During Fanime 2005, an anime convention held annually at the San Jose Convention Center in California, I decided to leave my hotel room and go downstairs to the late-night video rooms in the convention center. I entered one of the video rooms at half past midnight after showing the con-ops volunteer my badge. The crowded video room was as big a as a small auditorium. The people in the audience heckled at the screen, as if they were watching “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
The anime shows were presented in their original Japanese dialogue soundtrack with subtitles. After one of the episodes ended, there was a malfunction with the video player, and the next episode on the DVD reverted back to its default English dubbed setting.
The crowd angrily chanted, “Sub! Sub! Sub!” And then they cheered when the voice of the prologue’s narrator magically switched from English to Japanese with the aid of subtitles.
At that time, when I heard the rage of the audience yelling at con-ops to switch the dialogue track from English to Japanese, accompanied by subtitles, I thought it was funny because watching with the English on with no subtitles was easier than reading subtitles. Those people in the audience seemed too neurotic as to how their anime should be presented.
However, nowadays, when I look back at that time when the people in the video room shouted “Sub,” I should’ve yelled along with them because watching anime in the original Japanese with subtitles is better than watching it dubbed in English.
First, if the anime takes place in Japan and the characters are ethnically Japanese, then it makes sense for the characters to speak Japanese. For example, in the episode “Asuka Strikes” from “Neon Genesis Evangelion,” Asuka and Shinji are in the cockpit of Asuka’s Evangelion Unit-02, a giant red humanoid robot. Asuka is half German and half Japanese; Shinji is Japanese. Asuka voice activates her Evangelion in German, but is unable to do so because Shinji is thinking in Japanese. Frustrated, Asuka says, “Switch language to Japanese” and then voice activates Unit-02–in English, if the dubbed track is selected. She says “Japanese” but she’s speaking in English.
Many times, the dubbed voice does not match the face of the character. In “Evangelion,” there is a character named Kaji who’s a womanizer with a ponytail and faint stubble along his jaw. In the dubbed English track, he sounds like an Ivy League academian. I’m always expecting him to say “old chap” after every line.
In “Love Hina,” Keitaro, a twenty-year-old nerdy klutz with big square glasses, sounds like a duck in the dubbed soundtrack. Everything his says sounds like a quack. Kitsune, a nineteen-year-old party-girl with a nice figure, sounds like a Southern granny.
Speaking of Southern accents, Osaka from “Azumanga Daioh,” an anime about the slice-of-life moments of high school girls, has a Texan accent. Osaka is the “slowest” of the characters and is pretty dopey. I’m guessing the writers of the English script wanted her to have a Texan accent to sound dopey.
There are exceptions to dubbed English voice acting. “Cowboy Bebop” has excellent English voice acting. “Trigun” has good English voice acting, too. The way Vash’s English voice actor says “Love and peace” is most memorable. The difference between “Cowboy Bebop’s” dubbing and “Evangelion’s” is that the voice actors act. “Evangelion’s” voice actors don’t act; they merely translate.
What’s about anime where there is a diversity of ethnicities, nationalities, or settings, like “R.O.D” and “R.O.D the TV”? In those two anime series, there are Japanese, British, American, and Chinese characters, and settings include Japan, England, and Hong Kong.
Since these shows were created by the Japanese, my “default” setting is Japanese with subtitles.
Adult Swim should show its Toonami anime lineup in the original Japanese. In a way, it’s a form of ethnocentrism to not watch anime in the original. Japanese characters speaking fluent English in Japan as if English was the national language sounds weird.