28 CommentsEditorials / By Scamp /

Dub vs Sub Debate using Dominion Tank Police

Charging straight what is probably the longest running and most frequently fought debates the world of anime has ever and will ever see. This wouldn’t be an anime blog if I didn’t at least once tackle the subject. So time to toss aside the many other famous anime arguments I frequently engage in over the course of this blog, such as “was anime really better back then?“, “Is moe really the cancer that will kill the industry?” and “Is Lelouch the Cart Driver?“, and tackle this unholy beast: Sub vs Dub.

So why cover Dominion Tank Police? Vintage 1988, dubbed a few years later (actually it was dubbed a fair few times, both in America and England. For the purpose of this post, I’m talking about the one dubbed in England). It’s based off a manga by Masamune Shirow, the guy who wrote Ghost in the Shell. It’s about the mad Tank Police gang, who are quite literally police who chase criminals in tanks, and their constant failures to capture a criminal and his pair of ex-stripper catgirl sidekicks. It’s very much a campy, comedy anime, albeit the last episode changes tone to something a lot more serious and deep. It’s a pretty awesome OVA, one of the best I’ve seen in my recent trawl through plenty of other terrible ones. But I’m here to talk about the voice acting.

The dub is very hammy altogether. Plenty of characters totally overact their pieces. The catgirls are given what appears to be 1930’s New York accents. The researcher given the most ridiculous faux-Einstein accent. They even change the music for the opening song. The thing is, the Japanese voices are exactly the same. They are just as hammy and ridiculously overacted as their English counterparts. The catgirls slur their words together, although I can’t place the accent. The various members of the tank police are acted with various forms of the shouty excited voice. Both sides are strangely hollow during the more serious parts (although it makes a bit more sense for the character to sound hollow in context). While the hammyness of the acting adds to the overall camp feel of the anime, in both cases I think it’s partly down to plain poor acting than it being actually intentional.

It’s no secret I’m totally indifferent to seiyuu names and who voices who in my anime. This isn’t because I think voice acting is irrelevant though. That’s more down to each seiyuu having no say in the eventual quality of the anime. But it’s also down to simply not paying as much attention to how the voices are done. Honestly, the sub group a greater factor to your entertainment than who voiced the anime. When it comes to dubs though, you’re listening solely to the voices and therefore notice every nuance in the actors voice. When it comes to Japanese voices, you accept what you hear because you don’t know what the language should sound like. Hence you’re normalised to hearing the bad acting and accepting that as how it should be voiced.

That said, this can still be used as a reason for watching sub over dub. You are, in a sense, innocent to what voice acting should sound like so accept what you hear in the subbed version. That very innocence can actually improve your perceived quality of the acting and any flaws get accepted as how it should sound. Terrible acting in a language you actually speak is way more distracting than one you don’t. I’m not making the claim that English-speaking voice actors are better than Japanese ones (despite thinking that Crispin Freeman is better than any Japanese seiyuu), but that the Japanese voices are far from the infallible and perfectly voiced things weeaboo seem to believe they are.

Besides, not all the changes the dub make are bad. Compare the engrishy Hot Dance in Cherry Moon to the English version Tank Police. Both are awesome camp pop, but I marginally prefer the English version.

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  1. Samshel
    Posted November 12, 2010 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    I’m not gonna lie, I grew up watching things like Magic Knight Rayearth or Dragon Ball in latin american spanish, so I like those shows a lot more in spanish than in japanese. But beyond that I like to watch everything with its original audio, be it french or english or chinese.

    I think one of the reasons, which doesn’t affect anime that much, is the fact that the lips look all wrong when you watch dubbed movies, and I kind of pay a lot of attention to audio sync, so watching a mouth move the wrong way to say something is just not good for me.

    Another reason is that, from my point of view, once you dub something, the original feeling is lost, be it good or bad.

    • Posted November 13, 2010 at 6:49 am | Permalink

      actually i really think that there are some spanish dubs that are better than both english and japanese combined. dragon ball z in spanish was cute.

      i couldn’t stand either the english dub or japanese sub of evangelion but the spanish dub i actually enjoyed. plot aside, the voice acting was suburb. i then noticed that they used those famous spanish soap opera actors for the voices, lol.

