Why Are Subs Better than Dubs?

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Why Are Subs Better than Dubs?

Postby jewish_scientist » Sun Aug 13, 2017 7:11 am UTC

This seems to the general impression I get from the anime community. I have thought about it and cannot figure out why. As long as there is no censoring done, what is the difference?

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Re: Why Are Subs Better than Dubs?

Postby flicky1991 » Sun Aug 13, 2017 7:34 am UTC

I think people dislike dubs because they're often lower quality. People say they want to hear the emotion and tone the original actors gave the lines, although personally I find that hard to do in a language I don't speak. (I always watch dubs if they're available unless they're ridiculously bad.)

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Re: Why Are Subs Better than Dubs?

Postby Flumble » Sun Aug 13, 2017 11:25 am UTC

For me it's mostly habitual: I started watching subbed anime, so any cartoon in "anime style" and with japanese customs, architecture and voices feels harmonious, while everything else feels jarring. Especially the female squeaky voices (which are still as annoying as vocal fry in Western media) sound out-of-place to me in any familiar language. Except French, perhaps.
I can stomach it for a couple of 'abridged' series because of all the extra humour, but that doesn't really count as dubbing methinks.

On top of that, English isn't my native language, so my choices are "foreign voices I can't understand with foreign subtitles* I can understand" or "foreign voices I can understand". I rather hear the original expressiveness and doubly translate the text, than hear the translated expressiveness and still doubly translate the text (even though it allows me to look around the scene more —then again, anime often doesn't have that much to look at).

Outside of anime, in live-action there's the issue of lips not syncing up. And for dubs to dutch there's the issue of horrible voice acting; notably Spongebob pulled it off, but more often than not it's merely a necessity for people who can't keep up with subtitles and aren't fluent enough in english.

*I refuse to believe there are good dutch subtitles for anime out there

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Re: Why Are Subs Better than Dubs?

Postby Soupspoon » Sun Aug 13, 2017 11:55 am UTC

Personally, I find subs too distracting. Even English subs on English dialogue (on by default, for the benefit of the hearing impaired, or turned on by me to get an insight into mumbled speech or when the audio is intermittently drowned out by ambient (non-show) noise that I can't control.

I think it's because my eyes are drawn to the text and away from the action. Might be similar to the test for faked blindness (of the kind approaching blindsight, where you'd expect the pupils to still dilate, etc) where the examining doctor checks the eyes whilst wearing a post-it stuck to their forehead, upon which is written a grossly insulting accusation that they are lying. The faker cannot help glancing at the post-it and reading it, even if they suppress their non-ocular response to pretend they still did not see it.

A good dub1 should work Ok enough, though liberties can be taken, for good or ill. The show Monkey/Monkey Magic, redubbed from the Japanese original 'Journey To The West', obviously was rejigged, but that's how we know the show. I recall watching Star Trek TNG on German TV, and not understanding it at all (familiar though I was with the OE episodes), but the worst part was Riker's germanic voice-double, who seemed to be straight from off the stage in Cabaret, and I don't know how it worked for the intended local audience but the discrepancy was disturbing. (Not even two sides of the same coin, those two examples, probably the same side of the same coin, but just from a different viewpoint...)

An interesting example is a UK kids' show2 called "Offcially Amazing", spiritual successor to Record Breakers and all the other Guiness World Records-affiliated shows. When dubbing the 'resident' Japanese star, they give him a (mock) North English accent, and they've used the likes of mock Zummerzet/etc when dubbing over other non-Anglophone interviewees either primarily filmed for the show or on obvious insert-clips from Italian/Chinese/etc versions of the Record Breaking show format. That's for kids, though, and subtitles might be deemed less suitable (outside of the visual asides and comic add-on visual effects) given the target audience. Which isn't someone of my age.

