Most fans of anime react the same way when we hear that our favorite series is getting an english dub. There is a cringe and we pray that 4Kids isn’t the one that got it. Regardless of the production company, we are rarely satisfied by the translation and this has led to a stigma regarding english dubs. After all of these years, it is odd to think that companies are still messing up in this regard. Why are english dubs so bad? Well, that is something that a lot of us have been wondering and I am here to present some of the reasoning behind the phenomenon.
Let’s assume for a second that english dubs are horrible and there are no outside factors that influence our opinion of them. There is an obvious reason for them not getting better and that is the selection of voice acting talent. Even though there are tons of people on the english voice acting scene, the same people always get picked for the anime dubbing jobs. Johnny Yong Bosch is cool and all, but there are other people out there. Voice acting in American cartoons isn’t bad. In fact, I rarely find myself disliking the voices in my favorite cartoons. I won’t disagree with the fact that most english dubs do not live up to their original counterparts, but there may be a few things that influence our opinions of these series. Have you ever thought that watching the original version first has negatively affected our ability to watch an english dub? I may have been a naïve child when it happened, but I used to get all of my anime from places like Toonami and Saturday mornings on Fox. What did I think of english dubs when they were the first things that I heard? I don’t think that I cared for the most part. I didn’t really know better, but I thought that the dubs were fine. However, there may be a reason for that because I honestly think that english dubs are getting worse.
When I was growing up on english dubs, things that were on television included Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Dragon Ball Z, and Yu Yu Hakusho. Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh! had dubs that were fine and I stand by that after watching the Japanese versions. When it comes to Dragon Ball Z and Yu Yu Hakusho, I prefer the english dubs to the japanese ones. This is why I think that. Back in the day, we were not getting proper voice actors for manly characters in anime. The strongest fighter in the universe should not sound like his testicles have yet to descend. I will not listen to anyone that says the Japanese voice actor for Goku was a good choice. The good english dubs for Dragon Ball Z kick ass in my opinion. I think that they had a really good lineup because Saiyan warriors need to have strong voices. The same thing happened in Yu Yu Hakusho. The problem is the fact that I don’t really see this anymore. I haven’t heard an english dub that was as satisfying as those. Maybe Fullmetal Alchemist, but it wasn’t necessarily better than the japanese dub. I think that both versions have good and bad choices at various parts. Rie Kugumiya should not be voicing Al. While english dubs have regressed in my opinion with releases such as Shakugan no Shana that will forever live in infamy, japanese dubs have gotten better. How has that happened? They actually have good voice actors for their male characters. Daisuke Ono and Jun Fukuyama are two examples of the kind of voice actors that Japan needed. Well, voice acting isn’t the only complaint regarding english dubs.
4Kids is pretty famous in this next section. We are about to go over the changes made to lines and animation in english dubs that are unnecessary. A famously bad dub is the One Piece 4Kids dub. They did things like replacing Sanji’s cigarette with a lollipop and changing Smoker’s name to Chaser. Anime isn’t always for children. Luckily, we have started to realize this. 4Kids should only dub things that are meant for children if they plan to do this. I talked about how the voice acting in Yu-Gi-Oh! wasn’t that bad, but they have a pretty famous line change that shows a lot of prejudice. Téa is a pretty important character in the series. Even though she sucks at dueling, Téa often plays an important role in the various missions that the gang undertakes. On a certain mission, the gang was looking for something and Téa ran off on her own. Yugi asks her what’s up and the japanese dub says that she is following her woman’s intuition. The english dub decided that such a line was far too natural and that it should be replaced by “I have no idea”. This doesn’t need to be a sexism discussion, but that is pretty stupid in my opinion.
Overall, I think that it is impossible to please everyone. Regardless of what companies try to do, there will be bias from fans that have seen the japanese version of a series first. However, that is not an excuse because I would not be off base in saying that production companies have failed the fans. I truly believe that they are at fault here for hiring the wrong talent. If we can have good voice actors for our cartoons, then there should be plenty of people out there that could work on an anime. I will always sight Dragon Ball Z as a prime example because anyone that thinks Goku’s Japanese voice is better than his English one is wrong and I will not listen to them talk about anything. That is what I have to say. What do you think?
“Fuck 4Kids!” – Everyone
I have to agree. Sometimes it’s just poor talent choices and sometimes it’s just how the company decides to alter the source material.
One thing that wasn’t brought up. though is the differences in the Japanese and English languages, which can also change how a dub may sound. I noticed this once I was able to watch original Japanese versions sans subtitles. Not having to focus on the subs, I was able to focus more on the animation itself (especially facial animation) and noticed that while it mostly matches the tones and inflection for Japanese language speech, it would look seriously deranged if put to English dialogue. And I don’t mean just the lip-flap but the whole expression of the character. But as I said, that may just be something from the linguistic/culture front.
But I do like your point on how once you get used to a particular cast, it may be a little difficult to get used to another. Not only is it a point of what one might think a character “should sound like” but I feel that certain types of voices seem to indicate certain character traits. This can often be seen when they change a character’s style of speaking (for example Yu-gi-oh’s Bakura or Last Reminant’s David)
At a Fanime panel, Darrel Guilbeau addressed a lot of the challenges that English voice actors have to face. The biggest one is probably the limited budget that they have to work with. This affects the available talent that companies can choose from as well as time spent in a recording studio. Using recording equipment is ridiculously expensive and limits how many takes actors get. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of dubbed scenes were done in very few takes.
The second thing is the difficulty of matching English lines to mouth movement meant to voice Japanese lines. The amount of information that’s conveyed (or can be conveyed) can vary with the order and number of syllables available. Compounded with the limited takes they get, it becomes easy to see why things can end up as they do.
Whelp, I guess you kind of nailed the subject. The fact is, anime isn’t big enough in English speaking countries to warrant high budgets for dubs. I think over time, the negative stigma Western culture holds towards anime will lessen, and anime will become more common on television. As that happens, budgets will grow, and America’s top voice talent will start being put to work on dubbing. Overall, I’d say the US has an even greater talent pool than Japan due to the sheer volume of voice actors, and the variety of people you find in a multicultural nation. Japan still struggles with portraying non-Japanese characters, who tend to come out as just Japanese characters with non-Japanese skins once the voice actors(and arguably, writers) are done. It’s comparable to the awkwardness of the American film Valkyrie, where you had all-German characters who all spoke with English accents, except for Tom Cruise, who spoke with an American accent.
True, the lack of skill with voice actors for English subs is a major problem.
The dumbing down of things by 4Kidz and others because they want to make stuff “for kids” is an even bigger problem.
Another mojor problem you didn’t mention is the often overbordering Americanisation and localisation of anime (including changing names and terms). That one isn’t limited to dubs though, you’ll also find it all too often in subtitles – commercial ones (if they don’t already use dubtitles, e.g. subs copied from the dub), streaming subs (Crunchyroll, Funi) and some fansub groups (especially Commie and gg are notorious for being avid localisation fanatics, on top of creating 4Kidz-style subs with lots of slang and all.)
Even in English translations of Japanese games, you’ll often find excessive localisation. One particularly bad negative example is the English translation of the Choujigen Game Neptune games. Besides a 4Kidz-style translation, there’s also a lot of localisation. Here’s a “Hall of Shame” of some of the most shameful localisations:
Unsurprisingly, Commie loves all this, so they’re putting it in their subs on top of their 4Kidz-style translation.
I’ve now created sane subs without Americanisation and localisation, without 4Kidz-style speech and slang, with original names and terms, fixed translation where neccessary, and with full kanji and romaji with karaoke for the songs: