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Dubbling the value of your collection: What dubs do right

By B.A. Holtzman     -

Ahh the dub; hated by the elitists yet preferred by the majority it is one of the more controversial creatures of the anime world. Serious anime fans seem to have a paradoxical relationship to dubs. On the one hand dubs are responsible for delays between licensing and release, as well as changes in the video of certain titles and overlays, and on the other hand they drive the sales that bring anime to our sunny shores, and many of today's hardcore fans were yesteryear's dub watchers. Like it or not, until Americans learn them some culture, or until Japan conquers the west, the dub is here to stay. That being said, there are some darn good reasons to like it.

It is my opinion that many of the feelings the typical 'hardcore' anime viewer has towards dubs were formed during the "Golden Age" of dubs. This was when the average anime dub featured the vocal stylings of such stars as *Jim from custodial services*, and *some guy off the street who will work cheap*. Things have improved. Bad voice acting, however, was not in this columnist's opinion what lead to the hatred of dubs. See the Golden Age was an age of VHS, and here's where the dub/sub split becomes more understandable. People had to choose which version of a show they were going to buy, and since most hardcore fans legitimately do prefer the subbed version they would choose that one. This formed a sort of brand loyalty, like people who can only afford a single video game console or computer and accentuate the bad qualities of the other options to make their choice seem more appealing and correct. Sub fans disparaged dubs because dubs were the versions they liked less and the versions they didn't have. Another factor in this was the price difference, dubs were routinely offered cheaper than subs. Whether this was because subs tend to spend more time on the shelf than the more popular dubs or because smaller numbers were made, it annoyed sub fans to no end. Their product was superior, cheaper to produce from a purely artistic standpoint, and MORE expensive? The reviled dub was not only offending their senses but also draining their wallets without them even getting the inferior version of the show. No wonder the resentment grew.

Times have changed.

With the DVD comes that most glorious Anime boon, the hybrid disc. While these did exist in the past with Laserdiscs, the minor penetration of that format into the marketplace meant that not only were there only limited varieties of titles available but also that they tended to be rather expensive; not so with the DVD. These days we get superior picture quality, glorious surround sound, extras and omakes, and language tracks that switch on the fly as well as subtitles that can be flipped on or off with a twitch of the thumb. It is a new age for home audio/visual users and the digital revolution has already changed quite a lot. It's time for it to get rid of the sub/dub divide. The remainder of this article is not an attempt to get sub fans to switch to the dark side. It is not the act of a mad missionary. It is merely an attempt to get people to delve into some of the hidden anime goodness in the collections that they already own.

5 good things that watching a dub can do for a sub fan:

5) Inflection. For those who do not speak Japanese watching a subtitled show is an interesting process. While one can easily tell the general tone of a sentence from the inflection of the speaker's voice, it is much more difficult to understand the tone of each individual word. As the subtitle reader reads the dialog and the Japanese voice actor speaks it, word order is radically altered along with the rules of grammar and other linguistic devices. Watching a dub one does not have that problem as in your native tongue every word's inflection carries comprehensible meaning to your ears. Sometimes, in a good dub, the dubbed version of a show can help you to understand the undercurrents of a sentence better than the subbed version.

4) Ease. Watching a dub is easier than watching a sub. You can close your eyes or turn away from the screen for a moment and still catch the dialog. While I certainly wouldn't argue that this is always a good thing, it can be when you're sick or tired. After all, isn't it a bit annoying to be curled up on a couch with puffy eyes, sneezing, and trying to read small yellow subtitles?

3) Focus on animation. Watching a dub allows you to focus your eyes exclusively on the animation without worrying about the subtitles. While experienced sub readers can generally process subs extremely quickly there is still a little bit of eye movement to check them when they first appear on the screen, and that can change the visual flow of a show somewhat. Anticipating the next change in subs becomes part of the picture. Watching a dub, unlike watching raw Japanese, allows you to follow along with the plot of a show you haven't memorized yet while watching only the animation.

