Every now and then, I’ll stumble across an idea for some topic I think would be interesting to talk about. These topics can sometimes come from the most unexpected of places, but really, that’s half the fun.
So I was watching the first episode of Don’t Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro ( a series I will most definitely discuss later) on Crunchyroll. I knew this series would light some fires under people for a long time. It was pretty clear because of the subject matter, but this is one that hit me out of, not even from left field. This smacked me from some other field across town.
I actually liked episode one a good bit more than I expected. I thought it was fairly humorous. I thought the bullying thing wasn’t quite as bad as it had been made out. The VAs did great. Sumire Uesaka really sold Nagatoro’s chaotic energy for me. Art was nice, and from what I’ve heard from some manga readers, the series seems to be making them pretty happy as well. But I’m not here to talk about any of that!
In case you missed it, our lovely(?) Nagatoro’s line was translated to say “sus.” Now, I don’t want anyone to think there’s some widespread outrage at this. There’s not. Still, I’ve seen more than one person passionately upset about this. One so much so they called for the translator to be fired. I feel like that’s not worth ruining someone’s career over, but it does bring up an interesting discussion.
Unless you’re strictly a dub fan or can speak Japanese (I’m jealous), watching translated episodes with English subtitles written by talented people is an everyday part of the anime experience. Obviously, no two languages are the same, so despite any similarities they may share, nothing will ever be able to translate exactly as it was in the original language. English and Japanese are no different. Well, actually, they are quite different. That’s kind of the point. You know what I mean.
I wanted to discuss at what point does a translator taking a few liberties in their work becomes too much. When are they taking their job too far? I also think opinions on this may vary, so I think It will be a fun topic. Because the thing is, translators already have to make a lot of decisions in their work. Certain choices that I think we often overlook.
Japanese and English are fundamentally two very different languages. Everything down to the way the sentences are structured. Because of this, translators can’t really do literal translations. It wouldn’t turn out coherent. The person who was upset was saying that the work should be translated 100% faithfully. Again, it would be odd.
The very basics of a translator’s job is to take the sentence in one language and put it into words that the other language can understand. But another part of that job, especially for something like anime where the goal is to tell a story, is to think about how to translate the sentence in a way that sounds natural to the new reader or listener.
Let’s make up a scenario here. Say we have some guy about to confess to this girl he has a crush on. Let’s make it as generic as possible and say it’s under cherry blossoms and the girl in his senpai.
Just use your imagination
Our nervous protagonist finally gets it out. What does he say? Well, based on the situation, it could change, but for my purposes, he’ll be nervous and spit the words out as fast as he can. Our brave boyo would probably yell something along the lines of 大好き (Daisuki.)
Now, I assume most people know what Daisuki means. It’s pretty common knowledge if you know at least a few words in Japanese. It means love. So if you were to translate our scenario above, what would our nervous kouhai say? I, and I’m sure many others would translate it to “I love you” or something very similar to that. It seems simple, but there’s already a lot of changes that happen with such a simple sentence.
Firstly, Daisuki is one way of saying love in Japanese because it conveys a very similar meaning to the English word love, but if you were to take it extremely, or “100%” literal, it wouldn’t mean love. It would mean, get ready now, “big like.” Obviously, similar to and fitting for the word love, but not the same.
This is because 大好き is made up of two things. 大 the kanji for “big,” and 好き a term that means “like.” So, big like. If we took things 100% literal, our kouhai would tell his crush that he “big likes” her, and we probably wouldn’t be surprised when she breaks his little heart. This very much works the same as the word for “hate” in Japanese, 大嫌い (Daikirai) “big dislike.”
But even that’s not the end. If you didn’t notice, our kouhai also left out the “I” and “you” in the sentence. He just said the big like portion. In Japanese, a lot about the language is left out by the speaker and inferred by the listener. Basically, if certain things about a sentence are obvious, there’s no need to say it.
English is also similar to this in ways, but not to the same degree. Based on our generic romantic setting and our kouhai’s inability to control his emotions, senpai probably knows that he’s not in love with the road they’re standing on when he blurts out the word. So the “you” portion can be dropped.
The “I” is easier to drop because he’s not asking a question, he’s making a statement, and since he’s the only other person there, it’s clear that he is the one that loves something. Again, something that can be assumed from context.
But “Love!” isn’t a correct sentence in English for that situation, let alone enough to convey these feelings properly in a story. So in that incredibly simple scenario, there’s already a bunch of little changes that the sentence goes through in translation. All liberties the translator has to take. So now think about translating something that has more than three words. It wouldn’t be easy.
I know this isn’t exactly the same as where we started, but I wanted to show that you can’t really translate something 100% literal in this instance. If the translator at Crunchyroll did that, well, they would probably actually lose their job. Still, our situation with Nagatoro may seem completely different, but it’s really not.
The issue comes with the translator using the slang “sus,” the term that definitely hasn’t been around for years and was obviously only created for that popular game people are sick of seeing, instead of saying “suspicious,” or something else. The way the sentence is translated in the manga, for instance, though I’ve seen multiple translations, is very similar. It’s something like “You’ve been acting weird/suspicious for a while now,” instead of “You’ve been acting sus the whole time.”
Now, with my limited knowledge of the Japanese language, and from what I’ve seen, the manga translations are very accurate. If you were to go for the literal translation of the line Nagatoro says in the anime, I’m fairly sure (please correct me if I’m wrong) it would be something like, “From earlier, your behavior is odd.” Still the same sentence, just incredibly broken in English.
But this is a bit of a different situation because both the manga translation and anime translation are correct and would both work fine. Both would fit equally. So changing weird or suspicious to sus wasn’t a necessary change in any way whatsoever. So in that way, I understand why some may find it odd.
But if I can play devil’s advocate for a second, I think sus actually fits something Nagatoro would say if she were an English speaker fairly well. She’s incredibly casual with her senpai, and every other word out of her mouth is a joke or loaded with sarcasm. Her calling senpai sus feels very in character to me. So, in this case, the translator made an unnecessary decision (perhaps knowing full well what they were doing), and I think made a more fitting translation as a result.
This brings up the question of when the translator goes too far. I think that’s fairly obvious. I think any instance where the translator changes the original meaning of what a sentence is meant to convey is going too far. I’m not talking about changing a word here or there. Sus or weird is apples and oranges at the end of the day. Unless you really screw with the word and make it something crazy, like if some child character says butt in a cutesy way and I decided to translate it as anus or something, I don’t think it’s a huge deal.
But if I were to change butt to elbow, they both may be body parts, but you’re not conveying the same things. That’s obviously an extreme example, but the same rules would still apply. If a character was confessing that they loved someone deeply, and I translated it as they like them, It would convey a very similar thing, yet be completely different at the same time. That’s when I think it’s gone too far. Not when a high school girl calls her senpai sus when he acts strange.
Languages have a lot of nuance to them, and that’s what makes learning different ones so difficult. There are certain almost unspoken rules about the way certain words should and shouldn’t be used and what those words mean in different situations. All of this complicated stuff that is way over my head is one of the many reasons why translating can be such a pain. I know I’m glad it’s not my job. I wouldn’t want it.
So I want to end this by saying that I appreciate every translator out there. Between anime and video games, you people basically fuel most of my entertainment in life. I take you all for granted far too often, and I apologize for that. Being a translator is a really, really cool job and a very important one, but better you than me!
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you overanalyze a stupid meme.
Thank you very much for reading
What are your thoughts on translators? When do you think changing a few words become too much? Is senpai sus? I think I saw him vent! God, even I hate myself for that joke, but I’ll keep it in.