Friday, April 9, 2010

The Anime Industry Then and Now Section 1 Final: Where I Stand on Dub Versus Sub an Extended Commentary

When I wrote the original draft for this article I felt something seemed “off”. I realized that going into this aspect of anime fandom there is no right answer. How can there be a correct answer when it all comes down to preference, and perception? Instead I rather use this article to expand upon my personal tastes and why I did not subscribe to the seeming “hive mentality” on anti-dubs back in the day. I want people to know going into this that this is the way I choose to watch and be entertained by anime and it in no way should influence others to take my position. I’m not arguing for or against since I think both sides have valid points but in the end it is completely personal choice.

That being said, I guess you could call me a “dubbie”. Even while writing this article I’m currently watching the English version of Sgt. Frog (Keroro Gunsou) which has gotten much controversy for its “punched up” script and constant ad-libing. It’s kind of funny since it was the dub that got me into the series, then the manga, and just earlier yesterday morning I was watching the first movie (thank you, You Tube) in Japanese and I didn’t find the differences so jarring that I could never watch the dub again. Yes, the characterizations have a harder edge in the dub but thanks to DVDs I could always switch to the Japanese anytime I felt like it. But I don’t. Because I enjoy the dub. This is what it has always been like for me as an anime fan. I never say the English version is “better” because in many cases the Japanese version is, at least, more consistent in terms of acting, seiyuu’s, and overall production. Doesn’t stop me from watching dubs. Unfortunately, when some fans go into how I enjoy a flawed product or an inferior version I tend to get defensive. It’s hard to argue when the ugly truth is if you watch a show in one language and get used to its presentation it’s difficult to watch it in another language without things seeming off. This has happened to me on many occasions whether I start watching a show in Japanese or English, either way there’s a “language lag” where it takes me some time to get used to a different performance. A lot of anime fans tend to take this as a blanket statement that all dubs are bad and therefore anime should only be watched in Japanese. What I discovered is if you look at a dub as how it stands on its own versus how it compares to the Japanese version you tend to get a different reaction. But, once again, this is just my viewpoint. Because there are people out there who are just uncomfortable with the concept of anime being dubbed, period.

My fascination with the anime dub was pioneered by my love for Ranma ½. During this era outside of Ranma the only other prolific company was Carl Macek’s Streamline and U.S. Manga. Their dubs for stuff like Akira, Fist of the North Star, Project A-ko were just appalling. Typical dubs during those days would be a combination of bad voice directing, overacting, under acting, wooden delivery, wrong sounding voices, no matching to lip flaps, bad scripting, and very little consideration for the source material. Because of these factors, I could understand the fan base’s cynicism towards dubs initially. The problem was that as dubs got more creative, better, and improved the reputation stuck and only recently has receded.

Now, outside of Ranma ½, as I delved further and deeper into anime fandom I noticed that the dislike of dubs (this is completely from my perspective) seemed rather blind and not very critical. One time I remember during a break at Manna Anime someone accidentally put an LD (laserdisc, think DVDs shaped like records) of Tenchi on the English side for like 5 seconds and everybody freaked. I didn’t get why because the few seconds I heard didn’t sound horrible. Going back to the whole “hive mentality” deal, I really felt strongly about forming my own opinions on what was good and bad and determined that all dubs deserve a chance to be viewed.

This does not mean I love anything dubbed. Two series, in particular, I thought were “bad” dubs initially and I didn’t change my opinion about them change until the DVD era where after seeing them in Japanese so many times I decided to give them another shot because there were a few things that intrigued me about some performances. Those dubs are Neon Genesis Evangelion and Maison Ikkoku. If an average anime fan asked me what language these shows should be watched in my default response would be Japanese, but if a fan seemed open minded enough I would suggest that whatever language they choose if it doesn’t bother them then continue in that language. Eva’s dub was an interesting case because it’s what I categorized as an “evolving dub”, a dub where things aren’t very polished in the first episode and improved gradually as the series goes on (MI, Bleach, Death Note, Naruto, DBZ, and Escaflowne all fall in this category). Evangelion was the dub that seemed responsible for transitioning ADVs dubs from “meh” to good as all the dubs that came from that company post-Evangelion where far more thought out and polished. For Maison Ikkoku it was a simple case of just turning my brain off and watching the dub and at some point, I was so absorbed in the story I forgot I was watching it dubbed.

