Invited Submission from John McCallum, Senior Research Manager & Lead Anime Analyst
It is a classic debate within anime fandom: subs vs. dubs – which is the superior way to watch anime? “Subs” refers to “subtitled” anime that maintains the original Japanese voice acting made accessible through local-language subtitles. “Dubs” refers to anime that has been “dubbed over” with local-language voice acting – no subtitles required.
While it remains a divisive question, 2021 saw a global shift towards preferencing subs over dubs. Interpret’s Animeasure reveals that more and more anime viewers (across all 11 countries for which trended data is available) are stating a preference for subtitles. As the anime audience continues to grow worldwide, we would expect this trend to increase.
Subs vs. dubs may seem like a largely subjective or mechanical choice, but a shift towards subs likely signals that many of those viewers who became anime fans during the pandemic are not only sticking around but deepening in their fandom.
It is generally assumed that there are two main reasons to prefer subs over dubs – both point to subs being the preference of a more invested anime fan (though plenty of incredibly passionate dub-fans remain – so much so that anime dub voice actors become stars in their own right).
Most intuitively, perhaps, subtitled anime that preserves the original Japanese voice acting is considered to align more closely with the original creator’s vision; and a preference for subtitled anime is often used as a metric for fandom for this reason.
The more practical reason subtitled anime may be gaining ground on dubbed anime, however, is that subtitled anime can be viewed far more quickly. While Funimation did pioneer SimulDubs – series that would be available to be viewed in your local language within a week of broadcasting in Japan – it still lags behind simulcasts, which offer subtitled anime for viewing as soon as an hour after it premieres in Japan.
While the dub audience is unlikely to disappear any time soon, a growing appetite for subs not only signals deepening anime fandom, but clarity around dubbing and subbing strategy. While a few major dubbed series will likely remain integral in attracting new fans to the world of anime, once they’re in many will likely continue their anime journey exploring myriad subbed-only series that hew even closer to the originator’s vision.
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