Anime subtitles are the only way English speaking people can watch a new show straight from Japan within the hour. That much is a given. But just like the post on anime dubs I did, I felt it was necessary to discuss the limitations of subtitles as well.
Obviously, if you can’t speak Japanese, watching anime with subtitles is the best way to view the medium. Hell, it’s the only way in some cases. But sadly, doing this can have its own issues.
In the days before Crunchyroll and official streams of niche shows, we had fansubs. Without fansubs, a lot of people wouldn’t have gotten into anime and it’s wouldn’t be as popular as it is now. Though, because they were unprofessional subs, we got translations that were kind of … dumb. See the above image.
Unprofessional subs meant that you’d get unprofessional translations. These could be in the forms of memes, more vulgarity than warranted, or just plain stupidity. When I was a teenager, I didn’t mind this too much cause LOLZ RANDUM. I’ve since grown up and learned that memes have no place in my Chinese cartoon.
We don’t live in that age anymore. We live in an age where we can watch mostly any anime we want, hours after broadcast, with decent-ish anime subtitles.
Sometimes anime subtitles are great, sometimes they’re not
Why? Cause, as I pointed out in the anime dubs article, we’re still at the bias of whoever is translating. Usually, for Crunchyroll, the translator has a quick turnaround, and not paid as much as they should be. This can lead to some very … unique subs.
(Note: Anime subtitles are usually fixed for home video releases and had approvals.)
Take for example the above image from Gabriel DropOut. In Japanese, she is saying “いただきます” (itadakimasu) which roughly would translate to “to receive”. Because of the context, and the fact there’s not really any English equivalent, it’s usually translated as “Let’s Eat”. That translation makes sense, because, in Japan, there’s no real religious element to “いただきます” anymore. Though to be fair, why would a demon be thankful for her food in a very culturally Japanese way when she wasn’t brought up in Japanese society?
The translation, while being fun, is wholly unnecessary. The whole season of GabDrop has had pretty poor subtitling. They’ve missed classic Japanese proverbs, been incredibly liberal, and just plain didn’t spell check the subs before release. Watching the show has reminded me of the fansub days, just now my money is going back to the official creators, which is much better than before.
Personally, I actually really enjoyed the line. It was nice having a line that was kind of correct, and not the plain “Let’s Eat”. Though I wouldn’t have translated it as such.
Anime subtitles can change context
Yuri on Ice had an issue where Victor was saying “lovers” in Japanese, but the subtitles read “girlfriend’. Obviously in the context of the show, Victor was hitting on Yuri, but because of it being early on in the series, and how Japanese works, it could have been interpreted as “girlfriend” rather than “lover”.
These days Crunchyroll is basically the only subber in the market, with getting video files early and scripts, who needs fansubs? Making is easier for translators to get shows out on time. Problems like Yuri on Ice could be fixed with more time in production, but as the animation on the latest episode of GabDrop has shown, deadlines have to be met. Something has to suffer.
The best way to watch anime is in Japanese…
It’s fun, as I learn Japanese for myself, to watch anime subbed and pick up words and translations. It’s helping my learning and vocab training. So clearly, that’s the answer to all the issues and watch anime as the original creator wanted.
You just have to spend the next 3 years learning Japanese.