There should be nothing more important to fans of anime than being respectful to its creators.
Sure, anime is the product of much more than Japan: the international market has a substantial effect on what gets made, and many creators of anime and its source materials get inspired by media from all around the world. More and more people who aren’t native to Japan are getting involved in its production. But when your job is to translate a Japanese script into English so that Western voice actors can perform the story in their native language, it should be important to preserve as much of the original work as possible. A translation should not be taken as an opportunity to shoehorn your own ideas and politics into a work; you can end up giving the impression that your political views were in the story to begin with.
We should be able to agree that dub writers should not be taking advantage of the language barrier around anime in order to distribute their own opinions. Owing to that, we should be drawing more attention to Funimation’s penchant for doing exactly this.
The company have come under fire recently for allowing their Dragon Ball Z dub cast to record offensive jokes as a ‘warmup exercise’. This stands out more against the fact that they fired Vic Mignogna over sexual harassment allegations. The proceedings of the Vic Mignogna lawsuit have led to further revelations, through an affadavit by Chuck Huber (the English voice of Android 17) in the 1200 page document recently released by Vic’s lawyer Ty Beard, about the toxic work environment of the company:
11. The first time I heard Vic’s name was in a conversation in 2003 or 2004
with Chris Sabat. This occurred while I was recording for a Funimation
property at Okratron5000.
12. In that conversation, Chris Sabat verbally disparaged Vic’s Christian faith
and speculated that Vic was “actually gay” based on the way he dressed.
13. In that conversation, Chris Sabat stated that Vic was a pedophile who
liked “little girls”. Despite these statements, he did not express concerns
about risks to fans, which I thought was odd.
34. Senior Fumimation (sic) directors have described the work environment at
Funimation to me as a “Den of Poison,” “Kafka Nightmare,” and
“Orwellian Slave Factory.”
(page 49 onward in the document linked above)
You would think that Funimation would be playing it safe with the garbage fire of a reputation their company has acquired lately. You would be wrong.
In the very first episode of YU-NO: A Girl Who Chants Love at the Bound of This World, around five minutes in, fans have noticed a clear difference in the original Japan version and the Funimation dub. As Shimazu runs into Arima, their exchange in the Japanese dub reads:
Arima: Hey. Milday.
Shimazu: Stop calling me that, please.
Arima: Then how about “Mio-chan, the school idol!”
Shimazu: Why do you make me so mad?
Arima: Not sure. That time of the month?
Shimazu: How crude!
Arima’s comment is offensive, but Shimazu only comments on the crudeness of it: room is left for the viewer to decide just how much of a pest they want to see Arima as. This flexibility is important for a first episode; if more unsubtle, judgemental language gets used for a character, it can dramatically change how they’re branded for the viewer for the rest of the show.
These lines are different in the Funimation dub:
Arima: Hey. So, what’s up sweet cheeks?
Shimazu: Don’t call me that. You know I hate it.
Arima: Sorry, do you prefer “Queen of the World”?
Shimazu: I’ll never understand how you can get under my skin so easily.
Arima: Good question. Maybe it’s just that time of the month?
Shimazu: Ah! You’re such a misogynist!
‘Sweet cheeks’ immediately comes across as having a different tone than ‘milady’. Arima’s address in the Japanese dub is ‘Ojou-sama‘, which flouts the expected use of honorifics for classmates, mocking her by referring to her as being high class while using a tone that implies that he thinks much less of her. ‘Sweet cheeks’ just comes across as the kind of greeting a sleazy, cat-calling asshole would make.
The major change however is in Shimazu’s response to Arima’s remark about being on her period. She outright calls him a misogynist. This paints Shimazu as the kind of character who clings to such language in order to describe the world – a self-insert for some of Funimation’s writers maybe, but a far cry from her personality in the original Japanese version. The viewer is now confronted with a different dynamic between the pair, and for them to involve themselves in: do we agree that Arima outright hates women in general?
In the original Japanese, the scene is all about how mean he’s being to Shimazu; Funimation’s writers decided that this isn’t enough. Arima isn’t just being inappropriate to Shimazu, he’s inappropriate to women in general. There’s a frustratingly basic difference between the writing of the original Japanese dub and the Funimation version: one shows us that Arima is a bit of an insensitive asshole. The other just tells us, using language that involves a feminist register when there wasn’t one before.
This is far from the first time Funimation have been caught altering the tone of a scene to turn a character’s reaction to something annoying to them into a ‘dunk’ on the patriarchy. In the seventh episode of Hajimete no Gal, the manager of the cosplay cafe decides to have the girls work there for a ‘book day’ event while disguising erotic novels as normal fiction in order to get them to read them to customers and become embarrassed. You can guess where this is going.
