Author Archives: Frog-kun
Earlier this year, the English dub of the third season of Gintama was released on Crunchyroll. It’s the first time that this iconic comedy series has ever been available dubbed, and this has caused quite a stir among fans. Some have looked forward to it, while others have raised concerns that the Japanese cultural jokes and wordplay won’t translate well into an English dub—that something about Gintama is too “Japanese” to translate well, despite the fact that the subtitled versions have already proved popular among non-Japanese fans. There are some loaded assumptions behind the idea that Gintama is unsuited for dubbing, and I’d like to unpack some of those in today’s “Found in Translation” column, if you don’t mind.
A Certain Magical Index is based off one of the most popular light novel series in Japan ever. If you count the side story volumes and the New Testament sequel currently being published in Japan, the Index series has over 40 volumes in print—and this isn’t even counting the A Certain Scientific Railgun manga spinoff which has its own sprawling continuity. If you’re even vaguely familiar with anime and light novels, you’ve probably heard of the Index franchise.
People sure like to romanticise piracy. This was something that occurred to me after I published an article a few days ago called Explaining the English Light Novel Boom with Bookwalker Global, which didn’t mention piracy at all and yet sparked controversy on the subject anyway. As many of the comments argued, fan translations have played a part in popularizing light novels in English translation. Why didn’t I mention their existence?
In truth, I didn’t set out to snub fan translation in that piece. It was simply the case that the people I spoke to at Bookwalker Global did not mention it. The article was not intended as a comprehensive overview of the light novel industry; it was meant to showcase Bookwalker Global’s perspective on the subject. I thought that their views would be interesting because a) They’ve recently jumped onto the English light novel bandwagon with a clear rationale for doing so, and b) They are deeply connected to the Japanese light novel market.
Fan translations were clearly not relevant with Bookwalker Global’s choice of exclusive titles. Neither The Combat Baker nor The Ryuo’s Work is Never Done! had English fan translations when these releases were being decided, nor was there much hype for them on English-language social media. However, people still wanted me to talk about fan translation anyway. I suspect that they wanted me to romanticise their place in history.
Note: Ah yes, this article. Maybe it’s not good to say, but originally I was gonna be much more negative because the Fuuka anime is about on the same level as pig’s excretion. Naturally, I wasn’t allowed to say that on the site this anime is streaming on. Have fun reading this article and identifying all the euphemisms for “this is shit”.
Watching the first episode of the Fuuka anime made me realize how good the manga is at what it does. Fuuka is very much a typical teenage romance manga, complete with tsundere antics and a panty shot in the opening pages, but there’s also something irresistibly readable about it. In large part, this is due to the manga’s visual execution. Kouji Seo may be a controversial manga artist because of the often frustrating relationships he depicts in his stories, but he also knows how to capture a teenage boy’s viewpoint through his art. In the Fuuka manga, our hero’s confidence issues seep through his body language in every panel.
Watching the anime, however, has been quite a different experience so far. The first thing I noticed about it was its overall aesthetic. The colors clash with each other, and the 3D backgrounds have an oddly prosthetic and clinical look about them that doesn’t mesh well with the character animation. The production flaws are understandable, considering that the anime’s art director and color coordinator are both first-timers in these roles. Studio Diomedéa has also struggled to finish major projects on time lately, particularly the recent KanColle movie, and Fuuka was almost certainly a victim of a rushed schedule (sadly the norm for TV anime). The external factors were clearly not in the anime’s favor.
Note: After spending a week in the Kansai area (nothing work-related, just a brief sojourn), I thought it would be nice to bring out this old article. This is a repost of an article I originally wrote for Crunchyroll. As always, check my writer profile to see my latest articles.
In the second season of Blue Exorcist, the action shifts to Kyoto, the former capital of Japan for over a thousand years. In many ways, it’s an ideal setting for the Blue Exorcist story. The characters’ powers are often inspired by Buddhist motifs (Suguro, for instance, recites Buddhist chants in order to cast barriers). Given that Kyoto is famous for its historical Buddhist temples and imperial palaces, it makes complete sense for the setting to shift to Kyoto as the story delves into the characters’ backstories and the events of the past.
