Anime: The Great Dub Debate
Is dubbed anime trash, a great way to watch your favorite show or just a matter of personal preference? And why are we still arguing about it?
Back when I first got into anime the dubs were borderline unwatchable.
Not that this stopped us from watching them.
I still think very fondly of (while inwardly cringing) the awful translations that missed the mark, scenes, and sometimes entire episodes that found their way lost to the cutting room floor, and of course the questionable English versions of the theme songs. Sometimes they’d re-write the songs all together, but I also have very clear memories of the nonsense dubbed over Rayearth opener. Lyrics just don’t always translate well while staying on rhythm.
At the time, dubs weren’t just a preference, but pretty much the only way to watch anime if you wanted the entire story, correct voice inflection, and dialog that matched up even remotely to the character’s mouths. Even while other animation styles were getting quality dub-overs and experienced voice actors, anime wasn’t afforded those same resources for a good couple of years, and in that time I quickly swapped over from somebody who was introduced to the genre with Saturday morning Pokemon and DIC’s English attempt at Sailor Moon (though the other options would have been worse) to someone who went out of their way to watch the original, subtitled versions of new shows. Did it get expensive when this required going down to the local Suncoast and purchasing a new DVD boxset? Of course. But what else were we going to do, only watch what was already translated on TV? Never. Well… sometimes. We did both.
But at some point the unthinkable started to happen, the dubs got okay. And then good. And this is where the fandom starts to get contentious. To dub or not to dub? Are dubs good now? Or is Cowboy Bebop the only exception to the rule now and forever?
It’s just personal preference, of course, and for most of us, it’s a simple matter of convenience. There are many shows I’ve waffled back and forth on, watching the sub if that’s what’s available one week but switching between the two if they’re simulcast or if I’m feeling especially distracted that day. And of course, if I’m working on a cosplay I can’t read subtitles and sew at the same time. So then why does requesting dubbed anime to marathon during crafting weekends earn at least three eye-rolls every time?
Let’s all be honest, dubs now are pretty good. Sometime in the last twenty years anime became a thriving industry that creates real profit outside of Japan, so producing a quality final product for non-Japanese speakers is only good business sense. Translations are by and largely accurate, mature storylines are kept intact, and the experienced voice actors put out quality performances. At the end of the day, I think the debate is a relic, leftover from when fandom was messy, and getting our hands on a watchable product was hard. It doesn’t really have a place in 2020’s version of anime fandom anymore aside from personal preference and knowing ribbing between friends.
But what are your preferences? What animes have really good or painfully bad dubs? Will you only ever chose one over the other, or are you as noncommittal as I am? Let us know in the comments!
Ja ne, Adventurers!