- One of the girls’ exclamations of “What the hell is this? I-I can’t read this! What is he thinking?” becomes “I can’t read this misogynistic crap, what is that creep thinking?! It’s downright degrading”.
- In the original Japanese dub the manager says “Why make them read something normal? The girls will get all red and embarrassed as they read them — that’s what makes the customers happy”. In the Funimation script this is changed to “Where’s the fun in forcing these jailbait tricks to read something decent? Plus, most of the freaks who come in here hate women, so seeing girls degraded gives them boners and makes them happy”.
- Junichi’s response, “Think about how the girls feel! They won’t want to read embarrassing lines like that in front of other people!”, is replaced by “Well maybe think about how these girls feel for once. Maybe they don’t want to be debased just so you can sell a few more [bleep] chicken wings to horny losers with mommy issues.”
- The manager ultimately announces that “Today’s event has been cancelled. We’ll operate normally today”, but in the Funimation dub this becomes “Another win for you SJW millennials.”
We can see a clear pattern emerging from these changes: Funimation’s writers are reading the scripts they’re sent and looking for opportunities to slander the kind of fans they don’t like, even if those fans are part of the target audience for the anime. In the original Japanese dub of the episode discussed above, the manager comes across as an asshole, but that feeds into the bawdy comedy of the scene, and the focus on the scene is the discomfort of the girls that makes the viewer feel a ‘moe’ desire to guard them from this, placing themselves in the position of Junichi. In the Funimation version, the focus is placed on the implied viewer instead, problematizing the very point of the scene to the extent that it becomes a piece of parody fanfiction rather than a ‘translation’ of what any of the characters say.
The jab at people who use ‘SJW millennials’ as an insult is the icing on the cake – this is language that’s particular to insular communities on social media. The manager ends up being painted as this sort of person, which makes it seem like the writers at Funimation have nothing to base their caricatures of the ‘wrong’ kinds of anime fans on other than people they’ve met online.
One of the worst examples of this comes from Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid.
Numerous examples on Funimation’s meddling can be drawn from this show; Kobayashi’s “but I’m a woman” response to Tohru’s affection for her is transformed into “I’m not into women”, changing a typical yuri trope into a flatout rejection that puts a pin in the will-they-won’t-they yuri bubble that’s supposed to expand throughout the show. But fans came across a huge change in episode 12 of Miss Kobayashi’s Maid Dragon: when Lucoa turns up at the door clad in a hoodie, the subtitles read:
Tohru: “what’s with that outfit?”
Lucoa: “everyone was always saying something to me, so I tried toning down the exposure. How is it?”
Tohru: “you should try changing your body next.”
These lines fit the characters perfectly. Lucoa has become concerned about the attention she gets but we get nothing more specific than that. Tohru remains critical of her over-the-top figure and keeps up the ‘not quite friends’ vibe between them.
What do we get in the dub? In parallel:
Tohru: “what are you wearing that for?”
Lucoa: “oh those pesky patriarchal societal demands were getting on my nerves, so I changed clothes”
Tohru: “give it a week, they’ll be begging you to change back“
It’s hard to fathom what motivated an insertion of a feminist register here, of all places. While some laughs could be found in the show’s fanservice character spouting a line about the ‘patriarchy’, her character has to be completely ignored for this to sit comfortably with the audience. One of her running gags is that she molests Shouta (as a reference to shotacon pornography); why did the dub’s writers think she’s suitable as a mouthpiece for a dunk on toxic masculinity? Moreover, she’s a dragon that’s largely clueless to the ‘demands’ of human society, particularly those of Japan regarding modesty for women – that’s the entire reason she’s so risque with her outfits.
The dub makes modesty out to be a virtue in a show set in a country where the ‘pesky patriarchal societal demands’ are largely to do with discouraging the audacity of women in public. Even in the West, women aren’t pressured by men to wear more revealing clothes in public – a large part of the narrative of ‘rape culture’ revolves around men penalizing women for showing more of their body, saying that they were ‘asking for it’ if they wore this or that. Generally, most social pressure on women that can be considered ‘patriarchal’ revolves around asking them to cover up. Owing to this, Funimation’s change to the line makes little sense, and comes across as a desperate attempt to shove their own political register where it doesn’t belong for the sake of once again riling up the kind of fan they don’t want to entertain.
