Wednesday, August 18, 2010

FEATURE - Nerd debate! Subs Vs Dubs.

There's a good deal of snobbery among folks who ingest Japanese media - the original voice work or nothing, they cry! Are they full of crap? (Yes.) Let's examine this question.

In a recent tweet, Hideo Kojima said
"For both dubbing and subtitles, the question is if it's 'a dubbing done with love' or 'a subtitling done with love'. So, you can't simply say if one is good or bad."
Like any self-effacing consumer of Japanese entertainment, my standard preference is for subtitles with the original voice work. In Yakuza or Muramasa, for example (even with Muramasa's lackluster translation), it's hugely important to me - it further instills a sense of a very specific place - but this requires properly translated and nurtured subtitles to really jump off the page. If you think it's not important, go watch Inglorious Basterds, then try to tell me that movie would have been just as good if Colonel Landa had spoken English through the whole thing. While I have this "standard preference," I'm certainly not prudish about it - in certain cases I'll gladly take the localized version.

Of course, a bad localization - a cheap localization can absolutely destroy the viewer/player's experience (here is where I don't make you suffer through a clip of some torturously bad English voice work for a Japanese game - you're welcome). Perhaps that's part of the reason why I love Atlus so - their localizations are just phenomenal, with loving translation of emotion, intention, humor and character - and voice actors who really go above and beyond to bring their characters to life.

There are some strange exceptions to my localization rule. If you've seen Hellsing Ultimate, I suggest watching it with the English dubs - it just does a better job of transporting you to modern day England when Seras and Integra speak with English accents. Likewise, Cowboy Bebop fares perfectly well with its English Cast - being set in space, what does it matter which language they speak?

Of course, that doesn't explain why I'm quite comfortable watching Samurai Champloo with subs or dubs - perhaps it's simply that, like Ghost in the Shell or anything from Studio Ghibli, these are localizations done just as Kojima-san prescribes: with love.

I think the next title on my Anime To Buy list is Azumanga Daioh - and while curiosity will drive me to check out the English voice work, I can pretty much promise you I'm going to stick with the original cast - if for no other reason than I can't imagine the "hyeeh!" sound Osaka makes in this scene would be as good when hyeeh'd by anyone else:

But that clip raises a good point - notice the notations at the top of the screen explaining why she's so proud of splitting her chopsticks correctly?

You won't get that in an official subtitle. In fact, you lose a ton of the original flavor (unless it's done by Atlus). Why is it fansubs are (often - not always) so damn superior to what we get on a DVD release?

I think it's - as Kojima said - a result of the affection the translators have for the material. A bilingual kid online will bust their ass to get it perfect - the best translation ever, so their translation becomes the one people want to use. After all, if you're wrong on the internet you have 0.0087 seconds before some troll points it out.

So, subs vs. dubs? The answer is: the good version - whichever version that may be.


  1. I like watching drama animes with subtitles but I can't stand watching Naruto if it's not in English.

  2. A lot of it may be how you watched it the first time. Also, subtitles can really get in the way of action sequences.

  3. I couldn't agree more. The subs and dubs for Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann are pretty bad (no matter what people say about the dub, it's not very good, though I've heard worse), but the fansubs were spectacular. It's all about the care the translators, and actors if it's a dub, put into it. Hayao Miyazaki has always said people should be able to watch something in th language of their choice, but if the voice actors aren't doing a good job of it, then no one will want to listen to it, thus defeating the purpose of hiring the actors in the first place. Maybe it's just the state of animation in the West, especially the US: it's not taken seriously by the majority, so the voice actors are often mediocre actors who couldn't get into Hollywood. Of course this is different with the Disney dubbed Studio Ghibli (really Miyazaki) films, but that's because John Lasseter is putting love into the localization. I feel compelled to quote a certain Malcaolm Reynolds right now: "Love. You can know all the math in the 'Verse, but you take a boat in the air that you don't love, she'll shake you off just as sure as a turn in the worlds. Love keeps her in the air when she oughta fall down, tells ya she's hurtin' 'fore she keens. Makes her a home."

  4. I can't believe I just misspelled "Malcolm". *facepalm*

  5. Don't feel too bad - I still get a little nervous when I type "because." That word was the bane of my existence in second grade.

  6. That's becuase it's a relatively long word for a second grader.