When I was just beginning to learn Japanese, one of my classmates proudly claimed to me that she could understand anime without subtitles. That really took me aback at the time, since I assumed you needed to be fluent in order to understand what people were saying in another language. So I tested her. I played the audio of an anime episode without the visuals and asked her to translate the lines for me. It turned out she only understood a few words here and there. That was it.
So was her claim to being able to understand anime without subtitles just an empty boast? At first, I thought so, but when I started to watch anime raw I understood. The context and visuals convey so much nuance that the actual spoken dialogue become periphery to one’s understanding of the story. In other words, it’s very easy to understand the gist of anime without subtitles even if you possess very limited Japanese.
I’m going to assume that for many of you reading this, Japanese is not your first language. But for the sake of the argument it really doesn’t matter what your skill level in the language is. In English, we have plenty of loan words from the Japanese language – and, particularly in the English-speaking anime fandom, these words take on different meanings and connotations from how they were originally used. It does have an effect on how anime fans (as opposed to textbook users) approach learning Japanese as a second language, and it’s a subject that, for both personal and academic reasons, I have a lot of interest in.