Watching anime raw

Credit to linked pixiv user

In past posts I’ve talked about the subtitle quality in anime we watch, as well as anime dubs, but I never specifically wrote about watching anime in its “pure” form – raw in Japanese without any subtitles. However a recent post by froggykun got me thinking about the what, why, and when of my viewing of raw anime…

For roughly the first six years of my time as an anime fan, I probably watched less than 10 episodes worth of anime raw, basically all of which were episodes of Pokemon or Mon Colle Knights that I watched raw either out of curiosity or because a good sub/dub wasn’t available to me. Everything else I watched in those years was either a dub on TV or with subtitles via fansubs or official DVDs. Even when I started my formal study of Japanese in late 2004, I still had no desire to watch anime raw. I stuck with the mindset I always had of “If I’m gonna watch something, I want to make sure I understand it as best as I can.” I would study Japanese in other ways, but watching anime was always something I wanted to be engrossed in and be sure that I caught everything that was said. And watching anime in Japanese with subtitles is still helpful with learning Japanese anyway.

It wasn’t until late 2006 that I finally started watching an anime series raw on a regular basis, the series in question being Pokemon Diamond & Pearl. It was at that time that the Pokemon dub got all new voice actors, most of which I didn’t like, so I made the decision to continue watching Pokemon in Japanese rather than English from then on. At first I was gonna try to watch it subbed like all my other anime, but the only group that regularly subs the Pokemon anime in English, PocketMonsters, is incredibly slow with their releases, often starting out fast and then falling weeks behind on episodes. So I figured, what the heck, I’ll just watch it raw. My Japanese was already at a high beginning/low intermediate level at that point and, well, it’s just Pokemon, a kids anime with dispensable episodes that don’t get too complex. So since then, with few exceptions, I’ve watched every episode of Pokemon Diamond & Pearl raw, as well as all the following series for Black & White (Best Wishes, Best Wishes 2, and Episode of N) and am currently watching the Pokemon XY anime raw.

Even up until today, besides Pokemon, the only two series I watched raw were, again, kids anime that were fairly easy to understand: Chi’s Sweet Home, a series of 3-minute episodes about the daily misadventures of a kitten, and Arashi no Yoru ni, an anime that came out last year about a wolf and a goat becoming friends despite being natural enemies. Additionally, I’ve watched a handful of episodes of the My Little Pony: FiM Japanese dub both out of curiosity and for Japanese practice (since I already know what’s said having watched them all in English). Also, I watched the new Haruhi episodes that came out in 2009 via raw live stream only because I’m such a big fan of the series and couldn’t wait to see them (same thing with the camrip of the movie), but I’d watch them again later with subtitles. Besides that though, I still don’t care to watch anime raw, even series I rewatch for a second or third time. Even though my Japanese ability has greatly improved over the years, I still have that desire to understand everything that’s said in an anime so I can fully appreciate the story and characters. Of course, I could watch an anime episode subtitled first and then raw, but I rarely have the time or motivation to watch an anime twice. I know the two main reasons non-Japanese fans watch anime raw is because 1) they love the series but nobody is subbing it, or 2) they love the series and have to watch it as soon as possible even before subs are out. But as I said, the only anime that got me that motivated to watch raw has been Haruhi.

The point froggykun brings up in his post is that you can actually understand a good gist of anime episodes even if you know only a little Japanese. Actually, he suggests that relying so much on reading subtitles could turn our viewing experience into an act of “passive reading” rather than “watching,” which could hinder our appreciation for the actual art and visual style of the anime. I can’t deny that there’s truth to that, after all, when you’re focusing on text at the bottom of the screen you’ll miss out on visual nuances here and there, even if you have good peripheral vision like me ;) That’s actually one reason why, as strange as it sounds, I think that watching a good anime dub is closer to the original experience the Japanese audience has than watching an anime with subtitles. The “original” experience Japanese viewers have when they watch anime is watching it with voices in their native language without any subtitles taking focus off the visuals. When we watch a (good) anime dub, we get more or less the same experience – the voices are in our native language and we don’t get distracted from the visuals by having to read subtitles. Watching anime in Japanese with subtitles however, is a very different experience because we’re not hearing a language we easily understand and we have to focus more on reading than watching. Of course, the reason most fans watch anime this way is because they want to hear the Japanese voices even if that means reading every line of dialogue (plus dubs have been much scarcer in recent years). I’m not saying any way of watching anime is better than the other, only that watching dubs rather than subs is closer to the originally intended viewing experience than most people think.