  2. Posted November 12, 2010 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    This show… sounds pretty good! (No pun intended.)
    Talk a bit more about it in some future posts~

    I often favour the sub over the dub, simply because I’m better in reading english than hearing english. And german dubs.. well.. sometimes they are good. But most of the time, they suck. BIG TIME.
    Besides the One Piece Dub. And the Azumanga Daioh dub. And maybe the Ouran dub.
    Problem is, when so many bad dubs are made and aired on the infamously bad german tv-channel RTL2, then it’s no wonder when german people favour the sub over the dub.
    An example: They took Naruto, edited all the blood and death away and changed the word “kill” into “abduct”, then they took out the baddest voice actors they had to voice it, who made the most shameful and hilarious pronunciation mistakes ever. And they still think it’s good.
    So, in Germany, the sub is preferred. They even gonna release Durarara here without a dub.

    If we are already talking about anime songs, then watch this. The RTL2 guys thought that the german kids would like some englsih Hip-Hop Shit more than the actual japanese opening.

    Then again, the One Piece dub openings are AWESOME.
    But my favourite will always be the second opening, because it has sucha nostalgic feeling to it. (I know it sounds silly -3- But I love it)One Piece is my first anime, and it will be always in my heart. When it comes on TV then you can count me to sit before it, singing along with the openings. I didn’t found it on youtube, so you have to watch it in crappy quality on myvideo :<


  3. fathomlessblue
    Posted November 12, 2010 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

    Oh boy, this old thing again…

    I actually remember buying the D.T.P. vhs collection in my early youth. It probably was the same dub you watched, loved the campness of it.

    I guess like most non-asian anime fans, I started with dubs and stuck with them for a while, mainly because most of the older pro-subbers I encountered at the time came across as pretentious, elitist artsy prats rather than being geniunely passionate about watching shows in Japanese, so I totally wanted to distance myself from them. Plus, being 12/13 years old, I didn’t really have the patience to watch subs.

    Similar to your point, a big reason I’ve always felt many prefer subs is because unless you have a really good dub cast commited to their lines, the flimsy/cheesy nature of a particular anime are more apparent than, say, if you don’t understand the words. Plus I’m sure some believe that watched something in a foreign language somehow looks more sosphisticated, rather than in English, where you can’t escape the reality that a good proportion of anime are essentially kids shows with perverse elements.

    Of course now with the rise of speedsubbers, I’m more likely to watch subbed shows as soon as they come out. I guess my current stance is that if the anime’s based in Japan or has similar social aspects, humour etc, then I’ll watch the sub. Otherwise I’ll watch the dub, providing it’s decent. I don’t care what anyone says, theres no way Baccanno! in Japanese is better than watching it spoken in the langage of the country it’s based in, especially when the cast is as top-notch as they are in that show.

    Peace out.

    • luffyluffy
      Posted November 12, 2010 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

      I will never watch Baccano! in Japanese. EVER.

      … Maybe once. For the NE NE AIZAKKU~? NANDAI MIRIA~~??

      • fathomlessblue
        Posted November 12, 2010 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

        Haha, I’ll concede that, hearing Isakkuuuuuuu….. is one thing the sub has over it’s English counterpart. I remember the cameo they did in Durarara!! caused me to go back to Baccano! and watch all their scenes in Japanese. Awesome.

  4. luffyluffy
    Posted November 12, 2010 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    You know, I met Crispin Freeman at the Durarara!! screening and panel at NYAF, and hoo boy, what a nice guy. Got to ask him a question too. Mine was: “Say ‘Just who the hell do you think I am?!'”

    I’ve also met Brad Swalie, who does.. Setsuna and Light. Only reason why I watched Gundam 00, Swear by it. And, the jewel of my meetings was meeting Steve FUCKING Blum. This was at my anime convention, my dad had just lost his job, and this was at the height of my obsession (to put it mildly) with Cowboy BeBop. Not only was Blum so flattered, he even personalized my Code Geass poster with “That’s for playing in my world!”

