Ever since I started watching a show twice - once with subtitles and once without - I realised just how much the subtitles get in the way of focusing on the visuals. Little details in animation or background or direction, things that I never really picked up on before, started to become apparent to me. It’s like a whole new world just opened up to me. It’s all really frustrating, because now I feel like I’ve been missing out all these years.
That mental bandwidth of humans is limited is not a new observation. I wrote about it in 2006:
I know that when I watch in sub these days, I see notably less detail than when I watch raw. This is because my mental bandwidth is not all that great. But it happens to the best of us as well. Mike Melvill once said that when he flew SS1 under the rocket power for the first time, he did not hear anything and did not see anything except the flight director display. When he flew it for the second time, he stole a glace out of a port. When he flew it for the third time, he heard the roar of the rocket engine, which actually was deafening. But before, he had to concentrate on piloting the spaceship so much that he tuned it out completely.
So, no matter how good the font is, subtitles take eyes off the action in a non-trivial way.
Lupus' commenters also debate the inverse two-pass system where you watch raw first and subbed second. And inevitably, someone would chime in and claim that his brain is so massive that it can digest both video and subtitles on the fly... Which is clearly false (or, rather, depends on the density of the material presented by the video stream: I can believe that Damien has better abilities, but it's equally true that he has limits as well).
UPDATE: Omo follows up.
DAMIEN comes out with more substantiated bragging and even provides annotated screencaps!
As I said above, he may have better than average abilities, and, therefore, never hit the limits while watching subtitled anime. But, as if to confirm my argument, he glanced at what I wrote and misunderstood it (see: "Zaitcev's casual dismissal of ... my mental capacity" — the exact opposite of the point I made). Apparently, seeing things quickly is not the same as comprehending them... even if you are that awesome at gaming! [An argument can be made that the original paragraph was not clear in its wording; subs ought to be better, easier to understand correctly — ed.]
The practical outcome of Lupus' treatise is that everyone should give a good try to watching without subtitles (perhaps even Christopher Fritz' way, in English first, or raw if possible). If they turn out to be amazing text absorbers — great, they just go back to subs with a clear conscience. Otherwise, who knows, the new world may open to them.
TRANSIENTEM has a graph. Everything is better with a graph!