June 2018 Update: Oops, I burnt out on light novels so I’m now going to talk about video games instead
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.
2016 was the year the sakuga cartel enacted their sinister plan of world domination. For years, they had been lying in wait, angrily debating the best Megumi Kouno cut behind closed doors. But now, they have moved out into the open. You can find these diabolical nerds in the streets, dancing around the statues of Naoko Yamada they have erected using Precure and Doremi storyboards and genga sheets. But worst of all, you can find them wherever you can find anime fans, crying over their favourite anime and arguing about pointless shit on twitter.
That’s right, any of us could be an agent for the sakuga cartel… even you or me.
Let’s start today’s post with a Youtube video.
What’s interesting about this guy’s take on fansubbing is that he brings up translation theorists in order to justify his argument that fansubs are Objectively Bad Translations. This is something you should probably take with a grain of salt. It’s really easy for an academic’s work to be oversimplified when it’s being talked about in a non-academic environment. Even if the argument itself is presented accurately enough, the context around it might not be. In other words, someone might present an academic theory as fact when a theory is really just a theory.
This is relevant to the world of translation because, if you read any of the modern theories, they’re pretty much all in agreement that what makes a good translation is… um… well… it depends.
Seriously, that’s what it comes down to.