One of the first articles I wrote for Geekade was a reflection on my then-limited experience with anime, the blossoming new interest, and my first trip to an anime convention. Since mid-2015, I have watched dozens of anime and now write a monthly column about the subject. Over the last few years, however, I have come to understand that a component of anime is controversial – subtitles and overdubs.
Conventionally referred to as “subs” and “dubs,” these nicknames don’t need an explanation, but I’ll give one anyway. The native language in anime is Japanese. Obviously, not every viewer can understand the language, and in the United States, most anime offer the audience an option for subs or dubs. Subs are English translations of the Japanese dialogue subtitled on the screen, and dubs are English-speaking voice actors in place of the original, Japanese voice actors. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I have mine: I love subs and cannot stand dubs (wait, don’t leave me!).
One complaint that I have heard from those who do not like subtitles is that viewers don’t want to read while trying to pay attention to the action on screen. In my experience, reading subtitles has not been a hindrance. I’ll admit, however, that when I began watching anime regularly, it was something that I had to get used to because I have never watched many foreign films or television shows where subtitles were necessary. But the amount of time it takes to read the subtitled dialogue has not caused me to miss any action, nor does it feel like a grueling exercise (and trust me, I avoid exercise at all costs). In fact, listening to characters speak in Japanese instilled an appreciation for the language in me.
I quickly found through watching anime that the Japanese language is beautiful. My girlfriend, Patti, commented that she wanted to take Japanese language classes while we were both still in college, so I completed the first two levels. It is a gorgeous language, albeit a bit difficult to learn, and Japan uses three different systems of written symbols to communicate (you don’t know the meaning of “difficult” until you start learning kanji). Regardless of my limited knowledge and understanding of Japanese, it is wonderful to hear while watching a show. Conversely, it is painful listening to dubbed anime, in my opinion.
The movements of the characters’ mouths do not fit with the English language (go ahead and call me unpatriotic). This may sound like a ridiculous complaint because it’s not as if anime characters’ mouths are finely detailed while a character is speaking, but it has never looked right to me (but the dragons and fireballs? Those look right). Japanese seems to fit the movements better, because of course, the characters are drawn with the native language in mind, not English. Worse than the mouth movements, I cannot stand the absolutely awful voice acting.
I’m sure that plenty of anime voice actors are very nice people, but I cannot understand how they are considered talented or paid real money for that “talent.” In fact, I had a very negative opinion about anime until a few years ago despite my limited exposure only because the voice acting that I experienced when I was younger sounded cringe-worthy. I have not watched an entire series dubbed as an adult, but have watched episodes of different series dubbed, and I have yet to find a show with good English voice actors (Disney-quality voice acting, this is not).
Before anyone reads all of this and gets mad, I’m not the type of person who picks fights over an opinion about a hobby. I’ve found something that makes me happy, and honestly, if you’re reading this and you hate subs and love dubs, I think that’s great! There’s clearly a market for both, otherwise we wouldn’t have both. Still, I’m curious about why people love what they love, so if you feel strongly one way or the other about subs and dubs, let me know why in the comments!