But anyway, being fluent in Japanese and watching an anime raw is obviously the only way to perfectly achieve that ultimate viewing experience. But assuming most people won’t ever get to that level of fluency, watching anime raw is still a worthwhile experience, as froggykun pointed out, in terms of appreciating how an anime’s visual and audio elements flow together when you take “reading subtitles” out of the picture. If you already know some Japanese, or if you’ve seen the anime dubbed or subbed before, there’s no need to fear being totally lost if you watch it raw. Out of all the Pokemon, Chi’s Sweet Home, and Arashi no Yoru ni episodes I watched raw, I understood about 60%-90% of everything that was said depending on the context. Watching anime raw is not only a great study method for anyone learning Japanese, but it’s also a great way to get a new-found appreciation for an anime you’ve only seen with subs. Besides certain simple kids anime, I still don’t think I have any desire to watch a brand new anime I’ve never seen before raw, as I still want to understand everything when I go into an anime for the first time and have little desire to rewatch any except ones I especially liked, much less in the raw. But when I can get the time and motivation together, I should definitely try rewatching my favorite series in Japanese. My old favorites like Cardcaptor Sakura, Fruits Basket, and Wolf’s Rain I’ve already watched many times subbed and know them pretty well, so they would be good candidates to watch raw someday. Since Pokemon is the franchise that never ends, I’ll at least have that anime to get my raw fix from for years to come, but I hope to start rewatching old favorites of mine raw eventually…or become fluent in Japanese, whichever comes first ;)

15 Comments… read them or add your own.

  1. Rioraku says:

    Totally agreed with this! Funnily enough, I had never made a serious attempt to watch an anime raw because I am extremely limited in my Japanese other than reoccurring words and phrases in alot of anime until Pokemon:The Origin. I was excited to see it seeing as how it would be a little more related to the games and to my enjoyment, I didn’t find it very difficult to understand what was going on; being familiar with games and the main anime series. That being said, I’m pretty sure that’s a one time deal for me. I’m not a hard core purist who shuns watching dubs (unless its ESPECIALLY terrible) so I do feel I can get the most out of watching an anime the way ita meant to be seen. I will say though, it’s much easier to watch a dub if I didn’t already see it subbed.

    On point, I doubt I’ll watch more anime raw unless a) I am especially interested in it b)it isn’t very long ( like an OVA or a special) and c) its something that isn’t to complex and is easy to follow.

    Great post as always Yumeka!

    • Yumeka says:

      Thanks, glad you enjoyed the post =D

      I actually watched Pokemon the Origin subbed because subs were readily available, but I could pretty much understand most of what was said ;) I should try watching it again raw and see how well I fare. But yeah, prior familiarity with the series definitely helps since you at least have a context to start with and can catch specific names and terminology.

  2. chikorita157 says:

    To me, I would rather not watch Anime RAWs for the fact that my listening comprehension is not that good since I hardly focused on listening comprehension (I’ll focus that during winter break and do all the listening comprehension worksheets from the text book). But still, since I study vocabulary and kanji everyday while having a good grasp on most of the grammar, so I can understand a good amount if it’s a children’s show.

