Subs or Dubs: A Futile Argument And Yet We’ll Just Keep Having It


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

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.

Go Subs

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.
Karandi James

Friday’s Feature: What Genre Is That?


As kids, when we first start watching anime, we kind of get the impression it is all giant robots and lots and lots of fighting (or magical girls, which are much the same except that they’ll hit you with sparkly hearts instead of a sword and the results will be more or less identical). For me, growing up with Sailor Moon and the like, that is what anime was and while it was cool and all, I probably wouldn’t have become the obsessed anime fan I am today except that there is so much more to anime than that.

As the internet actually became functional for watching videos (believe me if you didn’t grow up being introduced to dial up where waiting for even a single page of text to load was torture you have no idea how painful it was to try to watch or access anything else and even after dial up was a thing of the past slow internet speeds continued to be a major problem for access in Australia) there came the realisation that there were all these other types of anime out there. Suddenly, anime wasn’t just the beat ’em up amusement for when you felt like turning your brain off but was something that could be explored and where stories of all sorts could be found.

Genre list from AnimeLab.

And that’s where this feature actually gets started because realising that anime wasn’t just about kids beating monsters meant that you then had to say more than just watching anime. You were watching a shounen or a mecha or a romance or a myriad of other types of anime. And then you get those series that you just can’t explain what genre they are at all.


Let’s look at Angel Beats. I love this anime even if it makes me cry every single time I watch it; even if it is deliberately contrived to pull on your heart strings. So it’s a drama then? Not really. Certainly there are dramatic elements and the conclusion of the series would have you believe it is a drama or a romance but the show itself deals out healthy doses of comedy, action, slice of life, and fantasy. To simply call it a drama would not really get the point across at all and anyone who started watching it expecting a drama would probably hate it by episode 2 because the first two episodes deal very much with the comedy and fantasy elements of the show.

Now mixed genres are certainly not exclusive to anime stories. Many movies and books cross several genres particularly romances. The number of hybrid genres that have become mainstream such as romantic-comedy, historical-romance, and supernatural-romance are clear indicators that while romance is indeed a big genre people tend to prefer their romance paired with something else these days. It helps keep things interesting and moving.

Full Metal.jpg

If we were to look at a show like Full Metal Alchemist defining genre becomes really difficult. MAL lists it as an action, adventure, comedy, drama, fantasy, magic, military, shounen. And yes, all of those genre elements are there. But what genre is Full Metal Alchemist? If we were going to file it somewhere under a genre title which one would we choose? I’d probably go with adventure given the whole thing follows the journey of the main characters but you could legitimately choose any of the other genres listed there and justify why FMA should be there.

So the question becomes, does genre matter? Why classify things if they are going to cross between genres and incorporate other elements?

From my point of view I think it is because regardless of the window dressing, stories tend to follow set patterns and that pattern is embedded within a genre. That is why Angel Beats ultimately is a drama and Full Metal Alchemist ultimately is an adventure story at least from my point of view and I fully accept that other people will classify them differently. Despite the comedy and all the other elements that come in to create subplots, excitement, or just fill time, these stories when broken down follow patterns that we are very familiar with. It is this adherence to basic story patterns that makes something mixed genre rather than just a mess of ideas that may or may not come together into something comprehensible.


One thing I’m fairly certain of is that we’re going to see more and more stories (anime or otherwise) that will push the boundary of the genre they are in and draw on elements of other genres. Whether they do this well will remain to be seen.

What are your thoughts on genre in anime?

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Karandi James.