Why I Like Fansubs, Part 2

Part 2 of why I like fansubs will talk about translations, honorifics, karaoke and font choice but first I read an interview that Otaking did recently and I wanted to comment on that before moving on.

The interview with Otaking was a very interesting read and helps confirm some thoughts I had. Without watching the whole docu-rant again to check if I’m wrong, I don’t remember Otaking mentioning that as a professional translator he’s attacking people that do his job for free. Wouldn’t that be considered a conflict of interest? Also, he confirms my belief that he doesn’t really follow fansubs at all. He really can’t talk of the raise and fall of fansubs since he doesn’t watch fansubs. And lastly, he took the time to draw the animation scenes himself but professes that he didn’t have time to find what the fansub community considers good and bad fansubs. It’s not really hard – go to anidb, type in a series – it takes less than 30 seconds to find what the fansub community consider good fansubs or go to a place like the animesuki forums and ask – someone would point you in the right direction.

Moving on, I’m going to talk about the translations that fansubs use. On this subject I feel shaky since without knowing more than a handful of Japanese words I can’t really give a enlightened answer. Otaking believes that translations should fit the meaning even if it deviates from what was being said in Japanese and the translation should flow. For myself, this is probably the closest that he and I agree in whole. I think the translation should read as if people are actually speaking the lines and conveying the meaning is prime in importance but at the same time I enjoy reading about quarks of the Japanese language and sayings that the characters actually use.

Also, if ‘meaning’ is emphasized than it opens a Pandora’s box since what one translator decides is the ‘meaning’ will not match what another translator decides is the ‘meaning’. He mentions translating the Bible in the interview and I can’t help but think of the hundreds of different Christian groups that exist because of gleaning different ‘meanings’ from the Bible. That’s why I’m hesitant in advocating ‘meaning’ over matching the original wording since spin from the translator gets introduced into the translation.

This naturally flows into the next topic – honorifics and the larger issue of leaving Japanese words in the translation. Otaking contends that leaving in the honorifics and assorted Japanese words is lazy and detrimental to the future success of anime in English-speaking countries. I don’t think leaving in –san or –oneesamais what is endangering the future of anime as he seems to think but that’s the topic of a future post. If learning a handful of honorifics will prevent someone from becoming a fan of anime then I wonder what are the chances of these prospective anime fans bothering with subtitled anime in the first place.

The use of honorifics has never been that big of an issue for me. Maybe at the very dawn of my liking of anime and manga I couldn’t figure out the difference between –chan and –san but if asked which of the dozen or so shows I’m watching right now uses honorifics I couldn’t tell you. I’m sure most of them do but I don’t know since honorifics have just kinda faded into the background when I watch a fansub – there use doesn’t cause me any extra burden to understand.

If a fansub doesn’t use honorifics then that’s okay to me since I can normally pick up the honorific anyways. And if you notice when I write about a show I never use the honorifics when referring to the characters. Though I do wonder what Otaking would say the translators should do when the show is directly mentioning honorifics? For example the last episode of Minami-Ke, a boy is going to call up a girl and ask her out for New Years and tries to decide if he can use –chan instead of –san as he has been using. I know the difference and why this troubles him but how to sub and dub this to someone that isn’t even aware of honorifics?

Now on the larger issue of Japanese words left in the translation I think Otaking is on firmer ground but then again his choice of shows makes it hard for me to truly agree with him. Words like ‘kawaii’ or ‘onsen’ are well known but their translations ‘cute’ and ‘hot springs’ don’t really lose any of the original meaning so I don’t really see a need to leave them untranslated. Though, since they are well-known and seen often across many different animes, if I see either of these Japanese terms I’m okay with it. I realize, though, that not everyone is on the same level so translators should keep as much Japanese out as possible and maybe leave only one or two well-known words like ‘onsen’ untranslated throughout the entire series.

How you fall on the issue of how most fansubs do the OP/ED – aka the karaoke – probably reflect when and how you were introduced to anime. People that were introduced to anime awhile ago got used to how it was done back then and I’d bet most of these people find the current trend pointless and wrong. Likewise those that got into anime recently and through fansubs probably feel the current trend is the correct way of doing it. Which way is best is a personal choice and thus it’s hard to really say which is best. I appreciate the effort fansub groups put into the karaoke but I don’t need it – if they would alternate one episode with the English translation and one episode with the Japanese text (like older DVDs), I’d be okay with that. From that can you guess how I first got into anime – if you said from older DVDs then you’d be right.

Any argument about fansubs will be twinged with nostalgia. Things were always better in the past. Ask your parents or grandparents what is the best music ever and they’ll almost assuredly answer the music they listened to during their teenage years and early 20’s. Ask someone that has played many of the Final Fantasy games, which is his or her favorite, and very likely it will be the first or second one they played. I don’t want to say this happens to everyone but pretty much everyone will eventually start thinking that life was better in the past.

I say all this because I find this is the only thing that can explain why Otaking seems to prefer the rather ugly fonts that DVDs use for subtitling. We all know the one I mean – the yellow font with the black border. It’s ugly by itself but it’s even more offensive with anime since it clashes with the colorful nature of anime. Here’s a few screenshots of supposedly inferior fonts that the fansubbers use (full size ones are at the bottom):

How are these worse then the fonts that I see DVDs use? Clearly, I believe, they are not – if you think otherwise then I guess your entitled to your opinion. However, for me the fonts that are used in fansubs are one the clearest ways that fansubs are superior to DVDs.

