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We’re taking the age-old argument and updating it for the simulcast era! Is getting a dub now a mark of an anime’s overall quality? Are sub-only fans gatekeeping?

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

My Hero Academia, Jujutsu Kaisen, Robotech, Pretty Cure, Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction, BARTENDER: Glass of God, and Death Note are currently available on Crunchyroll. Death Note also streams on Hulu and Netflix.

Go, Go, Loser Ranger! streams on Hulu, and Delicious in Dungeon is streaming on Netflix.

For Pokémon, see this guide for more info.

You can read the Chainsaw Man manga on Shonen Jump app and MangaPlus.


Nick, my mental health was less than stellar last week, so I found myself on Twitter with the subconscious intent of exacerbating my malaise. To my surprise, I found people discussing Death Note and how the dub specifically elevates the material by leaning into the unintended camp present in the original story. This got me thinking about now decades-spanning arguments in the sub vs. dub discourse, and I can’t think of a better place to revisit those ideas than in our This Week in Anime Column!


You know, my Internet Fight Card was looking a little sparse this month, so sure, let’s dredge up the anime fandom’s favorite argument.

I hope you’re ready to take a point for Team America because I genuinely can’t remember when the last time I watched even the majority of any show dubbed.
With Star and Stripe leading the charge, I’m more than happy to fight for Team America! (Though I’m making a mental note to pitch a TWIA where we talk about the trend of the shonen series introducing awesome women, only for them to get fridged without contributing much to the overall plot. cough Nobara cough)

And I was just about to ask about your relationship with dubbed anime! Why don’t you care for what’s ultimately my preferred way to watch the media we’ve both turned into a weird career-hobby chimera.

Honestly? Habit. Like most folks in our age bracket, I got into anime through English dubs broadcast on TV, and it was how I experienced most of it until I started following seasonal simulcasts around 2013. That was well before any company had the time or resources for the simuldubs we get these days, so subtitled became the norm. After doing that for hundreds of episodes across multiple years, it’s muscle memory to look for words at the bottom of the screen.

Sometimes you have to look at the top of the screen too!

Side note: I was not expecting to be able to reference Death Note twice already in this column, but I am SO GLAD that we organically walked into it.

I understand your point, though. In 2024, pretty much anyone who’s actively and deliberately involved in the Western anime community has to be okay with reading subtitles if they want to engage in current trends or conversations.

Yeah, while the landscape for English dubs has undoubtedly changed to produce more than what we used to get, it’s still not enough to cover everything when 40+ new shows are coming out every season. If you watch anything more obscure than the biggest action shows and crummiest isekai filler every season, you will get some mono-lingual releases in your watchlist. You’d think that might have put the dub vs. sub debate to bed, but we all know that war never changes that easily.

Especially when it’s such a needless war. Most of humanity’s problems can be attributed to our penchant for tribalism, but this discourse has always come off as especially needless to me. When the sub vs. dub argument kicked off, anime was not as mainstream or “cool” as it is today. Why create infighting when it was already hard to find people who would talk openly about the same niche media that you’re into?

There are a lot of reasons, but I think the ways that different people were introduced to anime in previous eras had a big part in it. There was a significant amount of time where there were genuinely huge differences between the original material and what got released with an English dub. And unless you knew somebody who traded fansubbed VHS tapes, that was the only version you could get. I can imagine a sense of disdain developing when you’re stuck with the “cousins” edit of Sailor Moon for years.
Oh, okay. This makes a lot more sense if it used to be a “pulling rank” kind of thing. I can see butthurt anime elders being upset and secretly jealous of younger anime fans being able to watch anime without having to rent a VHS tape from some sketchy guy online and then trying to gatekeep the fandom by saying that the dubbed anime they were watching on cable wasn’t really anime.

And it doesn’t help that the 4Kids-style localization changes you mentioned added a kernel of truth to their argument.

There are a lot of legitimate complaints about the way dubs of that era treated the material they were bringing over, and even kids introduced to Pokémon or Digimon through the dub often grew up, wanted a more authentic experience, and got resentful of being denied that by the powers that be. That problem has lessened, but scars run deep, and not all wounds heal. Case in point:

I’m never going like Robotech, but I’d be a lot more chill about its existence if it weren’t the lynchpin preventing the release of the original Macross series for the last 40 years.

That’s a great way of putting it, and I think those scars are the sticking point for folks on the sub side still engaging with this discourse. Some of those 90s and early ought-style localization changes were, arguably, disrespectful or at least ignorant of the intent of the original work. However, people don’t dub anime like that anymore and haven’t for a long time!

