It’s the classic question when talking about anime with other fans. The narrative usually goes something like this:
“Hey did you watch [insert anime here]?”.
“Yeah, it was pretty good, but the main character got on my nerves so I didn’t finish it”.
“Oh did you watch subbed or dubbed?”.
“I watched the dub”.
“Oh dude, you should have watched the sub, it’s way better.”
But does it really make THAT much of a difference? I’ve been doing some research and asking some folks, and I believe that yes it can actually make a good bit of difference. Not in every instance, but there are a couple ways that the choice of watching an anime subbed or dubbed can effect the viewers experience.
Let’s start with the more mechanical aspects of the choice. When watching a subbed anime, for one you can’t really do other things while watching it. So that’s no cooking, no cleaning, you can’t really play on your phone, it makes it even a little harder to speak with others as you watch. You have to keep your eyes focused on the tv, or you may miss a line of sometimes crucial information. How many times have you been watching, looked away for a second, and realized you just missed a bombshell being dropped, so you have to rewind a little bit?
Some people can’t stand to read while they watch the show, I’ve heard many people say they can’t comfortably focus on both at once. There’s also those people who don’t care much for reading in general, or who are are not very fast readers, so the sub wouldn’t be the first choice for them.
Now for me personally, I watch all of my shows with subtitles. I’m a fast reader, and it’s easy for me to miss something a character might say, especially if it’s a quiet moment of the show, or if there’s a lot going on around me at the time.
Now onto some of the deeper aspects of transferring one language to another. You’ve heard of the phrase “lost in translation” and believe me it rings true. When translating from one language to another, you have to count in the fact that some words do not totally translate correctly, there are even some words specific to a language that hardly translate at all!
Let’s take a look at a few. Here are some words that have no true English equivalent. What happens when one of these words is translated? Oftentimes you may get a word or expression that comes close to the original intention, but a little is lost in the translation, and a native speaker might have gotten a slightly different or enhanced effect.
- Yugen (Japanese)- “A profound and mysterious view of beauty in the universe and at the sad beauty of human suffering.” This is a very important aspect in Japanese culture, and one that English speakers can grasp, but it is not as deeply ingrained in our culture.
- Fisseleg (German)- “Being flustered to the point of incompetence” it is oftentimes translated as “jittery” but that wouldn’t be fully correct because the cause of the feeling comes from another persons nagging.
- Tsundoku (Japanese)- “Leaving a new book unread after purchasing it and allowing it to pile up with other books on a shelf.” Sad 😦
- Uffda (Swedish)- A Swedish exclamation that is made when someone else is in pain. It’s is like a mix between “ouch for you” and “I’m sorry you hurt yourself”. I found this very interesting because I remember times when seeing some else hurt themselves and me saying “ouch” but it seemed out of place in a way haha.
- Pochemuchka (Russian)- “A person who asks too many questions”
And this is just a tiny list of some of the words that just don’t translate right. Now we also have to take in another fact. While translating for and anime or movie, the translators have to also do a decent job at keeping mouth movements to the same sounds. Otherwise we end up with characters talking with their mouth closed, or mouths running while nothing is said! It all seems very complicated to me, but also very interesting.
Lastly, and naturally, the dub and the sub have different voice actors. So we have different actors, saying different words, with sometimes different meanings? Yes, I would say watching something subbed or dubbed could create differing experiences. And there’s always the case when you just can’t stand a certain voice in your show. I hear it a bunch with English speaking Dragonball Z fans talk about Goku’s Japanese voice. It just doesn’t fit the Goku they were raised to know. For me, Naruto’s English voice practically makes me unable to watch the show!
But put all of these together and let me share a personal story of how I noticed a big change when watching a subbed versus a dubbed show. “Future Diary” is one of my favorite’s and I watched it originally subbed. Later, when I wanted to re watch it, I thought I would try the English dub. I enjoyed it, but I noticed something peculiar. Yuno was a totally different character to me in the English dub versus the sub.
Both Yuno’s were crazy of course, but the Japanese Yuno, something about the way her voice actor handled her role, seemed to me more like a split personality, crazy young girl. At time’s she seemed completely innocent and at other times a maniac. The English Yuno seemed a little more confident to the point of sometimes seeming full of herself. She seemed able to be popular and work with others more socially, and then she would have crazy moments. Something about the gap in between those two personalities in both versions was different and for me that changed the experience of the show.
As far as personal opinion, I will mostly watch anime subbed, but Funimation most often I’ve noticed does a great job on their dubs. Cowboy Bebop is one show that I will always watch dubbed because I feel the voice actors fit perfectly. I guess it’s just a matter of opinion in some cases!
Anyways, I would like to explore some of this further. Please let me know what you think of this article in the comments, and if you have input or a personal story to share leave it below or email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org