Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Confessions of a Dub fan

So recently during all the hubbub surrounding the fansub issue, I've heard a lot of people make the argument "Why do they even make dubs?" or the one I like even better "Does anyone actually buy the DVD for the dub?"

Well, I have a confession to make - I'm a dub fan.

Yes, really. I actually like dubs. In fact, I prefer them. Now I've heard all of the arguments, ranging from the super-amazing, "Oh my God, I can't believe you don't watch it in the original Japanese. You're an evil person and are going to Hell for supporting this perversion of our Most Holy Artform." to the more rational "The acting is better in the subs."

To be honest, I really want to know how people can tell that the acting is better. To explain, I've had a theory about actors. An all right actor can do one part okay most of the time. A good actor can do one part well all of the time. And a great actor can do multiple parts well most of the time. And an excellent actor can do multiple parts well all of the time.

To use American movies as an example: Arnold Schwartzenegger is an all right actor. Nicholas Cage is a good actor. Jeff Bridges is a great actor. And Robert DeNiro is an excellent actor. Now I don't see the difference between these actors and the voice actors in the subs. Granted Monica Rial can do two parts well (the little girl and the tough girl), Steve Jay Blum can do multiple roles well most of the time and Crispin Freeman... well all I have to say is that he was Spark in Record of Lodoss War: Chronicles of a Heroic Night and Alucard in Hellsing. Yeah.

So I'm not seeing the difference between them and the Japanese voice actors. Maybe that makes me a Philistine, but I don't think so.

But let's assume that there is a difference, and even I'll admit that a lot of the early dubs were pretty lame. There's another big reason why I prefer dubs. Because subtitles often get in the way of immersing myself in a show. There are a lot of times when I'm watching a subtitled show that I find myself having to stop, check to see what they're saying and then go on. For a large part, this hurts the experience of watching the show.

Now, as much as I feel like an arrogant American for saying it, I'm not a fan of reading my television. Sometimes it works better than others, but generally if I'm watching something, I want to be immersed in the experience. And subtitles add another layer visually to my viewing experience.

So if you want to know why I actually don't want the distribution companies to get rid of dubs, that's it.

Agree or disagree? Post a comment or e-mail iniksbane@gmail.com


mikemil828 said...

A couple reasons why to prefer subs to dubs. First, Anime Distributors, operating on rather thin profit margins generally take the cheapest talent they can find, this is why your talented American dub voice actors apparently aren't talented enough to usually land steady work in more lucrative American shows. A dub voice actor like Crispin Freeman who can easily land lead parts in anime dubs would be lucky to land secondary roles in cartoons.

The second reason to prefer subs is that you actually do start to learn Japanese through them, the more subbed anime you watch, the less you will need to rely on the subs to understand what people are saying. And that IMO is more immersive than listening to a guy try desperately to fit English words in a Japanese speaking anime mouth.

Cameron Probert said...


Actually Crispin Freeman worked on soaps before he worked on anime. Now that might not be the biggest endorsement, but it's better than American cartoons.

bateszi said...

The more I read about the sub/dub divide, the more it becomes clear that a lot of people have trouble reading at the same time as watching. I'm not sure if it's just a matter of practice, but for me, reading the subtitles is an accepted and natural process, to the point where it's not even an issue anymore.

Before I was an anime fan, I'd never watch anything subtitled (I still remember demanding to see the English dubbed version of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) because, basically, I was lazy and didn't want to read the dialogue, then I discovered anime fansubs and realized just how much more authentic and emotional everything felt. Of course, I don't speak a word of Japanese, so I've no idea if the acting is technically good or not, but the truth is that I've never been moved (in an emotional sense) by an English dub; something about them sounds a tad... off, or artificial, and now, I'd much rather watch something in it's original language.

But you know what? Anime is, by and large, entertainment and as long as you're having fun, that's the important thing.

Anonymous said...

I'm a sub fan (In fact, I actively avoid dubs) but I do agree with your point that reading the subs can take you out of the action. It's particulalry problematic when lots of characters are talking at the same time. Despite that, I still prefer subs though.

I just don't agree that American dub actors are as good as Japanese ones. As mikemil828 pointed out, the American anime industry is tiny and has a lot less money when compared with Japan, and I think it shows.

Also, I'm British, so it's a bit jarring to hear a strong American accent when watching a Japanese cartoon.

Iknight said...

Dub fan! Dub fan! Unclean! Anathema! Excommunicate! Isolate! Exterminate! *backs away slowly, making sign of the cross*

Seriously, though, I can understand how subtitles could be intrusive for some.

Since I grew up without a TV and still don't have one, anime is the only TV I've ever properly watched. And I'm a very textual person, so for me not reading my entertainment would be wierd, but presumably not everyone feels like this.

Furthermore, like Anonymous, I'm British, so dubs sound foreign anyway.

These are, however, very personal reasons for preferring subtitles.

