Sub vs. Dub

A quick Google search of Sub vs Dub (as in “Original Japanese Audio with English Subtitles” vs. “Re-dubbed audio with English voice actors”) will turn up a lot of debate, with people passionately arguing one way or the other.

I’m sort of in-between in terms of my preference. A lot of the shows that first got me hooked on anime were (of the necessity that they were aired on English TV) of course dubbed in English, so I am sort of partial to that. But on the other hand, most of that stuff was dubbed fairly well – with really good voice actors and an overall quality job.

In other cases, I prefer subtitles with the original Japanese audio – and this is especially true when there are songs involved. Trying to translate Japanese to English and match mouth-movements and other timing factors is hard enough; when you throw singing (and, usually, rhyming) into the mix, it’s just a recipe for disaster.

To cite some examples:

  • The Pixar/Disney releases of Hayao Miyazaki’s films (Princess Mononoke, Laputa [Castle in the Sky], Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and My Neighbor Totoro to name a few) have all had excellent voice acting and a quality translation (for various reasons, none the least of which was that the folks at Pixar really love Miyazaki’s films and wanted to do them justice).
  • The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is also really well done in English, although I wish they’d not dubbed the song from Episode 11 (at least, I think it’s Episode 11). It was painful to hear in English – the Japanese-language version was much more pleasant. (Thank goodness they keep the title & ending credits songs in the original Japanese by default!)
  • Azumanga Daioh is one that is so well done in English that I prefer the English dub to the original (the lip-synch is done so well that I rarely, if ever, notice any discrepancies – which is quite an achievement!)
  • The series Cowboy Bebop is another excellent English dub. I’ve watched it with English audio and the original Japanese – the voices in the English version are (in my mind) such a good match to their characters that I prefer the English version more.
  • The series Samurai Champloo is one where I’m “undecided” – I enjoy it both with the English language version AND the original Japanese audio. Still, the English dub is another example of an excellent job.

This list, of course, could go on and on – I’m sure most readers have their own personal examples, as well. Worth noting, of course, is that many of these examples I’ve cited are relatively “recent” – which, in a way, explains why their English-language dubs are often so well done. A lot of older anime (from the 1980’s, for example) is not done nearly as well – and for those, subtitles with the original Japanese audio would be preferrable.

Of course, I do also like to keep subtitles on, even when watching in English – because the subtitles have no time limitations (and don’t have to match mouth movements), they often are a more “direct” translation. This can sometimes reveal discrepancies between “the translation” and what is actually said by the English voice actors – and can sometimes reveal interesting in-jokes that were removed because English viewers might not “get” them. So I enjoy these sorts of subtitles – I have no problem reading them and listening to English at the same time (even if the English isn’t saying what the subtitles read as). But maybe I’m just weird in that respect.

So, there are times when I prefer one or the other. Fortunately, the advent of DVD has made all my dreams come true, with the ability to quickly and easily change between audio and subtitles… most of the time – some DVDs don’t have these options, which really annoys me. (My DVD of Kiki’s Delivery Service, for example, doesn’t have the original Japanese audio – or subtitles!)

Still, in this day and age, there’s really no excuse for a DVD release of an anime movie or series (or any foreign-language film, for that matter) not to have both language audio tracks, as well as subtitles (both “English for the hearing impaired” and “direct English translation”). Really, there’s no excuse not to give the consumer the choice. And that’s my 2 cents on the Sub vs Dub debate!

By Keith Survell

A geek, programmer, amateur photographer, anime fan and crazy rabbit person.


  1. I too am mostly undecided. I’ve watched most animes I like in both dub and sub and tend to prefer the subbed version myself, although I for one enjoy switching back and forth between the two.

    As for the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, I’ll admit I definitely prefer to listen to the Japanese audio; but this is probably because I’m an Aya Hirano fan. 🙂

  2. Yeah, almost any time I’m watching an anime, I have the DVD remote in my hand so I can switch between sub/dub on demand. I don’t know what I would’ve done if I had gotten into anime during the VHS era!

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