Japanese Subtitles vs. English Dubbing

Note: This was intended as a reply to ‘s journal entry about watching anime. It got so huge that I decided to enter it as my entry, instead of clogging up his comment area.

With this subject line, I may have inadvertently opened up a rather lengthy discussion about the subtitles versus English dubbing of Japanese animation. This is the kind of subject that’ll end up causing a large series of opinions and all-out flame wars between fans and Otaku. Though the more mature Otaku tend to sit back with arms stretched behind their head with a small little smile on their face. Getting everyone to agree on this topic is kind of like getting all linux enthusiasts to agree on a distribution. You just can’t.

I agree with you for the most part. I don’t mind English dubs if they’re well-acted, and don’t deviate from the plot. In watching some Anime, I notice that there are almost complete plot changes or rewrites. One of them in question was Shin Seiki Evangelion (Neon Genesis Evangelion), where some of the dialogue failed to accurately or even remotely represent the Japanese script. I’m not talking about single lines, either. This was whole scenes. Having watched Evangelion in Japanese first, through fansubs, I was rather disappointed to see that AD Vision would take such an awesome series and then turn around and ‘punch it up’ to what American audiences might like. A similar thing happened with Disney and Majou no Takkyubin (A witch’s delivery service/Kiki’s Delivery Service), where not only was the dialogue not accurate, but also there were more lines added to scenes where it was silent on the Japanese track. It was obvious that this outstanding film was ‘dumbed down’ for the short-attention spans of our youth (another theory I don’t buy in to). Of course, after the outcry of fans, Disney vowed never to do that again. Watch Mononoke Hime sometime, and you’ll understand what I mean.

However, the dub casts I do like and even sort of call myself a fan of are the folks over at the Ocean Group, who do Ranma. I did stop listening to the English tracks when they replaced Ranma’s male voice with an actual male actor. Sarah Strange was the first male voice and I just got used to her. After that, it’s hard to listen to this new guy and think of Ranma that same way. I’ll be a little heartbroken if Miryam Sorois (Akane) leaves the cast to do Babylon 5 full-time, because I just couldn’t ever think of Akane as being anyone else. Her “honestly”s are just way too cool. The other casts include the group of actors who did Taiho Shichauzo! (You’re Under Arrest) and Aa! Megami-sama! (Oh My Goddess!) for AnimEigo. I fell in love with Natsumi and Miyuki’s English actor right off the bat. Too bad Robert Woodhead fired Natsumi’s voice after Goddess was completed. She played Megumi, Keiichi’s little sister.

On the other end of the spectrum, though, one of the worst dub casts ever? Tenchi Muyo. I just cannot spit and hiss enough about how horrible this group is. Tenchi comes across as a nerd, Ryoko sounds about 80 years old, and Washu just gets more irritating every time I think about it. I just miss Orikasa Ai too much to think of Ryoko as being anything but her. Case in point, during Anime Expo 1996, the entire American cast for Tenchi Muyo, along with the Japanese seiyuu for Ryoko and Aeka were in a panel,and no one wanted to talk to the American cast members at all.

The question to ask now is, are there any horrible Japanese casts? I can’t find a one. Mostly because Japanese voice actors tend to really throw themselves into their work. I think someone wrote a huge analysis about the differences between the two, but I guess as not being a native speaker of the language, it’s difficult to determine whether or not a Japanese actor could be considered “bad.”

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    • saebel on May 29, 2002 at 11:15

    Extremely rare to find.

    I think the out of all the anime I’ve seen, the only dub I actually liked was one I didn’t even realize was a dub – Miyazaki’s Kaze no Tani no Nausicaa. (English release was named Warriors of the Wind, I believe)

    They did cut a scene or two, to ‘ramp up’ the action flow.
    But the voice acting is, in my opinion, well done.
    In fact, when I went back and watched the original version (upon being informed, much to my surprise, that it was based on an actual anime movie), Nausicaa’s voice came across as too high and chirpy since I’d gotten accustomed to the lower and more mature sounding English VA’s voice.

    I’d recommend it.
    Scary, no?

    • wanderingfool on May 29, 2002 at 13:37

    While I generally prefer dubs as being less distracting from the viewing experience (I’m just not that used to reading subtitles), I do dislike arbitrary edits made like those Cochrane described. I would much prefer to listen to a dub if it held true to the original.

    I’d list “Tenchi Muyo” as one of my favored animes right now, though admittedly I have only seen the dubbed versions, since that’s what the Cartoon Network runs on its “Adult Swim” lineup. I haven’t had the chance to see any of the episodes in the original Japanese.

    I get the impression the English cast for “Cowboy Bebop” is often held up as an example of what dubbing should be. It certainly has nearly none of the stilted qualities some of the poorer dubs have.

    Is “Mononoke Hime” an example of good or bad dubbing? In that case as well I’ve only seen the English “Princess Mononoke” version. Gillian Anderson as big cat lady. Whee.

    • jetblack on May 29, 2002 at 16:23

    I watched Nausicaa on fansub. I prefer it in Japanese to the English crap that they released on VHS a few years back. The voices were pretty way off. But this raises another question. Are we affected most by which language we’re presented with at the first screening?

    I will admit, I tend to watch more Japanese than English, but truth be told, I love both casts for Ranma. I watched it in English first, but I’m liking it more and more in Japanese now that I have the DVDs. I saw AMS in Japanese first, but I enjoyed the English dub just as much. I would hate to say I’m biased, but I do tend to tilt toward the Japanese casts. Why?

    I consider Japanese animation, and animation in general, as an artform. Sure, it entertains, but I would oft compare or throw anime into the same category as a painting. Now, the medium of anime only provides a singular language, and then a translation of that language into another. You should watch Saber Marionette J in Spanish some time, like I did. It was really very well done. My complaint doesn’t lie within the fact that there are dubs, but that the dub scripts are often misrepresentative of what the art is trying to say. This is not applicable to a general cross-section of American releases, however, there are enough out there that’ll make my spine turn to glass.

    So you’re right, they are extremely hard to find, but when they are found, I tend to sit up and take notice.

    — ZC

    • jetblack on May 29, 2002 at 16:30

    I would have to disagree with the sentiment about Cowboy Bebop’s North American cast. They suck the big one, when compared to such awesome seiyuu such as Hayashibara Megumi in the role of Faye Valentine. There is just no way that any English voice actor could be considered above Hayashibara, because she’s just amazing. It’s a difficult role to be placed in, on the part of the English actor. And she tried her best, I’m sure, but she failed miserable as coming across as sexy or headstrong as Megumi came across. Several times during Bebop, I had to just close my eyes and finally I just flipped back to the Japanese dialogue. I would say it was like moving from the nice warm hot tub to a cold freezing lake. I stayed in the lake as long as possible, but after a few minutes of having to bear through the crap, I sprinted for the hot tub.

    As for Mononoke Hime, I saw it first in English on the big screen. I prize the Japanese cast above Minnie Driver and Billy Crudup. Gillian Anderson wasn’t in the movie long enough to make a dent in how bad those two were. My ex-wife loved it, though. I figured, hey, if it makes a fan, then more power to them, but as for me, I would much rather listen to Ishida Yuriko over Claire Danes as San any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

    — ZC

  1. […] reading a couple of interesting blog posts on movie subtitling (here on Japanese to English and here on English to Japanese) I thought it would be fun to have a post on […]

  2. […] reading a couple of interesting blog posts on movie subtitling (here on Japanese to English and here on English to Japanese) I thought it would be fun to have a post on […]

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