At the end of CNAnime in August of 2003, I was sitting with a few friends in the lobby of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, when a boy came up to us. He was taking a poll of sorts and asking us our preferences in watching anime, “Sub, dub
, or neutral?” (I guess he was relatively new to anime). Of course everyone in my crowd answered sub. But I answered neutral, and proceeded to draw very confused looks from everyone.
A few days later I was at the comic store where I do most of my shopping. I told the guys there about the poll and surprisingly they said they'd be neutral too, and they told me their reasons.
The first part is always business, they want to have as much knowledge as possible of the products they sell. That means sitting through as many aspects as they could. Technical aspects and extras come into play, but so does translating aspects such as subtitling (accuracy and timing) and dubbing. They do have a sense as to what they feel are good and bad dubs because of all the screening and feel that the dubs now are a great improvement. They also tell me that the notion of fans only preferring dubs has some truth to it. For reference, I do agree with Ryan Matthews' belief that liking dubs doesn't make you any less of a fan.
The second part is a personal preference/necessity. After a long day of work or school, you're tired. And one of the last things you want to do is try to sit in front of your screen and squint to read the letters running across the bottom of it.
I believe the practice of reading subtitles has played a big role in why North American fans are as passionate as they are over the issue, and in terms of anime in general. Reading subtitles requires a lot more attention than in any other form of moving picture entertainment. Being able to hear something in a language that you would generally understand tends to make you passive during your reception of it. Although that may not really be the case in a movie theatre (because of the sheer setting, what with the dark room and the fact you're more or less confined to a chair for a few hours), you can certainly say that for TV. We generally watch TV in settings with many distractions (ie at home). But despite all of those distractions, we can more or less understand what's going on even if our eyes are turned away from it. The key in all of that is that the audio is the front line of comprehension, something that is taken away when it's in another language. When you are actually forced to look at the screen just to understand the dialogue, you soak in more than just the words.
The thing with anime in sub form in North America is that most of us are trying to watch it in a TV viewing environment, even though it really requires a theatre-like attention. The fact of the matter is that most of the anime we watch was originally presented with a TV attention requirement. The existence of dubs serves to bring that aspect back to the experience, as well as try to sell the anime to a bigger audience. That's a dimension in this whole sub and dub
debate that I feel is lost in the whole mix.
During that conversation at the store it came up that I've really gotten behind in watching my anime DVD collection. Why is that? Well, there's my job. It occupies most of my time, naturally, but it also makes me too tired to watch subtitled anime. When I told them about not being able to watch my anime because I was too tired to read the subtitles, one of them just said, “Then you're not really neutral.” They got me there.
About three years ago I watched Trigun
on DVD, alternating episodes between sub and dub
. The reason I did this was because I was told the dub
was very good, and that a former Power Ranger had the lead role. Well, the Power Ranger as well as the dub
was very good. I just finished Mahoromatic
and am watching Master Keaton
and Full Metal Panic!
very much the same way, but not for the same reasons as before, which I will mention shortly. By the way, if you have Master Keaton
on DVD, I do recommend sitting through the dub
. You really can't appreciate the show's European settings if you can't hear the characters' European accents. I do think Ocean Group
did a very good job here.
Looking back on things, my friends who run that comic store are easily in their thirties, and wear glasses. At twenty-seven, I consider myself fairly old for an anime fan too. And I can safely say, my eyes aren't as sharp as they were seven years ago, when I first got into anime. Although I can still read things well enough with my eyes, at a point they just can't easily continue because of the fatigue. That's why I turn to dubs a little more now, it isn't so much a preference anymore, it's just something that I have to do. The nice part is that it's opened my mind a bit on the subject. I never had anything against dubs. But now at this slightly older stage in my life, I don't just respect them, but appreciate and need them as well. One day I'll share some stories about some of my favourite dub
actors with you. I should also make it a point to set up a visit to an optometrist for myself; I think I see glasses in my future.
So finally: Subs, dubs or neutral? I am neutral, and I can honestly say I mean it.
Just a quick post script to this. I didn't put up a sales argument for the inclusion of dubs in North American released anime. It never really came to mind while writing this initially. But here's something to think about. I just had the chance to sample a little bit of the dub
from the November release of the second Cardcaptor Sakura movie
. My younger sister, who is a big CCS fan, told me before that this is an amazing dub
compared to the Nelvana
-produced ones, and it really is, even if topping the Nelvana dub
isn't a big task. I wonder how different the fortunes of the show would have been in terms of the North American public at large, if Nelvana
didn't insist on separating the English and Japanese versions for broadcast and DVD. Or better yet, how would things have been if Geneon
had had the whole project to themselves? One of those great “What ifs.”
So what do you think? [email protected]
I apologize if I don't get back to you, but I do read and appreciate every e-mail I get.