The rise of international films and TV hitting the screens of English speaking nations has significantly increased in the last decade. Hit shows such as Netflix’s Squid Game, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and Attack on Titan have seen global acclaim. But, how these shows are viewed is a bone of contention between fans; Subbed VS Dubbed is an age-old debate among fans of international TV, Film and Anime; which one produces a better result and what do westernised audiences prefer?
Subtitling has many advantages: It allows for an accurate translation, including the quirks of the original language that can play an important role in the plot, while allowing the audience to enjoy the actor’s authentic performance. Subbing is also advantageous for a deaf audience or those with learning difficulties. People who are bilingual or learning another language can benefit as well.
In addition, subtitling is far more cost effective than dubbing and dodges the burden of syncing dialogue up when the actors are speaking. Hence, subtitled anime has a better reach for an audience and enables the production company to turn a much larger profit at a reduced cost.
In the case of dubbing, it enables an audience to enjoy a show without having to read the dialogue. While people may joke that it is for people who can’t keep up with subtitles, it allows an audience to enjoy an actor’s performance and take in the scene. Audiences whose thought processes are more speech orientated than word orientated may find that dubbed episodes are easier to comprehend and process, especially for shows that are heavy on dialogue or exposition. Naturally, dubbing applies to those who may have a visual impairment or other disabilities such as dyslexia.
For many viewers, hearing dialogue in their natural tongue allows them to better resonate with the characters and story, which can be much harder to attain while listening to foreign dialogue and reading subtitles. Many international filmmakers and anime creators have said they prefer their work to be dubbed as they would like the content watched rather than being read.
Occasionally, a dubbed piece of content may have better voice actors, performances and/or writing than the original, though, of course, this is subjective. Commercially, dubs also have a much wider reach despite being more expensive to produce. A dub can often make or break a series’ success.
In 2010, the BFC (British Film Council) carried out a study to determine: do British audiences prefer subtitled or dubbed films? Audience members were polled who had just seen the original Swedish version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. The researchers visited the Curzon cinema in Mayfair, London, the Vue in Hull and the Odeon Printworks in Manchester.
Audiences in Hull only had the option of seeing the dubbed film, while in London only the subtitled version was shown. In Manchester, audiences had the option of seeing either format. The researchers concluded fans of mainstream cinema, such as blockbusters like Avatar, were most likely to see the dubbed version of the film. Meanwhile, those who saw the subtitled version were more likely to have an interest in foreign language and arthouse films. In addition, 65% of those who saw the subtitled film watched non-English language movies either a lot or occasionally, compared to 34% of those who saw the dubbed version.
The research concluded that it was best to offer a choice when showing a non-English language film between subbed and dubbed – if you wanted to reach the largest audience.
The findings presented to the BFC are particularly interesting as it’s often easy to assume subtitles would be the preferred option when watching a foreign language film. However, when you consider the numerous positives and negatives of dubbed and subbed content you can see why many might be split over the choice.
It is a fair conclusion, that with the wave of non-English language films popping up on streaming services that providing both options is a guarantee of achieving the highest viewing figures.