2) Another version of a favorite show. People often complain that dub plots diverge from the more accurate subtitled versions, but this can be a blessing as well as a curse. If you really like a particular show, why complain about having two versions of it for the price of one? Want more of a show but the studios aren't releasing it fast enough? Watch what you have dubbed, it can be a significantly different, and yet still fulfilling experience. Phoenix from the forums commented recently on how he liked to enjoy dubbed and subbed versions of shows as different experiences, and I couldn't agree with him more. Just because you enjoy Laurence Olivier's filmed version of Hamlet doesn't mean you can't take pleasure in Mel Gibson's, so why should you sneer at Manga's Ghost in The Shell even while you embrace the subtitled version?

1) Alternative perspectives on characters. This, in my opinion, is the best thing a dub can provide for someone who naturally prefers subtitled anime. Animation is a very interesting art, in that each character is made up of the imagination of more than one person. Unlike a novel where the author controls everything about his creations, or a film where an Actor is responsible for bodily movement and vocalization, animation breaks up a character into more than one section and lets different people contribute to each. With that being said, no one character is going to be perfectly to the creator's liking, and every character has the potential to be more than one man could do alone. Dub actors, when they are good, can provide valid and interesting differences in how they play a character. With dialog that is usually similar, if not identical, they can take characters in different directions and explore various nuances of them. Take the Rurouni Kenshin television series, where Dorothy Melendez plays a softer younger Kaoru and Lex Lang plays a tougher more battleworn Sanosuke. Neither of these characterizations need supplant the original Japanese voice actors, but instead they can offer alternative takes on the characters and show different facets and aspects than the Seiyu alone. As a viewer I find having both the Japanese and American interpretations of characters I like available to be a very useful tool. A good actor brings something special to the table every time he takes on a new character, and I think that our viewing experience can be all the richer for that.

I am not going to try to engage in an argument about sub/dub superiority/inferiority because I believe that which version is 'better' can change from a series to series basis. My only argument is that to dismiss a dub just because it is a dub is to miss out on a valuable resource for enjoying your anime, and that the true winners in the dub/sub wars are those who do not take a side.

Dub Spotlight on: Trigun

For the first of these little mini-segments, which I hope will act as a sort of mini-review and commentary on a different series each week, I thought about looking at a perennial favorite like Cowboy Bebop. Instead I decided on Trigun because it is both popular, and a special dub for me.

The best thing about the Trigun dub is the voice work of Johnny Yong Bosch, who does wonders with the main character, Vash the Stampede. Managing to combine arrogance, vulnerability, sadness, and strength sometimes into a single sentence, Bosch plays both the comedy and drama that the role requires with ease. Although sometimes asked to say sentences that are unnatural in English, he maintains his poise as an actor and tries to work with what he?s given. The rest of the cast is also fairly good, with Dorothy Melendrez of Kaoru fame playing a softer Meryl than her Japanese counterpart, and the playful innocence of the Milly role being played with the proper hint of hidden wisdom. All the actors manage to convey traits about their characters that the viewer won?t recognize until later in the series, so that when the changes come they seem natural and unforced.

I give the main cast an 8 out of 10 (Wolfwood?s voice actor is less than ideal)

The dub script differs quite a bit from the subtitles at times, but the spirit definitely remains intact and there is not much of the way in censorship or toning down of the subject matter. This is one of those shows where it definitely pays to watch both the subbed and dubbed versions because it?s almost like two different shows.

I give the script 7 out of 10 (A few incidents of unnatural phrasing to match lip flap)

The supporting cast is a hit or miss affair. Most of the villains are appropriately cheesy but there are several characters that just don?t work. There?s also a few incidences of villains who go over the top from pleasant cheese to just irritating.

I give the supporting cast a 6 out of 10

Overall I give the dub an 8 out of 10, because the overall package is well formed. It doesn?t hurt, of course, that this is a western themed show and so has a natural ?feel? to it in English.

Okay, that?s all for this week folks, next week I?ll talk about what?s done right in dubbing today and what needs to change.


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