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‘Subtitle elitism’ in the anime community is toxic

‘Subtitle elitism’ in the anime community is toxic

‘Subtitle elitism’ in the anime community is toxic
November 15
15:44 2019

Within the anime community there exists an age-old debate concerning how a viewer watches the show. This debate is known as “subs versus dubs.” “Subs” refers to the English subtitles that accompany the Japanese audio of a show and “dubs” refers to the English audio version of the show that has been translated and localized to fit an English-speaking, typically American audience.

Now this debate has been around for as long as anime has been airing in the West. In these later years, most anime fans have made their peace with the subject. They’ve chosen their preference and they’ve stopped quarreling over which is the ‘correct’ way to view anime as they’ve grown older and realized there isn’t necessarily a “correct” way to view anime. However, the keyword is “most” people have moved on because subtitle elitism is still prevalent.

“Subtitle elitism” is exactly what it sounds like. The belief that English subtitles are the only way to watch anime and that English dubs are always awful. Elitists are infamous in the community for consistently harassing, threatening and badmouthing English dubs, English voice actors and people who watch English dubs.

There are many threads and discussion boards of people sharing their experiences with these elitists. 

This behavior is obviously toxic and disheartening for everyone in the anime community. Dub watchers get bullied and then, sub watchers become associated with those bullies.

So, what kind of history gave birth to this toxic mindset?

Back when anime was first being introduced throughout the West, a lot of shows went through companies that localized the shows to premiere them in the West, most notably one of which being “4Kids Entertainment”. The company is no longer around, but in its prime, it was the primary method for how a lot of Americans were first introduced to anime. In fact, these shows were never presented and advertised as “anime” to their target audience and that’s the key thing about “4kids”, their target audience was just children, very young children at that, too. 

Anime, like all cartoons and animation, can appeal to a large variety of viewers, some younger and some older. But, “4kids” targeted only children without realizing the themes and natures of some of the shows they had licensed. “4kids” not only localized their shows, but also censored them. Shows like “One Piece” and “Yu-Gi-Oh” suffered a lot of censorship. These changes took many forms from turning a cigarette into a lollipop, to completely removing guns from character’s hands.

A lot of people were justifiably angry at these decisions.

“4kids” removed and simplified a lot of these shows darker themes or intense story beats, and in doing so completely ruined what the show originally was intended to be. Combined with this and “4kids” becoming notorious for its subpar voice-over work, it’s not hard to understand why many anime fans stuck to subs.

But over time, English dubs of anime have improved their quality with better voice actors and more respectful translations. However, there are still other arguments used to explain subtitle superiority such as the difficulty of the translation itself.

Some fans believe subtitles are better because translating Japanese into English is inherently very difficult.

There’s a lot of words that don’t have a one-to-one translation into English. Honorifics for names like “San” and “Chan” can be difficult to translate, so they’re either preserved or completely removed. Yes of course it’s difficult to translate an entire language to another one, but subtitles also act as translations.

No matter which version you watch, an English-speaking viewer is entirely reliant on the work of the translator to convey what the characters are saying either through subtitles or the voice actor’s scripts. Some often criticize the English voice acting performance and compare it to the Japanese, however unless those critics speak Japanese, it’s less likely that they’ll realize or catch on to any poor performances in the Japanese dub and then assume it perfect.

English dubs have gotten significantly better over time, at least from what I’ve seen. Each dub should be viewed as a case-by-case scenario rather than with any pre-set generalizations. It’s understandable why some people don’t want to read subtitles or just simply want to be able to understand what they hear the characters saying. It’s also understandable why people would have concerns about how an anime’s story and script have been handled with its translation.

Although I gave counterpoints, the above arguments are still fine reasons to prefer a sub over a dub, and many fans thankfully accept that everyone has their own personal preference.

It’s the lack of acceptance from subtitle elitists that is disgusting and detrimental to the anime community. If you run into a subtitle elitist online, please don’t engage with them. A lot of them just bully others and simply just aren’t interested in having a peaceful discussion.

The anime community simply shouldn’t tolerate subtitle elitists.

Featured Illustration: Thomas Strimpel

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Matthew Payne

Matthew Payne

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