Mumbling Kitsune: Subs Versus Dubs—The Fight Over Words II -

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Mumbling Kitsune: Subs Versus Dubs—The Fight Over Words II

Do you like to read your anime, or listen to it? Part Two of the Great Debate.

By Nadia Oxford     January 14, 2009

Inu Yasha
© Viz Media

Words can move mountains, start wars and impact lives like bullets. But language is a two-sided sword; there needs to be communication for human civilization to flourish. Laws must be declared, stories must be chronicled, and (most importantly) anime must be translated.

Anyone who's watched a foreign film has an opinion on its delivery. Some prefer subtitled material, which preserves the original content and provides a text translation for viewers to follow along to. Others swear by dubbed work, which overlays the film's native language with voice actors speaking another language better understood by the majority. For obvious reasons, anime is one of the world's premiere hotspots for arguments on “Subs versus Dubs.” Both formats have their strengths and weaknesses. Before the holidays, the Mumbling Kitsune took a good look at what makes subs more appealing than dubs. This week, we consider dubs over subs.

You May Prefer Dubs If:

You don't like text all over artwork -- The story behind an anime is important, but the quality of its artwork carries almost as much weight. Even the best subs can't always avoid putting text over said artwork. Art fiends tend to like the fact that dubs leave the artwork in an anime unmolested.

You're a slow reader -- Fans of The Simpsons might recall Milhouse's struggle to read the captions on an old-fashioned Itchy and Scratchy cartoon. He's not the only one who has trouble keeping up with words flashed across a screen. Truth be told, not everyone reads at the pace necessary to follow a sub, which can dampen a story's impact. Similarly:

You don't want to divide your attention -- Subs require you to follow on-screen text as well as on-screen action. It's easy to miss the ongoings in an anime when your attention is divided, though practice does make perfect in this situation.

You appreciate voice actors' work -- At some point in your life, you've jumped into a chilly lake or pool. It was an awful experience at first and you probably felt the urge to get out fast, but in a minute or two, your body adjusted to the cold and you began to enjoy yourself. Watching a dub for the first time often draws the same kind of reflex: “Oh God, why am I subjecting myself to this—Hey, this isn't so bad after all.”

Similarly, voice actors need time to warm up to their roles as well. When a series runs for a long time, voice actors become attached to their characters and have a lot of fun.

Dubs allow for a less literal translation—and that's not always a bad thing -- Japanese is a tricky language to translate. Japanese characters miles away from our alphabet, and a direct translation into English can often end up feeling a little stiff and dry. One of the nicest things that can happen to an anime is for it to gain a localization team that's interested in striking a balance between preservation and entertainment. The translation for Shin-chan, for instance, contains a lot of references to American culture in place of jokes about Japanese puns and whatnot. The end product still manages to be funny and unique without being smothered by censorship and pop culture.

Dubbed anime is easier for newcomers to latch onto -- No medium, anime included, can survive unless it brings in new audiences. USA Anime ( points out that dubs feel less intimidating and familiar than subs, and are more likely to attract and hold the attention of curious newcomers, especially younger viewers.


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LooneyBinJIm 1/17/2009 6:28:47 PM

Sometimes a dub can make a totally new experience for an anime: Case in point, the dubs for Ghoststories and Desert Punk were great even if they strayed from the original scripts.  



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