Anime is a genre that’s at once incredibly present in mainstream pop culture, and its own universe. Serious fans like to make jokes about infamous anime translation fails, including the notorious “People die if they are killed” from the show Fate/stay Night.
Translation fails are present in so many kinds of media, and there are many common reasons why. For instance, hiring an unqualified translator can be an issue. This is the case for many anime cartoons and movies, especially back before wide distribution and subtitling.
At that time, fans themselves added the subtitles (hence these amateur subtitles being referred to as "fansubs"), even if they weren’t fully fluent in Japanese or knowledgeable about the language’s subtleties.
But there’s another surprising reason for bad fansubs: Sometimes, fans who translated films or show episodes unintentionally made their subtitles unclear because they wanted to keep certain terms in Japanese, even if that wasn’t necessary. Some of these amateur translators chose to add a sort of explanatory note to their subtitles, making for even more confusion.
In a way, these translation fails might make professional translators shake their heads. But they also show an admirable love for and fascination with language and culture.
Read on to learn more about anime translation, from the pitfalls it shares with all translation, to some very genre-specific tendencies and mistakes.
One of the most notorious anime subtitle translation fails.
Contact Our Writer – Alysa Salzberg