You know when I first started writing features I was pretty positive that subs or dubs 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.
Subs or Dubs – You are still a fan of anime.
The problem is that many people get it into their head that their preference for subs or dubs 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 language 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 ‘original’ story 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 in the fight of subs or dubs are more or less invalidated by the current state of dubs.
What about dubs?
And the arguments for dubs only 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 but it also doesn’t make subs bad, it just makes it a non-preferred option for some viewers.
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. The subs or dubs debate is pretty much pointless. 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 for subs or dubs 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.
Thank-you for reading 100 Word Anime.
Join the discussion in the comments.
45 thoughts on “Subs or Dubs: A Futile Argument And Yet We’ll Just Keep Having It”
I like subs because:
1) that’s what I was used to as a free-anime-only fan (<- no longer holds water, since I've now tried paying for/trialling services, IIRC Crunchyroll also makes their dubs free these days)
2) that's how I learnt to supplement my Japanese studies
3) I have a bit of an auditory processing issue after overusing earphones at one point about a decade ago (I was only properly diagnosed with tinnitus last year). Right now, this only affects things at low volumes (which can happen with some dubs, but it might also be a sound mixing issue), but the biggest significance of this is I chose to primarily watch subs with sound off after this point because I believed I was going deaf when I first started noticing my tinnitus…and so now having anime on mute is my default.
Since anime is such a visual medium, this particular quirk of mine only gets annoying where the audio interacts with the story (e.g. "That door slam scared me!" when the door slam isn't shown)/the music is the /point/ of the story (e.g. anime which act like music videos strung together, like Visual Prison) or the music is otherwise the main focus (e.g. the OP/ED).
My general rule for dubs is to sample enough content to get used to the main character voices, unless I grew up with nostalgia for the dub (e.g. 90s Sailor Moon old dub) or I only have access to the dub.
3 great reasons for sub watching. Do you use subs on non-anime because of auditory processing issues? I ask because when watching alone I do. Too many movies have incredibly loud sound effects but bury the dialogue so rather than crank up the volume I just put subs on.
(Minor correction: I was diagnosed with tinnitus in 2020.)
Non-anime seems to have less of an overall issue in this sense because it tries to accomodate accessibility better. The default for my family’s TV is that is has audio captioning on (not really to accomodate me, but because the TV is within earshot of the kitchen – it can get quite noisy when someone is cooking while someone else is watching TV), so I don’t suffer in that sense.
That said, because of what you say, I do try to find either hard of hearing subs or some sub track I can understand if I can. For this reason, I think the only times I’ve struggled in this sense are when no subs are given and the character mumbles/has a really low voice – this happened with Vampire Hunter D (2000) when I found it on a streaming service and so I had to adjust the sound according to the audio level.
I usually prefer subtitles, not just for anime but for all TV. I have trouble processing spoken words sometimes, and so it’s easy for me to miss stuff if I can’t read what everyone is saying. This is probably weird for most people, but it’s just what works best for me for accessibility reasons.
I don’t really like the blanket distaste for dubs though. Some people seem to think all anime dubs have bad voice acting, and that’s just not true. They are reading lines that were originally written in a different language, and they have to capture all the emotion of a character or scene using just their voice. Honestly, I think a lot of anime voice actors are more talented than many Hollywood celebrities, regardless of if they’re speaking English or Japanese.
I mainly watch subs not just anime but for all foreign media, as I love hearing different languages and picking up random phrases! Granted there are rare times I prefer dubs, especially when I see that version of a show first.
It can be very fun picking up a random phrase or two while watching a show.
My friends are too old for anime, and my wife doesn’t like it (she keeps trying to apply logic) so it’s just me. I _generally_ prefer subs because to me most dubs sound to me like the same small set of squeaky Disney characters. Withe subs I get the meaning from the text and the emotional state from the original sound.
In addition, I think the dubs tend to be more highly localized — Highschool of the Dead, for a good example of an overdone dubbing — and I’m usually comfortable with teasing out the cultural differences. Sometimes it works the other way — dubbed Big Windup sounds more natural to me — more like a baseball team, just not a _Japanese_ baseball team.
Of course, the arguments will go on because the one thing fans like to do is argue.
Fans do seem to enjoy the argument.
