Streaming has stretched the spectrum of watchable media to the point that our screens now provide an instant global view. Without the constraints of a schedule, you can follow a Taiwanese series based on a horror video game, a German sci-fi drama, or a Spanish crime procedural from your smartphone.
The growing international offerings proffer the eternal Q: Do you watch with subtitles, or with an English-language overdub? In other words, which format offers the superior experience? It often comes down to a matter of taste, but when the sub-or-dub question is about a narrative in the treasured Star Wars universe, canon or not, the answer carries the added weight of decades’ worth of arguments between fans.
Star Wars: Visions, the new animated anthology series created by seven of Japan’s biggest animations studios, travels at lightspeed straight into the debate. While the series isn’t official Star Wars canon — which gives the creators more freedom, a beneficial circumstance with animation — the stories will no doubt color how we imagine that beloved time long ago in a galaxy far, far away.
With each episode, Visions offers a compelling argument for either side of this curious old discussion. “Dubbing,” or recording over dialogue, has been a practice since the invention of the “talkie.” It’s the major plot device in 1952’s Singin’ in the Rain.
English-speaking audiences primarily consume media that is produced in the English language, so it’s rare for most that this sort of question even surfaces. Unless you’re interested in Japanese anime, or international fare on Netflix, the question may never come up. But with Star Wars, the second-most popular movie franchise of all time behind the MCU, this intriguing question may land in front of new audiences.
Visions was created in Japan, but it’s being marketed on Disney+ for a mainstream American audience. In fact, the English dub cast is a major selling point for the series, boasting names like Alison Brie, George Takei, David Harbour, and the newest Marvel darling, Simu Liu.
Alison Brie provides the English voice for Am in Visions episode “The Twins.”Lucasfilm
Visions Executive Producer James Waugh, perhaps wisely, declines to name his preference when I ask him and leaves the choice — subtitles or overdub — down to the viewer.
“The original expression is these were done in the Japanese first. And that was the creator's original vision. That said, there's an incredible cast in the English dub,” Waugh says. “Dealer’s choice. I don’t have a recommendation.”
His fellow producer Kanako Shirasaki shares the same opinion but offers a solution — why not both?
“It's the same role, but the interpretation might be different,” Shirasaki says. “You can enjoy comparing these two, not saying like either one is great, it's just like two different languages.”
Joseph Gordon-Levitt provides the English voice for frontman Jay in “Tatooine Rhapsody.”Lucasfilm
So do you need to watch Star Wars: Visions twice over to get the full effect? As a longtime member of Team Dubs, I originally watched the episodes in the original Japanese, but ended up switching back and forth intermittently. I didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the story at all.
In fact, in the musical episode “Tatooine Rhapsody,” I went back and watched the musical performances in English just to see how they would stack up. (The English version sounds a little more Disney Channel, but I enjoyed both.)
Disney+ will default your viewing to the English dub when you begin watching, but don’t let that stand in your way. To see these shows as the creators, the Star Wars superfan anime studios, meant them to be seen, you’ll have to switch over the audio track.
But don’t worry, you can always switch back.
Star Wars: Visions is now streaming on Disney+.