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 ;)