    … That’s a totally off topic paragraph, isn’t it?

    Moar Geass stories, woop woop. I decided to not watch the show in Japanese, and watch it in English, on Adult Swim. (Johnny Yong Bosch, Yuri Lowenthal, Crispin Freeman, and Steve Blum?! IN THE SAME SHOW?!) Long story short, the show was hopelessly spoiled for me, to the point where I stopped caring, but GOD, that show was beautiful. I guess for me, if I can get a show dubbed, and it’s got an all star cast, then sign me up. I love both equally.

    • fathomlessblue
      Posted November 12, 2010 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

      Steve Blum was Vincent Valentine in Final Fantasy: Advent Children. No other reason for his awesomeness is required.

      • luffyluffy
        Posted November 12, 2010 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

        I was actually joking with my friend during that movie: “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if Steve Blum was in this movie?”

        Said that about 10 minutes before Valentine walked on screen.

        Happened again with Cunningham, from IGPX. And that was pretty much what kept happening, over and over and over and oh god I know every one of his Aliases and gosh I’m a stalker.

  5. anon
    Posted November 12, 2010 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    >Honestly, the sub group a greater factor to your entertainment than who voiced the anime.

    It most definitely is not. As long as the subs are remotely decent, they have a very low impact on my enjoyment of a show – it’s just there to make me understand what’s being said, otherwise I ignore them as much as possible. On the other hand, a voice actor can often be a delight to listen to, even becoming a big reason to watch a show. Hellsing Ultimate just wouldn’t be so over the top awesome without Jouji Nakata and Norio Wakamoto.

    As for being able to judge Japanese voice acting, emotion is something you can hear without having a full understanding of the language. I definitely agree that it’s tougher to judge a performance in a language you don’t know well, but it’s ridiculous to think that your judgment and the quality of the voice acting won’t be significantly correlated. Do you think that people just roll dice when they vote on awards for foreign language films?

  6. Posted November 12, 2010 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    Just like in politics, I’m moderate in my stance on age-old anime debates, this one included. For oldie dubs the acting quality can really dip, or the voice won’t match the character (recalls Utena dub *shudders*). That was of course when the dubbing industry was young and QC wasn’t as much prioritized as just getting the product out to market. Nowadays the vast majority of licensed anime gets quality dub treatment, so I feel secure I won’t miss the “purist” experience by watching anime dubbed, though a stinker or two will still pop up every now and then.

    The complaint I see the most now from the subtitle side is that the company changed the music or censored something. But I chalk this up to poor localization production, something beyond the scope of this argument and into something like “buy licensed vs torrent”.

    One final thought is whereas I find subs maintain more even quality from title to title, a great dub can truly enrich the viewing experience and deliver that something special subs lack.

    • Posted November 12, 2010 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

      While I prefer subs over dubs 95% of the time, I’ve gotta agree with you on that last paragraph. I watched Death Note in its dubbed version – one of the very few dub casts that I like for a show – and the viewing experience of that was very different to anything else.

      So basically, I don’t mind dubs – I just don’t really have much of a tolerance for bad ones, and I guess my standards are pretty high (I don’t like a lot of VAs that some people do – eg. Johnny Yong Bosch – though I have to admit that Crispin Freeman is fantastic).

      • luffyluffy
        Posted November 12, 2010 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

        Bosch was a GREAT choice for Lelouche though. Much more fun than Fukuyama.

        I can’t wait to see how he does Izaya’s voice~

  7. EurydiceQ
    Posted November 13, 2010 at 2:14 am | Permalink

    How anyone can watch Code Geass without Fukuyama Jun or Death Note without Miyano Mamoru boggles my mind. When the dubs for DRRR!! materialize I’m sure people will watch Izaya voiced by what’s-his-face but for me if it’s not Kamiya Hiroshi, it’s just not Izaya. I agree with Scamp that seiyuu casts are no indication of anime quality in general–I mean, just look at how much Psychic Detective Yakumo is sucking with Ono Daisuke, who is adored as characters like Shizuo and Sebastian–but that doesn’t mean good performances from seiyuu shouldn’t be valued at all. Seiyuu may not affect the overall quality of a show, but in my opinion, they profoundly affect the characters they voice. Edward Elric is not the same character without Paku Romi voicing him–even if a different Japanese VA voiced him, say Kobayashi Sanae, he would be a different character. In some way Light is defined by Miyano Mamoru’s performance in Death Note…if you watched the dub, then you saw a different Light.

