Advocating for the Devil

Oh, dubs.

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.

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8 Responses to Advocating for the Devil

  1. Baka-Raptor says:

    I strongly prefer dubs of profanity-laden shows. For all other shows, I prefer the language of first impression. Switching from dubs to subs is as bad as switching from subs to dubs. I would rather jump off a bridge than watch DBZ or Pokemon subbed.

    • adaywithoutme says:

      I have to admit that I find little worth in watching Pokemon subbed; yeah, there are some differences and changes, but the overall experience isn’t at all different. Great, so you get to see James have inflatable breasts for the bikini contest. Wow, that’s definitely torrenting subs for hours.

  2. glothelegend says:

    Dubs depend on the show. For example, the following shows are ones that I love to watch dubbed just as much as I love to watch subbed:

    DBZ – I prefer dub to anything
    InuYasha – Dub/Sub, I like em both. Was raised on the dub though.
    Ranma 1/2 – Pretty much same voice cast as InuYasha for both languages.
    Ghost in the Shell – I get confused from the subs, and the dubs are actually good.
    Cowboy Bebop – Get tha fuck outta here bro! Steven Blum all the way.
    Trigun – All of these anime are pretty much old Toonami anime, huh?

    At the same time, sometimes dubs can completely RUIN a show in pretty much every way possible:


    I’ve never seen a shittier dub. Fuck censorship.

    • adaywithoutme says:

      Cardcaptors was a much worse dub that the One Piece dub could ever hope to be. The DiC dub of Sailor Moon was also epically atrocious.

      I think dubs are better now than they used to be simply because screaming audience members have forced them to be. You don’t really see as many stinkers these days; the last one I really remember was Tokyo Mew Mew’s dub. But this also may just be due to the natural aging of the fandom overall; I’m not really tuning in to the Saturday morning fare any more, so I can’t really say if Yu-Gi-Oh Generic Sequel #29 is poorly dubbed or not.

  3. Aile says:

    I usually go with subs for the simple reason that most of the time I prefer the original VA over the english dub voices. Of course that’s just personal opinion and I would never pontificate it, so as an amused bystander I never understood what the big deal about the sub-dub ‘debate’ was (just go with what you like, it’s usually not an exclusionary choice).
    Why do I prefer subs ?

    – I’m not a native english speaker (<- german), and sometimes I miss or misunderstand what is said when I have to solely rely on the english voice (because it's for example spoken too fast/quiet/accented..).
    Having things written out plainly is therefore better for retards like me (although subs can certainly have the analogue problem of unreadable fonts)

    – Usually I find the original voice ACTING superior, that is, the tone and range of expressions and the whole theatrics sound more effective (and affective) to me than the flat/stiff/box-y english dubbing. Again, this is mere opinion, and if you've come across dubs that you find really good, please recommend them.

    – Again, not being a native english tongue I don't share the "immediacy"-argument (directly connecting immediatly understandable voices with the characters without any "filtering" through text, thus making the experience more direct and not having to divert the attention by reading), although I can comprehend what it's about: after all I've also watched german dubs ..where I find the voice acting usually even poorer than in english. It may be the case that "immediacy" is actually a bad thing for me, as the closer I can understand the voices the easier I can spot poor voice acting that lowers my enjoyment, so my second point applies as well. Apparently I can also multitask well enough, because I never had a problem with diverted attention.

    – Beyond taste this may be pure laziness on my parts, but I've been so used to japanese+sub for so long that it just feels "weird" hearing a dub. I associate a certain aural texture and substance with anime (and of course it goes both ways, I prefer my westerns with english voices instead of japanese for the same reason). For example a japanese voice actress squealing "kawaiiiii!" several octaves higher than the english VA does a usually more restrained "cuuute". Maybe I can change that by training myself with only dubs for a few months – but that (and that's probably the most important point) would dramatically reduce the number of available titles for me, missing out on new stuff or shows that aren't popular enough to be dubbed.

    Of course, your main point is very much valid (shows need dubs for mainstream success, and it's mainstream success that keeps the industry rolling and gets our assorted less-mainstream titles imported in tow with that), we are probably not the mainstream target audience, and it's a moot point: They don't dub "my shows" ? I don't want dubs on my shows anyway ("But won't the lack of dubs prevent your shows from becoming a mainstream-success ?" – "No, the nature of their CONTENT prevents that, dubbing won't change that."). For that matter, it's usually not an "xOR"-choice, most dub-DVDs I have nowadays also have the option of original audiotrack+sub, so no need for debate, everybody just go with what they like.


