Last week, I wrote an article about Wind Ninja Chronicles, which is being released in the United States by Manga Entertainment under the title, Ninja Scroll. Since it was a subtitled version, I made the assumption that it would be a good translation. Having been spoiled by great companies like AnimEigo, I endorsed Ninja Scroll without seeing it first. Unfortunately, the translation was rather poor, and I left the meeting feeling very disappointed.
But after a week of thoughtful contemplation, I'm still not sure whether to endorse or denounce Manga Entertainment's Ninja Scroll. On the one hand, dubbed Japanese animation usually sounds horrible. Either the voice actors have cheesy voices or the dialogue is just plain stupid. And in the worst case scenario, both can happen. Personally, I can't stand watching dubbed Japanese animation because often the poor quality of the voice-overs distracts me too much and just irritates the heck out of me. Also, with dubs, you can never be sure that what you're hearing is true to the original Japanese. (See (or don't see) Carl Macek's Robotech, which is three totally separate series spliced together.)
On the other hand, however, we have the case of Ninja Scroll, which happens to have a somewhat liberal translation. Even though I don't know Japanese, I was lucky enough to see NT-Anime's awesome subtitled version, so I know that much of the dialogue was very different. Companies like Viz and Manga Entertainment usually put out their dubbed versions first and then just use the scripts from the dubs to subtitle the second version to appease fans like me. So in effect, the translations of dubbed and subbed versions are basically the same, except that in the subbed versions, you don't have to put up with bad voice actors.
But is it still worth it to buy subtitled versions which may have altered or toned-down translations? I can't really say for sure, but at this point, I'd probably still go out and buy the subtitled copy of Ninja Scroll. Why? Because I think that the original Japanese voice actors are a crucial part of Japanese animation. Dubbing over their voices takes away the original intent of the animation's creators. I may be unfairly judging American voice actors, but I also think that the Japanese language is just too different from English to be smoothly interchangeable. Furthermore, if I never saw that other version of Ninja Scroll, I might not have known that it was a bad translation. I believe that subtitled versions of anime are the best because they are the truest form for non-Japanese-speaking fans to enjoy.