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Why do some people think English dubbed anime is horrible?
Aaah goody the age old debate of sub vs dub.
3, 2, 1, let’s jam! First of all, let’s be honest here, dubs have the potential to be pretty horrible.
Anyone who says otherwise has clearly never seen a dubbed Kung Fu movie. In any dub scenario, whether it be a live action or an animation, the caliber of actor is usually going to go down.
For an original story you have the cream of the crop actors to chose from.
In the US plenty of A-list actors like Brad Pitt, Robin Williams and Samuel L Jackson have voiced cartoons, but do you ever see them doing dubs of any kind? No! And when Aladdin got dubbed into Japanese do you think they found the Robin Williams equivalent to voice the genie? No, they found a guy that could sound like Robin Williams and frankly did a fantastic job, but he’s still just an imitation. Dubs of any kind are going to start at a disadvantage.
You’ve got cultural issues to contend with that don’t always translate well.
Calling someone sempai in Japanese sounds perfectly natural and flows well, but calling someone upperclassman in English is just never going to come across as anything but stiff and awkward.
And I’ve yet to hear a female English dub actor pull off that cute little girl moe voice the way Japanese actresses do so effortlessly.
It’s just not a voice style English speakers do, so it doesn’t translate well. As others have mentioned, dubbing is also more challenging than regular voice over work because you have to time your lines to match up with the mouth flaps.
This severely stunts your creative license for delivery.
Dialog also gets changed to make the delivery work and often doesn’t flow as well as a result. All that being said, I like quite a few dubs, and there are some that I prefer to the original Japanese versions.
Take Cowboy Bebop and Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood for instance.
The dubs for those shows are excellent and almost flawlessly delivered.
You have some of the best dub voice actors out there in those shows, and the acting is across the board just as good, if not better in some cases than the original. But… Let’s go back a decade or two and look at a show called Ranma 1/2.
This was my first anime and to this day it’s my favorite.
I heard it dubbed first and loved it, barely noticing some of the flawed acting. Then I heard it in Japanese… and oh my goodness was I floored.
Megumi freaking Hayashibara (female Ranma)! Noriko Hidako (Akane)! Kappei Yamaguchi (male Ranma)! Even Mousse, a lesser main character, was voiced by Toshihiko Seki.
I’m not even mentioning all the big players here.
If you know anything about Japanese voice actors you know these guys are the real deal.
Like seriously I didn’t even have to look up their names to type this answer.
I have them memorized because they were in everything back then! These guys took voice acting to a whole other level.
Once I heard Ranma in Japanese I was never able to listen to it in English again… And then I read the manga and was never able to watch the anime again at all, but that’s a different heavy debate about manga vs anime that we don’t need to get into… In the early days of anime dubs there was some serious suckage going on.
But somewhere around the early 2000’s I think dubs really started improving.
It makes sense if you consider the popularity of anime.
It started becoming really big in the 90’s, but prior to that there weren’t a whole lot of genuinely talented actors to chose from that were willing to do the work for tiny paychecks, especially for minor roles.
Generally speaking, dub actors for animes were doing voice overs as a side gig, not as a career.
I imagine a lot of times producers with small budgets called on familiar people they knew they could get into the booth quickly rather than holding actual auditions.
If their studios were anything like my advertising agency, it’s likely they just pulled random staff from their offices in for the really small parts. Take Nabiki from the Ranma 1/2 dubs for instance… she had to take some time off from the show so she could go to flight school.
So who did they get to replace her? Her sister, who kind of sounds like her but doesn’t really have any serious acting experience.
I mean yes she still sounded like Nabiki, so kudos for that, but her performance was notably lackluster in comparison to the original actress.
Also notable is the fact that the voice actress for Nabiki either couldn’t make a living off acting or didn’t want to.
Nowadays it seems that the major dub actors are singularly devoted to acting, and though they are still grossly underpaid do decently for themselves. There are some good performances from the early days of dubbing, but usually only from the main parts.
Once anime started getting more popular, dubbing became a more lucrative field and more quality actors started seeking it out.
Bigger paychecks I’m sure paid a part in the acting quality as well I imagine. Nowadays dub actors still don’t get anywhere near the recognition or respect that television actors get.
Meanwhile, in Japan, voice actors are legit celebrities and idols.
People in Japan aspire to voice act.
From what I’ve heard, a lot of the big time dub actors in countries like the US kind of stumble into dub acting more often than not for lack of better options.
That’s not to say they don’t love what they do, but I’m pretty sure a bunch of them aspired to do more mainstream forms of acting originally. So all that is stacked against the dub camp.
But despite it all, anime dubs are only getting better and better.
I used to be a sub only watcher back in the 90s when a lot of dubs legitimately sucked.
Nowadays I’m a bit of both.
If the dub sounds to my ears just as good as the sub I’ll watch it in English.
If a dub actor does something with their voice that I find particularly irritating I’ll watch it in Japanese.
If there’s a really awesome voice actor in the Japanese version I’ll watch it in Japanese and vice versa.
I speak a fair amount of Japanese and I’m involved in acting and even voice acting so I like to think I have a discerning ear for quality. Nowadays my main gripe about dubs is the lack of variety.
It seems like there are only a few key actors out there that they keep putting in the same stuff.
I think Vic Mignogna is great and all, but he has a very discernible voice and it’s distracting to hear him in something and not immediately picture Edward Elric.
But besides that I think generally dubs are great and even if you prefer the original Japanese, saying dubs are horrible is a stretch.
Even if you have really good examples of where dubs fall short of the original, that only signifies that the original is better, not that the dub is bad. My guess is that people that are strongly anti-dub are either: A.
Purists that really value and search for the true authentic Japanese anime experience or… B.
Are basing their opinions off a few bad dubs that were most likely done in the 90s. Then of course there’s the people that just really like to stick to one opinion and hold onto it for dear life and refuse to honestly consider another person’s point of view despite how good their counter arguments may be… Personally I say watch it how you want to watch it! Both adaptations have their merits.
Just because you have your own preference doesn’t mean you have to dis on someone else’s.
Dubs aren’t horrible anymore.
They’ve come a long way, and if nothing else I think the hard working people putting together dub animes deserve to be praised for their progress.