The other aspect of dubs that is more of a guilty pleasure of mine is dubs where they don’t follow the Japanese script at all and just make up their own show. If you ask why, the simple answer is “’Cause it’s funny!” while the more complex answer is “Because I want to spite all those pro-Japanese fans by liking something they would naturally hate!” Now I already gave Sgt. Frog as an example, and to be honest, its dub changes are mildly tame since it more or less is just a more Americanized slant on what was already present in the Japanese version. The earliest example of the “punched-up” dub can be traced back to the early Saban days of anime dubbing with the show Samurai Pizza Cats (pictured above). The show was basically one big lampooning parody with an English script that was remarkably witty, accurate or not. Often times you would have characters being very genre-savvy, constantly breaking the forth wall, and having extreme personality makeovers…and it all worked. While you could argue that all dubs on TV fell into this category Robotech (at least the Macross part), Dragonball Z, Sailor Moon attempted to keep most of the elements of Japanese version (albeit very Americanized) while SPC just went in a different direction. There were quite a few TV dubs that followed suit like 4Kids Ultimate M.U.S.C.L.E, Mon Colle Knights, and a few others I can’t quite rack my brain about. The second movement of dubs like this came in the form of a man known as, Steven Foster. As ADV became a more prolific company their dubs were divided into two categories, ones that accurately represented the Japanese version and then the ones that if you put on the subtitles you would have a case of “How They Lied-O-Vision!” The “HoTLOV” dubs tended to be helmed by this individual who took a fairly innocent show and turned it into a pop culture savvy (which would end up dating itself in a few years), potty mouth talking, and personality altering gag fest. Some of the dubs “tainted” by this man include Those Who Hunt Elves (mainly the first season), Orphen (same), Saiyuki, Steel Angel Kurumi, Sorcerer Hunters, and Cromartie High School. This all culminated in his dubbing “project” Super Milk-Chan. This show ended up being his own little personal soap box as the DVD release was a kind of ADV voice actor skit show with the anime being interplayed between skits. The DVD itself contained two versions of the show the one I mentioned with an actually funny script then another disc that contained a direct translation of the Japanese version. Ironically it was the later that had a run on Adult Swim, instead of the former which fit their format better. His last big project was the dubbing of Ghost Stories. Cliff notes version, Japanese version was a Scooby Doo-esque kids show the English version would give South Park a run for its money (one episode involved a teacher being good with her mouth and doorknobs…yeah…). While Steven Foster has been more or less quiet these days this tradition has continued in the Funi dubs of Shin-Chan and Sgt. Frog.

Now there are dubs I have very little tolerance for I wanted to cover what shows I not only hands down prefer the Japanese version but some have an English version that is so horrendous I would never recommend it to anyone.

