The Angry Gamer – Dub Me Do

It’s an ages-old debate. Which is better: subtitles or English dubbing? Originally this was only applied to films and anime, but with plenty of games making use of full voice casts, the subject naturally comes up among gamers as well.

Most anime fans prefer Japanese language with English subtitles, for one of two reasons: a) they prefer to see the show or film in its original language, or b) they think all English voice acting is automatically bad when compared to the original Japanese.

The first argument is a matter of personal preference, but the second argument is incredibly flawed. Aside from being a sweeping generalization about English voice actors (to which they’d understandably take offense), how many anime fans do you know that are 100% fluent in Japanese language and culture? If they’re not…then how do they know the original Japanese voices aren’t incredibly horrendous as well? In fact, I’ve spoken with Japanese translators, and many of them have told me that the original voice work on many anime shows is just as bad as the English dubs that anime fanboys despise so much. No-win situation, folks. (Plus, need I remind you that the single greatest voice actor in the history of the world was an American? Some guy named Mel Blanc…)

The dub-vs-sub fight is a bit more complex when it comes to video games. In a film, you merely have to pay attention to the plot to understand it. In a game, not only do you have to pay attention to what characters are saying, but it’s also highly likely that you’ll need to use that information later to progress further. This interactivity makes getting the information across much more important. Many next-gen titles brought over from Japan that feature voice acting are fully dubbed in English for the stateside release, which is a smart marketing move. Newer gamers aren’t going to want full Japanese voices, so switching to English is the logical choice in a monolingual society. However, a growing portion of games have both Japanese and English voices, plus English subtitles. Personally, I believe this is the optimal solution; not because of the optional Japanese voicework, but because of the subtitles. Hearing the information and reading it simultaneously does a much better job of reinforcing the information in your mind, which means you’re much more likely to remember it.

In conclusion, English dubs of anime and games are the way to go, as long as you hire a competent translation team vocal cast. There’s no reason why publishers (especially the larger ones) can’t do this. Talented voice actors are often hamstrung by crappy scripts, but that has nothing to do with English dub quality; it’s got everything to do with the translators, and that’s where the blame should fall.