I agree with you entirely – it is a pointless argument, and both subs and dubs have their merits and their weaknesses. Nor is having a preference for one or he other an indication of whether or not you are “really” an anime fan. I happily watch anime in both subs and dubs and, frankly, neither detract from my ultimate experience of whatever it is I am watching – because I am ultimately focused on more than what is just, at the end of the day, the delivery mechanism for dialogue. Because, let’s face it, bad dialogue is still bad dialogue, regardless of how you receive it.
If I did have a preference, I would say I lean slightly toward dubs…and that’s only because, sometimes when the dialogue is dense, or quick, or involves multiple characters speaking at once, subs can be a bit tricky. But that’s only a small thing and in no way detracts from my perfect contentment when watching anime with subs.
Yeah, my feeling on the subject has always been to watch what you like and not argue about it. Agreed that the important thing is everyone can enjoy anime more freely than before (aside from issues with subscription services and licensing.) I always stick to subs no matter the language, even for other live action foreign shows and films, but certainly the quality of dubs has risen a lot since I was a kid.
I think everyone can be happy that dubs moved beyond the 1990’s versions because they were pretty terrible then.
This argument is totally based on personal preferences. All I want is a good anime series to watch so I download what I get. However, I admit that if I have choice, I usually lean more towards Sub over Dub. That doesn’t mean I totally despise Dub as there were certain series where I liked the Dubbed version more (Namely, Highschool of the Dead, Dusk Maiden of Amnesia, Angel Beats and Mysterious Girlfriend X). To be honest, I have actually enjoyed the dubbed version more in series with action genre but still there were some cases where dub made me rage (To be more specific, I hated the dubbed voice of Naruto). *Sigh* I guess this is one of those topics where we just keep ranting. To summaries, I would just say I would choose Sub over Dub but if I don’t have any option I will be happy to watch Dub, as in the end it’s the story that matters.
Very good article. That dub vs. sub war has gone on for way too long. I’ve watched some anime series in both languages. Thanks for deconstructing the fallacies on both sides. There have been times where I could tell the subs were inaccurate despite my rusty Japanese (see the Air Master DVDs) and there have been times where I thought the dub voice acting was better than the original Japanese track (Shinesman is a good example of this).
There shouldn’t be some purity test when it comes to liking anime. I may have some issues with some series and fandoms, but why can’t we just get along as cliche as it sounds?
Even if we can’t get along, tolerating other fans rather than belittling them would be nice.
Understood. It’s been tempting to belittle other fans because that’s happened to me before, but I have to keep that in check.
My friends both brought good points I thought to their respective experiences with anime dubs and subs.
One likes subs because he feels that the Japanese actors can have particularly great performances since they seem to be trained more from a younger age or have more experience since dubs are still an industry trying to grow out talent. That and he feels like since we speak don’t speak Japanese that our perception of Japanese voice acting is a bit more muted than English voice acting as we may not be able to hear all the subtle inflections that differentiate a good and mediocre performance and instead just enjoy the story.
Whereas my other friend would rather watch dubs more because he feels like he wants to take in everything. Reading the subs limits your eyes in taking up everything on screen since you are relegated mostly to the bottom. He wants to enjoy what is on the screen and understand what is going on without limiting where he needs to look. Also the dubs he the opposite of my other friend, that knowing the nuances in a vocal performance can make them shine all the more for the ones that are truly great such as Baccano, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood and Cowboy Bebop.
Both valid but as you said both come down to their personal tastes in the matter. Both have come to a compromise and we often rotate between dub and sub. To me I think both have their merits and it doesn’t bother me one way or another. I feel like this argument can get a bit heated since many people want to feel like they are right with their own personal beliefs on how something should be experienced. It has been argued to death and will continue to be argued so long as people do not come to a compromise on what to watch, because if you aren’t watching things in a group with the people arguing this particular argument…its better just to leave them alone and ignore it in my experience. It just makes life easier.
It’s nice that your friends came to a compromise. I think that is the problem is that some people seem to think there is a right response to the question subs or dubs and when you come at the discussion from that point of view it makes it difficult to have a discussion.
I personally prefer subs but… that’s exactly it. It’s a personal preference. It’s no one’s business but mine just like how anyone else watches their anime is no one’s business but theirs.
But hey, the internet cannot comprehend basic decency some days so we get pointless arguments that quickly rise to flame war levels.
