The Dub Track
Dub Track Email
by Ryan Mathews,
I was flooded with email. For the first time in memory, I got more legitimate mail than spam. It took me weeks to go through it all. (For those of you who didn't receive a reply, I apologize.) The final count was around 150 messages. For comparison, in my Turnpike days, I considered receiving 30 messages as being "swamped".
Some people thanked me profusely, telling me they'd saved the link to send to all their dub-hating friends. Some pointed out additional angles I'd missed. Others disagreed respectfully, engaging me in fascinating give-and-take when I really should have been reading other letters. Still others flamed me, calling me "biased" (well duh), "unbalanced", "unfair", generally all the nasty words you call columnists who disagree with you.
Let me respond to a few points that were brought up by more than one reader.
Some readers took me to task for an apparent contradiction in my article. First I say "subtitles are annoying", then a few sentences later mention that sub-watchers have essentially trained themselves not to notice that the subs are in the way. So they're not really annoying, right?
Of course they are. If you're an experienced sub-watcher, they're not annoying to you, but that's not the point. Someone who doesn't have your self-training in accepting subtitles can find them very annoying. That's exactly what many dub fans wrote me to say, that subs just "got in the way" of their experience. To put it another way: if you keep hitting yourself on the head with a hammer, eventually you'll no longer feel it, but that doesn't mean you can say that being hit on the head with a hammer doesn't hurt.
Another comment I got often was that subtitles allow you to hear the cast the creator "intended". The argument was that certain anime were crafted with a specific cast in mind, and listening to any other cast just isn't as right. While I'm sure there are a tiny number of anime where that's the case, I'm just as certain that the vast majority of anime are cast the same way they are over here: when casting time comes, the director goes with the best actors available. To say "we must have so-and-so" before casting even begins doesn't make good financial sense. I also have a hunch that a big name actress is occasionally rammed down a director's throat because the studio believes her voice will sell more DVDs. So to say that a director's creation is always tied to the original voices isn't always correct.
Yet another argument: Japanese voice actors are better because they go to voice-acting school. I find this a little disrespectful of the American actors, many if not most of whom have had formal training themselves, just not specific to voice-acting. Also, as I understand it, one of the primary purposes of the Japanese voice-acting training is to teach the Japanese method of voice-recording, which is very difficult to do (you have to hit your cue with no assistance). As that's not relevant to the American style of anime dubbing, I have trouble seeing that it makes any difference as to which cast is "better".
Enough of my blathering. What did you have to say? Given the immense volume of email, obviously I can't print it all, or even all the "good ones" for that matter. So instead, here's a collection of snippets.
Nice work, REALLY nice. Believe me, (after nine years of anime conventions) I know that it takes a lot of guts to stand up and say these things. But, they're simply facts. In a panel I had with Akira Kamiya, he said exactly the same things.
Coastal Studios, Inc.
A little thing I'd like to add to your Ayeka comment is a counter- argument with Rurouni Kenshin. Kenshin uses a very polite form of Japanese (this is seen with the ending of all verbs in "degozaru"). This CANNOT be translated in English. Now of course, most anime fans don't know what the hell this means (and it doesn't help that Media blaster equated it to him repeating the sentence i.e. I am Kenshin yes I am), however they have an ear and can tell that he speaks differently than others. A much better example is Osaka-ben (a dialect native to Osaka). I believe Sanouske (or perhaps it was Tae and he uses gangster slang...regardless the point stands) uses this with his "rolling" of letters and whatnot. Even though fans don't know what his dialect is, they know that he speaks differenty and identify his character to that. Make sense?
You know what I'm scared of? I'm starting to see some pro-dub people who are just as elitest as the pro-sub people. They say things like "if you were a REAL fan you would want everyone to watch your favorite anime!!!". Ugh, even if you could go to everyone in the world and explain to them why they are all idiots by the time you would be finished the people you educated would have died of old age and you'd have a whole new generation of idiots. Oh, I'd better be careful, now I'm starting to sound elitest.
I personally prefer the dubs because the damn subtitles are so distracting and you miss all the sight gags and action trying to keep up. The subtitles go by too fast sometimes and it makes your head spin.
[T]here are things that Japanese VA's can do that their English counterparts will not be matching anytime soon. A great example for this is screaming. Whether it be in Dragon Ball Z or G Gundam, there are often battle screams in anime. These screams should sound like a martial artist, like "hahhhhh!" or "toryaaaa!" or something like that. However, dub voice actors always go for the stereotypical English scream of "uggghhhhh!" and the like. As my friends liked to point out about DBZ, this often sounds more like the characters are trying to lift heavy objects or just plain constipated. This is horrible sounding and very amatuerish.
When I first started watching anime, way back in the late 80's with Akira, I watched it dubbed because I felt that the subs would take away from my enjoyment of the animation. However, over the years my opinion has changed to something like that of your friend, I enjoy anime from a Japanese cultural aspect, an art form. I like to watch it in its original language with subs. That being said, I also enjoyed Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust in English and I laughed at the people who complained about the lack of a Japanese track on the DVD release. These were English speaking fans complaining about the lack of a foreign language track on a DVD of a movie that was originally recorded (and animated) in English! These are probably the same people who, when talking about a particular anime title, refuse to use the English title of a movie or series.
