Translations, Adaptations and Corrections in Anime & Manga
Ever watched a show and cringed at the subtitles displayed on screen? Ever been reading a manga and gotten completely confused because the words displayed don’t make any sense at all in context? I have, and on more than one occasion too. I have been an anime fan for a while now and even though I like my good dubs, I prefer to watch my anime subbed first and because of my constant exposure to the Japanese language I (and im sure most of you) have picked up a few phrases here and there and how they are used. For Example the most common and probably the most important of these;
My native language Cewa/Zambian uses honorifics because respect is a very important part of our culture and I noticed it is just as important in Japanese as well. I noticed that people rarely use honorifics when speaking casually to each other in English and maybe this is the reason why ADR Script Writers try their best to dodge implementing honorifics into their scripts. I don’t blame them to be honest, the industry is constantly trying to find ways to reel in as many casual viewers into the medium as possible. Try to think back to the first anime you saw fansubbed, remember all those little questions you had whenever you constantly heard the characters adding ‘Kun’, ‘San’ and ‘Chans’ at the end of every name? Or how you had to pause the show just to read translator notes for various random things brought up in the anime? I found those interesting to read because I already had in interest in Japanese culture. I know for a fact that any other person who would come across the same notes or subtitles would simply find them confusing and be put off from the entire medium.
That said there are some series that require the use of honorifics to either explain jokes or express the growth in a relationship between characters and so on. Wise ADR Script writers usually know what kind of series to keep honorifics in and vice versa. A popular example would be ADV’s Azumanga Daioh Anime dub track. Chiyo Mihama is addressed as Chiyo Chan by her classmates and friends because of her age and her small stature. However the tables slightly turn when she enters her second year of high school and suddenly she has to be addressed as “Senpai” by the first years, who are of course all older than her. This is a running joke in the series and the script writers had to find a way to make it work without adding the Japanese honorifics to the dub track, Mike Yantosca (The ADR Script Writer) cleverly used the Junior, Senior and Freshman terms in these scenes to make it work.
Ofcourse these steps are deemed as necessary by the localization companies, their reason being to avoid confusing viewers that are not familiar with how Japanese honorifics are used. I personally don’t think it is possible that someone not willing to learn how honorifics are used would even be willing to spend $60+ on an anime DVD anyway, so their decision to try to dodge using them is just a waste of effort. I find that using honorifics even in the dub makes so much more sense and is probably the easiest way to teach anime fans and non anime fans alike how they are used. Take Lucky Star for example, Bang Zoom did a magnificent job on that, it is quite honestly one of the best dubs out there and looking at the subject matter youd think it would be the worst. Filled with more Japanese cultural references than a Samurai flick and even more modern slang terms and the like, somehow someone upstairs at Bang Zoom made the right decisions and we now have an example of how to dub anime right.
Every country has more than one dialect, well most countries do and Japan is one of those as well, so what happens when Western localization companies are faced with them, how do they approach the difference between a normal Japanese accent and a Kansai one? Well my theory is someone down in Texas was coming up with ideas for how to depict a Kansai accent and while trying to practice they noticed that they finally had an opportunity to use their very own southern accent! I suppose my theory would be true if Funimation were the ones that dubbed Love Hina but Alas it was Bandai. The Love Hina character Mitsune Konno came from Osaka and had a kansai accent, somehow Bandai figured a Southern American accent would be the best way to distinguish the difference between a normal accent and a Kansai one when localised into English. Shows like Azumanga Daioh also followed suit and it just sounded wrong.
On the flipside, there have been some occasions were no accents were used when they clearly had to be. This trend has changed recently with dubs like Baccano! and Durarara!! showing everybody else how things are meant to be done. Having multiple accents adds to the authenticity of the anime and it’s always good fun for the Voice Actors too.
Oh now we are getting to the good part, anyone remember how the fandom flipped out when VIZ changed “Dattebayo” to “believe it?” you know back when it was cool to watch Naruto. Ofcourse nobody cares now believe it has now become just as beloved as dattebayo anyway. This was an example of the industry cleverly altering a catch phrase to make it more accessible the fruits of their labour is still showing to this day. Ofcourse there are occasions where some alterations have just come off as dumb, a recent example being the believe it or not Bandai(man why do I watch so many Bandai shows)/Bang Zoom dub of K-on!
Forgive me while I fanboy for a second here, you all know I love K-on! and being a Bang Zoom dub, my expectations were really high. The dub is not bad but it is not excellent either, there’s a lot of little things I can nitpick about but the biggest most irritating thing the dub did was changing the super iconic “moe moe kyun” saying (which has now gotten internet meme status and everybody who calls themselves an anime fan knows) to ” The power of cute compels you.” The scene in which mio says this is so iconic that they even made a figure based on it!
I only recently found out that Media Blasters would be dubbing their release of Squid Girl, the news got me excited because I think Squid Girl has the potential to bring in new fans and it is also an example of a very good moe show. It got me thinking though, how are they going to implement the “de gesso” in their dub? some of the Fansubbers cleverly swapped and mixed English words with the word squid to represent the “de gesso” whenever she spoke, while this may work subbed I wonder how it would sound dubbed?
On that note, I am reminded of the anime Kanon. The character Ayu Tsukimiya also has a catch phrase or ‘verbal tic’ that she only uses when she is nervous or upset. The infamous “Uguu” Ofcourse this was used to make the character cute and unique (because we all know those Key/Visual Arts character designs all look the same). I personally found it both annoying and cute in the subs but really really funny in the dubs, listen for yourselves.
You would think this would be the last thing anyone would think of changing when it comes to localization right? well you are wrong, it has happened before and still continues to this day, some more sever than others ofcourse. Take one of the most iconic characters for example Ash Ketchum, his original Japanese name was Satoshi an homage to the original creator of the Pokémon franchise Satoshi Tajiri. 4Kids decided to change the name to Ash Ketchum to mimic the tagline they had for the English release of the series “Gotta Catch Em All!” The alteration was genius and the fruits of its success can still be seen today.
There are some bad examples though, like the decision Yen Press made to change Azu Nyan to Azu Meow in the K-on! manga or how Alucards’ name was almost pronounced Arucard in the Hellsing dub.
The industry can learn from their past mistakes and make the right decisions when it comes to future adaptations, whether to keep certain themes, names or catch phrases intact or wether to change them. Although in my opinion in this day and age, making all these alterations just seems so unnecessary or maybe I am looking at it from the perspective of someone who has been in the fandom for a while now what do you guys think and what are some of the worst/best translations you have come across?