In Defense of “Bad” Dubs

Or, ‘Why The DiC Sailor Moon Dub Wasn’t the End of All Things Good and Right, and, Oh Yeah, Some Economic Stuff About the American Anime Market’.

Alternately, we could also potentially call this ‘DiC’s Dub of Sailor Moon? Who Cares?’.

One of the interesting parts of being a longtime fan is watching the shifts in what is part of the “canon” for the general fan population. The announcement that Sailor Moon’s manga is coming back to American shores is, in part, such a thrill because it is essentially introducing the franchise to a whole new generation of fans, a generation that came into the anime fandom post-Sailor Moon license. The manga has been out of print for years, the anime as well; even more importantly, though, it has been about nine years since it has been on TV in America. Nine years. Consider that most anime fans in this country enter the fandom via TV broadcasts, that is a very good way of ensuring that a show isn’t really within a fan’s consciousness. Yes, everyone knows what Sailor Moon is, but the amount of people who have actually seen it has plummeted.

(Just for the record, the DVD licenses for the first two seasons expired in 2004, S and SuperS in 2005.)

Anyway, this is all a very roundabout way of getting to what I wanted to talk about in the first place – specifically that bad dubs are bad, but also… good. Or, perhaps more accurately, useful.

There is no denying that DiC’s dub of Sailor Moon was absolutely and utterly atrocious. Entire episodes were cut, episodes that weren’t regularly had about a third of their content changed or removed (and it wasn’t uncommon for some episodes to have about 70% changed or removed), attack names were inconsistent… the only dub I’ve ever seen that was worse was the CardCaptor Sakura dub, Card Captors, which, quite frankly, wasn’t even the same show as had aired in Japan.

HOWEVER

Sailor Moon’s dub was and is a Helen of Troy for many anime fans and those who had been anime fans at some point. And it never would have been had it not appeared on American TV sets in its inglorious dubbed form… and it never would’ve appeared in a better dubbed form several years after the fact on Cartoon Network and indoctrinated an entirely new group of people had it never had that original crappy dub. And you can also bet your bottom dollar that we never would’ve had a subbed, uncut release had it not been for that original crappy dub, either.

For those who would disagree and argue that, no, Sailor Moon totally could’ve had such a massive fan following and brought people into the fold sans bad dub, I would point to the Pretty Cure franchise. PreCure is huge, similar to the status Sailor Moon enjoyed in the 90’s (although it does remain to be seen if, over time, it will have the same staying power). It also is very similar to Sailor Moon in the magical girl sentai style. But PreCure lacks something Sailor Moon had – an American dub. Now, would you please mind telling me how many American anime fans have actually watched it? And of those, how many of them became anime fans because of it? Also, has it ever seen a DVD release in America?

Point proven.

I think a similar case can be made for “Card Captors”, albeit on a much, much smaller scale. Some of the people who watched “Card Captors” loved it, then went on their computers and discovered… holy shit, this thing that I’m crazy about? It’s actually a totally bastardized version of the original show. So… where can I get that non-bastardized version? And, yes, in some cases this then lead into – “what exactly is this anime thing anyway?” or “wait, does this mean that other anime I watch on TV are wicked bastardized, too?”.

Of course, this doesn’t just happen with magical girl shows; Sailor Moon is just the best example out there overall, and “Card Captors” is the best example of an awful dub that aired on broadcast TV in the U.S. The fact is, terrible dubs bring new bright and shining faces into the American anime fandom constantly. The Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh dubs (which, honestly, weren’t all that bad considering what broadcast dubs are usually like; in fact, I’d argue that the Pokemon dub was pretty good) opened up a world for hordes of people.

However, dubs, bad or not, are becoming less and less prevalent on American TV. Yes, Pokemon’s a pretty safe bet to remain on your set for as long as the games keep appearing, but there is less anime everywhere but the Saturday morning blocks aimed at children. The Japan External Trade Organization actually released a study demonstrating the overall decline of the American anime market, which Anime New Network has broken down for easier digestion. Broadcast anime is up, but cable anime is down over 50%. The value of the market overall is only 43% of what is was at its height, too.

While there are a lot of factors involved, its hard not to see that there’s a co-morbidity in the downhill trend in total market worth and in anime on American TV. While, yes, part of it is due to poor viewer ratings of some content, I would also note that reductions in airtime also encourage reductions in interest in the property in the first place. Bleach at midnight may have low ratings. Bleach at two a.m. has them even lower.

