Sub vs. Dub: How Do You Watch Your Anime?
To lovers of all things Japanese, it is the age old question: Is subtitled anime better than its English dubbed counterpart? Or vice versa? In the past, many audiences had little choice but to watch whatever form was available to them, but as the internet improved and streaming services have begun to offer a veritable buffet of media choices, we are essentially able to pick whatever form of media consumption we choose. Each form has its pros and cons, and it is only fair to explore them both.
Subtitles Offer a More Authentic Experience
Subs, or subtitled anime with the original Japanese voice acting, would definitely be the best choice if you are looking for a pure anime experience. Even when the story is set in fantasy or non-Japanese contexts, anime is rife with Japanese social norms, body language, and cultural references. Watching the anime in the original Japanese helps to connect some of these small yet significant nuances, which allows for a well-rounded cultural experience.
Often, when watching the dub (where English or another language is superimposed on the animation instead of the Japanese), it becomes clear that there are just some things that don’t translate well out of Japanese to other languages. For example, the use of honorifics. Anime gets much of its charm from emotional connections between characters, which can be initially gleaned from the honorifics used between them. Terms such as san, chan, and sama all signal different relationships and levels of familiarity, or lack thereof.
Adding to the pure experience, watching subbed anime will also mean that there is less of a chance that the original story has been changed (or censored) to please the new target audience. Often, these changes, whether big or small, can drastically change the meaning of aspects of the story you are trying to immerse yourself in. The most egregious offense that comes to my mind is in the original run of Sailor Moon, where Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus were changed from lovers (original) to cousins (in America), because it was thought that American audiences just couldn’t handle a lesbian relationship. This was also a major factor in America never getting a season 5 dub, since there was no way the censors could reasonably manipulate the story to cover the girl-on-girl relationships, but also the gender fluidity of the Sailor Starlights. Thankfully this was changed in the more recent adaptation of Sailor Moon Crystal, and maybe (just maybe) we might get a full 5 season adaptation.
From a more academic aspect, watching subtitled anime can improve your reading comprehension. Those subtitles are fast, and they won’t wait for you to finish reading them before moving along. To have the full sub experience, you have to be able to keep up, and watching anime offers excellent practice.
If you are trying to learn how to speak Japanese, anime may not make you a fluent speaker, but it will lend a helping hand! Watching anime consistently can help a student learn Japanese by offering examples of proper pronunciation, article placement, slang terms and colloquialisms, and give audio repetition to help cement words into your vocabulary. Even if you are not actively trying to learn, eventually your brain will make connections between words that you both hear and read together often, making the watching experience a bit easier. This is really a win-win situation!
Dubbed Content Can be More Accessible
The biggest plus that dubbed anime offers is that it is accessible. A person doesn’t have to be a fluent Japanese speaker or have an above average reading level to enjoy the story. This aspect opens up the genre to the visually impaired, people to whom English is a second language and who may be slower to read, and children who are still learning. When I was first introduced to anime in the 90s, dubs were mostly what was available to the after-school crowd. Dubs offer a relatively risk-free introduction that can lead to a deeper appreciation of anime as a storytelling medium.
I will also say, there has been a marked improvement in both voice acting and censorship of content over the years. This may be due in part to the accessibility of content through the internet, or it may be that production companies are given more agency over their content in a globalized society .Whatever the case, I’ve watched both versions of My Hero Academia (or Boku no Hero Academia, if that is your preference), and I haven’t seen or heard any major differences that could majorly affect the story. In fact, I may actually like the dub better! This kind of treatment of a popular anime series bodes well for future stories.
One more big, BIG advantage of dubs is that you don’t have to be absolutely glued to the television in order to understand what is happening! I can’t speak for others, but I have a hard time just sitting and watching tv. Maybe it is the guilt of feeling like a couch potato, but I need to be doing something else while I have the television on, which makes it incredibly difficult to watch subtitled anime. It can be annoying and time consuming to have to go back and re-watch parts of the show over and over again because your attention gets diverted. This isn’t much of an issue with dubbed anime.
So what do you think? Which is better: Sub or dub? Let us know in the comments! And no matter how you enjoy your anime, I think that is the right way.