As a Japanese American, I might be a bit prejudice when it comes to this topic. Dubs were only a viable option when I wasn’t able to get my hands on the subbed version. However, being a bit older and a tad wiser, I have my clear reasons as to why you should steer clear of dubs.
Ignorance is Bliss
Back in the good old days I never did mind dubs since they were commonplace. Everything was in English and while I knew Pokemon and Dragonball were from overseas I didn’t connect the pieces. To me Ash was never Satoshi and Goku was never Son Goku, and to this day they still aren’t. Yet with the release of Fullmetal Alchemist in the United States, I could tell that there was something a bit off.
The Shortcomings of Dubbing
I’ve heard a few reasons why people watch dubs, “I can watch it without reading.” Okay maybe there was only one point, but realistically that’s it. When it comes to relaxing and entertainment they don’t want to put in the extra effort of having to read. To some extent, I understand that having studied and learned Japanese I don’t always have to look at the screen when watching subbed versions. What I have picked up through learning the language and watching countless series is that there are certain things dubbing falls short on.
Yes, I know it may seem obvious that I start with this topic. Japanese is a tough language to translate to English and vice-versa. This is usually why both subtitles, as well as the scripts for dubbing, aren’t true to the original meaning. There are very few profanities in Japanese and “Dattebayo” does not translate to “Believe it” in the slightest. While it may seem like both the subs and dubs suffer from translations, dubs have one more hurdle to jump. Timings. When localizing anime to English, every translation has to fit the character’s mouth movements accordingly. This can cause for both a lack of explanation or an exploitation of filler, both straying from the original meaning.
Voice Actors/Actresses –
Sometimes voices are iconic to a role, some may associate Vic Mignogna with Edward Elric. Others will only see Romi Park as Edward instead, and I can understand that. However, some voices cannot be replaced such as Rie Kugimiya who plays characters such as Taiga, Kagura, and Alphonse Elric. (From the anime Toradora, Gintama, and Fullmetal Alchemist respectively) Or Kazuya Nakai, the voice actor for characters such as Roronoa Zoro or Hijikata Toshiro. (One Piece and Gintama)
In fact, many American voice actors/actresses get reused on a consistent basis. Rather than having a clear-cut defined role, it almost feels as if the actors and actresses get morphed to fit any role they can fill. As for the Japanese voicing scene, many have to go to a specific anime voice acting school to even be considered. Since Japan is the birthplace of anime it makes sense, there is a certain standard that needs to be met. When the content goes overseas though, their criteria for choosing voice actors/actresses dwindles.
Adapted Genres –
When watching certain anime titles there are times when the language speaks rather than the story. While not true for all genres, both romance and comedy are almost reliant on the language. Romance or drama are a bit more straightforward since tense moments can depend on a single line or even word. The subtleties behind saying “suki desu” rather than “aishiteiru” aren’t translated well to English. At the same time, saying “I like you” versus “I love you” wouldn’t translate well to Japanese.
Comedy, on the other hand, is reliant on the set-up of the gag, the background knowledge of the viewer, and the execution. Each part key in its language, so if translated, the joke is also morphed. The content loses its original intent and becomes the translator’s joke instead. Anime like Gintama would never be the same and would fall short in almost every degree.
Honestly, I’m sure there are good dubs out there, I won’t deny that. At the same time, were the original voices bad in comparison? Probably not. The case I am trying to make is that while dubs may not be necessarily bad, why not watch the original content when you have access to it? Sure, it might be a bit tedious to read instead of listening, but I feel it does justice to the original material. Whether the original content is in English, Japanese, French, etc. why not watch it the way the writer would have wanted.
I am sure this might cause a bit of controversy, but I am always glad to talk about it below. Please comment below if you want more like this, or if you want to discuss!