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sub v. dub - the never ending battle...

two valiant warriors carry on their heated debate in this forum.

this question is perhaps the topic of more flame wars on more anime message boards than most any other combined...


"Subtitles Versus Dubbed"
By Ami (Ai_girl05@yahoo.com)

"Counter-argument: Dubs have problems too..."
By Jason Nishi (jnishi@aol.com)

Non-Otaku might wonder - if anime comes from Japan, how has it gotten to the rest of the world? Computer games made in Japan can easily be translated into other languages. But Japanese animation is translated two ways: Subtitling and Dubbing. Anime watchers are constantly faced with a decision between the two types of translation. Everyone seems to have their own opinion on the subject and each format raises some very interesting points. I'll go through some of the pros and cons of each.

Dubbing is my personal favorite choice. The animation of a show remains the same, but the voices are replaced with the voices of actors in another language. Many people have, at least once, seen a Chinese martial arts movie and laughed at how the actors' mouths keep moving after the voices already stopped talking. This is also a problem with dubbed anime: the characters' mouths will annoyingly keep "talking", or there will be pauses or break scenes. Fortunately, over time dubs have gotten much better at synchronizing the words with animation, to a state of near perfection. All anime titles shown on American TV are dubs (ed note: actually, you can find anime shows on local japanese stations that are unsubbed, and cable networks will occasionally show anime in a subtitled format). It's better to introduce the people to anime with dubs then with subs since they'll feel better hearing English (or whatever their native language might be). Dubbing makes an anime show seem more personal and less foreign, it helps bridge the gap. The biggest pro about dubbed anime is that you can pay attention to what is happening in the story instead of reading the closed caption-typed text. Dubs are just easier to watch.

Subtitles are for the more dedicated fans who do not mind reading a lot. Instead of replacing the voices (like in dubs), subs contain original Japanese voices but have the dialogue written in English (or other language) text at the bottom of the screen. The text usually translates very well, keeping the genuine plot intact most of the time, and doesn't get in the way of viewing the animation. The good thing about subbed anime is that the show seems more authentic, also the voices will fit the characters and settings. However, your eyes will get strained from reading the dialogue. You tend to miss important events happening on the screen at this time, or you'll end up rewinding the tape when too much stuff is said at once exceedingly fast. Some people prefer watching a movie to reading one. There are a number of people who have the ability to read the wording and watch the background simultaneously, but this can't be said about all otaku. This plus considering the fact that subbed anime is often priced higher than dubbed, makes one wonder if it's all worth it for the accurate translation.

Ami is an independant submitter to i360.com. This is her 2nd submission, and we thank her again. You may contact her by clicking on her email address at the top of her article.

Well, since the editors of this publication are also anime fans, we also tend to have very strong opinions on these matters. The tireless subs versus dubs debates touch deep in the heart of the true anime fan. We all carry an opinion on this topic.

First of all, let me say this: a well made dub is a great choice. The points made by Ami are very true. It is a lot easier to swallow a good dub than a good sub. After all, there isn't the trouble of having to worry about reading ridiculous quantities of text to get through watching a single episode of a favorite anime. And of course, watching a dub makes an anime feel less foreign, less Japanese. And introducing a person to anime through a dub is always easier than introducing them through a sub.

However, as an anime fan, I have watched MANY a bad dub. The main problem in translating anything for a different market is dealing with those concepts that are simply not so easily translated. I can go miles into trying to discuss the sempai-kohai relationship. But the problem gets compounded with dubs, since with a dub, a voice may need to try to work with part of this complicated concept, in 3 lip-flaps.

So instead, what needs to be done is an adaptation. You can't just say sempai-kohai and expect the audience to understand, so you use a similar (preferably equal) concept/idea. For example, in Ranma 1/2, Viz translates sempai-kohai as upperclassman-underclassman. This is at least an equivalent.

What becomes problematic in translations (especially dubs) is when they INTENTIONALLY try to remove all the Japanese references inside a series, or perhaps eliminate any connection to a Japanese version of the series altogether. This leads to a lot more editing that makes a series look a lot less than its source. This leads to series like Sailor Moon or Dragon Ball Z or Pokémon or CardCaptors or Robotech (especially Robotech), which are well known throughout the anime community as not really sticking to the ideas and plots that their original stories had. Of course, subs are sometimes guilty of trying to at least remove some references sometimes, but there is a good reason that most often, they are not.

Subs are indeed for the more dedicated fan. This is part of the reason why they charge more for VHS tapes subtitled (the demand is so low, and fans are so much more willing to pay the premium). This comes despite the fact that it is MANY times cheaper to produce a subbed tape (both in money and in manpower) than to produce a dubbed tape (those who disagree can look at the number of fansubbers versus fandubbers and see this to be the case). It's simply that dubs sell better because they appeal to a larger audience.

However, the fact that it is the fans that supports the subtitled versions is important. The fans usually want to see a more faithful translation of a series. And since sales are important, to please those fans, subbed versions are more often truer to their originials. Plus, with a subtitled series, there is much more room to place in information about the japanese concepts that are going on. The companies are willing to do so again, because the fans are supporting the subbed versions. This is why we more often see things like liner notes and pre-episode translations put in subbed tape packages.

Then, there's also the benefit that by watching a subbed version, you are taking in a part of a different culture. When people watch subbed tapes, they can also hear the Japanese dialogue. People start picking up bits and pieces of the language (like learning that "baka" means idiot or "kawaii" means cute). Also, by watching subbed tapes, which are generally more faithful to the original, often enough, people start to pick up the culture. They learn the little things of Japanese life that makes Japanese life so interesting.

And of course, if you're like me, you start connecting voices together, like following your favorite movie star. Since Japanese seiyuu (voice actors) are more likely to star in many roles compared to their English counterparts, it becomes easy to start following your favorite voices in the Japanese. For example, ever notice that Lina Inverse from Slayers sounds a lot like Ranma-chan from Ranma 1/2, who sounds an awful lot like Lime from Saber Marionette J? That's because they're the same voice (Megumi Hayashibara). Or how Kasumi from Ranma 1/2 & Belldandy from Ah! Megami-sama sound so similar and act so similar (Kikuko Inoue)?

Oh, and it's not all that difficult to adapt to subs. Fans find that they adapt eventually, and usually fairly quickly. Then they start to enjoy their anime..

In the end, taking sides doesn't end the battle. Unfortunately, the anime companies are slowly leaning away from putting out sub tapes (and soon enough, they'll stop putting out VHS altogether, leaning instead very heavily on DVD). Once that happens, the battle will be close to moot. Both sets of fans will be satisfied from one disc. But even then, the argument shall still live on. Subs or dubs: which really is better...

Jason Nishi is the photo editor for i360.com. However, as of late, he has been becoming much more of a copy editor and staff writer than photo guru ^_^;;. He can be reached at the email at the top of this article.