    I agree that Anime is probably not good for practice Japanese since actual Japanese speakers don’t talk like Anime characters and that gender speech is hardly used in conversation and that most of the speech is informal, not polite . Because, I don’t think people should learn Japanese from Anime, especially when print media (books, newspaper, etc), video games and visual novels will be a better for practice since one can learn new vocabulary, kanji and take the time understanding it (in some games, you can repeat the audio). However, Anime can be an okay supplemental material once a person finished all the beginner level stuff and understand both types of speech. But still, nothing can replace a textbook, lots of practice and for some people, class instruction. But still, I understand the value of watching it without the subs as one can appreciate it more (and of course, translations are not always 100% correct and that there will always be things lost in translation).

    • Yumeka says:

      You’re right that a lot of speech heard in anime is informal, but not always. Actually for me, since polite speech was basically all we studied in my very first semesters of Japanese class, anime was good practice for learning the formal speech we didn’t cover in class (plus some extra books I studied on my own). Likewise, reading manga raw is good practice for kanji and informal grammar too. The main things in Japanese study I’ve found anime good for is 1) learning a lot of random vocabulary words and 2) retaining an ear for the Japanese language. But of course, the only way to truly learn Japanese is studying via textbooks, classes, or immersion in the country.

      Good luck with your studies =D Let me know if you decide to take the JLPT next year~

  3. Kal says:

    This is a very good point. And I agree, you can miss out on quite a bit when you are busy reading on the screen. English is not my native language, so I’ve always seen movies with subtitles since I was a kid, so I’ve become a really fast reader. But you still miss out on subtle animation, or even large parts of if when they talk during action scenes (which happens a lot in anime). I re-watch anime quite a bit, so watching it raw sounds like a good idea. That would also force me to try to pick up more of the Japanese, so it could help me learn a bit more as well :P

    I have always dislike dubs though. The quality varies a lot, and many companies simply “translate” what is being said, instead of “interpreting” what is being said. So a lot is lost during that change. It happens far too much when translating from English to Spanish, so I avoid it at all costs. There are very few exceptions; Disney does really good dubs, but that’s about it.

    Anyway, I like the idea, and I will definitely give this a try when I re-watch one of the anime I’ve seen quite a few times :)

    • Yumeka says:

      Yeah, especially anime with a lot of action/movement and things that flash quickly on-screen, as seen in many Shaft series like Madoka, and Bakemonogatari, you do miss out on things if your eyes are always focused on reading the subs. You probably don’t miss too much with slow-paced shows like Lucky Star, but for most other anime your viewing experience would be noticeably better in the raw…but then of course, your comprehension would suffer =P Most of us would rather comprehend everything said even it means missing out on a few art nuances. So yeah, if one has the time and motivation, the best us non-Japanese speakers can do is watch something subbed and then watch it raw XD

  4. Adziu says:

    Generally I only watch new movies raw, before anyone has a chance to subtitle them.

    On the other hand, mostly I CAN watch an episode raw and only miss a few things, but this is why subtitle quality no longer really bothers me – for me, they’re now generally a tool to assist with getting the meaning rather than my only way to understand what is being said.

    • Yumeka says:

      I’m more or less the same as you in that subtitles are more of a tool to assist me and I don’t need to fully rely on them to understand everything. But a lot of anime I watch can get complicated and use very topic-specific words I don’t know (like in mecha series), and even for slice-of-life series that I generally understand better, every now and then something important will happen that I might not catch, so I still try to read all the subtitles for anime I watch the first time. If I rewatch them though, I might try and take my eyes off the subs here and there. Like I said in the post, anime that I’ve already watched a lot, I should watch again fully in the raw next time!

  5. Pann says:

    I definitely agree it can be helpful to try watching anime raw at least once. You made this post shortly after I decided to watch Hamtaro raw. Not many people have been able to see that show in Japanese, but I found a site that does put the episodes up, a lot of them raw. It’s also a children’s show, so I was able to understand basic stuff, and it also helped that I’d seen the episodes in English before. It was a very interesting experience! With subtitles, I guess I’m not too bothered because I’ve watched so many anime subbed nowadays, that I can read through the text pretty fast, but it’s true, there’s definitely stuff you can miss. If a dub is really good, like Cowboy Bebop’s, I like to give it a chance.

