STATIC DISCLAIMER: All the stuff in here is purely my opinions, and they tend to change depending on what mood I'm in. If you're going to get bitter if I say something about you that you don't like, then maybe don't read. I avoid using names as much as possible, and would request that people who know me do the same in their comments. Basically, I often vent my frustrations on here, so if you happen to be someone who frustrates me, expect to read a description of someone very much like you in here!

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Lost in Translation

Being an avid anime fan, and also being a general "all things Japanese" otaku, I'm pretty interested in how my Japanese stuff is translated into English. Some of you might be thinking: "What do you mean? Isn't translation just translation?", and to you I say "あんたはとても馬鹿だよ!" (Can't see the Japanese? Install the Asian fonts, you baka gaijin!)
It's funny that this rant was prompted by a simple mistranslation. For ages, I've had the soundtrack to the game Final Fantasy IX on my computer. The ending of this game is a happy one, and as a result, the ending theme is an exciting and joyful orchestral piece that is by no means sinister. However, the title of this track was listed as "Toward that hate", which seemed entirely inappropriate. As it turns out, the word "hate" should have actually been "door" and the word "Toward" would have been more accurately translated "Beyond". I'll tell you what - "Beyond that door" makes a HECK of a lot more sense then "Toward that hate". SOMEONE needs to work on their translation skills.
Anyway, the subject of this rant is more to do with the two different schools of though regarding translating entertainment from one language to another: direct translation and transliteration. You see, the anime I watch is translated in America, and then the rights to the video and soundtrack are sold to Madman, who then sells the DVDs to me. Now Americans, being a little on the slow side, like everything to be painfully obvious. Anyone who has seen the Mr. Bean movie will know what I'm talking about. The scene with the vomit bag on the plane? In the original English version of this skit, the screen goes black just as Mr. Bean pops the bag, leaving what happens as a result to your imagination. In the American-produced movie, when the bag pops there's a spray of yellow goop, and an additional sploshing sound, just so that every intricate detail is explained away for you.
This is the problem - the American companies who translate anime are on the transliteration side of the fence. They like to take what's said, assess it's intention, then then rephrase it with local colloquialisms. Now the problem is, that they do an incredibly shoddy job of it. This may mostly have to do with the fact that ADV, the primary producer of the anime I watch, is based in Dallas, Texas. Of all possible places in America that this stuff could be translated, that would have to be the worst. Texans all seem to be... well, a lot like our buddy George Dubbya. He's not real bright. I mean, what DOES sovereignty mean? Well, if the president of the US of A don't know, I can't see any use in me knowin'.
Anyway, there's not really any conclusion to this rant, other then me not liking the fact that basically all anime ever translated and recorded with English dialogue makes me cringe in fear. Thank goodness for DVD and selectable audio tracks/subtitles.


Tam said...

All your base are belong to us!

Joel Baltaks said...

It's the lesser of the two evils - would you watch anime with the english dubbing, or just the english subtitles?
Subtitles generally win for me, because then you can at least get the original inflections of voice.

Justin Warner said...

Joel - generally, subtitles are closer to literal translation then the english dub. I don't know why this is, but it is a good, good thing. And yes - I'm with you on subtitles being best. However, if a company could actually take an anime, and realise that the characters are supposed to sound, speak and behave Japanese, and translate accordingly then I imagine English dubs could actually be OK. It's just that the companies that do the translations actually make the charcters become Americans, which isn't real pretty.

hayley b said...

I totally agree Justin. I just can't watch anime with the English dub, I can't stand the voice acting, it's soooo annoying! I vote subtitles all the way! (that or learn Japanese fluently so you can watch it in Japanese without subtitles).

Bloggard said...

Heh heh, nice post.