Should you watch anime with subs vs. dubs?
If you want to ignite debate in a room full of otaku, just ask them if anime is better with subs vs. dubs.
For those new to the party, we’re talking about whether Japanese anime is superior with its original audio and accompanying subtitles, or if it’s better with a brand new cast of English voice actors. Many anime fans have… how do we say, deeply rooted opinions on the matter, but newcomers to the anime scene might be a bit confused. After all, unless you plan on watching a show twice, you’re going to want the best possible experience, right?
Truthfully, there is no 100% right answer to the subs vs. dubs question, but there are a lot of things to consider when picking which option is right for you. We’ll break down the pros and cons of each option below.
Why the original Japanese audio with subtitles might be superior.
For most anime viewers, watching with subs is as close to the original experience as possible without outright learning the language. Even if you can’t understand the spoken words, you can still appreciate the emotion in the characters’ voices while following along with the story. Subtitles don’t have to necessarily sound like spoken English as well, which lends more credence to subs being the “purest” way to watch.
Moreover, the quality of English dubbed anime can be pretty spotty, particularly if you’re watching a show from the mid 2000s era and earlier. Even major franchises like Sailor Moon had some questionable casting in the 90s. Sure, nostalgia definitely saves these classics, but newcomers might be turned off. With subs, even if the original Japanese cast isn’t great, bad acting isn’t as noticeable when it’s not your native tongue.
Perhaps most importantly, for the majority of fans, subtitles are the only option for watching anime. Thanks to streaming sites like Crunchyroll, western Anime fans can watch their favorite shows with subtitles within 24 hours of the original air date in Japan. Conversely, dubs take a long time to come out. Holding out for the English dub means you’re waiting months after the season has finished its original run, and that’s assuming you’re watching a show popular enough to even get an English dub! So yes, sometimes subs aren’t a matter of being preferred, they’re just the only reliable option.
Why English dubbed anime might be superior.
This should be obvious, but the main advantage of an English dub is not having to read subtitles while you watch. This means you can focus your eyes on appreciating the quality of the animation, or maybe catching minor details and Easter eggs in the background that you otherwise might have missed. Subtitles don’t prevent you from doing these things, but an English dub does help.
And while the history of subpar English dubs is undeniable, it’s not universally true either. In fact, for at least the past decade, the quality of dubbed anime has been generally serviceable. There are exceptions, of course, but these days you run only a mild chance of cringing your way through an entire English performance. The most well-regarded English anime dub, despite coming from an era of generally “bad” dubs, is indisputably the revered Cowboy Bebop. Not only does the English cast better emphasis the very Western-influence universe of the show, but it’s often rumored that the show’s creator actually prefers the English dub over the original casting. Even if this isn’t true, it’s hard to imagine Spike Spiegel without Steve Blum’s iconic performance.
In a really good English dub, there’s a bevy of other potential benefits as well. For example, the English script can be punched up to sound more natural, and comedic timing can be fine tuned to western sensibilities. Sure, sometimes you get localization quirks like riceballs becoming “jelly filled donuts” in Pokémon, but other times you get translations that aim to give English-speaking audiences an equivalent experience to the original Japanese audience. For example, if the original script makes a cultural reference that would be common knowledge in Japan but obscure worldwide, a localization might replace the reference with an anecdote that western audiences would similarly understand.
The Final Verdict
Despite the various pros and cons of each option, there really is no definitive answer to the subs vs. dubs debate. Even without accounting for taste, the quality of dubs varies so drastically between each anime that it’s impossible to lump them all together. Heck, in select cases, some shows have noticeably bad casting in Japanese that actually gets improved in the English dub!
In the end, if you’re still undecided on subs vs. dubs, we recommending doing research on a case-by-case basis. Subs are safer in terms of quality, but you run the risk of missing some iconic English performances as well. But remember, no matter what your preferences are, there’s no genuinely wrong way to watch anime as long as you enjoy it. Besides, whether it’s in English or in Japanese, you can rest assured that Light Yagami will still dramatically take a potato chip and eat it regardless of the language barrier.