People who say one [subs or dubs] is better than the other make me want to take a dump in their mouth. The one that is the best, IS:
The one that personifies the characters the best.
The one you can summon the most enjoyment out of.
The one with the most emotion.
The one YOU like the best.
I LOVE Trigun in English because I think the voices are BEYOND perfection.
In Saber Marionette J the english dub VOIDS the amusing intonations in the Japanese dialect, NEGATING humor. The Japanese is my preference.
There is no such argument as sub vs. dub. Its a lie.
Thank-You for finally saying what I have been thinking all along. I often read a review of an anime and the reviewer will often bash the dub and tell me to watch the sub. When I finally watch the subtitled version I have trouble constantly shifting between reading the text and watching the screen, and in the middle of a fast-paced battle I'll find myself pausing and rewinding to catch the action.
Also, I feel that some people are prejudiced against dubs and will deem an anime to be of less quality if it is a dub, one such example is The End of Eva which has on many occasions been insulted for bad dubbing that I can find nothing wrong with!
The Best example I can think of is Hellsing. The Series takes place in london. You absolutely can't do a British accent in Japanese.
I remember watching "Akira" at a sci-fi convention (well before serious dubbing) and coming out of the room thinking I'd gotten only half the story because I could either read the constant stream of subtitles or look at the gorgeous artwork/animation but not both. That confusion in and of itself was enough to turn me off of any anime for quite some time. Only recently does anime seem to be getting the serious attention it deserves and Americans (or at least the English-speaking public) can now have more of the "true experience" simply because we can watch the whole screen as well as understand the story.
I'll also tell you that even though I prefer subs to dubs, honestly, I don't like subtitles. As you pointed out, they cover up the artwork, your eyes have to constantly bounce between the picture and the text... what an absolutely unnerving experience. But those little eye Olympics were precisely what inspired me a while ago to take up learning Japanese. I'm proud to say that I understand enough at this point to be able to find some "incorrect" (I'm using the term very loosely) translations, and on a few occasions it's actually completely changed the context of a particular scene. But that's just a fact of translating anything from one language to another. Those sort of things, oddly, make watching anime with subtitles a little more enjoyable to me.
~Reason to Watch Subs: You're a crazy amateur linguist dedicated to trying to learn every language on the face of the earth, and subtitles help you learn new words and such. (Heh, this one actually applies to me.)
~Reason to Watch Dubs: You want to multitask. It's hard to do anything else besides watch a subbed show while watching it.
~Reason to Watch Whatever Format: Overall cultural thing. Some shows like Rurouni Kenshin are so Japanese-culture-rich that it's rather odd to watch them in English. Conversely, I find it incredibly disturbing to watch Hellsing in Japanese, seeing as it's set in England. (Unless it's REALLY set in Magical England Where Everybody Speaks Nihongo, which I highly doubt.)
Something I'd like to point out is that Japanese voice actors are often "teen idol" material. Very often, VAs are chosen for their looks (or singing talent) than their acting skill.
This was actually the case for the original Macross, in the case of Minmay. Minmay's voice was decently done, though she pales in quality in comparison to Claudia and Misa. Maya Sakamoto is another case of a singer trying to voice act, and I think she is probably a better singer than VA.
Last convention, I was driving around producer Sakurai Susumu. (Long story.) He mentioned that Mari Iijima (VA for Minmay) refused to sing any of the Macross songs at concert or CD, until recently, out of contempt of the show and fandom. In some regards, I can understand her attitude that fandom is contemptible. Her independent singing career never really went anywhere - I think her original music is poor - and now probably for money, she has finally decided to finally release a new CD for the fans.
I've been a huge anime fan for a couple years now, and I always watch the dubs. I watch them because I can understand what the characters are saying without having to constantly look to the bottom of the screen. My argument has always been "why miss the great animation on screen by constantly trying to read the subtitles on the bottom of the screen?" I'm an animation freek, and I love to watch animation. Simple as that.
As I cannot speak fluent Japanese, I gotta watch it in English to get the best enjoyment out of my anime. I think hearing a character say something thats funny is much funnier than reading a line on the bottom of the screen. if you can't understand the language and resort to reading words off the screen, you don't pay attention to whats going on in the anime, and also, you can't truly feel how the characters feel without listening to it ear to ear as if that character was talking to you directly.
I am something of a casual anime fan, and I will take a good, or even fair dub over a subtitle any day. Being able to watch a show and turn your head away on occasion is invaluable, especially when you just want to relax and not focus on the screen. Not to mention that it is easy to miss details while reading the subs, and I read faster than anyone else I know (seriously). In fact I recently introduced my little sister to some anime with subtitles on my computer. She really liked it but wanted one without the text, as it was hard for her to keep up easily, as she is only 8. I went out and rented the DVD with dubs, and she greatly enjoyed it.
