An analysis of how to make humans speak like humans.
One of the unseen arguments among fansub editors is how to make characters speak. Some editors argue that characters should work with strict grammar rules, never using slang or nonstandard English. These editors are known as “retards”. Other editors argue that subs should reflect how humans actually speak. These editors are probably not retarded, but let’s not take that option off the table.
For those of you unconvinced that nonstandard English is acceptable in subs, think about the intricacies of the English language (well, all languages really, but I can only speak to English). Do accents carry the ability to convey something about a character without directly bringing it up? Of course they fucking do. If you hear a southern accent, you assume certain things about the speaker. We have tons of accents that all convey certain stereotypes about a person, whether true or not.
Surprise, surprise the Japanese language has such intricacies too.
Accents & Dialects in Anime
Often, characters in anime will bring up when another character is speaking in a different regional dialect. “Osakan” is often a favorite target. Hell, Azumanga Daioh has a character named after her fucking accent. Obviously, this shit is important.
More than just translating a single line where a character says “wow, that person is speaking with an accent”, it’s important to convey this accent throughout the entire show in a method that is relatable to the target audience. Just mentioning the accent once devalues the character (because you’re taking away an important character trait) and can lead to people getting the wrong impression (what is the accent supposed to convey about a character?).
You can easily convey the accent’s meaning by taking a fucking second to look it up. This shit came up on Google right-quick and it should give you a good idea of how to phrase the Osakan accent in English:
Editors, if you notice a character is speaking strangely, ask your TL or TLC what accent they’re using. If they don’t know, you should fire them and get someone who’s taken more than 1 semester of Japanese in college. Osakan isn’t the only dialect in anime, but I have faith that you can use Google to look the other ones up on your own time.
Relaying Character Quirks
Accents and dialects aren’t the only things that are important to convey in fansubs/translations. Character quirks fall under similar guidelines. Hopefully you don’t get stuck with untranslatable gibberish like “uguu~” or “desu~”. If you do, I’m so sorry, but you’re just gonna have to roll with it.
But let’s assume you have something to work with. Maybe a character talks very stiffly but uses slang for comedic effect. Obviously, you’re gonna want to display that aspect of the character.
“I daresay, Mr. Jeffries, that young wigger is trying my moverloving patience. We should remedy this situation posthaste with a deft application of shovel-upside-the-head.”
Or perhaps they end every sentence in “dattebayo” and you need some way to display this.
Catch phrases can sometimes get grating though, so make sure to limit their use.
If a character has a unique trait that’s reflected in the way they speak, it’s important to show this in your releases. You can’t assume your viewers will understand the Japanese accents without your help. If they did, they wouldn’t be coming to your groups for subs. Don’t rob your viewers of the full animu experience by skipping over the unique ways in which characters speak, cuz that’s not cool. (Yeah, I fucking ended this article terribly. Deal with it.)