Japanese animation has come a long way from the days of Gigantor and Speed Racer when it comes to localization. And yet there will always be a debate as to how it should be localized. That’s why I’ve been posting videos from the Cartoon Cypher discussing this topic. While they have discussed this to great detail to post tonight’s video I first wanted to go into their perspectives of a few particular dubs that got brought up in it. Namely the dubs for Cowboy Bebop, Ghost Stories, and FLCL. None of these, nor the videos on translating to English or altering animation for the sake of getting dialog correct should be taken as some slight on subtitles or those who prefer them. I own subtitled anime and live-action productions from Japan, from Super Beastial Machine God Dancougar to Godzilla. I prefer dubbed but I have no animosity to subs or sub preferers. However, some of the criticisms about dubs are either outdated or come from misunderstanding the effort that goes into any translation, subtitled or dubbed.
In the final video I’ll be posting on this series, barring future filler postings, the Cartoon Cypher crew looks at the overall discussion about dubs and their criticisms. Note that this has a lot of F-Bombs dropping like a game of Missile Command and that it leads to an actual article (or I’m thinking V-Log) I plan to make on the topic myself of one particular comment.
Catch more Cartoon Cypher commentaries on their YouTube channel.
What we’ve seen over the past few weeks is that any form of adaptation from Japanese to English, be it subtitled or dubbed, is not perfect. Translate it exactly and the words make little sense to English-speaking audiences. I’ve seen fansubs that make no sense if reading the subtitles out loud because Japanese and English are not one-to-one like other languages. There are not just the differences in grammar that lead to the kind of talk you saw in old cowboy movies when the “Injuns” would talk with different pronouns and broken English. The entire way Japanese speak is different, based on a lettering system that does not always match up to an English or French alphabet. It’s about as different as Hebrew. Not being a linguist (unless you count being able to carry on a conversation with a mime) that’s the best way I can explain it. So literal translations will lose most of the audience.
Translation is a tightrope, and it’s a question of what sacrifice you want to make to follow the story. The story is always paramount. No matter what else goes on if the story is no good then the visuals are just amazing artwork and the acting impressive. No matter how good your acting is the story will ruin the movie every time. Great concepts have been ruined based on bad stories and dialog. I maintain movies like The Pumaman (an MST3K favorite that I enjoyed as a kid in it’s original form) or The Room have great ideas that suffered from horrible execution, especially The Room. We’ve also discussed that Japan is just as guilty of translation crimes as English dubbers are. Remember Friday’s discussion of how they messed up Beast Wars: Transformers with character alterations, chatter, and shoved-in gags, a fate that will dog Transformers translations up to Transformers Prime, one of if not the most serious Transformers cartoon in franchise history. You can find Japanese intros of FILMATION cartoons that are different from the US ones, and people complain about US intros for TV.
As for those TV translations and the “hack dubs” The Cyphers were talking about…that’s a topic I want to get into on my own. I’ll conclude this little romp with a video of my own on the topic this or next week. It won’t be nearly as polished as this is but it’s just a V-log so you shouldn’t expect it to be. I want to defend the “hack dub” because I still believe we wouldn’t have anime in the West without them, at least in the US.