Jennifer Wilber works as an ESL instructor, substitute teacher, and freelance writer. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing and English.
Sub vs. Dub: The Great Anime Debate
If you spend any time in the anime fandom, you have likely run into the age-old “sub vs. dub” debate. Anime fans often argue whether anime is best viewed in its original Japanese, with English subtitles, or dubbed over by English-speaking voice actors. Hardcore anime fans, or purists, tend to prefer to watch anime in it’s original form with the original Japanese voice acting preserved, even if they do not understand the Japanese language. Other fans prefer to hear the dialogue in their own native language so that they can enjoy the animation rather than focusing on reading the subtitles. Both types of anime fans have specific reasons for preferring one over the other.
What is the Difference Between Subbed and Dubbed Anime?
In terms of anime, a “sub” is an anime series that is shown with it’s original Japanese voice acting with subtitles along the bottom of the screen in another language (usually English for viewers in the United States). Subbed anime is often preferred by purists who feel that an anime series should not be changed in any way from the original version.
A “dub,” on the other hand, is an anime series that has been released with a new re-scripted voice track that has been translated to English, or another language depending upon the country where it has been licensed and re-recorded by new voice actors. Dubbed anime allows a wider audience to enjoy an anime series without being required to read subtitles.
Some anime fans always prefer to watch anime subbed, while others prefer dubbed anime when it is available. Both sides have different reasons behind their preferences, and this debate often turns into a heated argument amongst anime fans.
Purists, and the Case for Subtitled Anime
Anime fans who exclusively watch the subtitled versions of anime, even when a dub is available, are often referred to as “purists.” Purists are usually diehard anime fans, or “otaku.” One of the main reasons that purists give for preferring subs is that subtitles allow them to experience the anime the way the creators meant for it to be seen. These fans view anime as an artform, and do not believe that it should be altered in any way. Some anime is censored or otherwise changed for the English release.
Many anime series, particularly older series, were censored for the English dub. American licensors often deemed certain types of content to be “inappropriate” for western audiences, so they changed certain things for the English dub. A classic example of this can be seen in the original English dub of Sailor Moon. In the first English dub of this series, Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune were portrayed as cousins, while in the original Japanese version, these two characters were lesbian lovers. This was corrected in the more recent redub of the original Sailor Moon.
The script of some shows may also be changed for the English dub to change cultural references that the licensors believe won’t be understood outside of Japan to make the show less confusing and more relatable to foreigners, including Americans. This practice isn’t as prevalent nowadays as it was in the past. Still, many purists prefer the original Japanese versions of anime series because they don’t want to miss out on these original Japanese cultural references.
Many anime fans also claim that the voice acting is almost always better in the original Japanese version. This is debatable, as many of the people who make this claim do not actually understand Japanese. Many fans of dubbed anime claim that studios have been doing a better job at casting voice actors in recent years, however.
Some anime fans also prefer subbed anime simply because there are more series available subbed than dubbed. Many anime series are never dubbed into English. Even those that are may take a long time for the English dub to be released. Many fans are simply too impatient to wait for the dubbed version.
Lost in Translation: The Case for Dubbed Anime
Fans of dubbed anime also have their own reasons for favoring the dubs. The most common reason given for preferring dubbed anime is that these fans do not like to read subtitles while they watch an anime series. They claim that being required to read subtitles distracts from the story. It can be difficult to fully enjoy the animation and watch what is happening on screen while reading along with the subtitles. Hearing the dialogue in English (or whatever their native language may be) allows for a more immersive anime-watching experience.
Some anime dubs change the script quite a bit from the original Japanese version. In some cases, many fans prefer the completely different take on the show presented by the dub. For example, the dubbed version of the anime Ghost Stories alters the original script to a more comedic one written by ADV screenwriter Steven Foster. Much of the final recording for this dub was ad-libbed by the voice actors. While the plot of the show is still similar to the original version, the script is much more comedic and offensive in the English dub, which many fans of this anime prefer.
On the other hand, a far less common reason that some anime viewers give for preferring dubs to subs is, in fact, the censorship. Some fans actually claim to prefer the dubbed versions of certain series better than the original because the "mature" content present in the original Japanese version was removed. This is an extremely rare reason for preferring dubs, however.
There are also many anime fans who were first introduced to anime through English dubs that were broadcast on TV. Anime fans often first got into the fandom through watching English dubs of shows like Dragonball Z, Sailor Moon, Pokémon, or Naruto on television. Some of these fans eventually switch to preferring subbed versions of their favorite anime series, while others retain a soft spot for the versions that they grew up with.
So, Which is Better, Dubs or Subs?
Ultimately, it is up to the individual fan to decide which they prefer. One type of anime isn’t inherently better than the other. If you are someone who prefers to see an anime series in its original form and are worried about changes being made to the script or censorship, you will likely generally prefer to watch subbed versions of anime. If you just want to watch an entertaining series and not have to read subtitles, dubbed anime is the way to go. You may even prefer to watch your favorite anime series in both their subbed and dubbed versions to decide for yourself which you like better. You will likely find that you prefer to watch certain series in their original subbed form, while others you will find that you prefer the dubbed version. There is no right or wrong way to enjoy your anime hobby!
Questions & Answers
Question: Why not watch anime without dub or subs?
Answer: Do you mean in the original language (Japanese)? If you understand Japanese, of course it would make the most sense to watch anime in its original language, however, most people outside of Japan do not know Japanese, and therefore require it to be translated into their own language to be able to enjoy it.
© 2018 Jennifer Wilber
omegasome on June 22, 2019:
The most annoying casualty of the way subs and dubs are done, and of the debate over them, is that the subtitles and dubs often feature very different scripts.
This is annoying for people like me, who have some trouble with spoken language in general, and prefer things written- despite having no hearing problems or known difficulty with language, I almost always turn on subtitles and read along to supplement what I hear. When the subtitles aren't a *perfect* match for the audio track, it freaks out some subconscious part of my mind and I have to turn them off.
Since subtitles and dubs almost never match for anime, and the people I watch with prefer dubs to subtitles, I have to watch with the subtitles off- which feels almost like the show is naked.
I imagine that somewhere out there is a pair of people, one deaf and the other not, who can't watch the dub at all because the subs need to be on for the deaf one and the mismatch between the spoken and textual components bugs the other too much.
tl;dr I really wish that anime subs matched the dub, or at least that there was a track which matched them together with the more literal translation.