Why dub-haters are killing anime

by Justin Sevakis, Nov 9th 1998
There is probably no plague more infectious in the world of American anime fandom than that of hating dubs with a passion. It's not hard to see why: most dubs sound horrible, with bad acting, direction, and sloppy rewrites. But there's more here than simple judgment at work. What starts as simple opinions quickly turns into a vortex of peer pressure, unfair judgments, and persecution.

I fell into this group a few years ago, when I was a newbie in anime and just discovering fansubs. I maintained then, as I do today, that dubs are technically more watchable. My new abilities to speed-read to the point of being able to read the subtitles, watch the anime, rewrite the translation to be more accurate and match the Japanese context better all in the course of one line of text has nothing to do with it. I don't have to do that in a dub. I can relax and watch.

But I fell prey to peer pressure, and those around me insisted that dubs were evil. One particular event stands out in my memory. One of the people I was closely associated with was a particular stickler for the "subs forever, dubs never" philosophy. I asked him what it would take for him to be able to enjoy a dub of Nausicaä. He said, "I'd never be able to enjoy that dubbed. Ugh!"

But I didn't stop there. "How about if it was supervised by Hayao Miyazaki?"

"MAYBE, if it was DIRECTED by Miyazaki himself would I even CONSIDER watching it," he replied.

About a year after that, Ghost in the Shell was about to come out in theaters in America. The current rumors were that it was originally produced in English: a Japanese language version didn't exist. I informed the same person of this, and he moaned in disgust. Those around us uttered similar displeasures.

Now, here is a scenario where all of the claims that dubs are inferior fall on their face, because there's nothing to be inferior to. You ARE watching the original. Other times, the original Japanese version might actually be WORSE than the dub. Of course, you'll never get this type of person to admit something like that.

In the same way that Japanese producers like hearing their work in English (in some cases, even more than their original soundtrack) is that there is an exotic flavor: you can't understand it as well, therefore it must be better. In many cases, the Japanese version has bad acting too!

The only logical reasoning possible is that the hatred of dubs stems more from a hatred of hearing something pertained to be special in one's own native tongue. There's a certain level of pride in seeing something in a different language; a feeling that you're watching something that no one else is seeing. Here's where the fan-centrism comes in. That person loving the subtitled program is quite willing to defend this position of exclusivity, and claims that it will be badly dubbed are an easy way to mask this as being "good for anime".

Well, no, it's NOT good for anime. No dubs mean that newbies don't watch it, and newbies are the closest thing we have to mainstream acceptance right now. May I remind you that mainstream acceptance is our eventual GOAL?! Say what you will, but in America and probably other English speaking countries, there is no way that something subtitled will ever catch on. People can't read quick enough or aren't willing to put out the effort when it can be enjoyed in an easier fashion that one is already used to.

For these dub haters, Disney's licensing of Studio Ghibli films is the best thing that ever happened. Finally, proof that, if done right, dubs can equal the quality of the original, even if that original is very high quality to begin with. It might surprise those people to know that the director of the Disney dub of Kiki's Delivery Service is the same person who directs all of the dubs released by Urban Vision!

I'm not saying you have to like dubs. Every single company today is releasing subtitled versions of everything they release except for the obviously really horrible ones that most otaku will turn up their noses at anyway. But not giving dubs a chance at all is more than counterproductive... Sometimes you might actually be missing out.

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