Gintama is widely considered by viewers to be a hard anime to dub. Earlier this month, the third season of Gintama had its English dub released, with more episodes to come later this week.
Some fans have looked forward to the iconic comedy series getting dubbed, while others are concerned that the Japanese cultural jokes and wordplay won’t translate well into an English dub. They consider that Gintama is too “Japanese” to translate well, and that the subtitled versions have already proved popular among non-Japanese fans.
Note that subbed anime don’t necessarily bring you closer to the experience a native Japanese speaker would get out of anime, especially once you consider all the factors involved with translating and distributing anime. It’s all just personal preference.
But on top of all that, subtitle translations are still more faithful to the original Japanese script persists to this day. After all, dub scripts have traditionally made large changes to an anime because of localization, and some animes even had to go through a different plot.
In light of all of this, how does the Gintama dub weigh up? After checking the first three episodes of the dub, it seems that the dubbed anime is almost the same as the subtitled one.
The above line from episode 268, for instance, is exactly the same in the dub, and the similarities don’t end there. Whenever Japanese writing appears on the screen, the dub doesn’t shy away from translating them via subtitles. It is somewhat ironic that you still end up reading subtitles when you watch dubbed anime, but it does indicate that the dub script team was careful to preserve as much as they could in translation. This dub looks like a labor of love.
Here’s another example. In episode 268, Yamazaki falls in love with the robot maid named Tama. As he observes her and becomes increasingly feverish in his commentary, a soccer ball suddenly hits him in the crotch. The scene plays out like this:
The joke in English is that “Tama” and “testicles” share the same first letter. But in Japanese, the word tama means “ball,” and can be used as slang for testicles. The wordplay isn’t quite as obvious in English, but the joke is still pretty funny if you’re into that crude sort of humor.
Later in the same episode, however, the connection between “Tama” and “testicles” is lost altogether in translation, and it’s hard to see what the translators could have done to salvage it.
Of course, there are plenty of non-Japanese Gintama fans that would understand the wordplay here, if not because the series is full of dirty jokes. But the point is that the subtitles themselves don’t explain the joke. If the dub is guilty of erasing the original idea, then the same goes for the subbed one.
The dub may be faithful to the original script at times, but sometimes, some translations seem awkward when spoken aloud. Dubs are generally better if it doesn’t translate word-per-word, and the idea is still there. Take this scene from episode 266, for instance, which occurs after Shinpachi accidentally kills somebody by throwing a giant booger at a truck:
After Kagura criticizes him, Shinpachi tries to defend himself.
The subtitle translation is a pretty close translation of the Japanese line: あんなモンスターを見出した奴に文句を言いたくんない？ (lit. “Don’t you want to complain to the guy who picked out that monster?”) The dub, meanwhile, translates it as: “Blame it on the guy who picked it, not the one who flicked it!” As you can see, the dub line captures the spirit of Gintama’s quirky dialogue.
In the end, dubs aren’t for everyone, and very few people will judge the quality of a dub by its script alone. For many Gintama fans, what matters most is not the script, but also the delivery of the lines. After over ten years of playing these characters, the Japanese voices have become iconic, and it’s hard for the English voice actors to catch up. Even if the script is exactly the same, something may still feel missing.
Don’t dismiss the Gintama dub before watching it, you might like it too. What do you think? Is the dub better than you think? Let us know in the comments below.