Quasi-qualitative analysis on subs vs dubs

In life, there is no true ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ There is only situational ethics, which denotes what you need to do in a specific time and place. What can be considered wrong normally may be considered the right thing to do in another instance. For example, consider an unconscious girl being ‘kissed’ by a man. Normally, that would be wrong – the girl is unconscious, and doing so would be rude and contemptuous. However, what if that girl was just saved by that guy, a lifeguard, from drowning? The guy would have to perform those lifeguard techniques, which I don’t know what those are called, and this involves ‘kissing’ the girl to be able for the lifeguard to transfer the air that the girl desperately needs. Is this wrong? Most of us would think that it’s the right (if not the only) thing to do. There are only few things in life where one can totally say that that thing or object or idea is totally bad or totally good. Most of life lies in the gray part.

Slavery, or bondage, is among these few things, according to The Causes of War, that can be called as totally evil. It seems that this is how serious anime viewers look at dubbed anime for the most part. Whereas the light-minded, passing watchers like how the dub is enough, the otaku or the real viewer of anime is always impassioned against the watching of subs. As this have been extensively discussed in the past by different anime bloggers (myself included), I simply wouldn’t want to explicate more on the idea; this is the argument that I’m talking about and you all know so much of: dubs vs subs.

Something also says to me that no one really likes dubbed anime – dubbed Western stuff, for that matter. I think that children and lazy people are the ones only eager to watch Naruto dubbed just because they could enjoy it more. (Subs need more energy when watching, because you have to coordinate your eyes – part of it reading the subs, and part of it viewing the animation or the movement of the characters; in dubs, however, the eyes can concentrate on the animation or the movement, whereas the ears can catch up on the conversations among the characters or perhaps a soliloquy.)

Other than caustic comments on dubs in forums, I have practically no proof that subs are more popular in the anime community other than an isolated example: I mentioned this in a post on my WP domain, but I downloaded the dubbed first episode of Hikaru no Go within a week after it was ripped from Toonami Jetstream, a Cartoon Network subsidiary providing limited but free streaming anime. These anime are MAR, Hikaru no Go, and Prince of Tennis, if I remember correctly. Within a single week, there were already only very few seeds, and it took me five times the time that the episode should have downloaded in. Granted, Hikaru no Go is quite an old anime. To compare (at least to make this example more or less scientific [I hate that term, but meh.]), I downloaded (after a week as well) an episode of an old series (Hiatari Ryoukou), which I thought to be more or less comparable with the dubbed Hikaru no Go episode. It took me more time downloading HnG at half the size of the HR episode, so this told me one of three things:

a) Either there are more people interested in Hiatari Ryoukou than Hikaru no Go, which I highly doubt and doubted, considering the age and the lack of popularity of that series;

b) There are just more people liking subs than they do dubs; or,

c) A lot more people have already watched Hikaru no Go than they did Hiatari Ryoukou.

Considering their relative ages I assumed that there were roughly the same amount of Japanese who watched HnG and Hiatari Ryoukou simply because Adachi was popular at the time of HR’s release and his anime series was popular. If one factors it with the time past, through the years, the number who have watched Hiatari Ryoukou from re-broadcasts, etc. would be roughly equal to the popularity of Hikaru no Go‘s existence of only five years. I have no proof, but this is an excuse to make my post more scientific, ROFL, or at least explain why I put the brunt of this isolated example to be because of the fact that more people like subs than dubs. With this, I assume that the number of those who have watched HnG and those who have watched HR are more or less similar.

Next, Hikaru no Go caused a boom of interest in Go in Japan, whereas I never heard much of the aftereffects of Hiatari Ryoukou, so I’m assuming that it was more popular than HR. Addressing these two possibilities, I came up with having people like subs more than they do dubs. (I do know that most of non-Japanese anime-dom love subs more than they do dubs, but it’s better if one can at least more or less qualify this preference.)

At least, if I’m mistaken, kindly correct me with my assumption that people like subs more than they do dubs, at least for the majority of them in the anime-dom, anyway.