I mean, there’s been a few tries. We may get all the new seasons of Pretty Cure as subtitled simulcasts, but if you want to watch Smile! or Doki Doki, then you better go to the combination crafts & firearms store and stock up on Glitter Force:

This isn’t to say I agree with much of the lingering chauvinism around dubs, just that I can understand how a divide like this could get started and be maintained. I remember that when I was getting into anime, there was a sense that folks who exclusively watched subs were more “hardcore” than anybody watching Toonami.
Yeah, as long as subs remain the best way to watch new anime quickly, they’ll always be the go-to choice for the people most active in this space, you and I included. However, I see more common critiques of subtitled anime than when I first started watching them regularly as a teenager. Non-Crunchyroll and HIDIVE streaming platforms are dragged pretty regularly for having subs that often fall shy of standards for the medium, and it seems like hardly a month goes by in my circles without someone bringing up how CR underpays their translators.
Oh, for sure. Subtitling is still a process that can be done well or poorly, depending on the conditions. Neither approach is free from human error. Our buddy James walked straight into that discourse the other day:

But then, given how long dubs vs. subs has been a thing, I don’t think most of the discussion has much to do with the individual quality of any given release. It’s often more of a philosophical conflict. This mostly means people are really bad at explaining their reasons for whatever side they take and get angry while they try.

Ah, tribalism at its best. And, in case we hadn’t made it clear already, people should watch anime however they want (preferably in a way that’s as ethical as possible) and shouldn’t let other folks’ preferences dictate how they engage with the media they’re interested in.

We’re having this conversation today not to settle this debate but instead to pick apart the many weird facets of why what amounts to a forum flame war persists so noticeably in the anime fan community today.

Watch however you want, except for Garzey’s Wing. You have to watch that one dubbed. For posterity.

This is more of an exercise to examine how the form of consumption has shaped anime fandom through this particular lens. For instance, I regularly see people get riled up about having to wait four weeks for shows to start getting dubbed, and it makes me laugh down to my bones every time.

Oh, the glutenous fools these children have become atop their pile of riches!

Never have I felt more like an old man yelling about walking to school in the snow, uphill both ways.

With a furnace strapped to your back for warmth!

Despite us both coming from an anime landscape where a (fan)sub could sometimes be YEARS ahead of the dub release, that’s such a bizarre thing to complain about. Even with just a basic knowledge of the anime production process, it’s clear that episodes usually come in super hot and that it’s next to impossible for a dubbing team to get materials early enough for a timely dub release.

This makes simuldubs, like my fav of this and last season’s Delicious in Dungeon, feel like a miracle and logistical triumph!

It’s really cool! I haven’t watched much of the dub proper, but it’s always fun when multiple versions are available simultaneously. I recall that, early on, people were smitten with German Marcille.

Stuff like that is why I find this particular argument tedious. I am almost totally a sub “purist,” but it’s partly out of necessity and mostly from what I’m familiar with. I’m acclimated to typical Japanese vocal performances and delivery, and I like to think I can appreciate their nuances pretty well. If that’s not true for others, that means they have a different way of interacting with the medium.

This situation is where if everyone relaxed a little, this wouldn’t even be a conversation. It’s our job to have opinions about anime, but the most enthusiasm I can muster re: subs vs. dubs is that I think it’s neat to analyze competing translations to see how they affect the reading. Like, for a while, I was keeping up with the official translation of the Chainsaw Man manga and fan translations simultaneously, and the Devilman influences became a lot clearer when I noticed that the scanlation went with the term “devil man” instead of “fiend” for characters like Power.

But we have hit on a friction point! I’m much less comfortable evaluating Japanese vocal performances than you are, which I imagine is a consequence of you reviewing anime for longer than I have. Try as I might, I suck at learning new languages and picking up on subtilities in tone, so performances in my native English always resonate more strongly with me.

That’s fair – you’ll always be more attuned when listening to a language you’re fluent in. That is why certain subtitle folks insist dubs have poorer acting than their JP counterparts. Unless a performance is especially amateurish or miscast, most native English speakers aren’t going to pick up on any flaws. It’s like asking a dog to critique somebody’s color coordination or Chicagoans to review pizza.

Hey, I’ll have you know that I once survived a weekend without heat in the Chicago winter solely because I had a pipin’ hot deep dish on hand to sustain me! Chicago-style pizza saved my life, and I will not stand for this slander!

You don’t have to defend yourself to me. God will weigh your sins when your time comes.

The God that I’ll attack and dethrone with the power of anime on my side? Bring it on!

However, talking about God complexes does bring us back to the origin of this conversation: Death Note. A thing that dubs have going for them that subs don’t is how they can iterate and build upon the original release of the material. Again, this could be a tonal thing that I’m not picking up on in the sub, but I think a big part of why the Death Note anime endures in the anime fandom is because the dub team brought to the surface the camp underlying in the subbed version of the show.

They understood the assignment on that one. Just as Tetsuro Araki used his anime adaptation as a chance to accentuate and heighten the drama of the manga, the dub leans into the ridiculous aspects of each character in really effective ways. Brad Swaile sounds like he’s having the time of his life as he takes a potato chip…AND EATS IT!
Not to mention that Alessandro Juliani makes some inspired choices that turn L into such a lovable little freak.