Those who have followed Funimation’s antics for a while will remember the infamous ‘Gamergate’ line in their Prison School dub, where the line “You keep talking to me like we’re on equal terms, but I’m a 2nd year. You have to address a superior more politely. Shut… up…” somehow became “Woah, cut the breaks Arthur Fonzarelli. You got a stick up your ass, or are you one of those dumbass GamerGate creepshows?”. Whenever Funimation make any insertion of political discourse into one of their dubs, this is the first thought on many people’s minds.
Tyson Rinehart, who thought up the line, tweeted out that he put it in there precisely to piss certain people off and give himself a sense of moral superiority from it. He also claimed that it was ‘appropriate to the scene’. Funimation themselves later responded with a statement of their own:
Last week’s Broadcast Dub episode of Prison School generated significant feedback from anime fans. While the company is not able to answer each person individually, FUNimation does read and review all fan feedback, without exception.
In creating English dubs over the past 20+ years, FUNimation has always modified each Japanese script to appeal to Western audiences. This ensures that North American audiences can enjoy a high-quality viewing experience regardless of their familiarity with Japanese culture.
Neither the dialogue in our shows nor the personal statements of our actors or writers reflects the views or opinions of FUNimation. Official statements from FUNimation are only released via company owned channels (i.e., website and social media profiles) or newswire.
While they are upfront about modifying Japanese scripts, the idea that they make the changes highlighted in this article to ‘appeal to Western audiences’ is bunk: their staff are often happy to devote themselves only to satisfying one audience – themselves, any anyone who finds fulfillment in life being a sycophant to them. A company cannot allow script alterations so often that are clearly the product of their writers’ individual politics and hangups, and then claim that it cares about how viewers’ ‘familiarity with Japanese culture’ can differ. Since the Gamergate dub incident, as illustrated by the examples above, Funimation’s staff have shown no interest in changing their mindset about using Japanese characters as their on ideological mouthpieces.
When translating the product of another country, even if you aren’t comfortable with what you think it stands for, a certain degree of respect should be required. Funimation’s writers seem more intent on showing disrespect for these Japanese creators and characters, and for many of the intended viewers of these shows. Following the initial buzz around the Yu-No dub change, and regarding all the changes people have complained bout in the past, Jamie Marchi tweeted out in hyperbolic jest that she ‘wrote them all’. She went on to deflect criticism by claiming that the people complaining ‘don’t know how language works’. But your average person knows enough about language to know the difference between subtle, suggestive lines about the irresponsible behaviour of men and lines that outright call part of your target demographic ‘horny losers with mommy issues’.
Anime is a global phenomenon, but it’s important that we don’t divide the community through our translations. People who work on dubbing Japanese content should be trying to unite fans of subs and dubs by seeking to create as little dissonance between English and Japanese versions of stories: there is a time and place for Western remakes of Japanese stories, but dubs should be about trying to make Japanese stories understood as much as possible in English, not remade into something that creates a wholly different impression to the original. People who applaud themselves for tearing apart the work of Japanese creatives, and further dividing a fandom that struggles regularly with a language barrier, should not call themselves fans of ‘anime’; they’re only fans of exploiting foreign media, and the language barrier around it, to inflate their own egos.
Funimation’s staff show no signs of slowing down when it comes to these ‘translations’ that end up completely rewriting or outright ignoring the character designs and dynamics written into the Japanese script. Let’s call this what it is: a form of ‘fanservice’ for these writers and those who share in their agendas. These people will complain about comedic boob grabs and panty shots while shoving politically-charged language into the mouth of a character in a way that treats them as much as an object and tool as sexual fanservice does.
It’s remarkable that Funimation are continuing to butcher the ‘translations’ for their dubs in this manner while the culture within their company is reportedly so toxic for their staff. Shouldn’t they try to sort out their internal issues before they look to go on a crusade against ‘horny losers’ with these obvious script changes? Perhaps shoehorning ‘progressive’ politics into their dubs is just a way for their writers to convince themselves that they’re making a difference in the world, while they know all too well that their company has a lot more problems than the average anime fan that likes the odd panty shot here and there.
It’s time fans of anime made it clearer: Funimation is not our friend. They want to profit off the distance between Japanese creators and Western viewers, not build a bridge to connect them. They want to satisfy their own egos before they show respect to the Japanese minds that make the content that gives them a job. No anime fan should be supporting an enterprise that sees foreign media as little more than a soapbox to stand on.
I keep starting this section by apologizing for taking so long with these articles – I’m always working on too many things at once, using one WIP to procrastinate on finishing another. Thank you so much to my Patrons who have put up with me putting out content less frequently because of this – I’ll try to get more content out faster over the next few months.
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