    • adaywithoutme says:

      Its very interesting to me that you would mention that your native language is German because I recently read a thing discussing the fact that there are certain countries which prefer dubbing because their language isn’t really suited to subtitles. One of the countries mentioned was Germany; it was asserted that in order to have accurate subtitles, half the screen would be consumed by text. Is this true, or is this an over-statement?

      Because I generally watch subs, I can’t quite say I’d be good at recommending any good subs. I do think that the Disney/Buena Vista dubs of Miyazaki’s films are quite good, but they are also amongst the very few recent dubs I’ve had any contact with.

      I would agree that once one becomes accustomed to watching things subbed that it seems very disorienting to watch them dubbed.

      • Aile says:

        “it was asserted that in order to have accurate subtitles, half the screen would be consumed by text. Is this true, or is this an over-statement? ”

        I would call that an over-statement/misinterpretation/simply false. Before I go into the specifics to defend the honor of the glorious language of the fatherland (not really), a simple thought can show that this argument isn’t valid:
        -Suppose it were true, that german text would fill the screen because it just takes so much longer in german to express something accurately… wouldn’t that also make dubs impossible ? (because the ‘screen-actors’ “mouthtime” is fixed, and the poor german voice-actor couldn’t possibly fit our language in synch).
        However I can assure you that both subs and dubs work perfectly fine here.

        While it may indeed be true that a LITERAL german translation of an english text would be a few percents longer (mostly because we have more auxilliary syntax to throw around (pro: allows for greater accuracy of expression , con: it’s the bane of german-learners around the world)), it is perfectly possible to have the MEANING translated in just the same or less amount of space. This might be a stereotype the english-speakers have because of our compound words (or should I say, compoundwords), but those aren’t used in everyday language, but have their rightful place in administrative or scientific discourse (ie. where higher accuracy is needed). At the end of the day english and german are more similar than the caricatures might suggest, we’re all just a merry family of european bastard languages.

        Now, for the statement that “…countries prefer dubbing, because..”, I would like to read the article of that, because so far it doesn’t make much sense. My experience:
        EVERY country “prefers” dubbing. Or more specifically, mainstream audiences everywhere prefer the dubbing of their mainstream titles. We niche-anime viewers are a miniscule abberation to this rule, irrelevant to the larger scheme of things just like the coffeeshop-hipster with his subbed french art-movies is irrelevant to Hollywood.
        Now, the decision weather a title will be subbed or dubbed will be at heart an economical one. Because people prefer dubbing generally, but its also more costly, the only titles that come out after a cost-benefit-analysis are usually the guaranteed mainstream-successes a) high-class animes like GitS and Myazaki movies or b) marketable kid stuff like Pokemon and DBZ.
        And because the decision is an economical one, the differences between countries might not reflect so much issues of taste or preference, but rather are indicative of the countries’ wealth and relevance as a market. For example, we in Germany get pretty much all american movies dubbed (not just the hollywood-tier stuff, but right down to indie-level, basically anything that has a publisher). There’s nothing about us germans that makes us like dubs better, everybody likes dubs better (*), and our comparative wealth just makes the dubbing-process seem like a worthwile investment, compared to lets say Croatia, which has maybe just 5% of our market potential, and thus gets treated to mostly subbed movies. Which, again, has nothing to do with croatians “preferring subs”

        ( * – like I said in the beginning of the paragraph, exceptions like my subbed animes or the foreign-film-fanatic don’t dispute the validity of the socioeconomic explanation, in fact they may just as well support it because it’s exactly because of our larger market that such niche-titles are even available to us. And if you see a few developed countries where subbing is slightly more mainstream, it’s usually for reasons that elude the economic sphere anyway (like a populations’ general obsession about a particular foreign actor, or a country with a multilingual population that necessites a history and acceptance of subtitles)

        For gods sake, we’re so rich that even the foreign porn is dubbed into german. I couldn’t possibly begin to understand why someone feels the need to do such a thing, but who am I to argue when the results are most hilarious..

  4. sniffits says:

    For me, it always comes down to voice acting or availability. I’ll check out both and judge who does a better job and then continue from there. For example, I watched Gurren Lagann in Japanese because I preferred Kamina’s Japanese voice.

    The only time I’ve run into trouble was with Excel Saga where I preferred some voices in the English and some in the Japanese. I just switched back and forth when I got bored with one. I watch a lot of foreign films so dubs and subs don’t bug me. I can see how it would take a bit to get used to, though.

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