Anime Dubbing

July 14, 2006 at 8:42 pm (Anime)

META: Kinda busy working on my thesis, but I try to get at least one post a week in, for all the zero people that actually regularly check here without using Nano / RSS.

I have been thinking about anime dubs (I say this in my best season 4 Buffy antagonist voice).

I got bored with PPD, but I really liked Ichijo, and how she is almost the polar opposite of a typical iinchou character

So, I was reading over today’s Ask John, which was about how American Anime companies:
1. Have largely given up on trying to please hardcore fans, because it seems to be impossible
and 2. Are Americanizing more anime, because that seems to be a hell of a lot more profitable.

And then I remembered, some comments on an AnimeOnDVD User Response piece (sorry, you will probably have to hunt through the thread to find them) about the differences between sub and dub translations, and how they’re targetted at different fandoms.

And I was recalling how, in the aniblogosphere I read at least, the “JAT” fandom is associated with subs and raws, while the “AAT” fandom is associated with dubs.

But also recalling one of my more beardly (i.e. long-time) otaku friend’s anecdotes about the boon of DVDs and how they ended the “sub vs. dub wars”.

This all sort of relates to what I’m thinking about now, which are the reasons why I tend to dislike dubbed anime.

When I can, I like to consume media in a way as close to the original intent as possible. Not speaking Japanese, I can’t watch raw anime, but I can listen to the original voicework directed by the original director and read the subtitles. This isn’t just a thing with me and anime though; it’s a thing with me and *all* of the media I consume. It just doesn’t come up very often, because I usually I don’t have any choice of format.

Benefit of the bad-acting doubt
Though this is dissipating, I feel that I am less able to identify shoddy Japanese voice-work than I am shoddy English voice-work, just because I’m more familiar with the nuances of English diction.

So those two kind of go together, because there’s not really anything an American producer cna do to overcome these factors for me.

I think I prefer the translations used for sub-tracks over those used for dub-tracks
I probably wouldn’t have ever thought about this, but that AnimeOnDVD thread I referenced had a bunch of comments about the Americanization of idioms, and what was “best practice” and so forth. The one guy (site admin I think) who seemed to know what he was implied that American Anime Companies are aware that there are major distinctions between what their dub-watchers want in Anime, and what their sub-watchers want in Anime. Apparently, the sub translation is generally a fairly literal (i.e. without too much reculturizing) translation, and then they modify it to match lip-flaps on the dub track, and sometimes Americanize more of the translation. I might be misinterpreting, but that was what I gathered. I don’t really want my Anime re-cultured. This is what the guy writing in to Ask John was complaining about, and I think, if in fact there is a difference in re-culturing between sub / dub translations and I didn’t just imagine I read that, then it’s fair to complain…as long as you’re only complaining about the sub translation. Complaining about a dub translation that is produced for a fandom much larger and increasingly divorced from your own is pretty much dust in the wind.

In my admittedly limited experience, the typical English dub voice-track sounds like ass
So, as I already sorta said, I don’t actually care how they want to do the dubs, as long as I can still get subtitles, because the dubs aren’t for me, but I’ll mention this anyway. I have listened to a lot of more recent dubs, so maybe they are better now, but almost every dub I’ve listend to for anime sounded horrible. And I know it’s not just the mere fact that it’s dubbed, because I’ve heard good anime dubs too. Disney’s Miyazaki dubs and most of the Gundam dubs, for instance, don’t make me immediately begin convulsing in pain as I do when I listen to other anime dubs. I watched a fair bit of dubbed Dragonball Z, but I always hated the voices. I’m not sure what all this is, but…

I think the talent pool for anime voicework is probably pretty thin, though I’m often tempted to blame directors rather than actors, in the same way I prefer to blame managers rather than employees. I used to think a lot of my problem was the loss of nuance that occurs when an English translation is forced onto lip flaps, but I know now they structure the translations to match the lip flaps, so most of this *should* be shifted onto an awkward translation rather than awkward speakign. I hear soooo many dub voices that are almost single-toned (see Sailor Moon). Like they’re afraid of emoting properly, or are forcing themselves to speak in an unnatural way…for some reason. Could it be related to misunderstanding the caricaturized emotional vocabulary of a 2d figure? I dunno, that seems like a stretch. Of course, there’s also the problem of emulating children’s voices, which covers, uhh, a lot of the characters in anime; you’d think that’d be part of the basic required training of a voice actor though.

Oh, and I guess the sub-dub war of auld wasn’t really related, but I think it’s interesting, because it reflects something of the shift in dynamics in the U.S. anime fandom. 15 years ago, there probably was *no such thing* as a JAT fandom in America. It just wouldn’t have been possible to get a fansub or retail release to a wide base of U.S. fans with an English translation in any vaguely quick amount of time. So, while now a lot of people say “hardcore” when they mean “JAT” (haha neology), it’s also worth pointing out that 15 years ago, *any* avid Anime watcher in the U.S. would probably qualify as a “hardcore” fan. Which means, since there was conflict, that there were “hardcore” fans who absolutely wanted to watch dubs. Hmm. Wonder what happened to them…



  1. Demian said,

    To me the most annoying thing about dubs is how it seems I’m hearing the same actors in every show. I mean I feel like I’m hearing Steven Jay Blum in everything. Is it really that hard for companies to branch out to other kind of actors to diversify thier voice base?

