The Great Debate Continues - Subs vs. Dubs

What is eternity doing tonight? has become Mega Megane Moé. For the latest posts, please change your links accordingly. (omake: For the Formula One fans out there; great drive by Sato in Canada today, eh? That pass around Alonso for 6th put a huge smile on my face. Also, 50th post. Score.)

Quite possibly one of the hottest issues in anime today - even if the argument seems a bit one-sided at times.

And since it's a bit slow for an episode recap today, it's time for my obligatory 2 units of currency on this issue, and a bit of side comments as well.

Here's what I plan to cover
1) Subs or dubs?
2) Fansubs or subs?
3) License or no license?
4) Deal or no deal?

And with that I really don't have much funny to put pre-jump, so have a picture of Mayumi.

Well, let's start at the beginning. Which is better, subs or dubs? For clarity's sake let's assume that the original source is Japanese and the desired language is English, since I'm a white American like that.

Now, I'd spot the people who would vote subs at over three-quarters of the anime watching populace. The arguments for subs are simple: they stay close to the original content and they don't sound like utter junk.

The first one is also a key issue in the fansub vs. sub debate. Often times, subs often mutilate the content a bit to make it more American-friendly, removing such references to Japanese culture such as 'moe' and honorifics. Although, sometimes, the roles can be reversed in this case, as popular fansub group A.F.K Americanized Haruhi's use of 'moe' to 'turn-ons', while Bandai kept it intact (while mentioning the meaning of moe in a sub-sub-title) in their R1 release.

But, returning to subs, both fan and official, it's usually the case that they are more true to the original content than dubs are. Some dubs, especially old ones such as the egregious Cardcaptors, cast their roles pretty poorly, changing the age, tone, and even important lines of the characters.

What if Sakura, the 6th-grader, sounded like a mature woman?
What if Haruhi, instead of sounding a bit crazy, sounded more like a cheerleader?
What if Touya and Yukito, or even Sakura and Syaoran for crying out loud, never showed any affection toward each other?
It'd be blasphemous of course. (excuse my poor knowledge of dubs, I only have 3 sources)

Now, of course, this argument is flawed for many reasons. First off is that the quality of dubs varies severely from series to series. Older dubs, such as the Cardcaptors one I referenced, are often inferior to newer ones. Especially, dubs made for TV are often changed more severely to fit the American target audience and American beliefs (i.e. no yaoi for you) than those released straight-to-DVD for a more select group of viewers. Of course, the second group is willing to pay for this stuff, something that isn't the case of public television.

So it's more important that DVD dubs are higher quality, which they often are. The Haruhi dub was pretty well recieved by the anime community - I've posted recently on it and found most of the casting just as good as, if not better at times (Kyon's witticisms come to mine) the Japanese cast.

Dubs, of course, have flaws. Sometimes it just seems strange for American people to voice characters with Japanese names, Japanese customs, and Japanese beliefs - yet if they were Americanized, of course, fans would cry blasphemy. For those really accustomed to subs, it may seem wrong just for the talking to be in a language they understand.

But really, you can't pick a clear winner in this category, which is why this debate goes on endlessly. Any anime viewer would pick dubs if it meant a big name anime catching on to a wider audience in the States - I would sit through American Haruhi if it meant broadcast on public airwaves. But, on the other side, if getting rid of dubs meant cheaper anime on DVD (with no need to hire American VAs), I'd say away with dubs.

The important thing, as always, as cheesy as it sounds, is to consider both sides with a clear head, instead of turning this into the next Sony vs. Nintendo, Us vs. Them argument. It's very much a two-sided issue.

Still, of course, I would go with subs personally, since I am used to not understanding things, and tend to believe that the Japanese VAs suit the character better. But who knows? Maybe there are people over there in Japan who think Japanese dubs of American cartoons (if they exist) like Spongebob or Avatar are inferior to the original American voices.

So, let's assume we choose subs for now. The question is, are free fansubs better than pay-for-purchase R1 official subs? Often time this isn't an issue, since either one or the other is available. Either, there's no license for the anime, and fansubs are the only option, or there is a license for the anime, and so fansubs are essentially illegal.

But let's say both are available at one time. Which one would be ideal?

Again, it's hard to say, except on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes the fansubs are worse, poorly interpreting (try getting the Lucky Star theme right, eh?) the source material. But official subs are more often guilty of this as well, translating "Suzumiya-san" to "Miss Suzumiya", which just sounds...wrong in a classroom setting.

Of course, there's the issue of price. Is it really worth, at the bare minimum, a $20 investment, or, in the case of a long series such as Cardcaptor Sakura, up to and perhaps over $360? (70 episodes / 4 episodes a disc = 18 disc * $20 = $360) It's not a small chunk of change at any case, especially for teenage anime watchers with low income.

But, there are of course, advantages to dishing out money for official R1s. Fansubs, being provided through the internet, have to be of a bit lower quality so that it doesn't take days to download an episode. The quality issue is not always apparent, as it varies from group to group - my Lucky Star eps. from AFK are 180 MB while the Shuffle! Memories from Ayako are 90 - but is pretty obvious when blown up on the big screen.

And what of Blu-Ray? That's one that will probably never be sent over the internet. Even just streaming the AIR OP sequence on Blu-Ray takes decades, but I can't imagine how good it looks on the big screen compared to the already-pixelated versions of AIR on Youtube (when I watched it before it was licensed).

Another point for the official R1s, at least for those of us with disposable income, is the supporting of the anime scene in America. Buying Haruhi, Shuffle!, AIR (3 of the series I'm watching for in R1 soon) may pave the way for bigger and better anime releases. And not just bigger as in anime series - Haruhi is about as big as it gets, at least in Japan - but in release. One can at least hope to one day turn on the TV and see Akiko jamu'ing someone to death.

And so, that's why I wouldn't mind dishing up a little extra cash for the ability to watch anime on my TV instead of on a little screen in the computer - makes it that much easier to convert would-be anime fans that way.

And plus, y'know, demonstrating of fanboying and all, in the same way some people collect cars, stamps, books, etc, we collect anime DVDs. It seems more useful, and perhaps in some cases more cheap, than collect anime artbooks, plushies, keychains, music CDs/OSTs, posters, figurines, etc etc.

Although, I must say, that Nagato plushie is looking more appealing by the second, even if it costs as much as a DVD. Some fanboyism has no boundaries.