Rundown (9/29-10/05) Subs Vs Dubs – The Eternal Debate

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Wherein I discuss 20 year long debates, news from the land of Galar, the end of a superstar saga, and the continued monetarily driven exploits of a rock star developer.

Recently I have been pondering the age-old debate of subs versus subs, something I regularly see propagated with the same arguments attesting to the quality of English subs over English dubs with regards to Japanese media.  These include the defenses that subs are better because it is the original vision, the actors tend to be better because Japanese audiences place greater emphasis on them and their roles, it sounds cooler or more authentic, and dubs are for the mainstream hack audiences who don’t want to read subtitles.  All of which are arguments I take assorted forms of ubridge with.  

Being the original does not mean it is the best, or that the creators necessarily intended for their work to only be consumed in a specific language, and while subs may be more authentic and accurate to what these characters are saying, they ultimately localize the content in accordance to a certain style guide for an English audience.  So while subs may be considered closer to the original version, they really aren’t completely accurate. You need to study Japanese for years, and maybe live in Japan for a while in order to truly get the language, idioms, and the true authentic context. Also, I’d wager that many Japanese creators are thrilled whenever their works are given a full dub in another language, because they know it will broaden its audience. 

Regarding the voice actors, I consider this sentiment to be based on lower budget productions that were prolific throughout the 80s, 90s, and 00s.  Nowadays, most Japanese dubs tend to only hire from a pool of fairly familiar voice actors, but I consider many of them to be very talented and find them to be far more recognizable and memorable than most Japanese voice actors who… honestly blend together in my mind.  When one does not speak or know a language, it can be hard to keep track of voices or recognize the inflections and quirks of a voice. And while the original Japanese voice track may sound better, mostly because Japanese is an incredibly beautiful language, there is some appeal to being able to understand what the characters are saying with one’s ears, and being able to better understand their phonetically inscribed character traits.

As for the last bit… I get that some people just do not like to read subtitles when they are watching something, and if they want to hear something in their language and the one they know the best rather than a language they cannot speak, I think it is rather rude to insinuate that they are wrong for doing so.  If you have a preferred language, there should be no sense of shame or disdain for wanting to experience media in said language… but I will admit that the people of the United States are a touch more… intolerant of other languages, mostly because their nation does not teach its people a secondary language, and instead the rest of the world caters to them.

While on this subject, I should probably offer my thoughts on when I prefer dubs over subs.  In short, if you give me an English dub for something, I’m going to listen to it most of the time, as I get more out of the voice actors portrayals than I do out of a Japanese dub.  But my bias will slant depending on how situationally appropriate it is for the character to be speaking a certain language. In short, if I am playing something like Yakuza, I would never want to hear an English dub, because it is about Japanese people in Japan who are modeled after actual Japanese people.  But if I am playing something like Ni No Kuni, a game that begins in America, then I’m going with the English dub 100%, because why would these characters be speaking Japanese?

That being said, my stance is one with a number of double standards.  For example, I would never want to play Higurashi with an English dub because of its setting, cultural themes, and the fact that it takes place in rural Japan.  But for Umineko, hell yes give me an English dub!  The game takes place in a fancy westernized mansion and involves characters named Rudolf, Battler, Beatrice, and Erika.  Nothing about that screams to me that it must be in Japanese, so I’ll gladly support an English rendition of this game… now if only they actually launched that Kickstarter.  This is despite these two visual coming from the same developer, and being parallel series.  But if a Japanese dub is all there is, or there is more of it than the English dub, then I will happily consume the Japanese dub as Japanese is a wonderful sounding language, and I still consider full voice acting to be a privilege. Seriously, look over the types of games I play. It’s a goldarn privilege whenever I get to play a game with full VO.

Which is incidentally the reason why I have no significant desire to play through a Pokemon game with full voice acting, as I have no preconception that the series should have voice acting or any sentiment of the sort.  Oh, but the lack of voice acting is only near the lower echelon of complaints that have been levied at Pokemon Sword and Shield, which received one of its periodic information blowouts by way of Game Informer.  The information was delivered in small articles to maximize revenue, but serves as a convenient list of features that are or are not coming to the game.  