The one exception to this rule was, in fact, Hellsing (the first series, not the OVAs). It was just too strange to see British policement talking in Japanese; I couldn't take it, and had to watch the dub. As bizarre as American policemen sound, they are at least speaking English.

This was a few years ago, and I've since mellowed (become more secure in my national identity?) to the point where I can watch Hellsing in Japanese.

One good thing about dubs is that they make 'anime evangelism' easier, as some people refuse to watch television in a foreign language.

J.Valdez said...

I watch dubs when I rent DVD's and I read subs when I watch fansubs. I don't see what the issue is with the acting. Aside from the major climatic parts of a show when one doesn't want to be distracted by the acting, the bad acting is one of the aspects of anime that make it interesting. That's not to say that there are no really good English voice actors.

I don't think we non-speakers could tell if the acting was really good. However, I think we could tell if it was really bad. There is more to language than simply understanding the words. Somethings like pitch, tone, speed, loudness are relatively common across language barriers. They also seem to indicate the same things much of the time.

I think this particular issue is simply one of those things that the community will never come to terms with.

snargon said...

Another person who prefers subs here. I prefer them mostly because I dislike the delivery used in dubs; it just doesn't sound like a conversation. Granted, hearing dialogue in Japanese probably helps dull my sense of authenticity, but I can still sense that flow that's not always present in the original Japanese.

It also helps that I'm a bit deaf--not so much that I have trouble hearing daily conversations, but enough that I miss some odd details here and there without subtitles. Since I've been using closed captions since I was a kid, reading subs isn't so much of a stretch.

super rats said...

I don't think dub fans need to explain or qualify it at all.

Iknight said...

snargon brings up another thing which turns me off dubs: timing. Listening to the Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust dub [which I heard was done before the Japanese sound recording?], for example, it's clear that to fit all the necessary meaning in, the actors are forced to speak at unatural speeds - not unlike the way that Hamlet produces very fast acting if uncut (because it's ridiculously long).

But, and I must stress this, I can see valid reasons to prefer dubs.

omo said...

The way I see it, the context that we don't want dubs is to save money. Fact remains that a dub costs several multiple times more to produce than a sub, and is one of the major costs (both money and time) in producing a localization, so this is really an expensive luxury.

And a luxury that most fansub viewers can live without just fine, if it means people digging niche shows can see more of their less-popular favs licensed.

Sure, having a translated dub is almost always better than having no translated dub, but that has to justify the cost in the end. For some titles that makes sense, but not for others.

Personally I'm kinda FOB, so reading subtitles is piece of cake. Old HK films I used to watch would have Chinese and English subs at the same time and I can read both before it flashes to the next line. That said when it comes to fansubs, some group still manages to screw it up for me just because they use a crap font or color.

Regarding the quality of dubs...I take a fan perspective: more is better, and original is always best because that's what the directors intended. Fact is in the typical ADR session in Japan you have the series director involved in part of the process (and often in the auditioning), so there's artistic control going on there. NOT SO WITH TRANSLATED DUBS. In some rare cases, yes, some Japanese control is present (see FLCL) but in order to produce a timely and cheap US English dub you usually want little Japanese control.

In that sense, listening to the translated dub is like watching a film where the director had no control over the actors as they're filled by random people who some third party thought would fit the roles they play.

But that in itself can be added value to a show I like, and I welcome it as long as it doesn't replace anything original :)

lolikitsune for saigar 08 said...

There's something sexual about preferring dubs. I'm not sure what it is, but there's this like... aethernetic aphrodisiac emanating from this site right now, and it's making me soooooooo bothered.

Please stop sucking.

CCY said...

Dub alert! Dub alert! Burn with fir- gah, IKnight already made that joke, no fair. I blame being on vacation for my late comments.

I'm a sub person myself, and I'm considering that this issue might be an issue of first imprint; those who start with dubs stay with dubs, or those who start with subs stay in subs. Either way it just 'sounds more natural', which I think is one of the main arguments, at least for me.

Another thing is that a lot of old dubs are...well, crap. (Cardcaptors is one I cite, although that was more butchered as a whole) Newer ones are quite better, but thanks to the trauma caused by the old ones, there's a lot of stereotypes formed about dubs.

I wonder if the same issue comes up in Japan when converting over American movies (a lot of CG movies like Shrek are popular over there) or animation (The Simpsons, maybe?).

I think j.valdez is pretty much on the money though, in that this is pretty much a perpetual debate, like many of the battles over when a game series / car / etc gets remade; the products are similar enough in appearance, but wildly different in perception.

TheBigN said...

It's fun to listen to dubs while reading the subs at the same time to see where liberties (if any) were taken in the transition, and the degree to which they are.

Otherwise, there are good dubs and bad dubs and good subs and bad subs. As long as they aren't bad enough to entirely distract me from what I'm watching, I have no problems. :3