My understanding is that this subject has been hotly debated for some time among Anime-lovers. The burning question seemingly shouted from the rooftops is ‘is it better to watch stuff with English dubs or watch in the original Japanese and confine yourself to subtitles?’ (Unless of course you speak the original language, in which case ignore this and ride off on your high-horse). I want to make one thing clear here; I am NOT trying to highlight an obvious superior, I just feel it might be stimulating and somewhat engaging to consider the differences and what each format brings to the table in terms of how we can enjoy the medium.
The idea of dubbing in a foreign language has been around for almost as long as the moving image has (well, since the introduction of dialogue recording anyway). So, for the naysayers of English dubs, it’s not like this is a recent development that has plighted the Anime world so that ignorant westerners can claim a series for their own, we may be guilty for anglicising most of the eastern world but dubbing has always been considered a universal way to enjoy foreign media. Purists, try to look at English dubs as more like giving a different flavour as opposed to bastardization. Watching something in your native language can be easier for your brain to process and better enables you to understand the subtle nuance of witty writing and situational comedy.
There is also the consideration that sitting and watching your favourite show after a long day at work, maybe a drink or two, can make it hard to focus on what’s actually happening. On the one hand you have to read,comprehend and appreciate the subtitles on screen (no easy feat considering how wordy some of the translations can be) AND blink-and-you’ll-miss it visuals. More often than not you’re required to do one of two things; either pause the television and read a paragraph of exposition to get what the hell is going on or rewind and double take because you thought you might have misread the subtitles…
Sometimes it just ends up being sensory overload. Strange really, if we were to watch a TV show and read a book at the same time, parents would panic and kids everywhere would be simultaneously brought down by a hypodermic in the jugular…
Quality is always the major deciding factor as to which side of the fence you’re going to tilt; English dubs are usually very well acted but there’s always the possibility that you’ll get a dud. In which case the emotional, dark, atmospheric master-craft you’re watching just collapses into the murky campiness of the 1960’s Batman series. Get the real deal though and it can immerse you fantastically well, take a look at any Pixar film and you’ll agree that American voice acting is no underdog.
The original Japanese then? An entirely different beast. Voice acting is taken very seriously in Japan, with the best of the craft being elevated to super-stardom; Fukuyama Jun, Hanazawa Kana to name just a couple.Just a mention of these guys attached to a project is enough to sign-off on a new anime and gain a following of crazed cultists. It’s a truly unique style of acting, with the performers throwing their voices into registers that border the ridiculous; men uttering deep, rambling Iambic Pentameter Esque prose while the female leads chirp a melodic harmony alongside them. It’s Shakespearian. It’s Beautiful.
I’ve seen a live interview with several voice actors (see our coverage of the Anime Japan event) during which Sword Art Online star Matsuoka Yoshitsugu had to, quite literally, hunch over and call upon a higher power before dropping his voice several octaves and blasting the audience with his declaration, like some kind of vocal Hadouken.
Friends, Romans…Anime lovers, the choice is yours. Whether you personally prefer the rhythmic trance of Japanese dialogue or its slightly more cartoonish American counterpart, both do their characters and their nations justice. If you truly want to become one with Japanese culture though,few things will inaugurate you better than discovering your favourite Japanese voice actor and watching them breathe life into a character that, until now,had been just an image printed on a page. Hey, when in Rome, right?