Dub versus sub: why must it be a never-ending argument for otaku? Contrary to what purists insist upon, dubs can be preferable to subs. Sometimes, they can even-gasp!-improve the anime.
While there are plenty of dubs that’ve been well-received in America (from Fullmetal Alchemist to Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad and over to School Rumble), we’d like to shine a special spotlight on some dubs that took extra creative license, and knew precisely what do with it. One adds humor. One tilts the tone. And one shows how it’s better to adhere to the spirit of the material, rather than the letter of it.
So, scroll through “settings” on the menu, click “audio” and switch tracks. Here are our picks…
CROMARTIE HIGH SCHOOL
Comedy might be hardest to translate. If it’s difficult to find that corresponding word in English, it’s infinitely harder to find one which also hits the double entrendre needed for some turn-of-phrase to work. Sure, physical gags can cartwheel over any language barrier (see: Ranma ½), but there’s a reason American importers quite often just throw their arms up at the challenge of dubbing highly-verbal humor (see: Tatami Galaxy).
Therefore, it’s a feat that Cromartie High School works as well as it does. Hell, it’s doubly impressive considering how the show’s entire premise parodies “yankii” high school delinquent manga of the 70s and 80s (since that particular genre never really made it stateside). When ADV Films brought this to G4TV’s short-lived late nite block, Barbed Wire Biscuit, it used a motormouth radio style that evoked Rocky & Bullwinkle. They spun new gags over the highly-detail cels, and the gags weren’t just memorable, they were infinitely quotable.
Indeed, ask any Cromartie devotee about the episode where a tough guy must hide dreams of stand-up from his gang after an unknown challenger beats him at a write-in joke contest. Brace yourself for a breathless recitation about “Honey Bee” and the threat he poses to modern comedy. Just go on…
YU YU HAKUSHO
This dub stands out for its humor, too. More often, though, it’s humor that’s been added to the original material. For this dub comes from the heyday of Toonami, when “localization” wasn’t a bad word.
Yu Yu Hakusho might as well have been the Pepsi to Dragon Ball Z‘s Coke back then. Maybe a fight shonen about a teenager solving mysteries in the underworld didn’t endure as long as a fight shonen about world-smashing aliens, but hey, it still struck a chord with American audiences for a lot of the same reasons. Not least of which–both dubs were handled by FUNimation’s early stable.
As discussed in our piece about DBZ‘s endearing trollz, these dubs feel like earnest RiffTrax, wherein the voice actors ridicule the plot while staying diligently on message. In Japan, Yu Yu Hakusho had some gags, but it was largely dour. Plain, even (especially during the extended tournament arcs). In America, though, the laugh quotient was dialed up, giving the Spirit Detectives a horror comedy feel akin to Evil Dead, Beetlejuice or a Treehouse of Horror special. Snark flew while menacing synth still droned, making for more of a “Reese’s solution” than any jarring crossing of wires.
This translation really comes down to a single line. Whenever the cursed Prince Ashitaka is asked to explain his mission in the Japanese version, he asserts that he seeks to “see with eyes unclouded.” In the English version, however, he clarifies his stance a little more. He seeks to “see with eyes unclouded by hate.”
Miramax famously hired Neil Gaiman to finesse this translation, which was around the time when he was reading deep into Shinto folklore for his collaboration on The Dream Hunters with superstar artist, Yoshitaka Amano. Mostly, he was brought in to re-phrase certain feudal terms that were familiar to Japanese audiences but totally alien to American viewers. “Jibashiri” became “mercenary,” “shishigami” became “forest spirit,” and so on. However, his contributions went beyond such simple substitutions. The sub phrases this battle between man and nature in more stoic and cerebral terms, while the dub adds the warmth and whimsy that flavor Gaiman’s modernist fairy tales like Sandman and Stardust.
Again, it comes down to that one line spoken by Ashitaka. In the sub, when he ventures into the countryside after being cursed, his quest is declared as a search for enlightenment. In the dub, he seeks enlightenment to specifically overcome his desire for vengeance. It’s only a couple added words, but it adds a thematic parallelism to the climax (where our hero must break a larger cycle of revenge that threatens both worlds) and makes for a much more connected narrative.
Do you have any favorite dubs that add to the original anime? Let us know in the comments.
Featured Image Credit: Miramax Films