The other day, something rather curious happened – I found myself actually seeking out a dubbed anime to watch. I had let my room fall into utter ruin, and was determined to actually tackle the task of cleaning it, particularly as my stack of laundry had reached the point where it was 2/3rds of my height and beginning to shudder precariously. At the same time, though, I didn’t really want to clean my room – how boring! How dull! There’s a reason it had gotten so out of control in the first place, you know.
But it had to be done. So I decided to attempt to make it as painless as possible. Which is when I hit upon it – I know, I’ll watch something while I clean, that’ll make it more bearable. And, you know what? I’m up to date with all of my TV shows I watch… so I can’t watch those, and Battlestar Galactica requires that I actually look closely at the screen. And if I try to watch anime, I’ll just get lost because I won’t be able to read the subtitles…
A-HA! I’ll watch something dubbed.
What a strange thing! I very, very rarely watch something dubbed – the last time I did was when I watched the first few episodes of Ookiku Furikabutte that Funimation was streaming, episodes that were only available dubbed. I was interested in maybe buying the half-season sets, but wanted to get a bit of a preview before committing my money to it, so I went with the only thing I could – the dubbed streams. And I discovered how utterly disconcerting it has become for me to watch dubbed anime at all.
But I felt it was necessary to watch the dubs of whatever I decided upon; the room would stay a wreck otherwise, quite frankly. So I perused the dubbed offerings on Hulu, Crunchyroll, Bandai, etc. in order to locate something. I settled on Fruits Basket, having seen seven episodes of it prior to its licensing and never having gotten back to it. What show it was doesn’t actually matter, though. But I set it on, and then began to tidy up my room.
It made the work go a lot faster. And it made me recognize the usefulness of dubs, honestly.
I would again like to stress the fact that I do not, on a whole, like dubs. I loooove subtitles to pieces. I haven’t watched anime on TV in lord knows how long because I just don’t like dubs (of course, I also don’t own a TV… but when I am at my parents’ house, where I spend approximately three months of every year, and I have infinite free time, I avoid them as well). And it took a lot of adjusting for me to be alright with having Fruits Basket on in dub form.
Yet, I think that there is an important place for dubs in our community (e.g. non-Japanese speaking anime fans). In fact, I’d go so far as to say that dubs are a good thing, ultimately.
I already know a lot of you are going to start leaping up and down, faces reddened, and screaming ferociously over such an idea. So, let’s dig into it a little bit.
Fact: most foreign anime fans come to anime through dubs. I know I did, and I know that you probably did. This is also important to keep in mind because most of those fans never go away from watching dubs. Lack of dubs on foreign anime releases is usually seen as a liability, something only done when the title being released is one that isn’t expected to bring in much money to begin with. Basically, adding a dub isn’t worth the cost because the title is so niche to begin with. Hence, Bleach is released subbed and dubbed, Blue Drop is not.
Now, we could certainly quibble about what the reliance on dubs means for someone’s dedication as a fan, but I’m not really all that interested in that – it really is something just worth making note of, but doesn’t have much meaning for my core argument here. So I’ll just consider the fact that most fans come to anime through dubs.
Well, ok, maybe I lied a little. Because, quite frankly, dubs are what funds the foreign distribution industries. Here, again, niche vs. shows with wider appeal. To use the same anime examples, Bleach will pay the salaries, while Blue Drop just won’t. This isn’t a complicated concept. Its just the way it is. I don’t want to watch dubs, and I’m not interested in a lot of the dubbed shows. But I also realize I’d never get my shiny copies of Kanon without those massive stacks of Naruto. And, yes, I know that these shows are all from varying companies, but the core principle remains – you need something that’ll sell to have the luxury to sell something that won’t.
As a fandom, though, I’m more interested in the notion of coming to anime through dubs. Our community continues to grow because of this. I started with dubs, but I moved past them to discover all these fantastic shows that weren’t dubbed. Without dubs, the community would be much tinier, as it would be far less accessible. Would many of us be fans if we hadn’t seen Pokemon/Sailor Moon/Dragon Ball Z/Robotech/etc. on our TV’s once when we were children and adolescence? I’m very doubtful.
Of course, here we come upon a split – dubs are good because they permit growth in the community and help fund the industry; individual dubs, though, aren’t necessarily good quality-wise. But even those crappy dubs help out, in the end; my irritation over the hacked to pieces Cardcaptors led me to my first purchase of a subtitled release. So, yes, the dub was horrible, but it was in my case a net good, as it made me seek out the subtitled version.
So, yes, I dislike watching dubs, but I can’t really condemn them carte blanche. I like it better when the community grows, because I like sharing things I find enjoyable and love with others so that they, too, can enjoy them and love them. I’m not interested in building ivory towers for us to look down upon the people from. And if dubs mean that we can keep those towers from appearing and simply all meet in this vast, undetermined space, then they are a good thing.