    • Yumeka says:

      Yeah, kiddy anime like Hamtaro are great for Japanese learners to watch raw. Even better if you’ve already seen the episodes before in English.

      I’ve also gotten to the point where I can read subtitles really fast – I basically absorb each sentence that appears at a glance rather than read each word one by one. But despite that you could still miss out on things here and there. I certainly don’t mind watching good dubs either, Cowboy Bebop being a prime example ;)

  6. It’s surprising what can happen when you rewatch a favorite anime series you’ve watched numerous times – with the English subs off and just the Japanese audio track playing. I’ve rewatched Mirage of Blaze a lot, particularly the first four episodes, and when I watched it for the first time without subs I was shocked at how much I could actually hear the grammar structure of Japanese sentences and hear vocabulary I knew but didn’t “hear” when I was watching it with subs. You should definitely try watching your old favorites with the subs off – I think you’ll be shocked at how much you’ll understand.

    I also fear that I’m picking up the wrong kind of Japanese when watching anime. You know how much shonen anime I watch – as an adult-age woman I don’t want to go to Japan and sound like Ichigo from Bleach! “Suuu-gehhh!” instead of “Sugoi desu, ne?” XD

    • Yumeka says:

      I’ll definitely have to try watching my old favorites raw. You bring up a good point that when you’re reading a subtitle in English you’re only half paying attention to the Japanese audio, so you might not even know it’s a sentence you could understand perfectly on your own.

      LOL, yeah, you definitely want to be careful and not pick up slang from anime that you might accidentally say in the wrong situation XD I remember one time at AX, I don’t remember what year it was or who the guest was, but some dude in the audience thought he’d try and use his amateur Japanese to ask the guest a question during the Q&A session and he was using all informal/slightly rude speech and in my head I was like “You idiot, don’t ask them in Japanese unless you know what you’re doing, you’re being so rude!” XD

  7. Frootytooty says:

    Late to this post, but I’ve been catching up on your posts after being away over the summer. XD

    I was just thinking about this yesterday, actually. I’ve watched so much subbed anime that I find that my eyes automatically seem to spend 80% of the time looking at the bottom of the screen, though like you I somehow still manage to see what’s going on in the rest of the screen with my peripheral vision or something. Since my motivation for learning Japanese originally was to be able to watch anime raw, I occasionally try to focus on the whole scene and only glance at the subs if there was a word I couldn’t catch… but when I do that it’s almost like I’m testing my Japanese listening which kind of takes away the enjoyment of it.

    I think that while watching anime raw makes it a more ‘authentic’ experience, if you aren’t fluent in Japanese (like me) the added concentration you have to use by focusing on each word kind of takes away from the enjoyment of the viewing. It becomes less of “oh I’ll watch some anime to wind down” and more of “oh god I don’t want to test my Japanese again and spend too much energy on this one episode”. Being able to watch anime raw is, in my opinion, more of a option-expanding skill rather than anything else. It means that if I really wanted to watch an anime but there are no subbed or dubbed versions, I can still watch it while understanding most of it rather than having to give up because I wouldn’t be able to understand it without subs or dubs.

    Anyway, that’s my two cents on the topic. Thanks for another interesting blog post!

    • Yumeka says:

      Welcome back =) Hope you had a nice summer break~

      Yeah, that’s another reason I don’t watch anime raw very often, especially episodes I’ve never seen before. I want to enjoy myself and relax when I watch anime and the added brain power needed to translate would take away from that. So as I said, I’ll only do it with something kinda dispensable, like Pokemon episodes XD If I had more time and energy I’d probably watch more anime raw specifically to test myself, but as it stands now I prefer to study Japanese in other ways and watch anime purely for enjoyment.

  8. Firechick says:

    I remember watching a few anime RAW, but the only one I watched RAW all the way through was my number one favorite anime of all time, Shounen Onmyouji, simply BECAUSE I was so into it and wanted to know more, even when I couldn’t understand anything that went on.

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