Anime Dubbed vs. Subbed: Which Is Better?

Anime Dubbed Vs Subbed Deku My Hero Academia
Credit: Bones

Anime Dubbed Vs Subbed Deku My Hero Academia
Credit: Bones

As an anime fan, you’ll often come across discussions about anime dubs and subs. Many hardcore fans seem to favor the latter with dubs getting a bad rap, but what of their merits? If you’ve not solved the dubbed vs. subbed anime dilemma yet, we’ve put together some thoughts for you in this article.

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  1. The Japanese Version Captures the Creator’s Original Vision

    This is the case not only with anime but with any media. While it would be inaccurate or even harmful to argue that the original is always better without room for nuance, we can’t deny that the original Japanese anime better capture the vibes the creators intended.

    Translators are always faced with dilemmas. A good translation cannot be a word-by-word transcription, but how much can you safely change without completely altering the meaning or atmosphere?

    Add the time limits of visual media, and this becomes even more complex.

    Being called on not only to translate but also to translate in a way that ensures a similar piece of dialogue takes the exact time to be spoken as the original means that sacrifices need to be made.

    In other languages, concepts, ideas, emotions, or simply everyday phrases might normally take more or less time to be communicated than in Japanese, and when every second matters, the emotion of some dubbed dialogues might feel forced.

    Sailor Moon Anime Dubs
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    Moreover, dubs can occasionally completely change an aspect of a show intentionally, such as by censoring LGBTQ+ content, as was the case with the English dub of the 1990s shoujo anime Sailor Moon.

    Even when no such extreme changes are made, the dub voice actors cannot sound exactly the same as the original ones.

    While they shouldn’t have to, they might not always capture the original vision of a specific character.

    This isn’t necessarily a problem, but those who are very interested in an anime’s emotional resonance and the original creators’ vision might want to opt for the Japanese version.

  2. Dubs Can Help Make a Show More Accessible

    Of course, dubs aren’t without merit, and their existence can help make anime accessible to as many viewers as possible.

    Visually impaired viewers or people with learning disabilities might struggle to read fast-changing subtitles and find it easier to watch dubs.

    For children’s anime that get distributed internationally, dubs are pretty much necessary, especially when the target audience is very young viewers who don’t read yet.

    Dubs can also benefit anyone who wants to watch anime casually while doing other activities.

    If you understand what is being said at all times, you’re more likely to know when you should really be paying attention.

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  3. Subs Can Also Help Viewers, No Matter the Language

    Fans of dubs might argue that reading subtitles all the time is tiring, but this isn’t true for everyone.

    Unlike most native English speakers, viewers from many other backgrounds often get used to watching shows with subtitles from a young age, especially if their language isn’t widely spoken outside their home country.

    But even for those who don’t have this experience, subtitles are increasingly viewed as helpful for viewers with hearing impairments.

    Even when watching something in a language they speak, some viewers find it useful to keep subtitles on, especially when they can expect accents they’re unfamiliar with, or when watching in a noisy environment.

    While these opinions about subtitles aren’t limited to anime, they go on to show that there’s nothing inherently annoying about reading subtitles; for many of us, it’s quite the opposite.

    And if you’re going to read subtitles anyway, you might want to give the original a shot.

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  4. Dubs Can Sometimes Be Very Good... Or Hilariously Bad

    Dubs can be a hit or miss. For many popular titles, dubs can be of high quality, even comparable to the original.

    Other times, especially in the past decades, dubs turned out to be a disaster... and this isn’t an entirely bad thing.

    Many non-Japanese speakers grew up watching all sorts of dubbed anime in their native language and some iconic moments are much more vivid in their collective memory than the original.

    A translator would probably be able to tell that some of these moments have been translated badly, but at the end of the day, childhood memories make things seem better than they actually were, and one can’t quote a language they don’t speak.

    There’s something almost charming about remembering dubs that are so bad that they’re hilarious.

  5. Originals Are More Nuanced

    Most dubs by official anime distributors nowadays will at least be okay, if not great. But if you’re serious about Japanese culture, you might want to consider watching the original dubs whenever possible.

    This is not to say that anime is the best source to learn about Japanese culture.

    With that being said, the original Japanese will contain some nuances that are often lost in dubs.

    One such example is the main Japanese honorifics, such as "–san", "–kun", "–chan", and so on.

    Again, we don’t argue that these are used in the most realistic ways in anime, but they do tell us a bit about the relationships between characters.

  6. Subs vs. Dubs: Our Verdict

    Watching anime subbed or dubbed is ultimately a personal choice, and preferring one or the other is totally valid.

    Based on the reasons above, we do think that the original Japanese version provides a fuller experience, a clearer insight into the creators’ vision, and some cultural insights that you might miss in dubs.

    Dubs can sometimes be of less quality, or even misleading, but this isn't always the case.

    To be fair, plenty of dubs are great even if they don’t 100% correspond to the originals.

    We’ve argued that many things get lost in translation, but we must admit that fans of originals with subtitles are not always the best at advertising them.

    Sometimes, hardcore fans can gatekeep or accuse those who watch dubs of being lesser fans.

    At the end of the day, while we prefer anime subs to dubs, both subtitles and dubs are here to help make anime accessible and enjoyable, and all viewing preferences are valid.

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