For the Pursuit of the Perfect Union

I think subs are a crutch.


I mean, closed captioning…that’s what it’s for, right? If you are deaf, you can read and find out what they’re saying. If you can’t speak the right language, you can find out what they’re saying. It’s a crutch.

It also went beyond merely a crutch. Liner notes? Maybe. It’s not a matter of a dub versus sub argument; that’s like trying to choose Al Gore over GWB; many think neither would do a good job. But yes, they can cram 2 lines, maybe 3, at font 24 or 30 or something, adding up to maybe 80 characters total or so. Those of us who are accustomed to reading subtitles can handle it. Subbing Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex necessarily means you need to cram a ton of technobabble in a small space. That we have done and have seen.

We also have done liner notes as liner notes, live subs. Excel Saga’s ADVidnotes, for instance. Drop-down liner note boxes in fansubs are not unheard of, even if generally they suck as far as having to read them on top of whatever conversation that is going on, having to pause playback half the time. Not-so-live liner notes as subs can be bumpers and trailers to an actual episode. I remember reading Silverwynd’s liner notes, commonly referred to as excessively long yet educational and stuff you use the FF buttons for.

I think in the great divide between dub and sub lovers, subbers have grown dependent of subtitles. In as much as I admit in the greater scheme of things, subtitles are my personal preferred method of translation for an audiovisual work, there are little reasons to have them when I don’t need them. Even as some sickly twisted people who prefer super-literal translations and only really subs can deliver them live, there are plenty of other ways to translate the same things word-by-word, sentence-by-sentence, thought-by-thought, or anything by anything else.

What do I mean dependent? It’s a kind of dogmatic comfort. A psychological force of habit. Irrational only to the degree that it is empirically unsubstantiated because it made logical sense. In some respect it is like the child, learning to ride a bicycle, but is more comfortable with the training wheels on than off. In as much as they would never watch anime raw as a result–it feels unnatural, impossible to understand to a satisfactory level.

But is that really the case? In my own experience of letting go the edge of the swimming pool, I realized by far that it isn’t nearly as scary as it could have been. I also realized over the years that as someone who doesn’t speak Japanese there is much to learn, and more often than not I have to run to a translation aid anyways.

The worse of it all was in two folds. The first way it sucked was in how sometimes, as ignorant as I am, I get the wrong first impression. This was the case with a couple shows–like Soul Taker–in that without the visual familiarity I was drowning in a sea of exorbant colors and …Italian direction? The result was me being turned off and not watching it ever again until a friend persuaded me otherwise, which I now end up having them on DVD as I enjoyed it so much.

But the second fold is this: there are so many shows that I enjoyed, watching them raw, that I couldn’t share with my friends because they are left untranslated. My friends either lacked the werewithal to actually being able to understand the show, or they’re stuck on their crutches–and I think in some respects it might be better off to let these unpopular, untranslated beasts lie.

Well, I am kind of kidding about the second part. But no matter how you couch the term–preference, aid, necessity, “how else am I going to understand it,” or whatever, remember anime isn’t meant to be watched subtitled (unless you’re Pedro’s son or watching Crest of the Stars). A perfect dub is still better than a perfect sub in every single way unless you’re a sick person who wants extra-literal translations like me ordering at KFC. Or if you’re a sick person in as one who is deaf and cannot hear my words of reason…

I mean, there is freedom in Christ. You can download your raw anime, watch and fast forward to the action bit if you want, and consult the internet for translations and notes or even manga translations. You can even rewatch it. Time is a problem, sure, but it doesn’t have to if you don’t let it. If you’re still stumped, there’s always that fansub at the end of the day, maybe.

In retrospect today I think over the years I accumulated so much anime-watching “skills” that raw anime don’t seem as opaque as they first did when I started it years ago. Maybe my Japanese comprehension went up; maybe my Japanese cultural comprehension went up too. Maybe I understood the artform better today than before. Or maybe I just watch really-easy-to-understand shows. But regardless of what and why, I am still a Japanese illiterate weaboo not unlike many of you. I just came to appreciate how viceral, visual, and vivid anime is as a storyteller. It really does transcend language boundaries and appeal to us beyond merely words. Maybe it doesn’t present to us a whole range of human emotion and experiences, which is partly why it’s not all so hard to understand (well, a large % of them do take place in high schools…), but I’m sure once you include shows that are opaque to me there’s something of a whole range.

One Response to “For the Pursuit of the Perfect Union”

  • wildarmsheero

    I do agree with you that subtitles are a bit of a crutch. I actually just watched episodes 3 and 4 of Dai Mahou Touge raw and enjoyed them just fine. In a way, raws a are little more enjoyable than subs, because you don’t have to read at all! :P

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