I started out watching dubs and I don’t recall nay being too horrendous. And adjusting to subs was odd at first since I was so unused to Japanese but then I got used to it. Plus, as you said, recognizing a new word or phrase feels pretty good.
I think everyone should just simply do what works best for him/her. I myself always watch everything in the original language (no matter what it is), simply because I prefer it that way, and it gives me a more authentic experience. But if someone prefers dubs, I don’t mind that at all. It pretty much comes down to the same thing as writing a review for a series. Some people may love a show, another might hate it. So yeah, you are correct it is a rather pointless argument. As long as people enjoy watching a series, it really doesn’t matter what one does 😊
Hell Girl and Fushigi Yuugi have great dubs when I watched them as a child on Animax (sure they might have change a few original lines in the dub version) but then again everyone have their own preferences. For example, I still can’t get used to Digimon subs version because I used to watch them in Cantonese dubs.
I always found the sub vs dub argument weird, as it was predominantly native English speakers who complained about English dubs. Granted, during the early dubbing days there some pretty bad performances, but not all. I will watch anime in Japanese, but once it’s dubbed in English I won’t watch it in Japanese again, unless I really enjoyed the Japanese actors’ performances, like in Ranma 1/2 or Cromartie High School.
I’m American and English is my first language. I have no problem reading subtitles, but when it comes to animation I enjoy and prefer to hear the characters in English. When I watch live-action foreign films I read the subtitles instead of listening to the English dubbed audio track.
I’ll go either way with live action foreign films. Subs or dubs don’t usually bother me, though I will admit I watch more of these subbed than dubbed but pretty much I’ll watch it however it comes.
I watch dub because it’s the most accessible to me. And now, honestly, they match the English VA to the Japanese voices really well. Kurapica in HxH is so close to his Japanese voice, and that’s the case in a lot of new dubs. Though I have literally stopped watching a show because the dub was terrible, but that was back in the early 2000s/mid 90s when they weren’t as good as they are now. I’ve seen this stated somewhere a long time ago, that’s something people don’t realize:
Blind people like to watch anime too. Blind people can’t read subs (or, nowadays, it’s very difficult to find access to a way for your screenreader to read subs) so the people who say they want dubbing to stop and only have subs would be stopping a whole sector of people from enjoying anime and that’s not ok.
There are a few options of watching subbed anime now, but it’s very rare and sort of a hassle to use but the only time I watch an anime subbed is if it’s on netflix because that’s the only place I know has an easy way to read subs for me. That, or if the entire show hasn’t been dubbed over, like HunterXHunter, or hasn’t been dubbed over at all but I really wish places like Crunchyroll would somehow make it accessible to read subs because I think the Netflix ability to read subs is honestly a fluke.
Sorry, that got longer than I expected XD but my short answer is I watch dubs because I both prefer them, and they are easier to access for me, and only watch a sub if the show isn’t available dubbed and probably won’t be.
Thanks for the comment. And dubs do make a show more accessible not just to blind people but to those who aren’t that great at reading or reading quickly. It comes back to the we’re all anime fans so isn’t it great that we can all find a way to enjoy anime whether that is subs, dubs or whatever else.
This argument irritates me so much. Often enough, I watch the dub first (to absorb the animation, story, and understand how to pronounce the names) and then the sub. And I usually end up not preferring one over the other. Like, I usually prefer some voices in the dub, and some in the sub. It ends up being very 50/50 for me. There are only a few anime where I have a staunch preference over the other.
That’s really interesting that you swap between the two.
Well, I like to watch the first half in the dub (to get the general feel of the show in my language) and then the sub (to see how it originally was). That way I can see which voices I prefer, and I usually think, “oh, I like this voice more dubbed, and this voice subbed, etc.”
I don’t have a problem with watching either of them. But I will usually watch the subbed version, not only because I find it better and more authentic, but also because I’d like to learn the language one day. So it’s best that I start familiarizing myself with it as much as possible.
Too bad your friends don’t like anime or subs… Mine are the exact opposite.
Great post, Karandi! And great points 🙂
As I said, there’s a couple of people I can talk into watching an anime with me every now and then (fortunately I found someone who fell in love with Yuri on Ice to rewatch it with) but yeah, subs are a harder sell to non-anime fans than dubbed versions.