Maybe this is some internalized self-loathing coming to the surface, but a part of why I’m on team dub (beyond getting to back up Star and Stripe) is that I gravitate towards anime that feels off-kilter, even for the medium. Dubs are now a secondary way for people to view a series, allowing the people behind it to have more fun with the project, and I appreciate it when they take it in a distinct direction.
We’d also be remiss if we didn’t mention that plenty of people need dubs to experience these shows. People with visual impairments or visual processing issues can have difficulty following subtitles. Having a competent and authentic English dub is as much an accessibility issue as proper closed captioning for the hearing impaired.

That’s another great point! Chris and I touched on this in the last Toonami TWIA, but dubs are still continually important in anime, disseminating further and amassing a wider audience. Without reiterating the same conversations about foreign films that crop up every Oscars season, casual audiences aren’t down for subtitled releases a lot of the time.

However, regarding accessibility, the sub vs. dub dichotomy also pops up in awkward ways when it comes to Closed Captions. Some companies treat them as interchangeable with an existing subtitle script and often skimp on producing a proper CC release by having the subtitles play alongside the dub. Or they’ll give us the dreaded dubtitles like the current release of Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction.

As it irks me that Netflix and Hulu anime often don’t have translation notes for onscreen text, there are serious implications for butchering subtitling and Closed Captioning. Folks should go check out this article by Vrai Kaiser on Anime Feminist for a better breakdown than I can provide. Still, the short of it is that not having Closed Captioning for dubs might violate the spirit of legally required accommodations for people with disabilities, which isn’t great!
My point is that the topic is much more nuanced than the decades-long argument would lead you to believe. In an ideal world, the industry could be trusted to supply both reliably and in equal measure, but that’s not feasible financially. Discotek, for instance, has been very candid about how much dubbing, even short releases, eats into profits, so they have to be very selective about what they commission. Crunchyroll operates at a much larger scale, but they still have to be choosy, which leads to a whole other discourse about what shows “deserve” a dub.

That’s one of the best and worst things about anime; it’s a mid-market industry where most of the material is adapted from the small-market manga industry. While this means that companies are more likely to take big swings to stand out or cater to niche audiences, it also means that margins are thin and that companies have to be super choosey about anything that might cut into them. In an ideal world, every anime would have competing translations or dubs to analyze. But I can’t fault a company the size of Discotek for not shelling out for a dub when they’re less than confident that they’ll break even on the labor and cost involved in the process.

However, I have noticed an odd shift in the discussion in the last few years. Now that subtitled simulcasts are the default, and proportionally fewer shows are being dubbed compared to what’s legally available, people have started gatekeeping in the opposite direction. There are tons of arguments about what shows are popular, successful, or good enough to “deserve” a dub, and a lot of digital ink is spilled over debating the choices. With some fans, it seems closer to a status symbol than another means to enjoy a show.

I know people tend to conflate a piece of media being popular to a piece of media being good, but bringing dubbed anime into the argument denotes ignorance of how localization fits into the anime landscape in 2024. Corporations don’t decide to dub an anime because it’s good; they do it because they’re confident it’ll be popular generally or with a market segment they’re trying to attract. They’re taking a gamble that an anime will blow up and that a dubbed version will motivate newcomers to check it out and sign up for their streaming service.

Most of the time they bet right, and other times, BARTENDER: Glass of God gets a dub even though I bounced off it and haven’t seen it resonate to a notable degree. But please let me know if I’m just being as bitter as some of those drinks they’re knocking back in the show.

I mean, you’re not wrong on Nu-Bartender being kinda dull, but I also think the half dozen isekai that get dubbed every season are boring as piss. Yet somebody has to be buying those fancy Collector’s Editions CR keeps putting out. So maybe there’s a Vicarious Alcoholism market that we’re just too dumb to see.

Listen, the pizza wasn’t the only thing keeping me warm that winter weekend, so if there was a Vicarious Alcoholism market, I feel like I would have heard of it!

But yeah, kids, in the same way that you shouldn’t let gatekeepers police what and how you watch something, don’t rely on corporations to determine what’s cool or popular. Decide that for yourselves and wait for them to play catch-up. All of the Western anime and manga market is more or less based on that relationship.

I’m still waiting for somebody over here to catch up to Girls Band Cry. Who cares about subs or dubs when you have neither?

Man, now I really could use a vicarious cocktail.
Same! And, now that this conversation is winding down, while we spin on those, we can figure out what to do with folks who insist on calling a series by their Japanese name when there’s a well-established localized English title available. Looking at you Dungeon Meshi and Boku no Hero Academia holdouts!
Oh, I’ve been waiting to take care of those nerds.

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A Tale As Old As Time: Subs or Dubs? – This Week in Anime