Popularity and Translations

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Why is Anime so POPULAR?

by Stanislav Kelman

Americans hardly ever watch foreign movies, and it is generally accepted that in this area of modern culture no other nation has a more profound trend-setting impact than that of the U.S. Yet almost every video rental store across the country carries a wide selection of Japanese animation. This is a unique phenomenon that reveals that there is a significant gap that the mighty Hollywood entertainment industry has somehow failed to fill.

So, what does anime offer that no American cartoon series can match? The answer is that it's a whole different experience altogether. In fact, Japanese animation has close to nothing in common with most mainstream network cartoon series produced in this country.

When one thinks of American cartoons intended for adult viewing, there are a few that are almost bound to come to mind. First of all, I have to admit that Beavis and Butt-head is my long time personal favorite. Of course, there is the everlasting Simpsons series that also has a huge dedicated following. Finally, a relative newcomer - South Park - has already captured the hearts of millions. While each of these three cartoons is unique, and even putting them on the same list can easily get me in trouble, they are alike in many ways.

What is immediately evident is that the characters in the modern American series are the most simplified cartoons this planet has ever seen. In fact, you will be hard pressed to draw a character that requires less creativity than the kids featured in South Park. On the totally opposite end of the spectrum are most of the Japanese anime characters. Not only do many of them look strikingly like real people, they also exhibit facial expressions and feelings more complex and significant than those of most big screen action heroes.

There is definitely more to anime than what meets the untrained eye. Behind the beautiful visions of exciting new worlds in the future, hides the most remarkable traditionalism of the Japanese culture. The main characters are almost always strong, spirited, and motivated fighters. In contrast to the all-penetrating cynicism of The Simpsons, Japanese characters are romantic dreamers charged by patriotism and genuine love for humankind. Moreover, the anime voice actors and actresses get at least as much respect in their homeland as do their famous Hollywood counterparts.

American cartoons as a rule tend to focus on social problems that are in many ways unique to the Western world. Over and over again, they bring the viewer's attention to hot, politically charged topics like racial hostility and gender issues. Sometimes it seems as if the sole purpose of these cartoons is to make fun of the ignorance and materialism often exhibited by the general U.S. population. From the very beginning, they are intended to be more of a political weapon than a genuine artistic expression of their creators.

While the evils of society play a significant role in Japanese animation, they are shown from a more global perspective. Just like fairy tales, these animations are based on the never ending fight between good and evil, and our struggles to deal with various shades of grey. Anime can charge you with positive energy to strive and create. In Star Trek fashion, they direct one's attention to the fact that there is more to life than a day-to-day, monotonous, miserable existence.

Meanwhile, the technological innovations presented in anime are nothing short of amazing. In contrast, the only product of civilization that has any meaning to Beavis is the almighty TV. In the full-featured movie Beavis and Butt-head Do America, the main characters find themselves wandering all over the United States in a hilarious pursuit to find their stolen television set. While I wouldn't hesitate to recomment this movie to anybody, there is no doubt in my mind that small town kids, whether they come from Highland, Springfield, or South Park, will in many respects never rival the appeal of the superheroes created by the anime masters.

Translating ANIME Accurately

by Murasaki, Chief Translator of Geofront

Imagine yourseld as the original creator of an anime series in Japen. You have worked long nights, months, even years, on this project. Now imagine some fansubbers in the U.S. take an interest in your work. But half of the resulting translated dialogue has twisted what you originally meant, sometimes beyond recognition. Maybe they got the gist of it, but if you chose a particular wording for very specific reasons, what does it matter that they got the general idea? How would you feel?

I believe, as a translator presnting an author's work to non-Japanese-speaking fans, we owe it to the author to present it as accurately as possible. I believe we also owe it to the fans to present the work as accurately as translations allow. It is so easy to make up sentences here and there which fit the flow of the plot. It is so much easier than trying to catch hard-to- hear dialogue. But what it boils down to is butchering the original work and conning the fans who supposedly don't know any better.

The author probably will never see the translation, so what does it matter? The fans can't tell the difference, so what does it matter? With an attitude like that among current fansubbed works, there are many translations. Granted, the sentences are usually written knowing the plot and the general idea of what is happening in the scene. It fits the scene and the mood. Sometimes it is hard to tell whether it was made up or if it is a bad translation. If you didn't know Japanese, you would be none the wiser. Personally, as one who grew up bilingual, I cannot stand the discrepancies. Ignorance is bliss for fans who don't know Japanese.

