Why I Hate Dubs (Which I Love, by the Way!)

Let me just get this out of the way: I prefer subs. It’s not a religious thing. I don’t think people who love dubs are crazy or lesser fans than I am. It’s just that, in my experience, subs are closer to the original material than dubs. Well, subs are closer to the original than dubs tend to be.

There are always exceptions.

But there are times when I’d like to watch a dub. My wife, for example, doesn’t like to watch subbed anime. She’ll sit with me on the couch and sometimes listen to an anime I’m watching. In rare occasions, she discovers a show she really likes, like Soul Eater. But it only works with dubs. The dialogue has to win her over; she’s too busy working (even while “watching” TV) to read the subtitles. Soul Eater’s and vivid characters and engaging dialogue did the trick!

Dub or sub, Soul Eater had great characters and fun art. Best of all? The dub capture my wife’s attention! Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

But all dubs aren’t like Soul Eater. Here are some examples of dubs that I hate:

If you’ve read Crow’s World of Anime for very long, you probably know I loved the series Gate. I recently watched the dub version on HIDIVE, and I just about retched. First, you have to remember I have watched it so many times, I have practically memorized the original subbed version. If you’ve seen it, do you remember the scene in episode 3 where Itami hauls Tuka out of the well that’s the only thing left standing after the Fire Dragon leveled the rest of her village? In the subbed version, Itami shouts (at around 0:45), “Human rescue! Hurry!” Then he pauses, looks at the elf on his back, and says, “Actually, she’s not a human, she’s an elf…” This sub was from the Blu Ray. The version on Crunchyroll was a little different, but along the same lines.

That makes perfect sense! Itami realizes the limits of his language and tries to get his mind around the idea that the individual on his back isn’t a human, but is instead a beautiful elf.

It’s completely wrong in the dub, though. In the same scene, Itami says, “We found a person! Hurry up!” Then he pauses and says, “I guess, not exactly a person…”

What the heck? Of course Tuka is a person! She’s an elf, not a human, but she is most definitely a person! Talk about ruining the mood…

What do you mean, “Not a person?” Of course Tuka’s a person! Jeesh… Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Another thing I hate about (some) dubs? They often strip out Japanese cultural references, especially if those references are spiritual or religious. One of the first series I loved so much that I watched dozens of times (both subbed and dubbed versions!) was Shikabane Hime. I saw the dubbed version first, so for the longest time, it was the “real” version for me. But after watching the subbed version, I realized how much of the spirituality around Keisei Tagami’s order had been left out of the dub. The dubbed script didn’t remove all of it out, but it took out enough that it bothered me. The added spirituality dimension made the characters more vivid for me. 

Shikabane Hime (Corpse Princess) left many of the spiritual references in the script, but not all of them — and I liked all of them! Capture from the DVD.

But not all dubs have these kind of problems with their scripts. There are times when a dub captures my imagination even better than the subbed version. Want an example? Look no farther than Infinite Stratos (season 1). This is another of those series that I can watch over and over, in both subbed and dubbed versions. While I liked the subbed version, I felt like it came alive in the dubbed version. Consider these two scenes:

In episode 4, Ichika Orimura is injured in a fight, and Lingyin Huang is waiting by his hospital bed for him to awaken. The show is a harem comedy, so there are numerous girls vying for Orimura’s attention, and Huang is one of the leading contenders. Cecilia Alcott waltzes into the room, not knowing Huang was there, and announces that she’s going to nurse Orimura back to health (20:52). She’s indignant that Huang’s already there when all of the potential suitors agreed not to try to make a move on Orimura until he woke up. Houki Shinonono (probably the leading contender) arrives right behind her and shuts her down by saying, “And what about you, then? Because from my view of your fat ass, it sure looks like you were trying to get ahead of me!”

“Because from my view of your fat ass…” ranks right up there as one of Shinonono’s most memorable attacks! Capture from the HIDIVE stream.

The subbed version was “What about you? Apparently, you were trying to get ahead of me behind my back!”

While both lines mean essentially the same thing, between the script and the English voice actor, the scene came across much more indicative of Shinonono’s character in the dub. I laughed out loud, too. What was the judgement of my ultimate measure of dubbed performance — my wife?

She loved it! 

Another example? In episode 10, the whole team’s trying to figure out how to attack an autonomous enemy named The Gospel. As they review its capabilities, Orimura continuously gasps in surprise, until Huang dryly asks (15:37), “Must everything surprise you?” The sub read “Quit being surprised at every single thing!” Not a bad translation, but the dubbed version was more natural. More funny, too!

One of the things I loved about this show is that all of the women were top-notch pilots who really knew their stuff. Unlike the guy they somehow all liked… Capture from the HIDIVE stream.

I don’t want to malign any writers — English script or subbers. Their work’s hard! Writing a script over an existing story that was originally conceived in Japanese and making it accessible to non-Japanese audiences has got to be double tough. But look at the difference between “not exactly a person” and “from my view of your fat ass!” That’s why I hate dubs, which I love, too!

Post Author: tcrow

  • Yeahhh. Generally, I don’t like when the script is changed for no obvious reason, but there are cases where it’s necessary. For instance, in School Rumble there are scenes with comedic effect derived from miscommunication over certain words that sound the same in Japanese. The jokes don’t really translate well to English, though, because those same words don’t sound the same at all.

    I have nothing against people who watch the dubs; but I can hardly stand most of them. For some reason the voice acting just sounds less genuine. The English dubbers rarely seem to carry the same enthusiasm or intensity, and it sounds more fake that it should.

    • Good point about the alliteration. Though I don’t know Japanese, I got a feeling that a lot of the humor in Bakemonogatari was the same way.

      I hear what you’re saying about some dubbed versions. That’s one of the things that made Infinite Stratos stand out for me: I thought the cast did a fantastic job throughout! But I agree that when it doesn’t work, it really doesn’t work — probably because I understand the language they’re using and so can be more critical of timing and inflection.

  • Subbed anime can also distort the meaning of the script sometimes. Chinese subs and English one can feel very different, and so can two versions of subs in the same language! I agree with you that adaptations are not always a bad thing, but to understand the original script fully, I guess the only solution is to know Japanese? XD

    • You know, I briefly thought about that point, but I really couldn’t address it since I don’t know Japanese, so I let it drop. In retrospect, I think it’s an important point, so I’m glad you brought it up!

  • I only watched dubs when I first started anime. Now with a few exceptions I only watch subs. Dubs are a great pathway for non anime watchers. Then like you once I watch it in subs or dubs I have to stick to it. The only time I switched was with Servamp and nothing was going to help that show but the subs were way better.

    • I like your insight about dubs being a great pathway. That’s the only way I can get my wife to watch any series!

      Do you recommend Servamp? I’ve been trying to decide if I want to watch it or not…