For anime... I still think I prefer pretending it's English all the way. Reading is distracting, and yet even when there is reading the closing credits song is often styled to be in English. Dubbed (and subtitles to Englishly-echo any important Kanji signage or other writing that hoves into shot) works best for me, and I have the advantage of a huge Anglophonic market pressing for the version to be done well, unlike if I were having to source an obscure mid-European language version in order to satisfy my mother-tongue (and, therefore, ear).

That's, again, assuming they don't do the Science Ninja Team Gatchaman/Battle Of The Planets thing of basically rewriting the whole thing, and reordering/adding to, as a sop to 'Western' sensibilitiew. (7-Zark-7 added in to explain how all those planes and tanks being blown up by the Big Bad Mecha are robot planes and tanks... No humans were harmed during the making of this cartoon!)

1 Within the limits of the respective languages. I think there's the anecdote of Mel Brooks being personaly appealed to by prospective Italian dubbing guy to shoot a certain sequence in a long shot/over-the-shoulder, because there were multiple mentions of (IIRC) a pickle, in the English version, that would have been awkward to try to lip-synch with the Italian dub with the word (if 'pickle', then 'salamoia', it seems, which is bad enough, but makes me think it was actually a different pair with even more syllabic disparity) and maintain the scene, in head-on close-up.

2 It may even have US and Japanese recuttings (the British host, and separate resident ad-hoc record-breaker has for most of the show's run been joined by a US pair (host plus ad-hoc record-breaker) and a Japanese one (ditto). While branding those as visiting co-stars, with a bit of clever editing/retakes of intros and links, I'm sure they could produce a US-'homed' show with the British pair as guests, and ditto for Japan. If they don't, they've missed a trick.

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Re: Why Are Subs Better than Dubs?

Postby KnightExemplar » Sun Aug 13, 2017 1:29 pm UTC

jewish_scientist wrote:This seems to the general impression I get from the anime community. I have thought about it and cannot figure out why. As long as there is no censoring done, what is the difference?

Historically, there were some very popular anime with very bad dubs. Yu-Gi-Oh and One Piece was notorious for bad censorship and outright changing of the story for example.

But even in the 90s, there were good dubs. You just had to know which anime had dubs. For example, I'd argue that Cowboy Bebop has a better Dub than the sub, and most of the anime community seems to agree with me that the English Dub has superior actors. I've even seen claims that the Log Horizon English dub actually is slightly truer to the source material than the Log Horizon Japanese Sub. (Not that I've seen both, but... yeah). "Ghost Stories" wasn't my cup of tea, but anyone who actually likes the show wants to watch the English Dub and not the Japanese subtitles.

I also enjoyed "The Slayers" dub, which remained very true to the original (as well as handling some difficult to translate puns very well). Not every joke could translate "directly" into English, but the approach of the dubbing team was excellent.

Beyond that, it helps to recognize that "anime voice" is commonly cheesy over-acting, which often sounds "more mature" when you don't understand it. When the cheesy over-acting is translated over into English or a tongue you understand... it sounds... well... cheesy. Having a layer of translation cover it up makes the cheesyness go away somewhat. (Side note: I enjoyed the Death Note dub and have watched both English and Japanese. Light Yagami over-acts in both languages)


With that said, it helps to remember the historical context of "bad dubs", often with the concept of "censorship". For example, the "One Piece" story has one character die... but the English dub "translated" the event over to "She got injured and could never do swordplay again". Apparently, the concept of death was too mature for the English audience so the 4kids dub changes the story. Ugggghhhhh....

The erasure of guns from Yu Gi Oh makes some scenes look completely ridiculous. The famous "Jump out a Window" scene makes sense in Japanese, when two goons jump into Seto Kaiba's room wielding guns. Seto Kaiba in Japanese says "You'll never take me alive" and jumps out the window.

In English... well... they erased the guns. Well, compared to the original subtitles anyway. For much of the subtitle community, the removal of guns in YuGiOh sorta made a lot of the action sequences make no fucking sense, and a lot of the dangerous parts of the show became more abstract.
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Re: Why Are Subs Better than Dubs?

