Life's Great Mysteries: Japanese vs. English Dubs


So on the one hand, I feel like I'm the perfect one to talk about this topic because I often re-watch series when they're released in English dubs and I've got so much dual audio anime. But on the other hand, I don't really analyze things like voice acting, so I've been feeling ill-suited.

It's never a good idea to generalize, but from my experience, English dubs are usually met with a bit of contempt, even maybe revulsion. Personally, I wonder why that is so. Honestly, I've never had problems with watching an English dub. Maybe this speaks of the time I have on my hands, or maybe it speaks to ignorance of the subtle differences.

So what's the problem? I suppose one possibility is the translation issue. I understand that because of the transition from Japanese to English, much is lost. For example, when the Japanese version has a pun that doesn't carry so well or if the Japanese version uses English words.

I think the most notable example in my mind of the latter case is the scene in the first episode of Death Note, where Light picks up the Death Note and says "Death Note. As in a notebook of death?" In English, this makes little sense, but if you watch the Japanese version, you'll note (hehe...get it?) that Death Note is in English, but he says notebook of death in Japanese.

What's another possible explanation for the disparity? Possibly the voice actors? Do the Japanese actors just do a better job? Do they convey scenes more effectively? I'm not really one to analyze the quality of a voice actor, but with Japanese dubs, I run into the problem of recognition. Sure, I can recognize notable voices like Rie Kugimiya pretty easily, but I'm going to have trouble recognizing Jun Fukuyama, the voice of my favorite character.

On the other hand, my recognition of English voice actors is almost spot-on. No matter the role, I can almost pick out the voices of actors like Johnny Yong Bosch, Yuri Lowenthal, Crispin Freeman, or Wendee Lee. Is this because I don't have to spend so much mental power parsing out the Japanese language in the voicing? Or is it proximity? I was once at an anime convention where Crispin Freeman gave a talk. I'm sure that has something to do with it.

I'm aware there are many out there who are quite fluent in Japanese, and quite a few that have learned Japanese to satiate their desire to watch anime. Unfortunately, I lack this skill, so I'm forced to watch fansubs. But I'm certain that I'm not alone. How does this factor into the whole topic?

Personally, I think that having to read subtitles to understand the scenes forces me to focus on the different shows I watch. When I watch an English dub, I have a tendency to alt+tab and do something else while I continue to listen to the show (I love to multitask). Is this because I can still understand the show or is it maybe just because I've seen the show already in Japanese?

Nonetheless, I feel like I'm forced to appreciate the show more when I'm reading the subtitles. On a completely unrelated note, it also makes me feel like I can contribute to the anime society by joining a sub group and learning something about the process.

So what do you think? If you're response is "Shut up and watch the Japanese like a good boy," then let me know. Is there anyone out there that just watches both dubs like I do? Is there anyone that will dutifully wait for the English release before they even approach a show? I know there are people who will ignore the English release and just watch Japanese all the way (I know you're there...put your hand down). Maybe the only reason for the difference is that Japan just gets the shows out first. Or maybe there are fewer English dubs available. Let me know!! That's an order...


Posted in: Editorials

dubs subs


  • feal87

    Dec. 14, 2011, 2:39 p.m.

    I'm not native english speaker so maybe my judgement is biased, but I think that most english's dubs miss emotions compared to the japanese one. :P At the same time the number of seiyuu for the english voiced one is very low or maybe they all fucking sound the same?! :D

    Ah, btw, I'm one of the "I watch only JP Dubs" faction....:D

    Reply

    marthaurion

    Dec. 14, 2011, 2:41 p.m.

    yeah...I kinda get that feeling that there aren't many English actors too, but I guess I forgot to mention that

    I always suspected you were one of those ppl

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    feal87

    Dec. 14, 2011, 3:03 p.m.

    There is one english SQUEKY voice actor I heard like in ANY anime I watched in english DUB years ago. It was unbelievably annoying...:|

    Of course I am...:D

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    marthaurion

    Dec. 14, 2011, 3:23 p.m.

    I guess I've never noticed that...or maybe my mind has developed some sort of mental block about it

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    feal87

    Dec. 14, 2011, 3:39 p.m.

    probably being english yourself the SQUEKY voice for me is normal for you?! :|

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uBtbFqDm_Mg

    Watch the voice of the pink haired one, that's the squeky I'm talking about...:|

    Reply

    marthaurion

    Dec. 14, 2011, 3:46 p.m.

