Dubbed Anime

Dubbed Anime

Introduction

I’ve probably mentioned my thoughts on dubbed anime in passing statements over the previous 425 posts on DoubleSama.com, but I think it’s finally time to explain exactly why I don’t like dubbed anime. And, it basically comes down to a couple of fairly simple reasons.

The first is pretty subjective; Japanese voice acting for anime typically sounds better to me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard my fair share of bad Japanese voice acting as well, but overall I tend to think it sounds better.

Does this mean the Japanese voice actors are better than those who dub things in English? No, but it instead probably has to do with the fact that I’m fluent in English, but not Japanese. Therefore, I pick up on things that sound “off” more often when it’s in English, and so it sounds worse overall.

While the first reason I don’t like dubbed anime can be extended beyond anime, I feel that this second reason can be applied even more widely. This is the fact that I don’t think you should dub over an existing performance simply to change the language it’s in.

Some of you might argue that this is subjective as well, but I don’t really see it that way. No matter what the original language is, I’d prefer to watch something as it was originally intended rather than watching an audibly altered version of it. Why do we need dubs when we have subtitles?

As soon as the voice actors and language spoken in a series have been changed, it’s not the same piece of art as it originally was. This would be like if someone took your favorite English movie and replaced the entire cast with Japanese actors. Chances are you would think it’s worse because of some reasoning like, “Robert Downey Jr. is Iron Man, not this random Japanese guy!”

And, the final reason I don’t like dubbed anime is because they can fundamentally change a story or the characters within it simply by attempting to pander to a non-Japanese audience. This final point will be the main topic of discussion for the remainder of this post.

When Dubs Work

So, before I destroy your dreams of a world full of anime dubs by explaining when they fail, let me first give a few examples of times dubbed anime actually work, despite my dislike of altering the language of a series simply to pander to a different audience that doesn’t know how to read.

The first way in which dubbed anime work, is by bringing new fans into the anime community. Chances are that you, like me, were introduced to anime through a dub. Because the dubs you see are generally in the language you’re fluent in, they’re much more accessible for new or younger viewers.

But, attracting new fans to the community is probably the only thing about dubs that I would say they do better than their Japanese counterparts. Instead, there are some things which dubs simply don’t necessarily do worse than their Japanese counterparts.

This mainly applies to action anime, which always seems to be one of the most popular genres, so it makes sense that a lot of people see dubs in a positive light. After all, dubs don’t typically change action anime all that much considering the focus is on the action, not the dialogue.

This is why all of the anime you hear people say have good dubs are typically action anime like Cowboy Bebop or Fullmetal Alchemist. The fact of the matter is that series like those don’t really have any difference when viewed in different languages. Although, as I’ll get to, they still can.

So, basically, while dubs can work for action-oriented anime, they don’t really add anything to the experience, they just detract less from it than with other genres. And, because there are many dubbed anime watchers who exclusively watch action anime, they can sometimes be lead into believing this is the case across all genres.

When Dubs Fail

But, what do I mean when I say that dubbing anime into different languages can change characters or even the story being told? Basically, this all comes down to minor changes that are made during the process of writing the script for the dub.

For this section I’ll mainly use the Pokémon series since it has some extremely basic examples of this at work and just about everyone has seen it at some point. The classic example from the first season, which I know I’ve brought up before on this blog, is when Brock refers to a rice ball as a jelly filled doughnut.

When this scene of the anime was dubbed, they figured that American kids wouldn’t understand what a rice ball was, and so changed the dialogue to call it a jelly filled doughnut. But, as you’ll notice if you actually watch the scene, it was very clearly not a jelly filled doughnut Brock was eating, and this was something that confused me as a kid.

“What kind of jelly filled doughnut is Brock eating? I’ve never seen a doughnut that looks like that.” In their attempt to make the food Brock was eating relatable, all they ended up doing was confusing kids, failing to introduce kids to other cultures, and creating a scene which has been made fun of for decades.

Brock holding rice balls from the anime series Pokemon
Brock holding rice balls

There are also minor name or phrase changes that mean viewers might miss out on subtle references. For example, we all know that Ash Ketchum is the protagonist of Pokémon, but his name is actually Satoshi in Japanese, which is a reference to Satoshi Tajiri, the creator of Pokémon.

But, dubs also break down for a lot of comedy anime simply because of a little thing called language differences. Let’s take KonoSuba for example because it recently got a dub of the first season. In the second season, Kazuma gets a katana which Megumin names Chunchunmaru.

In Japanese this name translates to the sound of a bird chirping, “chun chun,” and “maru,” which is an old male name suffix that’s commonly used as part of the names for pets (think Akamaru from Naruto). So, how is this going to be translated when the dub gets to the second season?

If it isn’t translated, then viewers are going to be confused as to why this name is a bad one, while the other names Kazuma was contemplating are good ones, because they don’t understand Japanese. However, if it is translated, there’s no English equivalent to Chunchunmaru, so they’ll have to make something else up, thereby altering the joke.

The Un-Dubbable

But, while the names of some characters, the actions they’re performing, and even some of the jokes they make can arguably be changed via dubbing without too much of an issue, there are other series for which this isn’t the case. These are the un-dubbables.

It’s an objective fact that the Monogatari series is one of the greatest anime ever made, and it’s also a fact that it’s my favorite. However, this is a series that will likely never be dubbed simply because the act of dubbing it would change the series to such an extent that you wouldn’t be able to call it the same series anymore.

90% (I just made up that statistic, but it sounds good) of the show is built on dialogue, references to Japanese culture and pop culture, and most importantly, wordplay. To dub Monogatari into English would essentially amount to writing an entirely new series that would have little to nothing in common with the original.

Let’s use the following clip from Nisemonogatari as an example to illustrate this point.

Specifically, let’s take a look at the dialogue between 0:31 – 0:56 in which Koyomi and Mayoi are discussing the price of love. While there’s more going on in this scene, in these 25 seconds there’s already at least two jokes which simply wouldn’t work in English due to them being specific to Japanese wordplay.

The first is how the words for yes “hai” and love “ai” are homophones. When Koyomi says “love,” Mayoi responds with “Yes? Love? Ah, love, yes I know of it.” However, since the English words “yes” and “love” aren’t similar at all, this entire joke would make no sense.

Then, we have the point where Mayoi mentions that she saw love for sale at the convenience store for 298 yen. This is another case of wordplay in which 298 is a play on Mayoi’s surname backwards. Her surname is Hachikuji, and 298 backwards is “hachi ku ni.”

So, as you can see, if there are already two examples of wordplay that simply don’t translate into other languages in just a 25 second span, it would be impossible to have an effective dub of this entire series. Basically every single joke would have to be rewritten, and at 4 jokes per minute that’s the same as rewriting everything.

Conclusion

As a final note on dubs, they can also lead to people never attempting to watch anime that only have subtitles. While this may not really be an issue, just think of all the great anime out there that those people are missing out on. Sad!

So, what do you think about dubbed anime? I’m ready to hear your wrong opinions in the comments because people who agree with me tend not to comment.

If you enjoyed today’s post or found any of my points to be particularly persuasive, be sure to click the like button ❤ down below. Also, give me a follow over on Twitter @DoubleSama so you don’t miss out on any future content.

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