To me, watching a dub almost always carries with it a feeling of artificiality, a distracting feeling which is not there when I watch it subtitled. Only the best of the best dubs(Cowboy Bebop and I can't think of any other example) escapes that feeling.
I watch subtitled anime as much out of habit as anything else, it's what I'm used toÊ - most of the stuff I saw initially was subtitled, and, to be honest... well, it makes me actually watch the stuff rather than listen to it while I'm doing cross stitch or some other task. [most TV I watch comes into this category, I don't watch it, I just listen and look up when it sounds as if there's something important on screen. but then most of the stuff I watch on TV could just as easily be on radio anyway...]
At first, I was only interested in watching [anime] in Japanese, since I treated them like any other foreign film, I just wanted to hear the original actors do it in the original language. However, Cowboy Bebop changed my mind on dubs forever. As much as I adore Megumi Hayashibara, I will not listen to the original Japanese track. The English actors, for obvious reasons, had an amazing handle on the hip, film noir feel of the series. It would not be the same without that feel to it. Many critics agree, as well, since I have seen multiple articles praising the American cast as having bested the Japanese.
Yes, watching anime in Japanese I actually learned not only some words, but also I have some notions of how the language is structured, and how japanese people say them. I know more japanese then my japanese-descendant friends. And after watching so many anime, I am about to start a japanese language course, a thing a italian-descendant person would never want to do ;)
Each individual dub should be considered by itself. I'm hard-pressed to think of anyone who doesn't like the english dub of "Cowboy Bebop". Inversely, I think back to when I watched "Fatal Fury: The Motion Picture" which still has one of my favorite lines in the history of dubbing, "I wish I could say I was him, but I'm not, so he ain't here." After about ten minutes of trying to figure that line out, my brain started to leak out of my head, and they have confirmed that I suffered a 20 point drop in my IQ as a direct result of that quote.
The impression the acting makes on us is what matters, not how good the acting seems to a Japanese person. It's not a problem if I can't tell that a Japanese actor is performing badly, precisely because I can't tell. With dubs, on the other hand, I can most definitely tell when the acting is bad; and it destroys the experience.
Another point is that dub are not always good about including the various -san's -sama's -sempai's that can often be crucial. Neither are subs, but with the subs it doesn't really matter because you can just hear it yourself. This is one little grammatical thing thats easy for any anime fan to pick up, and easy to use in enriching your understanding of an anime.
I'm not a rabid dub hater, but I do think American dubs have a ways to go. Rather than compare them to the Japanese versions, compare them to, say, Disney dubs. Mind you, that's a bit unfair - "The Mouse" has more money to waste than the American companies have to spend, but to me that represents the "quality dub" standard. Give a listen to "Kim Possible" sometime.
I realized one day when I caught a part of the Fushigi Yuugi dub what my problem with dubs is. For the most part, the voices weren't bad. Different, obviously, from what I was used to, but not necessarily awful. Except, Miaka's voice kept annoying me. I kept watching, trying to figure out why I was so bothered by her voice. And that it struck me... it sounded like she was acting. It didn't sound real. The voice actress wasn't becoming the character, she was just playing the part. And looking back at this, I realize that that is the problem for a lot of the dubs; the actors don't really become the character.
I too have some pretty thick headed friends, one even wouldn't go see Cowboy Bebop: Knocking on Heaven's Door with me because it's a dub. To these people I ask: so you've had a long day at work, and you're tired as s--- and want to watch some anime, do you really want to sit there and READ?
I just thought I'd add one argument that dubhaters usually use on me - that is that the 'dub takes away from the creative vision of the original'.
I get this a lot, and sometimes I have to pinch myself when otherwise hardcore anime fans are referring to the Ranma TV series as the 'original vision' when Rumiko Takahashi hated it, or to Rurouni Kenshin (although I don't really like that dub much) when Nobuhiro Watsuki didn't like the changes they made. In fact, when they refer to any of the dozens of other manga that have had their 'creative vision' chopped and changed to turn it into anime format.
With subtitiles, it's easier to fit in explanations of Japanese culture and other things that simply don't translate, like wordplay and puns (Think episode 12 of Love Hina, where Su invents a 'kame-seeking radar' (according to the fansubs I've seen- I admittedly haven't seen the commercial version of that episode in either format)- the wordplay being that 'kame' means both 'turtle' and 'jar'. I have no idea how something like that would be translated on the dub track.
Here's an interesting comment in a review of "Russian Ark", a film set in the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg. Jim Schembri writes in the Melbourne Age Entertainment liftout last Friday (2 May):
"Unjustly hailed as a piece of technical brilliance, Russian Ark is a deeply uninspiring work, further hobbled by ever present subtitles that constantly draw one's eye away from the very visual gimmick it is relying on. The Japanese makers of the brilliant animated film Spirited Away were smart enough to allow their film to be dubbed into English to enhance the visual splendour of their work. Sokurov [the director] should have done the same here."
Send all comments and criticism regarding The Dub Track to mathews1 (at ix.netcom.com). If you don't want your letter printed, or wish your name withheld, just let me know. I reserve the right to edit your letter for length and/or content.