    I never watched that dub, but honestly, I don't find that voice hard to listen to...I dunno...maybe, I'm just nuts

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    feal87

    Dec. 14, 2011, 3:53 p.m.

    I think its just that it's a normal voice where you live and that easy it up. It looks terribly annoying to me (italian), but maybe I'm getting old...:|

    Reply

  • AceRailgun

    Dec. 14, 2011, 8:23 p.m.

    I usually watch something in Japanese when it airs and then when it is eventually released in English I will get the DVD and watch it again if I like it. I have quite the hoard of anime DVD's.

    There was one case however where I waited for the English version instead of watching the Japanese version and the was Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood. I love the English cast so much I can't bare to listen to the Japanese audio even though I know it is probably amazing.

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    marthaurion

    Dec. 14, 2011, 9:38 p.m.

    that's kinda the approach I've been taking recently since I just jumped on the watching it as it airs bandwagon

    Reply

  • beldenotaku

    Dec. 14, 2011, 9:09 p.m.

    The biggest problem I have (and it's quite childish, but) is that they aren't the same voices. Only a few dubs are close enough (in my opinion) to pass as a substitute for the original, but most eng dubs (especially of shows I've already seen in Japanese) make me cringe. My prime example is K-On!, the eng dub is set to release soon, and I honestly can't stand the english Yui, the voice, the emotion, the subtle attitude, to me it feels totally different and completely misses the personality of the Yui I know...

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    marthaurion

    Dec. 14, 2011, 9:39 p.m.

    I kinda get what you mean...like when I watched Angel Beats, I couldn't really accept the English voices

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    beldenotaku

    Dec. 14, 2011, 9:51 p.m.

    It's not rational, but I want to gouge my ears out when I hear eng dubs to the anime I love most.

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    marthaurion

    Dec. 14, 2011, 9:54 p.m.

    I guess I'm just wondering what the source of the difference is...are Japanese voices actors just more talented, or does their language intrinsically convey the emotions better?

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    beldenotaku

    Dec. 14, 2011, 9:57 p.m.

    Well, like you said, sometimes it's the wordplay, but more often than not, it's the emotion. Not saying that American (or English in general) voice actors can't create emotion, they just don't seem to capture the same emotion emitted in the original, and the "distaste", if you will, is very off-putting. Back to my example, the original Yui Hirasawa had a kinda dopey yet energetic voice pattern, the english Yui has a more empty-headed clique girl attitude behind it (she also doesn't do baby talk like the original Yui). So, yes, it's childish and simply not liking something new, but I still feel like the english dubbing leaves behind certain aspects that I've gotten attached to in the originals.

    Reply

    marthaurion

    Dec. 14, 2011, 9:58 p.m.

    If you're talking about Bandai Yui, then yeah...I get what your saying They kinda gave her that airhead sorta voice.....

    Reply

  • Rei

    Dec. 15, 2011, 3:46 a.m.

    I always prefer Japanese dub than English. I'm not sure why I like English dub when I first start watching anime. But now it's vice versa.

    Reply

  • lostty

    Dec. 15, 2011, 4:03 p.m.

    I usually always go with Japanese dub, over English, but I do watch a few series in English every now and then. What I notice is if I hear the English dub first, I won't mind the voices, but if I see half the series in Japanese and then hear the English dub I tend to get really annoyed and complain like how everyone else does. I tend to just like what I'm used to I guess. Though, I also am not someone who can really judge how well a dub is in Japanese, but in English because I obviously know the language better, I can tell when a voice actor is doing a good or bad job, which puts more pressure on the English dub to do well.

    I'm not really sure how recognition plays a part in the big debate, but it's an interesting point. I agree that can instantly recognize an English voice actor I've heard before, but with the more anime I watch I'm starting to be able to recognize Japanese voice actors more easily as well. Funny enough, I was watching an anime yesterday and I instantly recognized that the voice belonged to Jun Fukuyama. With that said, (I know this may be a big statement) but I find Japanese voice actors are more diverse in their voices and the roles they can play. By that I mean Jun Fukuyama role as Lelouch sounds completely different than his role as Takanashi in Working!!. So maybe you can also less easily recognize Japanese voice actors in their roles because they are often more diverse in their voice acting abilities than the English ones.

