There are so many, MANY things that people argue about over the internet. Who’s the hottest anime chick, which adaptation was better, what character would be able to beat another character… But there is one subject, above all, that almost never fails to inspire flamer after troll after argument; the issue of subs vs dubs.
Let’s lay it out very simply: there are two BIG groups in this debate. There is one that prefers “the authentic audio experience”, i.e. Japanese voice actors with subtitled translations of the Japanese into English or whatever language you happen to be most fluent in/have the subtitles set on. Then there is the other group, which prefers to have anime dubbed over (recording a new set of audio apart from the language of origin) for convenience to its viewers.
As with any debate, unless it is a VERY lopsided debate, there are pros and cons for each side. Subs are good because you get the original Japanese acting: that is, the people the directors INTENDED to portray these roles. There have also been MANY atrocious dubbing attempts (here’s to you, 4Kids!) that have led anime viewers to instantly hate any and all dubs that come their way. It’s also possible that an English adaptation may remove many elements that help make an anime uniquely Japanese in reference (who wants to toast 4Kids again?)
However, that isn’t to say that subs are perfect either. There are times when you crack open an anime of a manga series you love, take a listen of it, and go “Oh Lord, why did they have to butcher it…” Japanese seiyuu, although talented, ARE NOT PERFECT. Please remember this, sub fans. Also, having subtitles at the bottom of the screen often distracts from what is happening onscreen, and this can get REALLY annoying, especially if you’re in the middle of a very tense moment, but have to squint at the text, missing all the action (lovingly caress you, Bleach…)
Dubs, on the other hand, are usually favored as a matter of convenience. No more squinting at the text while the dialogue moves blindingly fast (those Japanese people speak REALLY fast). Now, all you have to do is listen, and it’s just like watching regular ole American TV! Plus, there are some spectacularly done dubs out there, and not just in English! (Kudos to you, Filipino Harima…)
They do, however, suffer from their fair share of drawbacks as well. For every good dub out there, there WILL be a dub that is quite meh, or even atrocious, as compared with its Japanese counterpart. Plus, when you adapt a series, there’s always a good chance that some inherently funny Japanese jokes and references, often to do with the pun in the kanji of a name, end up lost in translation, making the whole thing feel slightly more awkward than it should be.
My view on the matter? Personally, I feel that there are only three ways a dub can REALLY work when compared to a sub: when the setting of the anime is inherently Western or Westernized (think Baccano or Cowboy Bebop), when the subject matter is such that it isn’t heavily rooted in Japan or Japanese culture (Genshiken worked because the whole mindset behind the otaku culture is not inherently Japanese, considering the spread of Trekkies and the like), or when the selection process is directly influenced by the Japanese directors and producers (FLCL is one such example of this, with the director handpicking the main lead).
That isn’t to say that, if a dub follows this formula it’ll automatically be better than the Japanese. After all, the Black Butler dub is set in a heavily Western environment with barely a trace of Japanese culture present, yet reviews have been lukewarm for the dub at best, whilst the dubs for Lucky Star and Azumanga Daioh have been generally positive, despite them relying mainly on references to Japanese culture. All I mean is that it becomes easier to dub a show, and possibly easier for anime watchers to stomach, since translating jokes and references becomes simpler, and the English dub may provide some references and additions (accents, anyone?) that weren’t present in the subs. Even with all that, however, whether dub or sub, a language track has to have dedicated actors and decent directors to be able to satisfy its audience.
So, yes, I watch Westernized shows in English, and more Japanese-based shows in Japanese, but don’t let that stop you from favoring one media over the other. Just remember to acknowledge the pros and cons of each media before you sally forth and watch!---