Anime fans know there are two ways that we can watch our shows: through dubs or through subs. Dubbing refers to the process of removing the original, Japanese vocal track of a given anime and replacing it with one’s native language. Subbing refers to the subtitles that are placed at the bottom of the show so the audience can read along as the action occurs in the background.
Some people completely prefer watching dubbed anime opposed to subbed anime, which is fine, for multiple reasons. Some people do not enjoy reading while they are trying to watch the show and feel as if the subtitles distract from what is going on. Other people prefer to watch the show in their native tongue. And if you are like me, you may have started watching a specific dubbed anime, like Dragon Ball Z, and now it feels weird to watch it in Japanese. Whatever the case may be, everybody has a preference on how they choose to watch anime. But, the struggle of watching subbed anime is much better than watching dubbed anime for a whole host of reasons relating mainly to the nuanced nature of Japanese, a language that loses its nuance when anime becomes dubbed.
1. It does not translate as well into another language.
Every language has words that mean something different based on the context, dialect, phrase, or style of speaking. For example, take the word “dub” which is being used throughout this article. In this context, we know that I am referring to dubbed anime, but the word itself has several different meanings depending on where you are. For some people, it can mean that something is lame, i.e. this party is a dub. In other cases, it could mean $20 worth of marijuana, i.e. swing me $20 so I could get this dub. Japanese works the same way. For example, Naruto is known for the phrase, “Dattebayo”, which we would always translate into “Believe it!” But “Dattebayo” does not necessarily translate into “Believe it.” Naruto uses it as a sort of affirmation — more in the sense of “ya know.” After awhile, the dubbed version stopped including the phrase altogether, which took away from Naruto as a character. More on this idea later.
2. The use of honorifics.
We hear them all the time when we’re watching anime, -san, -chan, -kun. All of these honorifics have different meanings and could tell a lot about how a character feels about another character based on the honorific that they use. For example, let’s say Naruto (it’s one of the most popular anime so forgive the constant Naruto examples) uses the -kun suffix, which he usually uses when speaking to Sasuke, with Kakashi. This would imply some form of disrespect because Kakashi is older and supposed to be Naruto’s teacher. We encounter this problem in English sometimes as well. The use of first names is extremely informal and can be taken as disrespect. In Japanese, the same nuance is applied when using honorifics.
3. The use of sentence ending particles.
In Japanese, the particles that end the sentence can usually make or break any given sentence. For example, let’s say Naruto were to be having a conversation about how pretty Hinata is. If Naruto were to say, “Hinata san kirei desu yo,” it would translate to “Hinata is pretty!” The –yo ending implies some sort of emphasis. If he were to say, “Hinata san kirei desu ne,” it would translate into, “Hinata is pretty. Isn’t she?” The -ne ending suggests that the speaker is looking for some of confirmation from the other person. Yes, I know that you may be thinking that the particles can easily be translated into English; and therefore, none of the meaning is lost, right?
4. The characters mannerisms can be lost.
For many characters, the ending particle is a primary piece of who they are as a character. Remember in #1 when I said that removing the phrase, “Dattebayo,” took away from Naruto as a character? Naruto uses the -yo ending a lot. It is because he is bold, brash, and loud character. But as the story develops, we see that Naruto has a lot of hidden anger, resentment, and pain and uses the -yo character to not only affirm his statements to others, but also to himself. In One Piece, Trebol, one of Doflamingo’s elite officers, constantly uses the -ne ending. If used consistently, it can become quite annoying and imply that you are trying to rub something in someone’s face. The ending plays a lot into who each character is and depending on what is used, then it says a lot about the character types and personalities.
5. Dubs can sometimes change and affect the meaning of the show.
In many cases, dubbed anime can be changed to be more accommodating of child audiences. But, this can mean changing the entire meaning of the show and the personalities of some of its most important characters. Dragon Ball Z is the best example of how things can be completely different when the language of the show changes. In the dubbed version of Dragon Ball Z, Goku sounds like a grown man, with a partially deep voice. The way he acts can simply be seen as being a playful father. But, in the Japanese version of the anime, Goku sounds like a child. This was obviously a character choice by the creators of the show. His voice gives us a completely different perspective to how we view Goku as a character. It is not that he is simply a playful father; he is actually a kid. And that is why he shuns his responsibilities and would rather train than do work. He is exactly like his children.
It still remains a preferential thing. Because I grew up watching Dragon Ball Z and Rurouni Kenshin as dubbed anime, I cannot imagine watching the show in any other way. But, there is a certain ere of authenticity when the show is in its native language. Changing the language just to make it easier on viewers who do not understand the native language can seem like a cop out at times. But, try the different methods and decide which one you like better. But, just know that you do miss out on something when choosing to stick to dubbed anime.