On English Dubs

stop looking this picture has nothing to do with anything

The sub vs dub debate is probably one of the most beaten horses in US anime fandom, ever. Things died down with the advent of the DVD, but despite that, the nasty matter of whether one likes watching anime in English or Japanese still sometimes rears its beaten, bloodied and gruesome head.

If you haven’t been living under a rock for the past week (or, conversely, if you have a proper life) you would know that the Lucky Star dub trailer recently hit the intertubes, and it is a most dangerous video indeed. Naturally, it stirred up a storm of hate in various places, making a lot of moe fanbois mad that their pure maidens were raped, and making a lot dub fans angry at said fanbois for being elitist. Now, I don’t mean to fan any flames here, but I figured now would be a perfect opportunity to talk about my stance on the whole LOL ENGLISH DUBS matter, since I don’t believe I’ve done so on this blog before.

But first, a story. Get ready for a shock, guys. Ready? Good.

I used to watch English dubs. All the fucking time. But, I was never a dub fan. Please note this fact, as it is quite important. See, as a pre-teen living in Washington DC in the late ’90s, you didn’t have much options. My internet connection barely existed, so finding out about local clubs was out of the question (I doubt many of them had websites, anyway) and even if I did, it’s not like I could go anywhere on my own. All I had was my circle of elementary school buddies, Blockbuster, and TV.

Like most fans of my generation, I got into Japanese cartoons via what was shown on television. You know, your Pokemon, your Dragon Ball Z, your Gundam Wing, etc. When I watched Pokemon for the first time, I was aware that it was Japanese, but the fact that it was Japanese was neither here nor there. I just thought it was a cool looking cartoon, and what language it was in didn’t matter much to me. On top of that, the only way I could really watch anime was in English, since TV only ever showed the things dubbed, and the only tapes Blockbuster had were the English ones (they were cheaper, after all.) So, the only real exposure I had to Japanese dubs were on the nth generation fansubs of Dragon Ball Z movies my buddies would order off Ebay, or the Samurai X tapes that guy lent me once (Hi, Justin.) While I could dig anime in Japanese, my access to it was quite limited. Thusly, if I limited myself to anime JUST in Japanese, I’d miss out a lot.

Anyway, fast forward several years to the beginning of 2005. It’s a snow day and I’m a teenager, so naturally I’m depressed over nothing. The world was cruel to me for whatever reason I could make up right then, and I had nothing to do but be miserable. My anime collection had grown stale on me, and watching the last episode of Cowboy Bebop for the 51st time didn’t really seem like an awesome idea anymore. So, I pointed my browser to Megatokyo’s anime forum. I remembered that in previous adventures over there, people often spoke of shows I had never heard about, and it only just hit me that they were talking about anime that was airing in Japan! Now, I had BitTorrent installed for a while already, had downloaded a few things– mostly movies, and random episodes of Planetes. A Cowboy Bebop forum brought Samurai Champloo to my attention as well, so I was kind of watching that weekly. But, beyond that, I had no clue what was going on in Japan, so I lurked around for recommendations. After some lurking, I picked out Ah! My Goddess and AIR TV. Two series turned into four, four turned into eight and so on.

This was the turning point. This was when the Japanese performances won me over. Now, it should be noted that during this time, I was still watching anime dubbed on Adult Swim until about senior year in high school. However, since that one day when I started on those two shows, I began switching to the Japanese tracks on my DVDs, and started caring about Adult Swim less and less. As of right now, it’s probably been a good year or so since I’ve watched an entire series dubbed into English.

So, simply put, I prefer anime in Japanese now (SHOCK!). Though, putting the quality of English dubs aside, I don’t necessarily watch anime in Japanese because I think it sounds better. I am an artist (LOL), and anime is art. Sure, some of it is stupid and trashy art, but it’s art all the same. And as an artist (HAHAHAHAHHAHAA) I like viewing art unaltered, and a complete change in audio is a pretty big alteration. I like seeing the show as it was handled by the original staff, that’s all. If by some random chance an English dub happens to be better than the Japanese dub, that’ll mean nothing to me since if the show sucks in Japanese, it just sucks. To me, the English dub is a completely different show.

But, let’s be honest here– most English dub jobs aren’t up to scratch. I’ve seen exactly two professional-sounding dubs in my entire life, and they were GITS:SAC and Cowboy Bebop. See, the thing with English dubs is, generally, they’re produced on low-budgets, and recycle talent (Not to mention that with the advent of moe, it’s getting harder to dub anime and make it not sound awkward. White women in their 30s ain’t cute, I’m sorry.) Thusly, the feeling is similar to that of watching various plays put on by a local, kind of crappy, theatre troupe. Yeah, they get the point across, but they’re nothing compared to say, the stars on Broadway. That’s a lame analogy. Anyway. Dub fans probably get into that, though. They probably feel closer to the English talent due to the lack of a language barrier. And unlike the Japanese guests at cons, the English actors aren’t kept in giant bubbles.

Wow, that went on for longer than expected. Anyway, hope that was enlightening a little. Or something. You guys probably don’t care at all, but it was good to get that all off my chest. Maybe one day I’ll do a proper history of my fandom, if anyone cares…

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