So, TV dubs are good for exposure, and exposure is good for making the market more robust; most money has been made on merchandising, not DVD’s, and DVD sales figures have barely changed since the halcyon days, so you can chuck the fansub thing out the window for the purposes of this post. Also of note is that the market worth decline in merchandising has not come from the Pokemon juggernaut, which accounts for 60% of the market.

Now, obviously fandom isn’t necessarily pegged to economics. However, economics do make for a better indicator than anything else out there, as these are professionally-gathered figures and aren’t, I don’t know, the hit counter on a torrent that makes no distinction between multiple DL’s by the same person or what country the downloaded happens to reside in.

Of course, I suppose this brings us to the question of whether a bigger fandom makes for a better fandom. I’ll answer that very simply – yes. Because a bigger fandom may have a lot of idiots running around in it, but I’ve never once been for an exclusive conception of what an anime fan is and who is part of the club. I love anime; therefore, I believe in sharing it with others, even if I think they have crappy taste and are stupid and do not personally wish to engage them in conversation. I also know that some of those individuals I do find to be not to my taste are that way because they are immature and will grow out of that immaturity… and that some of those who grow out of their immaturity won’t necessarily take that as a sign that it is time to stop watching foreign cartoons for fun. And at that point, I would probably be at least mildly interested in conversing with them.

So I think bad dubs are a devil we can deal with.

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7 Responses to In Defense of “Bad” Dubs

  1. krizzlybear says:

    A dub of pretty cure did come out in Canada, and I was fortunate (or unfortunate, depending on how you see it) enough to watch a bit of it in the beginning of the series. It was just as atrocious as the first, but due to obvious age differences, found Sailor Moon more acceptable at the time. I can imagine that the younger generation could latch on to the Pretty Cure franchise if it were to come out in the US.

    That said, I don’t remember much from it because of its limited run. I tried following it when it came out, but I suppose it never really took off after the first month or so of syndication in Canada, so it’s hard to say whether or not that would be the case. It’s a shame, really, because the audience missed out on a fairly unique mythos that did not get a chance to establish, unlike Sailor Moon’s, which lasted several years and then some.

    • adaywithoutme says:

      Yeah, I had heard that PreCure did get a dub showing in Canada (YTV, I believe?). I seem to recall there being some weird stuff with the airing scheduling, though? Its been a while, so I’m not quite sure.

  2. Hogart says:

    Anytime someone tells me bad dubs are all horrible things, I point them to Samurai Pizza Cats. There’s one “bad dub” that I feel improved the show greatly.

    The worse offender here, for me, is bad editing. I don’t mind a bad dub as much as dub-induced plot holes, especially when it’s due to censorship or creative/marketing assholery.

    • adaywithoutme says:

      That dub was amazing. I always found it so bizarre when people got all upset about that dub, and bemoaned the “censorship”. Uh, folks? That thing was a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles rip-off, shit ain’t exactly Shakespeare.

  3. odorunara says:

    I think a similar case can be made for “Card Captors”, albeit on a much, much smaller scale. Some of the people who watched “Card Captors” loved it, then went on their computers and discovered… holy shit, this thing that I’m crazy about? It’s actually a totally bastardized version of the original show. So… where can I get that non-bastardized version? And, yes, in some cases this then lead into – “what exactly is this anime thing anyway?” or “wait, does this mean that other anime I watch on TV are wicked bastardized, too?”.

    You’ve summed up exactly why Sailor Moon held my attention for so long and why I got interested in Japanese culture!

  4. Alicia says:

    SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SOOOOOOOO TRUEE!!!

    I can’t remember my life before I started watching Sailor Moon. I’m almost 19 now. (I’m canadian). It started airing on YTV when I was 3, and i have no memories before I was 3, therefore, I have been a Sailor Moon fan for as long as I can remember. The last time I saw Sailor Moon on TV was when I was 9, I think. Last summer, before going off to university, I randomly remembered Sailor Moon and looked it up. And that’s when I read about Uranus & Neptune being lesbians. I remember that was a rumour in elementary school, which is why I never believed it. So I was shocked to hear it was true. That’s why I decided to watch some Japanese episodes and almost fell off my chair when I found out there’s a FULL season that never got dubbed into English. Bad dubs=more promotion for the original. Besides, the one good thing Dic did was make their own background music. This morning, I was watching some R episodes in Japanese, and gosh, the background music sounds like something from a 1970’s Bollywood flick.

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