Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Direct, literal and liberal translations

Apparently, it's very hard to translate anime and manga into something that makes sense in English. As we've seen time and time again in multiple features, dialog goes through some major changes as it gets translated and moved around from Japanese to English.

The comic above really does speak volumes for the state of translations right now. There are a few companies that do a great job of putting together translations that both play out well and seem to have a natural flow to them. Then there's the translations that take things too far in one direction or the other.

If I had to pick which I dislike more, I'd have to say that translations striving to be 'cool' are much worse than those that throw in heaping handfuls of Japanese verbiage. I don't need to hear curse words where there weren't any. I don't need characters to use phrases that are up-to-date with the teens of today. I don't want timely topics inserted into dialog where they needn't be.

Looking at the comic above, do you think it accurately portrays the dub and sub scene going on right now? Can you point out any huge offenders, or perhaps some features that buck the trend?


  1. The show you're watching right now, HSOTD, is an example I think. I noticed quite a lot of cussing in one of the episodes I watched compared to the Japanese subs. that I watched when I originally saw the series.

    And this can be even more than just sub/dub. A lot of the times people in the fansub business argue on using original text or "Americanzing" the text. A good way to compromise is to use original and have TL notes.

  2. The thing is, a lot of anime has "timely topics" that only Japanese people will get. References to celebrities or catch phrases that you'd have to spend years in Japan to get are common. So either you explain the joke and it's not funny or you come up with an equivalent Western version.

    Also, thought Japanese doesn't have cussing the way English does per se, there are "rough" ways a of talking, like a gangster for example, which are basically the equivalent. I'm translating a manga right now about yakuza, so you bet your ass I'm adding a lot of cussing. They say like ~やがって and such, which is basically cussing.

    I think a lot of fans who are critical of professional translations being "too loose" frankly don't know what they're talking about. If you don't understand what the Japanese says, who are you to critique the translation?

    The comic above is clearly a joke, but it's a simple dialogue. It's another can of worms when you're trying to translate humor especially. I'm doing a 4-koma right now that is so full of puns and references and crap and I just have to flat-out change many of the punchlines so that they're funny. I could translate it literally but then it wouldn't be funny and the entire point of the manga would be lost.