    Personally, I’ve never experienced a dub that doesn’t make me cringe. Partially, I’m certain, this is due to my own personal (and clearly vitriolic) bias. Lately I’ve been subjected to watching Hellsing dubbed with a friend and it reinforces all my prejudices. The VA who plays Victoria Seras has a terribly put-on British accent; Crispin Freeman as Alucard just doesn’t do justice to the deep sinister tones of Nakata Jouji. The acting is wooden even when there are no mouth flaps to match (although I will except the dub VA of Alexander Anderson: he’s pretty good). In addition, I have problems with casting choices even in the best of the English dubs. For example, I found Christian Bale to be a terrible choice for Howl in Disney’s dub of Howl’s Moving Castle. Howl is immature, whimsical, almost feminine…Christian Bale is the goddamn batman. Christian Bale is a fabulous actor…but his Howl just didn’t do it for me. I appreciate the need for dubs, especially for TV; Cartoon Network will never air 64 episodes of FMA:B with subtitles. But I will never watch them for any reason other than curiosity. I just can’t help but feel that anyone who didn’t hear “Neeee Aizakkuuuuu~” didn’t watch the same Baccano! I did.

    • Posted November 13, 2010 at 6:10 am | Permalink

      I can see where you’re coming from with your point on Death Note, and while I prefer watching it dubbed myself I’d probably have agreed with you under different circumstances – a lot of my positive thoughts about the dub are probably from nostalgia, since Death Note was the very first anime I watched.

      It’s nice to find someone who agrees with me regarding Lelouch’s voice – from the few eps of Geass that I’ve watched dubbed, Bosch seems too… playful, perhaps. Well, either it’s that or it’s bad acting, since a lot of the originally epic lines just don’t really have any impact on me in the dub.

      On your point of DRRR, the preview I saw actually doesn’t seem too bad for Izaya – Bosch is a much better choice there than he was for Lelouch. That said, it’s still a long, long way from Kamiya Hiroshi.

      And while I haven’t seen a whole lot of Baccano in either language – and I’ve seen none of the dub – I have a difficult time imagining the series beginning with anything other than Norio Wakamoto.

    • fathomlessblue
      Posted November 13, 2010 at 2:50 pm | Permalink


      I can see where your coming from concerning dub cast rarely presenting the same characters as their Japanese counterparts. I think the English cast of FMA is pretty decent, but as excellent Vic Mignogna is as Ed, he never feels the same character as the one Romi Paku plays. Saying that, either one are just interpretations of a character and I don’t hold true that the Japanese version of any anime necessarily has to be better just because it was released/watched in Japan first.

      I saw the subs of Baccano! well before the dubs, but I still believe the latter is better, mainly because no matter how excellent the cast is, New York characters speaking in Japanese will never be as natural as the English cast. Likewise Durarara!!, being based in Japan, will always feel more accurate to me than the dub, regardless of it quality. One thing I won’t do is say a particular anime/character has to be better in Japanese because that where the show was first conceived.

      Regarding some of the shows you mentioned, I can see why you’d be suspicious of dubs. It’s been a long time since I saw the Hellsing dub (or the four eps I made it through) but remember it being one of the worst pieces of crap I’d come across. I can’t imagine many self-respecting Brit actually enjoying those terrible attempts of Americans doing English accents. Either use American accents or hire an English cast, or at least people who can do halfway decent impressions?!? The side characters were the worst… the attempts at doing Cockney accents…. dear god! You’d really have to love campness to enjoy that show’s dub.

      As for Howl’s Moving Castle, well it’s Studio Ghibli, the greatest cash cow in anime. They always hire the biggest names they can get, regardless of how suited they might be to the particular role. Don’t get me wrong, the cast are mostly top notch actors/actresses, regardless of their experience doing voiceovers, but the fact is they’re chiefly hired so that their names can go on the front of the dvd, promotional posters, etc. In any case I don’t think either cases are good examples of how to do an English dub.