33 Responses to “Quasi-qualitative analysis on subs vs dubs”

  1. daniel Says:

    Well..of course you are right. In some coutries even TV films are going just with subs but with the original sound stream. This last is disputable
    but on anime not – i personally heard few dubbed anime and it was totally uncool and not because i like japanese language so much(instead english italian and russia, my original lang, sounds me quite better)
    but it is almost impossible to give in dubbs to keep the atmosfere that is created by original sound.

    By the way – will you transfer your older blogs here ?
    it will be very niice of you )

  2. Pip Says:

    Using two unrelated torrents for a judgement on the popularity of subs versus dubs is dubious at best and really, if effective, would only judge within the heavily involved internet anime community. I think it would be best to discuss the issue in light of otakus and perhaps as society as a whole.

    Also, I don’t believe dubs to be evil at all; they make anime more accessible to a public who might otherwise be unwilling. Even if we (the otaku) can’t stomach them for whatever reasons, should we not be happy that more people are viewing what we are passionate about?

  3. A-kun Says:

    “Slavery, or bondage, is among these few things, according to The Causes of War, that can be called as totally evil. It seems that this is how serious anime viewers look at dubbed anime for the most part.”

    Umm, worst comparison ever. Even the craziest, most obsessed otaku would enver compare the dubbing of anime to slavery. The watching of dubs is voluntary. While those who watch a good amount of anime might prefer subs, they generally will watch a dub if the need arises (a friend doesn’t want to watch the subs, watching with a young child). Yes, subs are more popular among the majority of people who watch a lot of anime, but that doesn’t mean it’s anywhere near as evil as slavery.

    Also, calling someone an otaku is not something to take lightly. It can easily cause offense, as the American definition of the term is so different from the Japanese version. I only ever apply it to close friends who know I’m joking and understand that I realize they leave the house.

  4. Michael Says:

    I do know it’s dubious as best – that’s why there’s the existence of the prefix quasi-, words like ‘isolated example.’ Yes, we should be happy, though I hope that they’d develop the taste for subs. It seems, however, that my word choice wasn’t really well done for this post. Haha. 😉

    Pip told me that he LOLd at the slavery-dub comparison, but that was how I viewed them and thought how some others viewed dubs as well: blatantly evil. Now I know that most of you probably wouldn’t agree with me, but that’s how I view it, especially at the ear-crunching dubs in Tagalog you have to hear to believe.

    I’m lucky I’m neither American nor Japanese. Otaku here isn’t a taboo term, which I’m really thankful of. If anyone’s insulted, I ask pardon. I never meant to insult anyone, if anyone’s offended. 🙂

  5. Waterfall Says:

    I suggest an alternative~ learn Japanese and download raws. That will totally shorcut any sub-vs-dub opinions.

    You’re preaching to the converted but you have to see the argument through the other side’s views sometimes. I dislike redubbed anime but I really don’t care about it. If someone likes it, so be it.

    I know you wanted to get this train of thought written down. You understand that this is your own biased viewpoint.

    If there’s anything I learnt in this life-time is that a little empathy and tolerance would make the online world a little better. There will always be jerks but I try not to make more enemies than I have to.

    In this end, anime is just entertainment. Enjoy it but realise that there are more important things in life like career, family, friends and making the world a little better for the next generation.

    But I’m rambling…..
    In summary: learn Japanese, download raws! then sub-vs-dub become irrelevant.

    Helpful link: http://www.excite.co.jp/world/english/

  6. meganeshounen Says:

    Okay, hypocrisy aside, I’m not really a fan of dubs, but I’m not much of a hater either. If some dubs are good enough, then great. Still, just like what I heard over the channel, some people are already used to subs, and would rather watch most of their shows that way. So it might cause a paradigm shift of sorts when one would try to fully appreciate dubs.

    Bottom line: It all depends on your choice of reading quickly and hearing the original VAs, or listening hard enough and checking out the different VAs. It’s really all a matter of personal opinion. Hey, dubs wouldn’t matter if you’re deaf, right?

