June 21, 2007

Adventures In Fansubbing

A few days ago, I was discussing with Ph.Duck the whole concept of fansubs. As a translator (one of the very few people in the world who understands a language called 'Marathi' well enough to translate poetry from it into English), he understands the difficulties involved... but he didn't quite grasp why people did it. "It's just TV shows, right?"

TV shows, movies, manga, books... you name it. "But why do they do it?"

Near as I can figure, fansubbers do their thing mainly because they enjoy it. They're improving their grasp on a difficult language, and in the process spreading the artform that is anime to those of us who have problems with languages (or just don't want to bother to learn). Further, they know there's an audience out there for what they're doing. They must get some sense of pride that, say, Rocket Girls is becoming a hit amongst a certain group of fans... a cult hit, to be sure, but nevertheless a hit.

In my theatre days, what I did would be analogous to that of the fansubber's role. I was a lighting designer. Everybody saw my work... indeed, my work could have a pivotal role on the success or failure of a show (lighting designers have a saying: "Fsck with me, and you act in the dark.")

But the audience never knew my name. Like an umpire in baseball, I was most successful when people didn't even notice the job I did. Only once out of nearly 200 shows was I ever brought out on stage after a production for a round of applause (a high school production of Dracula; I was a guest designer, and even my crippled ego at the time recognized that the design I came up with was pretty darn good. That production wound up being invited to the All-State High School Theatre Festival, one of just six plays from the entire state to have that honor. It's no stretch to say that it was, far and away, the best there, too.)... and I got a standing ovation. But that production was as flashy as a Pink Floyd concert; the word 'melodrama' was invented just for shows like that one, and the lighting was supposed to be noticed.

I digress. My point is, the individual fansubber doesn't usually get noticed, either. Yes, there are groups that are known for the quality of work they do; AFK and Eclipse leap to mind, for example. But the individuals involved aren't generally well-known at all.

All of which leads me to the whole point of this post... the occasional lapse in a fansubber's concentration level which turns a scene completely on it's ear.

Rocket Girls, episode 10. A high-school girl who ran away from home to become an astronaut has just been informed that she's going into space in two days, after only a couple of weeks worth of training. Furthermore, the news has been blared over the world's media. She calls home for the first time since she left, hoping to talk with her mother and father. Instead, her younger brother answers, and after a few minutes of small talk, she asks to talk to her parents. "They're not home," her brother says. "They've gone to the shrine." "The shrine," asks our heroine? "Yep," replies her brother, "the shrine...":
...she was raised by a pack of lions?  Werewolves?  Hyenas?


I'm not making fun of the fansubber here, really I'm not. It's more a case where this sort of thing is so uncommon that it almost begs to be pointed out. Yes, you might have clumsy translation (even the professionals do it: "Future Men" my left wingtip...), and this is probably just a simple spelling mistake, but the difference between "pray" and "prey" is too funny to let pass.

By the way, thank you, Rakuda Fansubs, for your efforts for Rocket Girls. I'd link to your website, but you don't have one!

Posted by: Wonderduck at 03:55 PM | Comments (8) | Add Comment
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1 You forgot to mention that they used "prey" twice in that sequence, which certainly added weirdness to it. Rakuda is obviously an ad-hoc fansubbing group, the spiritual kin of Dattebayo.

Posted by: Author at June 21, 2007 05:59 PM (9imyF)

2 In their defense, QC on a really lousy translation (and that's where most fansub translations start out, at least) is quite tough. From experience, I'll tell you it's a lot tougher to fix each of sixty errors in an episode compared to fixing each of six. Plenty of times, I'd turn in bug reports of 20, 30, 40 problems in things which had already been checked by someone who was picky with grammar and spelling and punctuation - it's just a reflection of how bad the initial run was (and lemme tell you, she would send those back lit up like a Christmas tree!)

Of course, nobody pays attention to the subtitler even WHEN they screw up, which is why the Future Man guy is working on Haruhi and I'm watching Nanoha all day. ;p

Posted by: Avatar at June 22, 2007 05:14 AM (dlP4b)

3 For me, the single most annoying thing about fansubs is the person who tries very, very hard to make sure his work is noticed. That's the nitwit who fills the screen with animated karaoke lyrics and sets the subtitles in four different colors and three different fonts.


Posted by: J Greely at June 22, 2007 05:27 AM (9Nz6c)

4 There are times when the multicolored subtitles aren't a bad thing... for example, Shintani Subs' release of Hidamari Sketch. Each of the girls' subs are colored to match their hair. It's actually useful then.

However, on the whole I'll agree with you, J.

Now if only Shintani would get around to doing a few more episodes...

Posted by: Wonderduck at June 22, 2007 09:15 AM (2nDll)

5 I've always wondered what percentage of an outfit like AFK is native English/Japanese speakers. I could easily see someone who isn't a native English speaker (and many native speakers to boot) applying the "grey/gray, whatever, they're interchangeable" rule to "prey/pray."

As someone who has to do document QC work pretty frequently (and frequently in a damned hurry), it's often the case that a few properly spelled, but misused, words slip right under your eye. It's almost like they relied on a simple spell checker to verify the translation.

Looking at the problem from the outside, it seems to me the most efficient way to sub this stuff would be to have your native Japanese translators make the first pass, then follow up with your native English speakers to hammer out the wrinkles.

Posted by: Will at June 22, 2007 01:13 PM (olS40)

6 I continuously screw up the "gray/grey" thing... I'm not sure I know which is the color and which is the... um... other one.

Posted by: Wonderduck at June 22, 2007 01:30 PM (h/YdH)

7 I wouldn't mind multi-color subtitles so much if the colors were chosen to contrast with the background and with each other, and with at least a vague awareness of the concept of color-blindness. Multiple fonts are just evil; subtitles should be in a bold, sturdy, boring font that's easy to read.


Posted by: J Greely at June 25, 2007 03:41 AM (2XtN5)

8 Just noticed this blog entry. I'm the translator/editor/everything for Rakuda (it's actually a completely one-man deal).

Will: "I could easily see someone who isn't a native English speaker (and many native speakers to boot) applying the "grey/gray, whatever, they're interchangeable" rule to "prey/pray."

You more or less hit the nail on the head. It actually took a while even when I saw the screencap posted on 4chan for it to dawn on me what the problem with it was. It somehow managed to slip by me completely, even after at least two QC runs. Can't quite put my finger on it how I made the mistake in the first place, but I used the word "prey" in the correct sense an episode before that, so I guess that spelling somehow stuck.

What you wrote about why people fansub is true on all accounts for me. For me in particular, it's not just my Japanese skills I'm improving with it, but my English skills as well. Japanese is a fairly abstract language, so you have the freedom of giving your own swing to it to a certain extent, which is something I enjoy doing. Also, I tend to google whatever show I fansub every once in a while, just because I find it interesting to read what people think about it (which is how I found this post), and it gives me a sense of gratification if people actually enjoy it (whether that's the content of the show or the fansub itself).

But yeah, I think it's time I go find a QC'er for my future endeavors :p

Posted by: Phar at July 02, 2007 06:34 AM (MzH5N)

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