It’s not an argument I’ve ever understood, I must admit. From my own standpoint, I watch both subbed and dubbed and for a number of reasons. If I’m happy to pay attention, I’ll watch subbed. If I’m ill, I just want background noise or I’m watching with my youngest, I’ll go dubbed. Outside that, quality also plays a part sometimes. For example, I prefer the Wolf’s Rain dub so stick with that over the subbed version.
I have to admit, dubbed is great when you are tired or just want some background noise. There’s a couple of anime that I watch in English regularly for just that reason when I’m sick and trying to have a bit of a sleep but want some relaxing noise in the house.
Exactly. At times like that, dubbed is just so much easier.
Looking back on it, I used to watch dubbed with a few other people simply because they couldn’t read quick enough to keep up with some subs and I saw no reason to hinder their enjoyment.
honestly, im not sure what this accomplishes. stating exaggerated versions of the most stubborn arguments on either side will do nothing to change either opinion. by definition, these are the people least likely to listen. just seems like an excuse for people to get together and have a laugh about how much they dont care about this debate.
i honestly dont have a good answer as to where my own preference arises. the simplest answer is watching subs is what im used to doing. there’s also the idea that distracting my ears is much more difficult than distracting my eyes. if im watching subs, the episode has to take my full attention. when im watching western shows, im often off on other windows doing something else. maybe it even has to do with a preference for visual learning over auditory learning. but at the end of the day, it’s a preference, so i’ll watch either one.
This accomplishes nothing other than pointing out the debate has been going for a long time, and realistically, no one is going to change their point of view so maybe it is time to stop debating and just accept it. Then again, people really do like to argue.
it just feels like many of these arguments are strawman arguments when there are legitimate arguments for each side’s preference. this seems like a way to perpetuate the problem by giving both sides caricatures of the other side’s argument, giving them reason to be more indignant of their own view.
I like sub. Japanese language has some charm in it that makes it really comfortable and enjoyable to listen to. Also, reading subs shouldn´t be that much of an issue if the person watching has great reading skills
I get so annoyed at this feud! I don’t think it should really matter whether you watch anime subbed or dubbed, it’s just a matter of preference. I tend to go for subbed because that’s how I’ve always watched anime since way back but that’s just my personal choice. Also, over the years I’ve taught myself enough Japanese to understand most of the lines so heck, on the off chance I’ll watch it in raw. Really, who cares how you watch anime, as long you’re enjoying it, that’s all that matters.
I have come to notice though, because I tend to go for subbed, if I watch an anime that I’ve started in sub, the dub to it sounds weird because I associate the Japanese voice actor’s voice with that character. Is that just me or do other people feel this way as well?
I dislike swapping between the two once I’ve started in one because I do get used to the one I’ve watched first (that’s more or less my issue with the Black Butler dub is that I don’t like that Sebastian’s voice isn’t the same – given the dub is actually really good but I still don’t like it).
Thanks for sharing your view.
Exactly… it sounds really weird when you watch the dub after starting the sub. Yeah Black Butler’s a good example of that.
My pleasure 😊
It’s all quite subjective, yeah. Growing up in the 4Kids era when corny jokes, generic music and unfathomable edits were the standard, I found watching the subtitled versions were more to my liking when compared to the dubbed versions. A memorable example of this is the second-last episode of Sonic X, when one of the main characters has to SHOOT HIS LOVE INTEREST to save the galaxy from destruction. Whereas the original made sure to let you know the emotional gravity of his decision and the consequences it held (for obvious reasons) the dub downplayed this romance and cut out the entire last minute of the episode, which was the guy and girl saying goodbye to each other. That scene always stuck to me anytime I think of subs/dubs.
I get that dubs nowadays are better than back then (the Steins;Gate and BNHA dubs are example of this) but somehow it just doesn’t feel the same to not watch the original versions in terms of edge-of-your-seat experience.
I think a lot of us who grew up with bad dubs, are far more used to watching subbed anime and to the way Japanese voice actors emote. That’s probably why it just doesn’t feel quite right when watching dubbed anime even though dubs are significantly better these days.
Yeah I guess that’s reasonable. It always is a charm to have the better experience of the same show as opposed to a watered-down version of it. To be fair though, before I got into anime like I am today, I was hesitant to watch subbed anime because it just felt weird at the time watching a show in another language other than English, so back then it was a big jump to tolerate that change.