Lost in Translation: Subs vs. Dubs

Ever since I got into Anime, ages ago, and any foreign shows, really, I had to deal with the age-old question of “subs or dubs”. There are these two camps in the community and for whatever reason, it’s incredibly important to a lot of people that the way you enjoy the medium matches the way they enjoy it. Naturally, there’s gatekeeping and, at times, there are even insults accompanied with the debate whether or not watching a dubbed version of a show is acceptable. Today, I wanted to talk about my thoughts on that silly debate, my stance on the matter, how I enjoy the medium, and at last, I wanted to get into why I don’t watch German subtitles. (The header image is from “KonoSuba” aka “Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo!” btw!)

Thus, what’s the question? Well, in the anime community, there are generally two stances, it seems. One side only accepts dubbed shows – aka shows that have been synchronised into your language of choice – while another thinks that those suck and that they ruin the medium, which is why they only watch shows with the original audio on top of subtitles in their language of choice. There are obviously not just two camps. It’s not black and white, 1 or 0, or sub or dub. You can enjoy anything… but given that most of the fandom consists of immature kids in the bodies of adults with internet access, the question arises from time to time and I hate it. I very much dislike this debate as it shouldn’t matter to others whether or not I personally enjoy a show in a different way from them. What’s important is that we love the medium, be it Anime, K-Dramas, or any sort of show, movie or video. We enjoy watching other people’s creations and we want to understand what’s going on. For people that just got into Anime, naturally, the dub is more accessible. It’s easier to get into when you don’t have to focus on the action on-screen as well as the subtitles and text that is being shown on-screen. It’s easier to get into the medium as you already speak the dub language. This is something that Jon also noticed in this post right here that I can highly recommend reading! Dubs are frankly easier to follow, even if they are pretty hit or miss in quality.

From Senpai ga Uzai Kouhai no Hanashi

And for me as well, dubs have been the beginning. When I was in kindergarten, I wouldn’t have been able to watch Naruto, Digimon, Heidi, Pokémon, or One Piece if they had only been subbed. The same goes for the Studio Ghibli movies and anything that was both animated and from a different country. Having a German dub, however bad it may be, is important so that more people can understand what’s going on. When I later in 2013 started watching Death Note and Highschool of the Dead (yup), I also watched the Dub and not subtitles as it was too different from everything that I was used to. Soul Eater’s dub was great and Death Note’s wasn’t too bad. Eventually, though, I got into that hole where people recommend stuff to watch and you just can’t find the dub, so you… oh no… watch the show with subtitles! (DUN DUN DUUUUUN!) And that’s how it gets you. You start watching shows with subtitles and it’s easier to follow as you grow accustomed to it. I personally still enjoy some dubbed shows but I appreciate the subtitles more as I can enjoy the plot while also getting hyped in the original voice actors’ performance. They really just are fucking amazing most of the time while some German dubs and English dubs feel rather lacklustre. In some cases, like Cowboy Bebop, I prefer the English and even the German dub over the Japanese voices as some characters just don’t seem to fit all that well… but those occasions are rather rare nowadays… Although, being friends with someone that voiced a character in MHA’s German Dub opened my eyes to the fact that German Dubs are getting a lot better nowadays, as well!

Personally, I watch shows with English subtitles whenever they’re available. I started out with German subtitles, actually, which was easier to follow for me as a “beginner” but eventually I moved on from those as following Log Horizon made me want more episodes… but faster… and at the time when it aired, the English sub was always out at least a week before the German one, given that they had more experience and stuff. So, I started watching shows with English subtitles when they were airing. As time went on, though, I got fed up with the quality of German subtitles. Most of the time, a subgroup is effectively doing all that work for free and it causes them nothing but issues – but they still enjoy doing it. My issue with that, however, is that some groups are very bad at German grammar and it just can result in a lot of instances, where reading through the same sentence four or five times doesn’t help at all. Part of that is because commas that would usually help you understand the syntax was often missing completely, resulting in hard to read sentences that are very long. Yes, it’s ironic that I OF ALL PEOPLE am complaining about this given that my sentences tend to be quite long… but I place down commas to make stuff easier to read while some sub people (Subbers? Subtitlers?) don’t place down any. Furthermore, simple mistakes like switching up “dass” and “das” result in even bigger problems, making some sentences incomprehensible… The point is, I got fed up with German subs and just started watching English subs. As you may notice, after all, the English language is equally beautiful as the German one but it doesn’t have an issue with “dass” (conjunction)/”das” (article) or commas or other things. I find it easier to understand bad English grammar compared to bad German grammar.