    Anyway, this is a debate that will last till the end of time. Although I prefer my anime in Japanese, I say people should watch what they like however they like. I don't like how people automatically judge someone when they hear that the person watches anime sometimes in English.

    Reply

  • tsurugiarashix

    Dec. 18, 2011, 12:27 a.m.

    I rewatch series once they are dubbed too. Sadly, as much as I liked some dubs they do not do the Japanese track justice. Often times the lines have to reduced or worded different (if not mistranslated) to fit the English Speaker with the lip faps and the way the current dubbing process is now, the voices sometimes are too low or high pitched. Despite that, I watch both, since 1.) Buying the material helps support the laggard North American industry 2) I am not apart of fansub team and since most series will probably remain undub it best to work on my comprehension of spoken Japanese and last 3.) Variety

    To be completely honest on who does a better job, it really just depends on the person listening. For example; I think Liam O'Brien made a good Orlando (from the video game Catherine), but more perfered the Japanese VA when came to Lloyd Asplund from Code Geass.

    Reply

  • John Sato

    Feb. 7, 2012, 8:11 p.m.

    Looking at the comments here, I kind of think that EVERYONE here is a little bit right. Japanese voice actors tend to do a better job on anime than American (or whoever) ones, mostly for one reason: The Japanese tend to take televised animated works much more seriously than Western cultures do. In America, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Beast Wars aren't "animated works." They're "cartoons," "kid's shows." And this attitude really shows itself in the dubs. I get the feeling that the dub directors or even the VA's themselves tend to think "oh, this is just a kid's show, let's get the dub done so we can localize it." So it's not really about the quality of the voice actors themselves. Take, for example, the American "animated series" of Futurama. It's not really intended for "kids," and look at how great the voice acting is (Billy West does the voices of 3 main characters, and you absolutely cannot tell)! This is just my opinion, but it's more the level of seriousness the work is approached with than anything else. As for translations, I've never really felt that things like that mattered much. I mean, there are some shows that absolutely would not work with a dub (Gintama anyone?). At the same time, however, pretty much anything that ISN'T a cultural reference or pun can be translated for a dub script just as well as it can for a sub, and that level is good enough for me. And as for character's individual voices...it is totally up to whichever is watched first and how good the voice actors are. For example, I stopped watching Inuyasha, because I had watched a good 100 episodes dubbed and the voice acting for the minor characters was really getting on my nerves (very flat delivery). However, when I tried to watch the sub, I couldn't stand it. I had gotten so used to Richard Ian Cox as the voice of Inuyasha (unlike much of the other cast, he did a great job) that whenever the Japanese VA spoke, it just felt...wrong. It didn't feel like that was Inuyasha's voice, and it took me completely out of the show. Of course, it also possible for both dubs to match the character's voices. Take Rurouni Kenshin, for example. While many of the minor characters had weak VA's, Kenshin, Sanosuke, Saito, and Shishio all had fine English voice actors that matched their character's very well (I'm talking about the original dub, not the Crackle one). A few years later, after I had been firmly pulled over to the "sub" camp, I rewatched it, and i was shocked to find that I didn't think the Japanese version was superior. In fact, I even felt like David Lucas (Shishio's VA) did a better job than his Japanese counterpart. So while the way VA's voices match their characters is mostly dependent on whichever the viewer gets used to first, if the voice acting is really good, then both dubs can actually be equally good.

    Anyways, that's just my 2 cents. And wow. I'm so sorry to post another wall of text like this.

    Reply

    marthaurion

    Feb. 7, 2012, 8:33 p.m.

    Don't want to give you the impression that I'm not reading these super long posts. I really appreciate the input. I think you're right that Japanese animation studios take animated series more seriously than America. You can definitely see that in the societal impression that anime is for kids (despite some anime like Elfen Lied, which is pretty shocking if intended for kids O.o). While I definitely agree that individual voice actors matter a lot, I think the general consensus is that because of the sheer number of Japanese voice actors, they're bound to have a much better selection.

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    John Sato

    Feb. 7, 2012, 9:08 p.m.

    Thanks, I just feel bad for posting a comment on someone else's site and having it take up a full page.

    Yeah, I hadn't thought of that. It does seem true that voice acting is a much bigger industry in Japan than it is elsewhere. Like you said, doesn't necessarily mean that the individual VA's are better, just that there's more talent to choose from. Oh, and I forgot to say this before, but nice post. I love things like this.

    Reply

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