Removing Subtitles without Missing Out on the Plot

It’s your favorite anime. You’ve been watching for dozens (hundreds?) of episodes. You’ve been following the story and characters intently. Every single moment is important and vital to your enjoyment. The anime makes you think, it keeps you guessing, it surprises and delights you. Now, all of a sudden, you only understand 20% of an episode.

How much fun is that?

This is the struggle you face when you have been watching a continuing anime series and you want to remove the English subtitles. It’s a real pain, and you hesitate.

I’ve been there. The major anime that I made the move to remove subtitles was Naruto. I had been following it for a few years in mid-2000. First with English dubs, before I started studying Japanese. Then with English subtitles, after I had started Japanese, but didn’t realize how little value this was providing me. Then finally with no subtitles and nothing but Japanese.

My first reaction

I can’t afford to miss any part of the story!

If I don’t understand something, it’s going to snowball, mess everything up, and would ruin one of my favorite anime at the time. It’s not worth it. So, I’ll keep watching this anime with English subtitles and remove subtitles from other series I start. However, this repeated with other anime. In the very beginning I could deal with Japanese only, but as I got involved in the story, I was tempted, and often gave in.

With English subtitles, you are experiencing the anime in English. You are practicing your English. That’s a problem.

Luckily, there are 3 good methods to have it both ways and watch the anime in Japanese without subtitles, but not miss a single plot detail.

3. Watch in one language, then the other

Watch the show in Japanese first. Then watch it in English. Finally, put the Japanese show in your continuous immersion.

You can do the reverse (watch English first and then Japanese), but I find this to be less valuable. You are less likely to do it. Just finished episode 29, and are super excited about episode 30? First you have to watch it again in Japanese. Also it’s good to see what you can understand in Japanese before you rely on English. You may find that you actually don’t need the English for certain episodes (maybe it was filler, or easy to understand, or not important to the plot).

2. Read the English summaries online

Almost all anime have English summaries of every episode online. It takes you a minute or so to read a summary, and you get all the important plot points. Then you can spend 20+ minutes watching the episode. The minimal time expense in pure English is worth it.

With this method, the order you read it (before or after watching the episode) isn’t that important. You aren’t going to skip the Japanese episode just because you read the summary.

1. Watch multiple times

This is the simplest approach. Watching something multiple times will increase your understanding. Watch it actively multiple times. Then listen to it passively multiple times. You usually end up picking more on every viewing. If this episode is on a loop in your immersion listening, then days, weeks, or months later your understanding will increase.

Temporary solutions

The goal is to get to 100% Japanese without any handicaps. But until you are ready, it’s okay to use workarounds like this. If it keeps you excited and enjoying your favorite anime, and that motivates you, then it’s worth it. Just make sure that you do step out of your comfort zone, and eventually get rid of even these methods.

Have you used any of the methods above? How do you deal with not wanting to miss a moment of your favorite ongoing anime?

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Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading thrilling information about learning Japanese.


Removing Subtitles without Missing Out on the Plot — 11 Comments

  1. Do you think it’s more beneficial to jump straight into Japanese only without Japanese subtitles?

    • If you just want to enhance your listening skills, I recommend no subs at all. When I watch variety shows, I often just end up reading the subtitles and not paying attention to what is being said. Watching tv shows with subs can be a good way to enhance your readings skills and they are useful for learning new words, but I wouldn’t recommend it for listening.

      Early on, there may be a lot of vagueness, especially if you’re not used to watching anime, but if you really want to understand the story quickly, I would recommend online summaries.

      Another method is to pick up the manga as well. Sometimes the dialogue will be almost identical, if not exactly the same. This is also a really good method, as I’ve found if I read the manga then watch he anime I feel no need for subs as I already understand the plot. It’s more time consuming than online summaries but more beneficial imo

      • I second this:

        Reading the manga first then watching the anime is a great way to know the plot so you can focus on listening.

    • As Lucasade mentions, raw listening practice is important. Also, it can be hard to find Japanese subtitles for your favorite anime even if you wanted to.

      For reading manga before the anime, that is definitely another good option. It depends if you want to read the manga, you like the manga, and you need to keep in mind that even with the manga, your understanding may still not be at the level you need to understand the plot.

  2. I love the summary method, I have used it well. It helps with giant misunderstandings mostly.

    Just keep on trucking with immersion.

  3. I started watching Lord of the Rings in Japanese Dub just today. I’m a fan of manga but not anime since I think it goes at too slow a pace. 30 minutes usually for something I could read in 5. However because I have watched each lord of the rings around 200 times (not an exaggeration…) I completely follow the plot and to be honest I can recite 95% of the lines word by word of the movie by just listening to the movie score.

    What I am having to watch out for though is making sure I don’t go into easy mode and just know what they are saying in english instead of listening to the Japanese.

    I’m hoping this helps me get out of my motivation funk that I have been in for awhile.

    I’m going to add all the audio to my phone and use that as my immersion. I know its not everyday Japanese but at least I enjoy it.

    • I think using a dub like Lord of the Rings is great. I did the exact same thing. I had seen the move many times, read the books, and my level Japanese level was only intermediate.

      In addition to being super fun (you get to experience the Lord of the Rings in a different way), you do end up picking up a lot since you know the source material.

      Enjoy it. ガンダルフ!!!!!

  4. Back when Kamen Rider W was on, I used to be too impatient to wait for the fansubbers. I would watch it streamed as it aired in Japan, then watch it again subtitled a week or so later to find out what “actually” happened. Luckily, Kamen Rider doesn’t exactly have much complexity in its dialogue. I could still follow 85-90% of what was happening through the action and how the characters were reacting to each other. That was probably much more beneficial for learning because it wasn’t straight this word = that word memorization. There was all sorts of context to pull from to aid in comprehension.

    One other thing I did that’s sort of related was when I had a long plane ride, I put just the audio from Tiger & Dragon on my iPod and listened to that. It was kind of weird, because I don’t fully remember it in English or in Japanese, but I knew the characters and the story enough from watching it so many times that just listening to it, I could follow along completely.

    • Haha, I love toku for just how easy it is to understand from acting alone. The vocabulary, on the other hand…

      I have to get into Kamen Rider sometime.

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