Sub or Dub?

Ah, that age old question. A question that has plagued anime forums and chatrooms since the dawn of time... well, since the advent of good dubbing practices anyway. Time was you couldn't watch dubbed anime; the acting was bad, the lip syncing was awful and the animation wasn't all that so it didn't matter if you had your eyes plastered to the white lines at the bottom of the screen.

Times are different now, thank goodness.

Yeah, that's right; I PREFER dubs.

Just hear me out, yah?

Anime: What Makes It Different?

We have 'cartoons,' 'animation' and 'anime.' What's the difference and are they interchangeable?

Essentially all three are the same thing; non-live action video entertainment. Anime and cartoons are animated, animations look like cartoons. However, we do make a distinction between them in certain contexts. Anime is specifically of Eastern origin; predominantly Japanese but Chinese and Korean are also popular. I know of no anime from other Eastern countries so drop a comment if you do. 'Cartoon' mainly refers to Western animated shows and movies for children. Adult cartoons aren't usually called cartoons. You wouldn't describe The Simpsons or South Park as cartoons, you'd say animation or animated show. 'Cartoon' has a distinctly child friendly connotation. 'Anime', however, is used for both child-friendly and adult-oriented Eastern animations... though there are subgroups and genres a plenty (there is a lot more anime than there is Western animation, so it covers a much wider spectrum).

However, we are starting to hear of Western anime. Global manga has been around for a fair few years, but is only just starting to go mainstream. Sweatdrop Studios are based in the UK, but one look at their work and you'll be thinking 'manga' rather than 'comic books.' Tokyopop and Yaoi Press are also picking up and publishing the works of Western authors and artists such as long time favourites of mine; Dany & Dany (The Lily and The Rose)... a lot of 18+ on their site, just to give you fair warning, though they do that well enough themselves.

Why do we say Western 'anime' and 'manga', why not just call them 'cartoons' and 'comic books'? Western and Eastern artists and animators have very different styles. The two industries developed alongside each other, but also independantly. They may have learnt and copied from one another, but their own backgrounds and cultures had far more of a role to play in developing the styles and fashions of todays artists. Watch something by Disney or Dom Bluth and then watch a Studio Ghibli piece. They're all quite similar, in some ways... but one look at a single clip, with or without sound and you'll be able to say whether or not it was produced with Eastern or Western hands (not money... that's a whole other area to talk about).

Due to the ever growing popularity of Eastern entertainment in the West (anime, live action, manga, computer games), Western companies are begining to emulate what were once quintessentially Eastern styles from archetypal characters and plots, to animation style and character design and even colour pallete (to what degree you think they've been successful and should they continue to do this is your own opinion... 'cos again; whole other post). There are probably a whole bunch of examples out there... but I don't tend to like them so the only one forthcoming is Avatar: The Last Airbender... probably because it is one of the best. Feel free to throw more examples at me.

Many people argue that the West has yet to grasp why anime is so popular. It's not just about how it looks but the way the audience is treated. In the last decade, TV producers have (in my opinion) ignored the fact that the audience does have a mind. Shows that accepted this were and still are quickly cancelled (Farscape, Firefly, Futurama, Action Man) or sidelined (Star Trek, Family Guy), with a few managing to hold on firm for as far as they wanted to go (Buffy... aye, Joss fan). Maybe the audience wanted a break, maybe there was a big conspiracy to stop the audience from thinking... either way, the audience is bored and wanted better, more intelligent shows. If the Western companies couldn't provide them, the audience would have to look elsewhere; Eastwards.

There WERE a lot of very good, very thought provoking or just plain old entertaining-without-being-stupid shows coming out of the West. However, they were not mainstream, many had a low budget and were aired at why-am-I-still-awake? o'clock. Anime was seen (however true or untrue the idea may be) as smarter, more thought provoking, better viewing. Despite being from the other side of the globe, anime was easier to find than 'clever' Western shows thanks to the internet (and people looked harder). This is all changing now; the Western execs are catching on and allowing ever more 'sophisticated' shows to air on popular channels at family friendly times. Heroes and Lost are the big two right now, but I also love the likes of House and CSI... which whilst slick and sometimes very witty, are hardly sophisticated viewing.