      • EurydiceQ
        Posted November 14, 2010 at 6:55 pm | Permalink


        Thanks for sharing your viewpoints on this. It’s rare to be able to have a decent conversation with someone on this flame-inducing topic. ^_^

        Still, I can’t agree with some of your arguments here. For example, your point about watching Baccano! in English because the story is set in New York (never mind the cheesy 1930s accents that remind me of nothing so much as Newsies) has some problems. By this argument, it would be better to watch Disney’s Beauty and the Beast in French because it’s set in France, or DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon in Norwegian because it’s about Vikings. Would you prefer to watch “A Whole New World” sung in Arabic because it’s more authentic? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1XQaRG4P-9E

        I am prepared to concede that I haven’t watched all that many dubs, probably not nearly as many as you, and so I may be totally unaware of some show that has English dubs so awesome that they will knock my socks off. I bow to your expertise. But for me, being a fan of anime is ultimately about loving the medium itself, and the original audio is part of that medium that we (I assume since we’re both reading this blog) spend so much time consuming and thinking and talking about.

        Yes, what we get in a subbed anime is mediated through a translator, but subs are a process of addition: all the elements are there – the story, the visuals, the audio, + subtitles. Dubs are a process of subtraction; they completely eschew the original audio while keeping the story and visuals. When you take one of these things away and replace it entirely with something new, I think you’ve lost something intrinsic to the medium. And this is without even touching on the subject of lost honorifics and other idiosyncrasies of the Japanese language that add richness to watching subbed anime. This isn’t the weeaboo argument of “baka! japanese is totally the best language ever, desu~”…I like my English very much, thank you. It’s the reality that anime is a form of Japanese media, and therefore Japanese is the language of the medium.

        Obviously to each his own, and I’m certainly not qualified to say, nor do I wish to, that “all dubs suck” or “anyone who likes dubs is stupid.” We all like Baccano!, whether subbed or dubbed, so we must have pretty good taste, right :) ? However, this is how I justify my “first version is best” opinion, and why I prefer my anime subbed.

  8. SaitoHajime101
    Posted November 13, 2010 at 4:42 am | Permalink

    Personally, I dip in both pots. It really depends on what I run into first. However if its in English, I will watch it in English first and foremost. When a company spends ungodly amounts of money to dub something they think their consumers want to see localized, I will take the time to actually watch it and give my opinion. For example, I saw Gundam 00 before it was licensed (Japanese w/ subs), but then when it finally got licensed and released, I decided to sit down and watch a couple episodes in English. By doing so I can properly argue which version is better and not made out to be a misinformed douche (in the end I disliked the dub Gundam 00).

    Nothing ticks me off more than hearing some person say “dub sucks” when they do everything possible not to watch something dubbed. This brings me to another good example: Naruto. Now everyone has their opinions of the series, both dubbed and subbed alike, yet personally I find Naruto to have gotten better over the years dubbed wise. I remember sitting down and watching the very first episode of Naruto when it first aired on Cartoon Network and cringing at the voices. Yet I stuck with it and I felt the actors finally fell into the roles a bit better as the series went on. However I hear of alot of Naruto watchers who never once watched it in English and yet complain how terrible it is. Sure the localization of the sure wasn’t exactly the greatest ever, but the dub work has gotten better over time.

    There will always be shows that fall flat and shows that really do well (Cowboy Bebop and Rurouni Kenshin are my all-time must-watch-in-english shows). I wont’ lie, there have been really bad shows I can’t stand in English, but there’s also quite a few shows that do well. Same in regards to Japanese. People need to wake up and be realistic, not everything is perfect. If everything was perfect then you must be dreaming.

    • Posted November 13, 2010 at 6:13 am | Permalink

      I’ve gotta agree with you there – nothing’s perfect, and even my favourite seiyuus have done a few off lines that take me out of the immersion for a bit. On the other hand, I’ve found that it happens a lot more in dubs.

