I recently read an article by Baka-Raptor (who we’ll be facing in the four-way aniblog tourney round this Wednesday) about a particular line in the Crunchyroll localization of Madoka Magica’s first episode:
Baka-Raptor complains that this type of cheap otaku-pandering gimmick was detrimental to his enjoyment of the show, which is quite a shame, especially because they didn’t even translate the actual line properly.
In this scene, Sayaka says: “Suge-! Madoka made kyara ga tachi hajimeta yo!” which literally means: “That’s great! Your personality’s finally starting to stand out too!”. Though I think Baka-Raptor is overreacting a bit on his post, I would say that Crunchyroll failed to get the proper message across to its audience. This isn’t even an issue of nuance – they totally altered what was being said in favor of… in favor of what? I don’t even understand why they translated Sayaka’s line like this.
There’s a world of difference between localizing to translate nuances as accurately as possible and translating so that you get as far away from the point as possible. I took a sample from the most respected Madoka fansub group, Yesy, just to show you a better attempt at localization:
Though the phrasing of the sentence could use some work, this is obviously more accurate than Crunchyroll’s version. The two versions’ translations of this line were basically the same, but no unnecessary details were added to Yesy’s version. Crunchyroll’s idea of adding a more “otaku” feel to Madoka Magica left the scene quite different from what was intended by the original creators.
This is why most subs (fansub or official subs) are not very good ways to really enjoy anime. Sure, some official subtitle groups take pride in their translation skill, and carry over the original message from Japanese to English quite well, but the experience would just not be the same as watching it raw (untranslated). Some nuances would most definitely be impossible to carry over, especially for comedy anime that rely heavily on Japanese wordplay or cultural references. There’s also the constant worry over sub quality – typesetting, phrasing, karaoke, among other things.
I think that if one really wants to enjoy a piece of entertainment in a different language, one should make an effort to learn said language. For example, my cousin recently got very interested in Bollywood movies. What did she do? She did not limit herself to incompetently subbed copies of The Three Idiots and went out of her way to self-study the Indian language. As for me, I went to some Japanese classes and also did a lot of self-study. Even though I can watch raw anime now, I’m still learning how to write and read about 2000 kanji.
I’m not saying that one should be fluent in Japanese to be an anime fan, I’m just saying that it’s unfair, both to the creators and the one watching, if a person gets the wrong message from an anime that he could have enjoyed so much if it weren’t for the language barrier and bad subs.