People believe that anime isn't dumbed down for the audience. This may or may not be true, but it was and still is popular opinion among those that enjoy entertainment from the East. Anime is also considered to be much more pleasing to the eyes than most Western animation. Think of the adult shows; Family Guy, American Dad, Boon Docks, Metalocalypse, The Simpsons, The Venture Bros... you're not exactly wowed by the level of artistic talent. Now take a nose at current popular anime shows; Death Note, Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood, Vampire Knight (and Guilty)... even Naruto. If nothing else, the characters are daaaamn pretty. Even the older shows can outshine newer American stuff in terms of entertainment for the eyes; Cowboy Bebop is still beautiful.

The animation is slick, the characters are attractive (yes, they're cartoons...), work goes into the backgrounds (Gonzo are AMAZING at this stuff, just try Gankutsuou or Last Exile on for size). I am well aware that some anime has had very little effort go into it, visually, however; one word can be used to sum up the aesthetics of most of the popular anime; shiny.

What's This Got To Do With Subs and Dubs?

Anime, the good stuff (and even the not so good stuff) is not just about the plot and the script; it is a visual art. I can't watch an ugly anime (well, there are exceptions like Honoo No Mirage) just like I can't read a comic or manga that's ugly (to my eyes). I guess that makes me a snob... but I like looking at pretty things.

Dubs add to my viewing pleasure. Why? Because a dub doesn't require my eyes to be fixed to the bottom of the screen. I am incapable of reading a line of a sub, looking at the animation, background, character design, then reading the next line of sub. I just can't read fast enough to keep up with the script AND enjoy what's going on, on the screen. Just can't be done.

Watch Gankutsuou, Le Portrait de Petit Cossette with the subs and tell me you managed to take in much of the art work (or with Gankutsuou, keep your eyes in your head). What about all those wonderful action sequences in Le Chevalier D'Eon? How about the sheer beauty of EVERYTHING in anything that Miyazaki has produced? Though, to be fair, there's a lot of silence go on in Miyazaki films.

People have told me that hearing what the original character sounded like is very important. Well, yes, it is and many of my favourite characters do sound quite different in Japanese and English. Yuki of Fruits Basket is the best example I can think. Give me Eric Vale's interpretation over Aya Hisakawa's anyday (although she's probably a lot prettier than he is... it's the voice that counts). Vale gives Yuki a soft but definitely teen boy voice, while Hisakawa gives him a much younger boy's voice... that just grates on my nerves. However it is rare that a character is built around a voice (it does happen; G in Crisis Core IS Gackt) especially when so many anime are being based on manga now. A voice is found to fit the character and, frankly, sometimes the voice actors (VAs) do a better job than the seiyuu. For the most part though, both do fairly good jobs.

I cannot, of course, comment on VAs for languages other than English... though I did once watch Yu-Gi-Oh in Welsh. That was a personal all time low. Oh, and I love the Russian 'dub' for Cowboy Bebop: Knockin' On Heaven's Door; it's just one guy and one woman, reading everyone's lines over the top of the English sound track. It's hilarious. If you have the Region 2 discs try out the other dubs XD

But They Change The Script So Much!

Well, that's unfair. They change it a little in the anime that aren't dubbed for the kids (Pokemon and such), and often times the official subs on the discs (not the legal downloads from places like FUNimation) are just the dub script... and sometimes they're worse. My grasp of Japanese isn't wonderful, but it's good enough to notice some changes.

Bad subbing irks me a whole lot more than bad dubbing. There really is little excuse for it. You see, with dubbing they have to make the English words fit the mouth movements. They may require some skillful squishing of lines by the translators and even more skillful tongue twisting by the VAs. A good translator (John Burgmeier, I adore you... you too Jeff Nimoy) will not only be able to squish those lines up and make sure they still make sense, but will also be able to adjust those few jokes that just don't work for an international audience, without losing the original meaning of the joke. You know, those references that most Westerner's just won't get, even the more J-culture savvy ones.

This squishing and adapting isn't important at all for doing subs. The words don't have to fit the mouth movements and any obscure cultural elements can be explained in the dub, as is often seen with fansubs. So when a sub is wrong, when even I can tell that a sub is wrong I just think someone was being lazy.

So Yeah, I Prefer Dubs...

I can get all that 'orginal feel' in one veiwing, either first or after I've seen the dub a few times. Once I've got that out of the way, I mostly watch the dub.

If I could understand Japanese better, trust me I would be watching anime in its original format (well, okay... unless certain VAs are involved in the dub). However, my Japanese is barely even tourist level, my ability to skim read is non-existent and I like looking at the pretty, pretty colours as they dash around on my screen.

Dubs are just more fun...

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