There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to Kyoto and how the city is typically portrayed in anime, but today I want to introduce you to one particular technique used in Blue Exorcist to help set the scene in Kyoto—the characters from Kyoto all speak with a dialect. This might be difficult to fully appreciate in translation because the differences in the characters’ speaking styles are not marked in the subtitles. Dialects are notoriously difficult for translators to handle in general, so how are English speakers meant to understand the Kyoto dialect used in the Blue Exorcist anime?
As an art, adaptation is a lot like translation—you can’t expect an adaptation to be exactly the same as its source material. Novels can be great at showing introspection and getting into the characters’ heads, while animation has to rely on visual shortcuts in order to get the same point across. Just because an adaptation omits something from the novel doesn’t mean it’s worse off for it. I find it incredibly fascinating to examine the choices anime directors make in order to bring a story to life through a visual medium.
With that preamble out of the way, let’s kick off the first issue by looking at a popular light-novel-turned-anime from 2014: No Game No Life! (This article contains light spoilers for the first four episodes, so be warned.)
Like many anime fans of my generation, I grew up watching Dragon Ball Z. At the time, I didn’t think of it as anime, or even as Japanese. It might have had a lot of funny names, but a lot of cartoons had characters with funny names. While I could vaguely sense that something about Dragon Ball Z was different from the other shows I was watching, I had a very limited conception of foreign cultures back then.
To date, I still haven’t watched Dragon Ball Z since my childhood. But my perception of the series has changed enormously as I’ve gotten older. Not only did I realize that Dragon Ball Z originated from Japan, I also realized that the series drew from a wide range of cultural influences, and that not all the things that struck me as “different” or “unique” about the series as a child were due to it being Japanese. The fighting styles and moves are loosely based off Chinese martial arts, and many characters have Chinese-sounding names or are named after Chinese foods and drinks.
So, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m now living in Japan and starting a new job. Specifically, I’m now a Tokyo Correspondent for Anime News Network, covering events in the area as well as the odd film review. You may have seen my writing on the site!
As you can imagine, life has been pretty hectic these past few weeks, so I haven’t found any time for blogging or even translating. This is why I’ve started republishing some of my old columns from Crunchyroll to ensure that this blog does not completely die. I’m quite attached to frogkun dot com, and I want a place where I can talk about personal things. And boy have these past few weeks given me a lot to talk about.
Take note: this article is not about “subs versus dubs.” It’s not a competition. I’m sure that everyone has their own preferences, but in the end it’s like comparing apples and oranges. Dubbing involves a different set of skills, resources, and priorities than subtitling does. Even the scriptwriting process for a dub is very different from writing a subtitle script. (I’ll write more about this in a future column, perhaps.)
It’s a pity that conversations around the subject tend to revolve around how the voices sound rather than the translation issues involved. From the perspective of a translator, what’s interesting about subs and dubs is that they strive in different ways to bring the viewer as close to the experience of watching a Japanese anime as possible. With a subtitled anime, the original audio is retained. On the surface, this seems like a preferable format for language purists. On the other hand, Japanese speakers don’t need to read subtitles to understand the audio, so a dub might actually come closer to capturing the experience of watching anime as a native Japanese speaker.
As we’ll see in today’s column, however, “the experience of watching anime as a native speaker” is an extremely difficult thing to quantify, let alone replicate. When you look at the matter in perspective, the “subs versus dubs” debate misses the point.
Otaku is a word that seems deceptively straightforward at first glance. Adopted into the Oxford English Dictionary in 2007, it is defined as follows:
(In Japan) a young person who is obsessed with computers or particular aspects of popular culture to the detriment of their social skills.
It is notable that the dictionary definition includes the negative perceptions surrounding the word. According to the OED, the otaku is “obsessed” and lacks “social skills.” This description is essentially no different from the columnist Akio Nakamori’s use of the word “bizarre” (異様) when he defined otaku as a label in 1983. While it has become more socially acceptable to identify as an otaku these days, it still retains an air of eccentricity.
One could argue that this is very much the point of adopting it as a loan word—otaku captures a nuance that “geek” or “fan” can’t quite muster. But adopting loan words from another culture is not a simple copy-and-paste process. Otaku has transformed significantly on its Journey to the West (ahem), a sure indication that the meaning of the word was contentious to begin with.
And that’s the theme of this week’s Found in Translation column. Translation is not a simple additive or subtractive process. By its very nature it is both transformative and elusive, a constant reminder that words may not always mean what we assume they mean at first glance.