  7. cebukitty Says:

    to my mind, subs are waaay better than dubs. why? coz in japan, they actually do a cast screening of their seiyuus to ensure that the voice matches the anime character. in dubs, they’re not that picky. granted, some dubbers do try their best to match the voice of the original seiyuus, but it just cannot hope to compare to the original.

    i understand in japan, seiyuus actually go to a voice acting school in order to perfect their craft. and the dedication seiyuus have for their profession definitely shows in animes. i can’t understand nihonggo that well, but hell i download raws just for the pure pleasure of listening to animes in the original language.

    the voices of the seiyuus are just so expressive. even if i can’t understand a word they’re saying, and even if i don’t see the action on screen, i can easily decode the emotion they’re trying to convey. well, that’s my two cents on the topic newayz ^ ^

  8. omo Says:


    Although there’s a real dubbing industry in Japan, one that is way bigger $-wise, it also means that people in Japan likes dubs more than subs. Unfortunately, localized dubs are often poorly directed too. It’s not quite fair to say that seiyuus get paid more (I don’t think they do by any significant amount), but the fact you’re localizing something makes it hard to produce a good dub.

    IMO anime is meant to be watched dubbed. Because if it isn’t it would come with Japanese subs. Subtitles may be distracting for some, but to me it gets in the way of my eyes and the anime behind it. It’s just that a good dub is infinitely harder to produce than a good sub, so we take the cheap way out. It’s totally a workaround.

    As far as popularity of dubbed anime as a localization, in the US this was well-established as a fact using pre-DVD era sales figure. I think on average it sold to about a ratio of 1:9 or something crazy, for every subbed copy:dubbed copy.

  9. wintermoon Says:

    When I first started watching anime, I saw the dubbed versions: Ranma 1/2, which you might recall used to air on RPN 9, followed by Aa Megami-sama and El Hazard, both of which were also dubbed. I remember enjoying those rather immensely.

    I got into subs because when my friends and I started watching other series like Evangelion and Escaflowne, we saw the subbed versions, and since then most of the anime I’ve been watching are subbed. I’ve come to appreciate the original Japanese dub because of this. You can really tell that voice acting in Japan is a craft; most seiyuu immerse themselves into a character, much like actors on film. The North American/other nonJapanese dubbers do their best (having heard the original dub of the abovementioned anime I can say the North America dubbers did a good job), but I still feel that they don’t quite come very close to conveying the subtleties and nuances of their characters (especially the quieter, unassuming characters and children) and dialogue. There is a tendency to be heavy-handed (hammy, even) in the delivery, but perhaps this is a cultural (Western) thing. Dialogue sometimes has to be altered a bit in order to flow better with the timing, and with a really bad dub, you get some serious WTF moments especially when you’ve seen the original: I cite Samurai X (aka Rurouni Kenshin) as an example.

    So I find myself really disliking dubs, but it’s a matter of preference at this point. Dubs just make anime more accessible to a younger market unaware of anime—it’s a logical way to go. I don’t have to like it, but I do understand it. All I can hope for is that dubbers don’t put unnecessary dialogue into their characters’ mouths.

  10. Lupus Says:

    To keep my post as short as possible, you have enough comments to go through:

    If I had to say that one is definitively better than another, I’ll have to pick dubs, for no other reason than that dialogues are meant to be heard, not read. Also (as you’ve mentioned in your article), when you’re reading subs you won’t be paying as much attention to the actual animation and might miss little things, particularly if the sub covers up part of the screen, which I always find annoying (notes too… notes should be placed at the beginning or end of an episode, so they can be optionally viewed and do not get in the way).

    The problem for most is that dubs are simply worse in quality. American voice actors, though there are many out-standing ones (Cowboy Bebop and Evangelion have great voice acting, and so does a lot of games), for some reason can’t seem to do anime voices properly. The problem is sometimes they try to imitate Japanese voice actors, and that causes a whole heaps of problems.

    (and that’s meant to be short… -_-)

  11. Truth-kun Says:

    Heads up! Honey and Clover Season 1 is set to be dubbed in English for Animax-Asia. I’m pretty pissed about it, because Animax-Asia uses a limited voice actors in all of their series and half of them can’t even do it properly. I imagine recognizing Takemoto’s narration voice to a well known protagonist voice in another Animax-Asia series. That would really annoy the hell out of me.

