie, she really is excellent. Anyways) I agree on Haruhi, that dub is gold to me, and again how the character’s voices are burned into my head as sounding.
Fate/Zero has a really great dub, even though I can’t get down with the UBW/HF dubs because the (undubbed, obviously) game codified 5th war characters’ voices to me. I also stan for the ADV dub of Eva harder than anyone, even with the goofs that everyone makes fun of (“evEry sInGlE miSsiLe hiT thE tArgEt!”). Again that’s one where I like the Japanese audio track too, but it’s not Eva without “I’m so fucked up”.
I’m getting off track. Sorry about that. Thanks for putting this out there!
The guy’s great, but for the love of God, it doesn’t matter if it’s an anime dub or a JRPG, I always think every male protagonist is him, and like 80% of the time, I’m right. “That looks like a Johnny character to me” is a normal occurrence.
That’s so true. I don’t think any other voices could even begin to make sense to me for Shirou and Rin than their Japanese VAs. Even Gilgamesh would be weird. I think that goes into a bigger discussion about just liking what you see first—kind of like if you saw a person in real life and heard their voice. You would think, “ok, this person sounds like this,” but if they suddenly changed it, it would throw you off.
I’ve never seen the Eva dub. I’ve been meaning to watch it again, so I’ll go dubbed this time.
And ramble all you want. You always manage to bring interesting topics that I didn’t think of or say. It helps the post.
I can see where you’re coming from. Uh, if you haven’t seen it already, watch Space Dandy season 2 episode 7. I think you’ll really get a kick out of a certain character.
Funny thing is I actually saw the Fate dub first and just remembered the voices for most of the heroes as above average dub VAs. The VN just had so much *more* time with them that I imprinted on the original cast. Gilgamesh is an exception, probably because of the “mongrel!” bit being somewhat memetically awesome. Also, Seki Tomokazu does a great job from what I’ve seen in the first VN route and the HF movies but uh… David Vincent in F/Z is the stuff of legend. Fittingly, I guess.
ADV Eva dub great, Netflix Eva dub is meh. The only point the newer one has in its favor is accessibility. I feel like the left side of the “fan/enjoyer” meme trying to explain to people how to find Eva with the ADV track. To be fair it was a pain for me too, before I discovered torrents, but I won’t say anymore for fear of summoning the FBI agents to my house, again. (I kid, but I did have my data throttled from a fucking Shakugan no Shana torrent I still haven’t watched. Use VPNs, kids.)
Yes! This post hit it right on the head, I speak some Japanese and it’s hard to understate how overly dramatic and unnatural anime voices are compared to normal voices. It’s fun and intense, but just listen to actual people talk, and then anime characters. Imagine someone saying what they’re saying with the same intensity and cadence in English as the Japanese VA and boom that’s how Eng VAs work only people speak the language and can pick up on it. Annnnnd complain that it’s over the top. I love running into weebs that only learned Japanese from Anime and didn’t bother to find out the differences because they always sound like absolute knobs. I think Naruto is a great example of the quirks of how the character talks crossing over from Japanese to English and well…imagine someone talking like him all the time. Right down to the “dattebayo” or believe it that everyone likes so much. Weird right?
I’m 44 and my eye sight is getting worse. It’s not like when I was 15 in the mid 90’s with a perfect pair of eyes. I also work from home and often I have something on in the background. Unfortunately my Japanese is still at the toddler level. Listening in Japanese isn’t going to work. Just give me the dub. And it does suck because there’s a lot I’m missing. I’m just now watching Vineland Saga on Netflix because they have the dub. I’m probably not going to watch NieR: Automata Ver1.1a until the dub comes out. It also pains me to watch anything DragonBall in the English dub. I much prefer it in Japanese, but I also prefer not squinting. And before anyone says wear glasses. Do you know how many glasses I lose? Zenni loves me.