  2. Crayotic Rockwell said,

    Yeah, it seems like a smart move to split the dub and subs into completely different audiences–although I suppose I do worry about it eventually condititioning new anime fans against the more literal stuff, to the point where AAT completely pwns the purse strings and they just say “ahh, JAT is too much trouble”

    But as long as that’s happening, they could sing Elvis renditions on the dub track and it doesn’t matter to me because I’m never going to be listening to it.

    The voices is one obvious area of contention.. they certainly don’t seem to be able to hit the same range of emotion, girls sound less than cute, and most male characters I hear have that straining-to-be-tuff voice. But likewise, I’m an English speaker so perhaps I just can’t tell the Japanese flaws.

    The other issue I have with localization (this applies more to Manga, but dub scripts as well) is that there seems to be this tendancy to over-adapt things. Because really, literal translations are actually pretty close to real life speech in many cases. And it’s possible to be literal, yet still deliver dialogue that flows and matches the character.

    Instead I seem to be seeing obscure slang and out-dated collequialisms that my parents probably think are “hip” thrown about. It’s just, garrgh annoying because I feel embarressed whenever I read/hear some of the unnatural things being put out there.

  3. sethjohnson said,

    “to the point where AAT completely pwns the purse strings and they just say ‘ahh, JAT is too much trouble’ ”

    I’d be more worried if I didn’t have the impression that the producer / director people were kinda JATty themselves. Also, from what I understand, it’s basically free to add the subtitle track to DVDs, since they build the dub translation off of it anyway.

    “Instead I seem to be seeing obscure slang and out-dated collequialisms that my parents probably think are “hip” thrown about. It’s just, garrgh annoying because I feel embarressed whenever I read/hear some of the unnatural things being put out there.”

    Well, yeah, trying to Americanize cultural elements isn’t going to work very well if you don’t understand American culture. =p Though youth culture is so ridiculously dynamic that it’s gotta be pretty hard to actually succeed at sounding natural.

  4. Ten said,

    I;m not very familiar with English dub. I tried to watch a few shows in Adult Swim but I simply can’t stand it. However, my beef with anime dubs is the same way with how I deal with foreign films.

    Say, the film “Amelie” dubbed in English. Or a Buffy ep dubbed in Spanish (yes, I’ve tried the listening bits of Buffy dubs). It’s just not the same.

    As for the anime dubs, it’s not even simply the dub itself. They even change the background music and sound effects to match a Western feel.

    >>I have been thinking about anime dubs (I say this in my best season 4 Buffy antagonist voice).

    Is the Adam voice a good thing or a bad thing? ;p

  5. jpmeyer said,

    Instead I seem to be seeing obscure slang and out-dated collequialisms that my parents probably think are “hip” thrown about. It’s just, garrgh annoying because I feel embarressed whenever I read/hear some of the unnatural things being put out there.

    Now that I think about it, I wonder how much of this has to do with non-Japanese speakers not knowing about slang words like “maji” or “yappa”. I didn’t realize how difficult this was until I was playing Muv-Luv, and when Takeru ends up in the other dimension, people don’t understand his slang. While I knew what the characters were all saying, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to translate that scene into English in a way that would still have the same literal meaning as what the characters were saying while still using a current English slang word.

  6. yuribou said,

    I hate dubs, because I don’t like American Voice Acting. Especially in hentai.

    I mean, at least Japanese girls sound like they’re getting laid. American VAs just sound like theyre having a tickle attack

  7. James said,

    In my humble view, and as a person fluent in Japanese, I have to agree that English dubs kill the very essence of anime. Not that there is anything wrong in dubbing Anime into English, however the way its currently being done is an injustice to English-only speaking Anime fans.

    Anime’s appeal lies in its abilty to convey reality. Anime gives us real people, and places these real people in very extraordinary circumstances, and allows events to play out and shows us how it affects these real people. That’s what mainly differentiates anime from your typical Saturday morning cartoon.

    In English dubs, the voice actors are unable to portray these characters as real. We are given caricatures rather than real people, and for me it takes away the ‘real’ feel that makes Anime so appealing, and relegates it to the ‘Saturaday-morning-cartoon’ category.

    Main Problem: English voice actors OVER ACT. They don’t sound real!

    In real life, people convey their feelings in greys. Japanese voice actors deliver their lines (or at least are directed to do so) with this in mind . The result is that the characters sound more complex, and more interesting, and familiar. In an English dub, the characters express themseves in stark colors. Its either black or white. Where a character in a Japanese dub comes off as cool, aloof, and self centered, in an English dub he will be portrayed as loud, brash and shallow. In short, like a cartoon character.

    Somebody suggested it is the voice over directors who are to blame for not getting their actors to emote properly. That it’s because of them that English dubs sound like high-school plays.

    Maybe they are to blame, but the actors deserve some of the blame too. I’ve listened to English dubs with the so-called big name voice-over actors. I’m sorry. Still sounds like a high-school play.

    The way characters speak in a Japanese dub very closely resembles the manner in which Japanese people speak in everyday converstation. Maybe that’s why they seem so real, and why I enjoy watching Anime in the original Japanese.

    Plese do not misunderstand me. I do not speak as an elitist who can only accept Anime in its original language. I am a person who wants the guys who do the English dubs to get their act together, so that Anime recieves the respect it deserves, and continues to grow in popularity.

    As long as dubs don’t go for a real feel, and the voice actors don’t stop over-acting, American anime fans will continue having a hard time convincing people that they’re not watching cartoons.

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