  12. wintermoon Says:

    Argh. It was a waste of time to even hope they’d just go with subs. 🙁 As long as they don’t use the Initial D team… *clutches head* That’s also what bothers me about the Animax dubs: they use the same people. I can already imagine the guy who played the protagonist in Midori no Hibi as Morita, or even Mayama. Nooo.
    This is the one anime that I really hoped would at least have good quality dubbing. They had better do a good job, especially on the monologues!

  13. Sorrow-kun Says:

    This debate is always one that gets rather passionate and one I generally avoid since extremists from both sides have an unfortunately overly black-and-white view on the matter. Let’s not say there’s no need for dubs – it almost goes without saying that dubs are necessary for introducing anime to a wider audience in the West. But what I will say is that, even though in the vast majority subs are better than dubs (for many different reasons and circumstances, the majority of which originate from the very nature of anime in and outside of Japan), in general dubs are getting better and better recently, and many of the more recent dubs can range from tolerable to very impressive. Cowboy Bebop’s probably the oldest example of a dub that was as just as enjoyable as the sub, but recently we’ve seen some (IMO) great dubs in GITS:SAC, Samurai Champloo, FMP, My HiME (people probably don’t agree with me on that) and several others… particularly dubs where Geneon is involved.

    Overall it’s something that differs from anime to anime and is very dependant on cast, directing and the companies involved, but I still think fans of dubs have a lot to look forward to, based on the way the quality and consistency of dubs have been improving in the last few years.

  14. DrmChsr0 Says:

    While generally I prefer subs to dubs meself, if the need arises, I will watch a dub.

    Unless they show dual audio. Now we’re talking.

  15. trapp1 Says:


  16. BrothersElric Says:

    I personally don’t prefer one over the other, but scince everyone seems to prefer subs, I will make my case for dubs right now.

    first of all, I am a downloader of fansubed anime, even ones like Naruto and Bleach that have allready been licenced solely for the purpose of the fact that the dubed versions will probably take at least 2-3 years to catch up with the series in Japan, and not so I can get my free anime. Heck, I even download dual audios when I can’t see them on TV (Also note that I live in the most deprived anime state in the US, the great state of Utah, and that my hometown is about a half-hour away from the nearest store that sells anime DVDs, but I do buy them when I can find them). But at the same time I like to go ahead and watch the dubbed versions on TV (religiously if it’s a good dub) just to see how they did. I think there are a lot of really good licencing companies out there like Viz(most would disagree, but I like what they are doing with Naruto and Bleach), Geneon, ADV, Sunrise, Bandai and Funimation. I think that these particular companies use very good actors and actresses, and do very good translations. I feel like i get the same experience and same feel of emotion as I do with the Japanise versions (Naruto, DBZ, and Yu Yu Hakusho are barely the only exeptions because I do think they could have done better, but I still think all three were done very well). Granted I will admit the Japanise do do a better job, but that’s just because it is their own original work and we’re just dubbing over what they did. Then there are the ones that suck *cough* 4kids *cough* that completely butcher the series that they dub by doing their own thing and tampering with the storyline/charicters instead of staying true to the original Japanise version. Only then do I get pickey. To me, that should be more ilegal than ilegally downloading for free.

    Basically, I think that to prefer one over the other is to set your standards way to high. It’s entertainment people! It was ment to be fun and enjoyable! You can’t do that if your pickey about little things like this that don’t even matter! As long as they don’t tamper around with the story or charicters, I’ll take either subs or dubs. It dosen’t matter to me!

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  20. Finchy Says:

    Personally, i prefer subs to dubs. Why? Well for one part is that the voices of the dubs dont seem to fit as well and that irritates me, but for the most part is that in dubs it isnt only the sound that is edited. Take Naruto for example, any parts that contain gore, such as blood flying from the mouth after being stabbed or hit, is edited out and it just looks like the person is gasping about nothing.

    So crap voices mixed with edited animation = bad anime i think. Sure if people prefer dubs, then let them watch it 🙂 but it doesnt compare with the subs for me personally.

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