First is Macross: Clash of the Bionoids. Aussie accents, bad editing, and complete rape of Macross: Do You Remember Love? the only thing they got right was the names. Next is the Crest/Banner of the Stars series where the acting was so stilted I couldn’t make it past the first episode without switching the language track. Most of 4kids series I tend not to come down too hard on but I do not know what the hell they were thinking with One Piece, at least Dragonball and Sailor Moon were watchable. Speaking of Sailor Moon, this is a perfect example of a “de-evolving” dub. The first 65 episodes were decent but everything that came after was a gradual descent into crappy with inconsistent performances and no quality control. Then there is the Saber Marionette series which suffers from multiple dubs of varying quality. While stuff like Oh My Goddess can pull this off by always having good performances, this was the reverse and it didn’t help the Japanese version was perfect. I hesitate to put Revolutionary Girl Utena on this list because it actually is a decent dub but unfortunately the performance of a major character and their importance in later parts of the series brought down the whole dub and makes me prefer watching it in Japanese instead. Finally, Urusei Yatsura, hasn’t had one competent dub to save its life. Dubbed 4 different times (Obnoxious Aliens dub, Beautiful Dreamer dub, the international British dub, and the in-house movie dubs) it has never carried over the series humor or characterization (and is just plain‘ bad). A lot of fans consider the Beautiful Dreamer dub is the closest thing to a “good” dub but outside of certain performances the dub is wooden and screams mediocre something the actual movie is not. The British dub is much like the punched-up dubs I mentioned earlier and is actually really funny…if it wasn’t so…English. I do think if Viz’s Ocean or Funimation handled the dub of this series it could have a successful dub but otherwise, no dice.

There is one pro-dubbie stance that I never understood. The whole “I like dubs because it hard to read the subtitles and it distracts me from the visuals.” What?! I don’t know how this argument holds any water. I do think dubs are great for multi-tasking like if you’re on the computer or reading manga or drawing but the whole hard to read subtitles thing is a fairly easy thing to do and I don’t recall having to massively adjust to reading subtitles.

In some cases a lot of Japanese only fans are getting their wish. Most shows aren’t even given a dub these days and with the phenomenon of digital distribution the quickest way to get into a show is to slap a sub on it and watch it on Crunchyroll or Hulu. Still I believe the whole phenomenon of CN/Adult Swim proved that dubs have done their job and there’s no such thing as a show that’s impossible to dub. Also most of my favorite shows are still getting dubs (the Evangelion movies, Slayers, Haruhi, Sgt. Frog, Naruto, One Piece, Fullmetal Alchemist, etc.) so I’m pretty indifferent to whole matter in present day.

Whew. That was a mouthful. However, with that out of the way we will now cover the anime fandom and how it evolved during my college days kicking things off with the Pokemon Era.

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  1. "Love Hina" started me on my journey away from English dubs. The last ones I watched were on Cartoon Network, so that would have likely been the "Shin Lupin III" series that was botched by Geneon and "Blue Gender" from FUNimation.

    The only thing I tell people they really should watch in Japanese is the canon Tenchi Muyo! Ryo-ohki stuff. That's because the dubs took too many liberties and this is a story were any liberties can change things.

  2. Love Hina actually should have been on my list of dubs to stay away from. Lupin III falls in the "punched up" category which is a matter of taste.

    I've seen Tenchi in both Japanese and English and outside of the "grandmother" line from OAV 1 and some of the honorifics I can't recall anything that was really lost between the two.

    I agree with you though, I love the new Funimation One Piece dub as well as Viz release of the manga but both have messed up on certain details that would bite them in the behind later on. For Funi they stated that one character was "killed" that pops up much much later in the series. For Viz they decided to put their own spin on translating one of the title pages from "The Second One" to "Another Villain" which is bad because it was the manga's way of counting down who officially was in the main character's crew.

    But still, this article was merely to state my position on the whole matter and to each there own.

  3. Yes...I really do point to Evangelion, as much as we can point to any "one, specific" dub, as the point where if you watch the dub from beginning to end, you can see the dub "evolving" from the pre-1997 awful dubs...into "actual acting" by the end.
    In that, there's no neat division between "there was this one really good dub show that made everyone realize you can have a great English dub" was WITHIN a single series, you could see the pieces coming together and they suddenly just got GOOD at it.

  4. @Anonymous
    It took me awhile to get around to liking Evangelion's dub but I felt it was justified since I saw it in Japanese so much and it is a perfect example of the dub that transitioned ADV from sub-par dubbing to decent, much like how Blue Gender was Funi's transition point.

  5. Very interesting article/essay. I didn't know about the history of the Shin Chan dub until now, thanks for sharing it with us.

    BTW, the Geneon Lupin III dub is great.