Anime Culture: Subtitled Vs Dubbed

February 4, 2014
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Most of the anime out there (with a few notable exceptions) is Made In Japan. And that means it’s all in Japanese originally. A lot of us first met the world of anime through translations into English, and, don’t get me wrong, some of those have great dubbing. But that handful are the exception, and not the rule, and I’m going to tell you a bunch of reasons why you should be switching to Original Version with Subtitles for all your anime needs.

Anime Culture: Subtitled Vs Dubbed

Sometimes, a language has a perfect word that just sums up everything you needed to know in seconds. If you try and translate that to another language, it might take a whole bunch more words to say. With subbing, that’s not really an issue. We’re all pretty fast readers these days, and we can certainly read faster than the rate of speech, so even if it takes 10 extra words to express something in English than in Japanese, there’s time for us to read it all and understand what’s going on. In those situations in dubbing, they have to try and squeeze it all in into the scenes where we see their lips moving, or, more commonly, add it into shots where we don’t see lips at all – reaction shots, distance shots where we just see the characters walking… What this means in practice is, there are shorter pauses between dialogue, that people go on and on and all those poignant pauses get lost.

But the opposite problem is just as common, if not more so. Sometimes it takes just 3 words to say something that would take 8 in Japanese. Never a problem in subbing – those three words appear on the screen while you listen to the 8. But in dubbing, the translators have to pad and pad and add innocuous phrases (ugh, Naruto’s “believe it!” being the worst offender) to fill the gaps, which means any character who should be brief and abrupt is now saying all these unnecessary filler words. It messes with character portrayal; it makes terse characters seem vague, indecisive, or chatty.

But perhaps the most important reason not to go with dubbed versions is because of the inane voice choices the dubbing companies make when it comes to the cute characters. Every Japanese show has some kind of cutesy kawaii character, whether it be a talking animal or stuffed toy or spirit. In some shows, these characters are very minor parts that barely feature. In others, they are integral characters who are constantly there to quip. Almost without exception, American TV companies seem to think that the way to voice these “comedy” sidekicks is by finding the most grating, irritating, teeth-grindingly ear-piercingly whiny voices known to man and get them to screech to a script. It’s the same with a lot of the sweet little girl characters. Audiences the world over must be wincing continuously until the lines are done or their patience snaps.

So don’t hurt your ears. Switch to that language you don’t understand. And hey, who knows, maybe you’ll even pick up a word or two as you go.

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  1. Subbed all the way. I personally enjoy the sound of Japanese voice actors over the crappy ones they usually pick for English dubs.

  2. I really don’t mind when translators take liberties with the puns and idioms, to be honest. I’ve seen a lot of fan translations try to stick too closely to the original Japanese and utterly fail at making it sound natural. So Naruto’s “Believe It!” isn’t that bad.

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