Most fans are more distraught at grammatical mistakes which make reading subtitles more difficult. However, grammatical butchering does not mean butchering the work. Some of Arctic Animation's works, for example, have very little grammatical structure and bad subtitling. But the translations, though very literal at times, are comparable to the original dialogue. There are some mistakes, but most are due to mishearing and misunderstanding, not deliberate faking. On the other hand, there are groups like Hecto whose subtitles read much more smoothly than Arctic's, but make up sentences when the going gets hard. I supposed they might consider it artistic license in some places, but truth be told, translators are tools, not artists. We are here to transfer the meaning from one language to another, no more, no less. I would personally prefer Arctic over Hecto any day. That is not to say that I believe either of them is the best fansubber around.

It is hard to translate any language into another. There are cultural differences, thing there aren't words for, ideas hard to convey. There are words in almost every language that are so apt for a situation that you cannot come up with an equivalent of it no matter how you rack your brains. It is not an easy task, but as I said before, I think translators owe it to everyone concerned to be as accurate as possible.

Ways of Being Accurate
Of course, because translating is so hard, there are different ways of being "as accurate as possible." There are two ways which I have seen so far. One is to translate the dialogue into something the character may have said, had they spoken English instead of Japanese. This creates smooth, easy to read subtitles, but sometimes, it loses the cultural flavor. The other way is to translate things in a more literal manner. This method sacrifices smooth reading and grammar in order to include the cultural flavor. I personally favor the second method because I believe that there should be allowances for the fact that there is no perfect way to convey the entire original meaning. Therefore, in order to keep the original feel of the work, I believe it is all right to stray from the standard, everyday English. This is my way of being as accurate as possible. That is not to say that I believe the other method is any less valid a method. It is just a matter of opinion which depends on what the translator personally thinks is more important.

Examples of Mistranslation
Following is a small sample of mistakes which I caught. This is only a sample, and from these groups you may expect many more minor errors - minor, but nonetheless mistakes. This is by no means an evenly distributed selection. I chose them from the shows I remembered. They represent the range of mistakes out there. It does not mean that these are the worst groups or even the worst translated lines I have encountered. One thing to keep in mind is that many groups tend to have more than one translator. Therefore, quality of translations varies not only from group to group, but from translator to translator.

The corrected translations are often rough translations. Also, these examples are not arranged in any particular order.

Group - ADK (Anime Densetsu no Kaitakusha)
Project - Gundam Wing, episode 1
Relena: Otousama, watakushi no tanjoubi wa mou sugudesu no yo!
ADK: 'Father, you don't care about my birthday, do you?!'
mine: 'Father, my birthday is just around the corner!'

Relena: Futsuu no ko nara koko de gureteshimau tokoro deshou ne.
ADK: And I'd run away, if this was a movie.
mine: A normal child would probably become sour about now.

Group - Hecto
Project - Rurouni Kenshin, episode 7
Jine: Densetsu no hitokiri no yaiba o kono Jine no ajiwawasete kure.
Hecto: Kill me if you can, you pussy Hitokiri!!
mine: Let me taste the blade of the legendary Hitikiri!

Kenshin: Iiya. Orei o yuu no wa sessha no hou de gozaru yo.
Hecto: You don't have to thank me.
mine: No, I should be the one thanking you.

Group - Silverwynd
Project - Magic Knight Rayearth, episode 13
Umi: Cefiro no gengo keikai no naka ni wa Osaka-ben mo fukumareteru no?
Silverwynd: Does Osaka exist here as well?
mine: Is the Osaka dialect included in Cefiro's language boundaries?

Caldina: Ya, kimochiyou ayatsurarete kurete uchi ureshii wa.
Silverwynd: Oh, I fooled you completely. I'm the greatest!
mine: Oh, I can control you completely. I'm so happy!

Translating is a difficult task. A good translator not only has to keep the needs of the audience in mind, but he or she must also have respect for the original work. To the original creator, words makes all the difference between accurately conveying the intended meaning and feelings of the piece, and mangling the original intentions beyond recognition.