Lastly, in this clip

we see Kamina and Simon deliver the finishing blow and during the hot-blooded action scene the subtitle becomes ‘flashy’ as Otaking would say. As long as this doesn’t happen to often – why shouldn’t the subtitle reflect the speaker? If we imagine what his words would look like – wouldn’t you think that they would look large and flashy. Newspapers do this – something really important happens and the headline is larger. How much larger depends on how important it is. I wouldn’t want to see a small headline for something monumental and for really important parts where the characters are all fired up I don’t want to see small subtitles that don’t match the mood.

In conclusion, I commend Otaking for caring enough about anime to make his documentary. I don’t agree with a lot of it but I don’t regret the time I spent watching it. If Otaking reads this I have a suggestion for you – I’d like to see you fansub a show. And I don’t mean that in a condescending manner but maybe you’re way is better but without showing us what exactly you mean we can’t really judge the merits of your argument. Pick a show, maybe Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei since it started you on the path of making your documentary, and do it.

And finally, thanks to the fansubbers. Without you, there were many shows that I never would have had the chance to seeing.

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6 thoughts on “Why I Like Fansubs, Part 2”

  1. I’ve just finished watching TT Gurren Lagann and the way the part you’ve put in the clip was subbed was for me a good idea. Just as you’ve said making something like that from time to time in lines which are really worth to be highlighted is as long ok as long it doesn’t happen to many times:)
    btw. After Code Geass and Bokurano, Gurren-Lagann is my favourite ‘mecha’ show.

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  2. I disagree that yellow DVD subs are ugly “by themselves.” Plenty of people who watch anime exclusively on DVD have no problem with them, which leads me to believe that the people who whine about DVD subs being ugly are people who’ve been spoiled by too many fancy fansub fonts. Sure, I’ve seen lots of fansub subtitles that I liked, but I’ve also seen many with terrible fonts and colors that are more concerned with “fitting” the anime (that is, being too similar to character hair/clothing and blending into the background) to the point where they’re unreadable from any reasonable distance. Those Order TTGL subs, for instance, are bad in the show’s brightly-lit overworld scenes because they’re too small and have almost no border. As much as I loved a.f.k.’s Lucky Star subs, the bright pastel-y colors often blended with the bright colors of the artwork.
    What fansub stylists forget The purpose of subtitles is to be read, not to be artistic, and I’ve never had any problems reading “DVD-yellow.” That to me makes DVD subs superior. Just because they’re not as good as some fansub fonts, it doesn’t make them objectively bad.

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  3. I think the main point in this whole argument is that translating, like most things in this world, is not a mechanical process. Like the show adresses to its public, sometimes for instance dumbing down kanjis so kids can understand them, its translation adresses to another audience that is not an homogeneous mass.

    Hence one must ask, what is the targetted audience of fansubs ? One can assume anime-watchers don’t have much, if any, understanding of japaneese, otherwise they wouldn’t need fansubs in the first place. I remember when I watched my first anime, words like kawaii left untranslated conveyed a different feel that was unknown to me (call it the chibi feel !). Also, the use of honorifics in the subtitles (Sayako-chan ! Onee-sama !) gave me a basic understanding of what those honorics not only meant, but also represented in the japaneese society. You can of course translate these honorifics, and as a veteran anime fan that would be my prefered solution, but there was a time when I had no clue what reality they materialised – so I respect the choice of leaving them for all to read, though it may well be pure laziness. The same goes for top-screen context-info ; which is most of the time hardly noticed unless you pause the show, as you would do when you are puzzled by something and require a little explanation.
    The same rational can be applied to on-screen texts ; how is someone that do not know any spoken japaneese words (thus can’t distinguish who says what when several characters speak at the same time) would be supposed to link the subtitles with the actual words on screen if it weren’t for their location ? You’d have to put “On the paper : xxxx”, “Above Belldandy’s head : xxxx”, and that would be most disruptive.

    Most of the time, I find the choices of quality fansubbers, and there are many, to be perfectly fitting with what I’m asking them : giving me a good understanding of the show that will allow me to enjoy it almost as if it wasn’t a fansub. Of course often I use my understanding of japaneese to enrich the subtitles, sometimes find mistakes, or even think to myself “I wouldn’t have put it like that”. But oftentimes – there is almost no change in the viewing experience that would have occured.

    However there’s something I would like to mention ; obviously i’m no native english speaker, so while my english sucks, I can speak several other languages ; that means I can watch fansubs in many other languages too. And there’s something here that really irks me ; some fansubs, like say French or Spanish, often times will use the english fansub to do theirs (which is fine considering not everyone understands english, and have a help to do such a task as fansubbing is nice), but they will translate it poorly, losing quite a lot of meaning and often causing confusion… I guess I’m just saying bad fansubs can really suck, though it doesnt mean a skillful, to the point and heartfelt translation will suck too. Maybe if you were reading a book were the written part is the core part – but in an anime, there is almost no written part, most of the experience will come from the listening and viewing, understanding the character’s emotion through their tones, gestures, an understanding that is meant to be supported by the fansubs, not entirely given by them.

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