While I commented on Lupus's post on the advantages of watching raw over subbed, it was Zaitcev's casual dismissal of said comment (and, apparently, my mental capacity) which made me wonder why I didn't have a problem with subs.
Lupus gives the example of The World Ends With You, which, for those who aren't familiar with it, has a certain battle mechanic which utilizes both screens of the Nintendo DS: the bottom touch screen is where you control Neku, the main character, using the stylus, while the upper screen is where your partner is battling. The partner can be controlled by the player using the touchpad or face (ABXY) buttons, or by the NPC AI, which pretty much just spams the basic attack (getting combos more or less by accident… but I digress). Now, since both you and your partner share a life bar, I quickly became adept at monitoring the situation up top, lest I die a horrible Noisy death. Asking me to do anything about it is beyond my coordination abilities (I'm very dominantly right-handed), but after a few battles to familiarize myself with the layout of all the gauges and numbers, I can check the status of the partner at a single glance.
This is not bragging as such; remember, I can't do anything other than spam block/dodge on the top screen while in the midst of battle on the bottom screen, so it's not as useful as it sounds. Basically, all I can do is mere very short-term data retention, just quick enough to register the significance of the image my eyes just saw. I used to chalk this up to endless hours spent playing Tetris when I was little (see: Next Block), but now I'm not so sure.
Since there appears to be some sort of connection between watching an episode for the first time and rewatching it, I fired up the first episode of Akane-iro Somaru Saka (subbed by Eclipse) to monitor my own sub-watching habits. There is always the danger of the Centipede's Dance: if I think about what I've been doing automatically all this time, I may well be unable to do it anymore. Still, it's not like sub-watching is going to be all that big of a loss, and it is always re-learnable.
The first thing I noticed was that this was perhaps not a good example to pick, at least for a fair and balanced view. Akane-iro Somaru Saka appears to be biased towards my side of the argument, since it consists largely of still shots, pans, and talking heads. Minimal important movement, and nothing significant in the background other than, well, background. I could spend my time staring at the subtitles for as long as I wanted without missing much, although I must add that "as long as I want" may not be very long at all.
It should also be mentioned that I don't spend much time reading the subs anyway. The primary obvious reason for this is my reading speed: I've obtained a reputation among my friends for reading really quickly (I finished a book around 300 pages within three hours), and yes, I realize this is nothing compared to true speed-readers. The caveat here is that this reading speed is dependent on the language used: that 300-page book was one of the tie-in novels to City of Heroes, and uses rather basic language with no surprises vocabulary-wise. Something like The Silmarillion, however, requires me to go back and forth quite often trying to set up a mental spreadsheet of words and definitions and characters and titles in my head, which slows down the speed dramatically.
Anime subs tend not to use complicated vocabulary. ("Complicated" is subjective.) A two-line subtitle in Akane-iro Somaru Saka took me one second or so to process, and maybe a couple more seconds to correlate with what I hear of the dialogue. This is fairly standard throughout the entire episode, and I suspect that I will run into problems if the subs use three lines (more than twenty words or so) or more.
But did I miss any details? This is not an easy question to answer, since any details missed are, by definition, stuff I missed, and therefore am unaware of missing in the first place. I don't think I did; in fact, I am fairly confident that I did not miss anything due to the subtitles. Missing stuff because of other factors, like being sleepy or not paying attention to the anime at all or those blink-and-you'll-miss-it moments, do not count, since I'd have failed to notice the details anyway, subtitled or raw. (The example which comes to mind are the references on the blackboards in various SHAFT productions, like Pani Poni Dash and Negima!?, which are difficult to catch all at one go.) About the one occasion I can think of offhand where subtitles are detrimental to detail-catching would be if said subs are blocking something onscreen, which is not uncommon.
I don't think this is really a rare ability. I see many, many people process far more information than this on a regular basis, as illustrated in the following screenshot:
Ignore the enemy /info window, since the reason I took this screenshot was for that, but it's not relevant to this post. I've labelled the various parts of the screen:
- The enemy I'm targeting.
- The health, rank, and status of the enemy I'm targeting.
- My health and endurance.
- The health and endurance of my pets.
- My powers tray, and specifically which powers are ready to use, and where they're located.
- The status of my pets.
- My own status.
- Other enemies present.
- Baka How much damage I'm doing at the moment.
- Any rewards I receive (this is important for Inspirations)
- Primary chat window, for local, team, supergroup, and private messages.
- Global chat window. I don't actually need this, but if I don't separate it from the primary chat window I get swamped with messages from too many sources at once.
- Map of the area, and specifically any nooks and crannies around that might hide more enemies.
That's thirteen items (ten, if you exclude the chat and the map) to keep track of in the space of at most three seconds, which is long enough to go from full health to dead in certain scenarios (not this one, admittedly; the enemies here are really weak), and one second in a particularly difficult situation. This screenshot was taken last year, and City of Heroes (well, City of Villains in this case, but they're more or less the same game now) has added an improvement which lets me check the Real Numbers of my character's current stats in real-time. That's one more thing to keep track of, but I'll leave it out for lack of available evidence. (I could log into the game and grab a screenshot, but I'd end up wasting valuable NaNoWriMo time playing.) And while all this is happening, I'm also keeping track of audio clues.
This is nothing special, since I know FFXI has even more complicated layouts, and I'm sure high-level World of Warcraft characters can compare. The character class in the screenshot is the Mastermind, which is considered the "easy mode" class of "sit back and let your pets do all the work". (This is an exaggeration.) I've also played various single-player games (FPS and RTS genres in particular) which require me to keep track of even more items. And I'm not even a good player; in fact, I panic easily under pressure.
Compared to this, catching various details in an anime while keeping track of the subtitles is far more relaxing.