The Great Subs vs. Dubs Debate

Totoro sistersThere’s also the obvious argument: sometimes dubs are good.  I’ve seen plenty of bad ones but I’ve seen good ones too.  Out of curiosity I’ve watched the subs and dubs for most Miyazaki films and, while I have problems with some (Howl’s Moving Castle in particular — why is Christian Bale using his Batman voice, why?  Didn’t anyone read the book?  Howl is Welsh, Christian Bale is Welsh, it’s perfect!  Also, Calcifer is way more Alan Rickman than Billy Crystal, I’m sorry), others are fine and some are perfect.  The My Neighbor Totoro dubs, for example, were recorded by Dakota and Elle Fanning while they sat together in the same booth.  That lends the perfect sisterly air to the film.

I also wonder sometimes how much one’s preference for subs vs. dubs has to do with which one saw first.  One of my college friends first saw Cowboy Bebop on Cartoon Network with dubs.  She preferred dubs on Bebop from that point on, even when we all watched the show together in Japanese with subtitles.  She was a film major and she definitely preferred subtitles as a rule, but Bebop just didn’t sound right to her in voices different from those she first heard.  I always remember that when I want to argue about how Samurai Champloo would be entirely ruined if someone watched it in English.

the bebop crewI guess at the end of the day it comes down to what you most want out of what you’re watching.  Movies and television can definitely be art, there is absolutely no question of that.  However, sometimes we just want to be entertained and we don’t want to have to treat it like art.  I might see a movie and be able to appreciate its quality, but on a basic level I wasn’t entertained so I didn’t enjoy the film.  I shouldn’t have to force myself to like it just because I can recognize how well done it was. Media’s primary function is to entertain us, and while it’s one of life’s great joys that it can be beautiful, that we can learn from it, dissect it, and teach others with it, its main function is still entertainment.  If you’re not being entertained by a show or a movie, you shouldn’t feel pressured to watch it.

That’s how I feel about subtitles vs. dubs: if being forced to watch something with subtitles, if having to read on top of watching takes away someone’s enjoyment of a show, then they shouldn’t feel obligated to watch it, and they also shouldn’t feel guilty if they prefer dubs.

amelie subway in parisBut that doesn’t stop me from favoring subtitles or from urging others to try them sometimes.  My primary reason to watch things is for escapism, and so for me, with some movies and shows more than others, part of the experience is being immersed in a different world.  If I want to wander the streets of Paris, creep on tip toes through a lush bamboo forest, or explore the rugged wilds of Iceland, I do so best when I hear the language of each of those places.

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