Saturday, June 27, 2009

Problems with Fan Subbing Translations

I found this documentary that was put on Youtube, detailing some of the mistakes fan subbing communities often make when translating Japanese works. The thing is long, but it's very educational.

I agree with a lot of what he's saying in this documentary, about overly flashy text graphics distracting from watching the show. I do however to take issue with certain things like his problem with adding Honorary words (-san, -chan, ect). I always thought it gave subbed shows a better sense of texture. And his problem with writing english words next to the Japanese text in a show is questionable, since it's usually a clean way to actually tell us what a sign says.

This guy makes a lot of good points, but also seems overly harsh of any subbing that doesn't subscribe to complete amenity. Sometimes I like hearing about a culture tidbit, explained by a quick asterisk, explaining something that would otherwise be confusing.

I also have to take some issue with not translating names or certain words. There is definitely a balancing act to achieve, to not over-confuse viewers with un-translated words - but some words, untranslated, give a nice sense of texture to some series. Take Bleach for example. I'm sure there is some other name for "Zanpakuto" (like soul-cutting sword) but it comes off better with it's original name, especially since it's like a proper name for an otherwise made up object.

The one place I go to, for tokusatsu shows, is TV-Nihon, who seem to strike a good balance on all these problems. Their text is colorful, but in fact does serve the purpose of helping hearing impaired viewers know who is talking (and sometimes us, because we sometimes can't see their lips moving). And while it is somewhat flashy, it never disturbs the show it's self. Any asterisk moments are rare, and un-translated names of attacks and such don't hurt the flow or understanding of the story at all. Certain words are left untranslated, like "Geki" or "Kageki" in a show like Gekirangers. But, really, it would hurt the translation so much to have to say "Extreme Kai" or "Boiling Over Kai" all the time, exactly like the Zanpakuto example.

Anyway - that's my two cents on the subject. The documentary is very well made and informative. One of the things the show mentions is the idea that, in short, translating is meant to give a foreign viewer the same experience as the original audience. I can say with full confidence that I'm getting the same experience as Japanese viewers when watching TV-Nihon's subs.

Here's the first part of the documentary

And here are the other parts


  1. About hearing a culture tidbit during the show: I absolutely agree. The fansub I have of Samurai Champloo has such information at the beginnning of a number of episodes. I can't express enough how great it was to have that information going into the episodes; it was a nice insight on things in the Japanese culture I hadn't known, and helped explain things in the episode I wouldn't have otherwise understood.

  2. I think the one think I have a problem with fansubs is when they add in cursing really speech patterns in a attempt to make the character more badass. I say let the natural dialouge tell what the character is.

  3. When I was watching Maskman, the fansubber often added their own dialogue (especially when the monster was made big). I wished that they hadn't done so, it only ruined what was really said.