Postby commodorejohn » Sun Aug 13, 2017 3:15 pm UTC

There are good dubs (Cowboy Bebop being the canonical example, but Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water is also really good, Slayers is fun in that same cartoony way as the Pokemon dub, and Lost Universe is much funnier in English.) They're just vastly outweighed by the mediocre (Lucky Star, Azumanga Daioh, K-On! - all operating on the theory that the only thing you need for a high-school-girls-slice-of-life anime is actresses who can deliver in a really high but not squeaky voice, all other concerns secondary) or bad dubs.
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Re: Why Are Subs Better than Dubs?

Postby Mutex » Sun Aug 13, 2017 3:47 pm UTC

Personally I've always preferred dubs with Anime (and subs with everything else), for the following reasons:
1. It means I can actually look at the often beautiful artwork, rather than staring at the subs the whole time
2. It reduces cognitive load - I find it harder to follow what's happening with subs, this was a problem with the Ghost in the Shell TV series as it's already pretty complex and difficult to follow

I'm not a huge Anime fan though admittedly, so I don't think I've come across a noticeably bad dub yet.

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Re: Why Are Subs Better than Dubs?

Postby rmsgrey » Sun Aug 13, 2017 4:20 pm UTC

It's a lot easier/cheaper to make a decent sub than a decent dub - there are challenges with subtitles that don't exist with dubbing (generally you need to abbreviate dialogue in order to get through the subtitles in the same time the original speech took) but getting a good dub requires not only a good translator, but also good voice actors.

On the other hand, a subtitle does require your visual focus to be away from whatever else is happening on screen while you read the text, while a dubbed version lets you listen to the dialogue while also watching the action. Sometimes this is more significant than others - a lot of anime has a fairly low level of visual detail so it's fairly safe to use subtitles - but the effect is always there unless you're looking at a blank screen with a voiceover...

Anyway, the best dubs are better than the best subs, but mediocre subs are better than mediocre dubs.

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Re: Why Are Subs Better than Dubs?

Postby ConMan » Mon Aug 14, 2017 12:04 am UTC

I think most of the main points have been hit already, but my thoughts:

1. It's possible for a bad dub to ruin an otherwise good show, but it's extremely unlikely for a good dub to rescue a bad show (Ghost Stories and Samurai Pizza Cats both did it basically by turning the show into a parody of itself).

2. Going back even further than the One Piece and Yugioh examples, back in the 80s and 90s the shows would be completely rewritten to fit the Western TV production ideals. For example, three unrelated sci-fi series were edited to become a single continuity for Robotech because the individual shows were too short to sell for syndication, or something.

3. It's more likely that cultural references will be retained in the sub, but removed in the dub. For some shows, those cultural references are quite important to understanding why certain things happen the way they do. (I'm not surprised it took several years for Yokai Watch to be brought over, for example, because almost the entire premise of the show is rooted in Japanese folklore.)

4. It's hard enough to translate Japanese into English and still capture everything that's meant to be conveyed. But to do so in a way that vaguely resembles the mouth movements of the original Japanese is downright ridiculous - it's possible for a single word in Japanese to convey a whole sentence worth of information in English, and vice versa, but in dubs moreso than subs it's expected that sentences will take about the same time to say in either language so something's got to give.

ETA: Also, of course, it provides the anime nerds something to feel superior about in between arguments about who is best girl. Now if you'll excuse me, my waifu show is on.
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Re: Why Are Subs Better than Dubs?

Postby Grop » Mon Aug 14, 2017 6:24 pm UTC

Just like Flumble, English is a foreign language to me. No matter how good, I am not interested in watching dubs in a foreign language.

As for French dubs, some people claim that such and such series have very good dubs, and that we should watch them at least because the voice actors made such a good job, they sort of deserve their work to be watched. But I am not interested enough (and they are talking about old series that I have seen already). (And of course these guys would also discuss the French dubbing of American movies).

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