From Senpai ga Uzai Kouhai no Hanashi

Hence, I’m in the camp where it doesn’t matter how you enjoy a medium as long as you enjoy it, even better if it’s with friends! Subtitles are better, in my opinion, but only for me because I like them more than dubs where I cannot understand an accent. Heck, I watch some English shows or movies with English subtitles because people in New Jersey talk weirdly… and some people in Essex do as well… just to name a few annoying accents. It may not be for everyone but hearing badly and not understanding every accent perfectly is mostly my reason as to why I watch subs and dubs at the same time, at times…

But when it comes to Anime, I go for English subs mostly due to all the things that get lost in translation. As someone whose second language was German, I also struggle at times with the German language, particularly when there are grammar mistakes in the subtitles. The English language just feels more comfortable. I enjoy English localizations more as well when it comes to gaming. The point is that it may be different for people whose first language is English and who never had to deal with the option of having subtitles in another tongue available but for me, it’s often a struggle when there is only the German sub available, especially as sometimes feelings get lost when written in German. We don’t always have a word for a thing. While we have “Schadenfreude” in German, the English have… the same word, duh. But while the English have a word called “defenestration”, we Germans have to make do with “throwing out the idiots through the window” when it’s about the old sub vs dub debate. If you watch a German sub, some things may sound weird because the language doesn’t 100% work. In dubs, sentences may not fit the animation too well. With German subs, you may not get the feeling across enough or you may even fail to portray the very long sentence completely before the character that was talking starts to talk about something else again. English seems just a lot better, for me, and most of the time, subs work best. Obviously, though, one isn’t superior to the other. They’re equally good as they help us understand what the fuck is going on! What do you think? Let me know!


This post was first published on Indiecator by Dan Indiecator aka MagiWasTaken. If you like what you see here and want to see more, you can check me out on Twitch and YouTube as well.

5 thoughts on “Lost in Translation: Subs vs. Dubs

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  1. Honestly, I even watch shows made in English with subtitles, because I often have trouble hearing what people are saying. I recently watched The Witcher and I had to put the subtitles on for that, because they kept mumbling and I couldn’t quite catch what they were saying.

    I prefer subtitles with anime simply because I find it easier to read than to listen. I also enjoy good voice acting and I’ve gotten used to the way Japanese voice actors portray certain character archetypes, so I find there’s a lot of nuance I can get just from listening to the way they speak, even if I can’t understand all the words they’re saying.

    Still, I have nothing against dubs, and I understand that they’re more accessible for a wider audience. I have a dyslexic friend who has trouble reading subtitles, and another friend who finds it difficult to concentrate on just the TV, so they prefer to listen to a dub while they do something else. They would struggle to watch any anime at all if the only option available was subtitles, so I think it’s great to have more options so more people can enjoy anime.

    Once I’ve gotten used to certain voices, however, I do find it hard to listen to a different dub, as I can’t tell who’s speaking anymore and I find it grating to hear a different voice associated with a character I’m already familiar with. But I’m aware those are just my preferences, and I’m not about to tell someone they’re enjoying anime ‘wrong’ just because they don’t like subtitles.

    Basically, I agree with you! I think the whole debate is ridiculous and there’s no right or wrong way to enjoy something.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I dislike these discussions too! Who cares how you watch it. Isn’t it enough that we all love anime? I was born and grew up in the Netherlands. Except for children’s shows, most of TV in the Netherlands has subtitles. I don’t know any better than having subtitles. Also, generally the Dutch dubs are bad, especially those from the early days. And English dubs of anime were hard to get, so that plays a role too. There are a few exceptions, but for me personally, I prefer subs most of the time because I love the Japanese voice acting skills, and I’m used to reading subtitles.

    Liked by 1 person

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