      What annoys me more (in both languages) is bad casting. If I start to hate a character from their voice alone, then that’s a problem. :P

  9. Posted November 13, 2010 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    apples and oranges. there are a lot of english dubs i hate, but there are also some japanese voice acting in some anime that i couldn’t stand either. it’s difficult to compare the two since they’re so dependent on the individual voice actors plus the script.

    like in japanese, i think miyano mamoru is fantastic. that might be the only japanese seiyuu i know by name. in english, steve blum is god. also probably the only english voice actor i know by name.

    there are a few terrible dubs i love just for nostalgia’s sake though. oh cartoon network~

  10. blogger
    Posted November 13, 2010 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    My only experience of watching dubbed episodes was Bleach. the first five minutes of Ouran and the teasers for the dubbed episodes of Hetalia.

    It wasn’t bad; I actually would watch Hetalia, but for me, if I’ve watched the anime in Japanese first, it takes time for me to adjust to English voices.

    Maybe I watch too many subbed episodes of things.

    • fathomlessblue
      Posted November 13, 2010 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

      Spot on about it taking time to adapt to the voices of the dub. One of the big things that annoys me with the sub vs dub debate is when people dismiss a dub as crap out of hand, just because it sounds odd at first compared to Japanese. Get past that block and those not too stubborn to admit might actually realise the dub is better suited to the show. That was the case with me, when watching Baccanno!

      I really must stop replying to all these posts. Repeat; I am not Scamp, I am not Scamp…

      • luffyluffy
        Posted November 13, 2010 at 6:09 pm | Permalink


  11. Posted November 13, 2010 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

    A good post that shows a surprising level of openness for this type of piece. Dominion Tank Police is probably a good thing to use here. I think voice direction had not evolved that much, so you could get stereotypical accents depending on who was in charge. On the dub front, characters were dubbed in a certain way depending on appearance based on stereotypes. It’s probably what the audience would have expected as well.

    As far as modern times, I get way more experience listening to Western voice acting in popular works than I do in anime dubs because the standard seems much close to normal acting. I would also agree that Japanese voice acting is far from infallible. The perfect example would just to listen to lead female characters from about 30 years ago to today. The move away from realism is a little disappointing, but I don’t think there would have been an increase in popularity without it.

  12. Someone Else
    Posted November 14, 2010 at 6:03 am | Permalink

    I definitely prefer dubs in my country (english is not my native language) and they’re really good, though not all the time but I love the VA’s and translator’s efforts to make the dub less boring

  13. Posted October 3, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    Mostly, I enjoy subs. Because as you say, its easy to pick up on a bad dub. But I am sick to death of being ostracised because I enjoy watching the occasional dub, and mildly expressing enjoyment with said dub.

    Dubs for Spice and Wolf / NHK / Chobits / Cowboy Bebop were all pretty fantastic, I should know, Ive seen them in both. But now I have people telling me im not a fan because I like some dubs? Watching Cowboy Bebop subbed should be a cardinal sin.

    I understand the argument that I might not quite be getting what was originally intended, but what makes you think that with the state of fansubs these days that I am getting the same experience as a viewer who knows Japanese? In my experience, fansubs can be wildly innacurate, and most don’t even realise it. Additionally, whose to say that the original voice actors were even doing a good job?

    Frankly, I find that most anime fans have some sort of superiority complex, there is certainly an elitist opinion about dubs and most won’t even give it a shot. I don’t mind that, but please don’t ostracise me just because I thought Hellsing was pretty good dubbed.

  14. Dizzy Wyrm
    Posted November 21, 2011 at 12:00 am | Permalink

    Right off the top, I have to pretty much always watch dubs now that my eyes are messed up, especially ones where they have the fonts/colors that tend to get dimmed by the background most of the time. I have seen both old subs and dubs that seem to almost have nothing to do with the graphic story your watching and really wonder what they were thinking. The most painful thing with dubs is when they use over done, hokey Texas and southern accents for foreign or Japanese characters. Believe me, even rednecks would be embarrased to sound like that…I love the old Tank Police shows mainly for the crazy Cat Sisters. They are hillarious.

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