Why Dubbing is Evil:
Subtitled Anime versus Dubbed Anime

Anime is available in two language formats. Subtitled, in which the voices are still the original seiyuu and the words are translated into English text on the bottom of the screen, is one option. Dubbed, the other format, involves English-speaking actors dubbing their voices over that of the seiyuu. Dubbing is generally considered bad. I'll explain why.

Dubbing Is Bad

Anime is drawn so that the movements of characters' mouths correspond to the Japanese words the characters are speaking. When an anime is dubbed, the mouths still move at the same rate, but the English translation often doesn't match those movements, so the companies doing the dubbing must rewrite the script so that the mouth movements correspond. This can include actually altering the implications of the words spoken.

Subtitling is Good

Subtitling is done by professionals, as is dubbing, but the subtitlers are free to translate the Japanese exactly, without adding words or changing meanings to fit the animation. This allows for greater understanding of the anime. Also, in a subtitled version, the audience is able to hear the emotion conveyed through the original voice. This can often be helpful in deciphering implied meanings in statements.

An Example of How Dubbing Changes Things

In Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, which is available in both subtitled and dubbed versions in the United States, the mouth-movement problem comes up often and those doing the dubbing don't always consider the repercussions of their choices in altering the script.

Episode 16

Lt. Noin: Are you alright? (Dubbed: Hey, are you alright?)
Trowa Barton: I need you to reload the explosives for Heero. (Dubbed: I need a favor of you. Reload the explosives for Heero Yuy.)
Lt. Noin: Forget that. Stop worrying about that right now. Start thinking about what your next move will be! (Dubbed: Forget that. Stop worrying about that right now. You'd better start thinking about what your next move is, kid!)

In this example, the dubbed version loses Lt. Noin's sense of respect for Trowa Barton, as she calls him "kid." Also, Trowa shows more respect for Lt. Noin in the dubbed version than in the subtitled version, actually asking her for a favor. This is out of character for him, since he has no respect for anyone involved with OZ, the organization that she works for.

Episode 16 (Later)

Lt. Noin: I see. We'll expect Acht's search party to regroup before attacking, rather than assume they've given up pursuing us. (Dubbed: I see. I guess we'd better expect Acht's search party to regroup before staging an assault, rather than assume they've given up pursuing us.)
Heero Yuy: That's a wise decision. (Dubbed: That's a wise decision.)
Trowa Barton: So, OZ has one able officer. (Dubbed: So, OZ does have one elite officer.)

In this example, Lt. Noin sounds unsure of herself in the dubbed version, making the audience wonder at the tone of respect in Heero's and Trowa's voices. Also, Trowa's statement about "able officers" in the subtitled version implies more of a lack of respect for the OZ organization than does his "elite officer" comment in the dubbed version.

Wrap Up

So, you can see how simple word choice issues can make a big difference in meaning, throwing off the perception of a scene, sometimes the perception of an entire character. Thus, even though dubbing tries hard, it is still a bad idea. Dubbing might not be as bad an idea as not translating it at all. As you can see, this is not a clean-cut issue, though I certainly lean more toward subtitling than dubbing.

-Bonnie Bonifield Click to learn more about Bonnie


Mobile Suit Gundam Wing

Old Godzilla movies are a good example of bad voice-dubbing.


Gundam Wing is an example of an anime that underwent unfortunate dubbing.

I've told you about the differences between subbing and dubbing. Do you want to hear the difference? Check out these MP3s of the same scene, in English, and in Japanese. Notice the difference in emotion and acting quality.

Dubbed English
Original Japanese



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