Firstly, the games will feature an optional auto-save feature, which is a much appreciated modern convenience of gaming that would be problematic if it were mandatory in a game like Pokemon, where people save scum their way to ideal natures and IVs, but they made it optional, so everybody should be happy about that.  Just like the continued removal of HMs.  However, these games will remove a valuable choice from players, as the EXP Share item is no more, and instead all Pokemon in the player’s party will automatically the same amount of EXP, regardless of their participation in a battle.  A move that has upset many diehard fans who liked to disable the modern EXP Share in order increase the game’s difficulty by keeping their levels and stats low.  I do not approve of this decision, as it removes an option from the player for no clearly determined reason, but personally… I really missed the shared EXP system of more modern games when I was playing through Pokemon Platinum last month.  Also, I like being overleveled in RPGs.

That could be enough to keep fans saltier than a crate of salt-caked pickles, but Game Freak also acknowledged the controversy surrounding this game’s removal of the National Dex, which is a bizarre inaccuracy that has unfortunately stuck, much to my chagrin.  Basically, the National Dex was removed in Pokemon Sun and Moon for unknown reasons, but every Pokemon could still be brought into that game.  What people are upset about is the inability to transfer an unknown number of Pokemon into Sword and Shield, a decision that Game Freak has done a terrible job of defending.  The Pokemon games feature a myriad of small mechanics that are often specific to each Pokemon, and by carrying over all of those mechanics, all of the assets related to a new Pokemon, the games become harder and harder to develop as time goes on and the roster expands.  

For example, in order to get Deoxys into every game, you need to have a way for them to shift forms.  If Arceus is going to be in a game, you need to have the plates that change their type. If Spinda is going to be in the game, it needs to support their varied patterns.  Combine this with reworking animations, updating textures, and short development times, and the decision to only include certain Pokemon in each game makes sense. However, these things are not really obvious, many people into video games do not understand how hard they are to make, and even I struggled to understand this decision, as demonstrated in a rambly little tirade I went on back in July.  Oh, and there was also some mention of being able to make your favorite Pokemon competitively viable.  Which would be interesting… if I cared about the PVP side of Pokemon.  

Though I do care about any and all studio closures, as I find them to be an interesting metric to judge the health of the gaming industry, and the company on the chopping block this week is none other than AlphaDream, developer of the Mario & Luigi series, who declared bankruptcy.  Yes, a Nintendo second party studio who primarily worked on games as part of the biggest series in the medium somehow became insolvent, and it doesn’t look like anybody is going to be reviving them given how thoroughly everything around the company has played out.  Well, I say somehow, but 2015’s Mario & Luigi Paper Jam and 2019’s remake of Bowser’s Inside Story both had terrible launches in Japan, and I have doubt to believe that they were sales successes globally given how Paper Jam was not very good, and nobody was buying 3DS games in 2019.  While I really only liked the first three games in their series, this is still immensely saddening, and feels like something that should not be happening because of the studio’s close proximity to Nintendo.  But Nintendo didn’t bail them out, and now they’re gone.

Unlike the public mindshare that was devoted to Red Dead Redemption 2, which most people have moved well past— oh right, it’s about time for a PC port, isn’t it?  Yes, after being a common game of the year contender last year and garnering widespread acclaim, Red Dead Redemption 2 is getting a PC port that will debut on the Rockstar Games Launcher on November 5th.  Yes, Rockstar is boasting a number of pre-purchase offers in an effort to move more people over to their designated launcher, but for those who value convenience over extra in-game items or access to decade old games, it will launch on Steam sometime in December.  It will also come out for the Epic Games Store… eventually, and will be a launch game for Google Stadia when it comes out in November. Yeah, it’s next month and they haven’t narrowed in on a date yet.  

I could end things out by going on about how my tastes aren’t really aligned with the AAA mainstream zeitgeist, but I’d rather just close things out.  

Header image comes from Elfen Lied, which I incidentally found to be far more enjoyable dubbed due to the more varied performances of the actors, and found the script to be far better than what the official subs offer. 

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