In defence of the English Dub

The quality of the storyline in anime seems to vary considerably with some shows having a real depth to them, while others appear as if they have been thrown together overnight. Either way, the quality of any show can only be portrayed through the actors and in the case of anime, voice actors.

In Japan there are around 130 voice acting schools with over 60% of global animation output originating from the country making the talent a very big business. A trawl through any internet forum will almost always confirm the greatness Japanese voice actors and thus, a general preference to watching shows with English subtitles rather than dubbed with English voice actors.

Personally, even before I started watching anime, I have found watching foreign language films and shows difficult, primarily because of having to read and watch at the same time. A basic difficulty that I have been told becomes easier with practice. It would seem watching anime in ‘sub’ is the done thing, particularly with Japanese shows.

I’m not however ashamed to say that I have watched most shows in the English dub. At first it wasn’t because I didn’t enjoy it, I just didn’t find a reason to stop watching the English versions that I had started with in the first place. After watching a couple of anime (Guilty Crown and Mirai Nikki come to mind), I watched a couple of OVA/specials in subbed that hadn’t been given the funding for a dubbed version. I can’t say I was disappointed with these versions or that I thought the voice acting was disappointing, more that because of my lack of understanding of the Japanese language, I just didn’t appreciate the skill the actors had compared to their American counterparts. Thinking about it now I think it was probably down to the fact that I couldn’t pick up slight vocal ticks and emphasis on particular words that gives emotion to what’s being said in a language I don’t understand and through reading words on a screen.

Akise FDRedial
Akise is clearly emotional here, but in Mirai Nikki: Redial I could listen to any upset Japanese actor and it wouldn’t make a difference with these subtitles

More recently, I watched the second season in the Little Busters! series, Little Busters! Refrain with subtitles. On this occasion I enjoyed the sub a lot more, but I’m not sure if that was because I was already invested in the story and as a result didn’t mind so much about the way in which the story was conveyed so long as I knew what the story was. Regardless of the reasoning here, I can’t say this swayed me to start watching anything else in sub.

Watching Little Busters in sub didn’t persuade me to do the same with other shows

Of course, I appreciate there are some really good reasons as to why you might want to avoid English dubbed anime series. Some of the translations of Japanese phrases are questionable at best – even I, as a fun of dubbed shows question the origin of the word ‘troglodyte’ in A Certain Scientific Railgun (which I reviewed in my last post). One other problem you might have is the small amount of exceptional American voice actors: this links back to the idea that the Japanese voice acting community is far superior than any other.

Seeing as this is a defence of dub though, I should probably point out my counter arguments. There’s no denying that in some places the translation of the Japanese language is a bit odd, but really, how can anyone possibly suggest that because words are written down in English and not spoken in English the translation will be better. Furthermore, I can’t say I’ve watched every worthwhile anime series that’s been dubbed, but there’s a good amount that has been dubbed to a very high standard. As for the point about the lack of class American voice actors I would say that although there are less actors in the industry, there talent is not therefore automatically diminished or lesser somehow. In fact there are some very good English speaking voice actors out there who convey characters just as well as any emotionless subtitles could.
It’s not that I hate subbed anime. In fact I’m sure when I’ve watched more and more I will end watching newer stuff that comes out in the Japanese sub – however, I will always go back and watch the dub if it is released. In one sentence, why? Simply, I feel the emotion from the English, and though I don’t for a second doubt the talent of Japanese voice actors, I just don’t get that in the subbed versions.

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