You know when I first started writing features I was pretty positive that this was the one topic I was not going to touch. Mostly because it has already been argued to death and also because ultimately what this post is going to come down to is that it is about personal preference so there is no right side of this argument. Hence the title. It really is a pointless debate/argument/war and all it does is split anime fans when, let’s be honest, whether you watch subs or dubs you are still a fan of anime.
The problem is that so many people get it into their head that their preference is somehow actually the ‘right’ way to view something and then there is this stubborn refusal to accept that someone else might choose to view it differently. So what are the main arguments in favour of subs and why don’t they make much sense from a logical standpoint?
01. They allow you to get the authentic experience. Assuming you believe the sub-titles are actually in anyway accurate or capturing the nuances of the langauge being spoken. Seriously, the subs are as bad as the dub if you are actually going for authenticity of the story. Learn Japanese if you want the real story and then realise that sometimes those changes they make to the dialogue actually do make the story more accessible. My Japanese is dreadful but the more I learn the more I realise that neither subs or dubs are giving me a particularly genuine anime experience but I’m still getting a good story so I don’t much care.
02. Dubs are dreadful. Which would have been a reasonably accurate statement about twenty years ago. Seriously, Sailor Moon voice acting has a lot to answer for and it wasn’t even the worst of the 1990’s dubs. And yes, I went through a period where because English dubs were fairly dreadful, that I wouldn’t watch them. What has changed now though is that a lot of the English dubs are actually quite good with some actually good performances and sometimes fairly contextualised content that make the story really enjoyable. I will point out that the reuse of voice actors in English dubs is a bit of a problem because there is a vastly smaller pool of voice actors to draw from, but even this is improving.
03. You just should watch subs. Unbelievably, this argument comes up time and again. This is not an argument. This is what you resort to when you realise that the only two arguments you actually have in favour of your view are more or less invalidated by the current state of dubs.
However, the arguments for dubs are just as weak.
01. I don’t have to read and I can enjoy the story more. Okay, valid point if reading is an issue (and in an anime like Steins;Gate where the dialogue hits you a million miles an hour from multiple characters and the dub is pretty good, I might even agree that this argument has validity rather than trying to read half a screen of multi-character dialogue). Mostly though, subs don’t interfere with the viewing experience. You can see your entire television (computer, device) screen at once so your eye is capable of reading that one line of text that is usually quite large in terms of font at the bottom of the screen. Still, given this one comes down to individual enjoyment, it’s kind of hard to refute.
02. Insert something semi-racist here about listening to Japanese. Yep. People who are anime fans actually mock the language and culture that produces the shows they enjoy. This argument isn’t even really worth getting into. It’s right up there with the ‘you just should’ argument for subs.
03. Hmmm… Oh right. There isn’t a number 3. It really comes down to not wanting to read or not liking listening to Japanese. There’s really no other argument that gets put forward consistently as to why dubs might be better.
And all of this brings me back to my initial point. This is a pointless argument. People will watch what they want and in a way they enjoy it. Rather than fighting over which is better, shouldn’t we all just celebrate the fact that the anime fan-base world-wide continues to grow and that we actually have options as to how we watch it?
Finally, just so that I’m not tempted to come back to this topic any time soon, I’ll make my preference clear. When I watch by myself, with one or two exceptions where I either only have access to a dubbed copy or the dub is genuinely amazing, I watch subbed anime. Why? Because I’m trying to learn Japanese and amazingly enough just recognising one more phrase as I watch today over yesterday is pretty fun. That, and I started watching anime in the 90’s when dubs were horrible and then when I picked up anime as an adult I got used to watching badly fan-subbed anime on YouTube. Okay, some of it was fairly well fan-subbed but that didn’t change the fact that the majority of anime I managed to watch before legal streaming services were a thing, were subbed.
However, I have a very limited pool of friends that I can talk into watching anime and over half of them will not watch subs. So, when I watch socially I almost always watch dubbed. You know what, anime is still fun regardless of whether it is subbed or dubbed.
Feel free to share your preference below or comment on the ongoing war between subbed viewers and dubbed viewers. Let’s kick the conversation into gear and actually have a conversation rather than a flame war.
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