Pop Culture Class: Why (Japanese) Anime in America May Be Different

Pop Culture Class: Why (Japanese) Anime in America May Be Different

Thanks to the internet and an ever-growing global market, Japanese anime is often more readily accessible to foreign fans in its “raw” state than it used to be, as more providers such as Crunchyroll offer viewers unedited episodes with English subtitles, provided by professional translators. Although not all viewers are able to understand Japanese, the Crunchyroll team’s hard work enables them to become fans, make friends, and share their experiences with others all across cyberspace.

Anime’s Growing Market

Subtitled anime, TV shows/dramas, and movies are the closest to the native media as international fans can get without understanding Japanese. Some fans feel that this is a “purer” form of anime (etc.) as opposed to any localized form. However, anime selected for localization into other languages are have a unique opportunity to expand the series’ reach; in many cases, these are the most popular series like One Piece, Naruto, and Dragonball Z.

Localization is also known as “dubbing” because the voice actors dub over the lines, so fans often refer to a localized anime as a “dub”. Dubs can be a great way to grow the fandom, but can sometimes make the resulting production a great departure from the original.

Localized versions may only change the script into the target language, and use new voice actors, or they may go so far as to cut, edit, and/or switch around entire scenes. This is usually for the purpose of making the series more relatable to the audience the network thinks will be watching. In the most drastic examples, plot lines may be rewritten to include less violence, guns or blood may be painted out, and cultural exclusivities will be altered (for example, a paper bill of yen may be repainted into a U.S. dollar, or an onigiri may be redrawn into a sandwich).

Character and Name Changes

Some English dubs even change character and place names. A good example of this is in Pokemon:

-フシギダネ (fushigidane, lit. “mysterious seed”) - Bulbasaur (bulb + dinosaur)

-ゼニガメ (銭亀 zenigame, meaning “baby pond turtle”) - Squirtle (squirt + turtle)

-コイキング (koikingu, lit. “carp king”) - Magikarp (magic + carp)

-マサラタウン (Masara Town) - Pallet Town

This can be confusing if you’re trying to have a conversation about your favorite anime, and your friend only knows the English names and plot line!

[TIP: If you’re not sure what the English character name or title of a movie is, one quick and easy trick I recommend is using Wikipedia! Just search for the title of the series in your language, and on the left side of the Wikipedia article for that series, chances are, there is probably an English page as well. アナと雪の女王 (Ana to Yuki no Jo-ou? The U.S. title is Frozen.)]

Another trick is to do a quick Google search in romaji, or Roman characters (like the ones you’re reading right now). There are thousands of websites created by fans who may have the Japanese names of characters, but not in kanji or kana.

Although many have greater access to raw or subbed anime, there are still a large number of people who only watch the dubbed versions. The differences between them might mean that when you talk to an American fan, you are be talking about the same thing, but with separate experiences—and maybe even different pronunciation.

Have you watched an American dub? If so, what did you think of it? How was it different from the original Japanese version?

(Did you miss last week’s Pop Culture Class post? No worries. Catch up here.)