An Open Letter to Funimation

I have some concerns about the way you’ve been handling anime localization lately. It appears that Funimation staff members in charge of dub scripts are taking liberties with the material, such as inserting lines that were not present in the original script in any form. This is not only distracting, but disrespectful to the creators of the anime.

Now, I’m not completely ignorant of the complexities inherent in localization, and translation more generally. I understand that a good translation is more art than science, and there’s never going to be a true consensus of opinion on what the “correct” translation is for any given line. While calling a translation an art form in and of itself is perhaps further than I’m willing to go, there’s definitely an element of artistry to it, which makes it hard to set the kind of parameters for right and wrong that we would be able to for a more  technical task. I also understand how difficult it can be to balance literal meaning with emotional resonance, which can be a thankless job; after all, the people who are quickest to criticize translations usually aren’t fluent in both relevant languages, meaning they may not really understand the nature of the choices the translator and localization team had to make. It’s not an easy job.

However, even with full knowledge of all of the above, the localization of episode 7 of the anime Hajimete no Gal crossed a line. Items of dialogue like “Plus, most of the freaks who come in here hate women, so seeing girls degraded gives them boners and makes them happy,” and “Maybe they don’t want to be debased just so you can sell a few more [bleep] chickenwings to horny losers with mommy issues,” are incredibly liberal translations of what was actually said (to put it mildly), but more importantly, they change the nature of the scene. While the original scene definitely had some implied criticism of otaku culture, the explicit and mean-spirited lines directed at the customers in the dub seemed to truly be directed at fans who enjoy sexual content in otaku media; in other words, the exact audience for a show like Hajimete no Gal. The localization added explicit insults to the show’s audience that were very subtle in the original (arguably subtle to the point of non-existence) and pretty much invented new dialogue out of whole cloth.

There are of course many discussions to be had about sexually explicit otaku media, and to what extent these properties may be misogynistic, but that is not the point; regardless of any merit to the issues the dub was raising, it was inappropriate to insert them into the script. If the writers of the anime wanted to include a statement about the apparent misogyny present in light novels, they would of course be entitled to do so, but in this case, the choice was taken out of their hands.

This may seem to be a small thing; only a few questionable lines in the English dub of a rather low-profile anime. Obviously, when considering the scope of problems in the world that I could be worrying about right now, it is a small thing. However, as the western market becomes increasingly important to anime, I think it’s more important than ever to ensure that the intentions of the original Japanese creators are respected; it’s also important to respect the fans who want to see this original work, without added changes or commentary by a third party.

If the way anime financing is going is any indication, western companies are going to have more and more power over anime in general; I don’t think it’s paranoid or unreasonable to have concerns about that power being abused. Choices like those made in the dub script for Hajimete no Gal indicate to me that Funimation is either unaware that this potential for abuse exists, or worse, does not care. If this were an isolated incident, I would likely shrug it off, but after the controversial choices made with the recent dub of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, this kind of irresponsible localization appears to be becoming a pattern with Funimation.

I do not plan to purchase any more Funimation products while the company displays this chronic lack of respect for both anime creators and fans. I understand that, due to the volatile nature of social media, some of the complaints that Funimation has already received about this issue have been vulgar and abusive; that’s upsetting to hear, and a shame. However, because of these inappropriate responses, it may be easy for Funimation staff to believe that the only people upset about recent dub choices are angry internet trolls, who are unlikely to purchase anime legitimately in the first place; I’m writing today to tell you that this is not true.

My Funimation DVDs. Some of these are technically my husband’s (since I’m far too chicken to buy Hellsing: Ultimate), but you get the idea.

I’m an anime fan of over 20 years, I have an anime disc collection, and I’m a Funimation customer. I even subscribe to the Funimation NOW! service (although that won’t be true for much longer). I know other people who fit the same description (although the younger ones haven’t been fans for 20 years, yet), and they too have stopped purchasing Funimation products due to these concerns. If you have any illusions that the people who have been complaining about your current practices are not your real customers, than I hope to disabuse you of that notion. Dedicated anime fans want to see the creators original intent when we watch an anime, whether subbed or dubbed; please respect our preferences, before you do any more damage to your brand.

All I want from you is for these irresponsible dubbing practices to stop; if your localizations do not display these issues going forward, then I see no reason not to go back to buying your products. If this behavior continues, I can’t in good conscience send any more money your way. Anime is too important to me.

Sincerely,

Karen Mead of The Otakusphere

UPDATE, NOVEMBER 12: There is now a WordPress blog where people can submit open letters to Funimation, provided they are respectful and on topic. I just submitted my letter.

Submit Your Letter to Funimation

7 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Funimation”

  1. You can add Prison School to that list. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tEXurYaIHao This was where I stopped buying their products. More out of disgust at even thinking about it than an intentional choice. I had been buying a series or two a month for over a year and I stopped. The one I wanted at that time was something by Funimation and yeah, I guess I forgot to go shopping the month after that.

    Other companies need to step up too. I remember when NISA and Atlus were a good name in gaming localization. Now when they license something the complaints about it start before they even release any major news on it. Political agendas and poor quality control are both real good at ruining the reputation of a thing and the group that worked on it.

  2. Yeah I’m aware of Prison School, but to me what happened on Hajimete no Gal is a much, much bigger deal. Putting in dumb references is a bad thing, but anime dubs have been guilty of that (on occasion) for decades. This kind of essentially re-writing a scene is new, barring the odd case of an intentional gag dub like Ghost Stories. JMO, of course:)

  3. I get what you mean and maybe it wasn’t as bad. It was still a deviation from the original intent. In the original she is making a comment about how the guy in the scene addresses her impolitely, in the dub she insults him pointlessly. The comment makes no sense in the context of the scene or the characters involved. She is trying to seduce him in that scene by flirting with him, not by insulting him. More details about why she is acting as she is come out later in the story, but it’s a nuance completely lost in English dub.

    Prison School makes a strong tonal distinction between the sane heroines and the insane ones who keep the protagonists locked up. It’s a distinctly intentional thing. The character in that clip is one of the sane girls who fuel the drama, and help drive the story forward. It leads into one of the more serious undertones of Prison School which is ultimately all about trust and betrayal. A nuance that’s easily lost even if the original story is treated with respect I think. It’s what makes Prison School into something that’s actually interesting and not just tons of fan-service jokes at the expense of pathetic, masochist boys. That’s part of the story too, but it isn’t why Prison School is so well liked I think. (honestly, the fan-service stuff goes way to far into gross territory for me and I’m not one to make that comment about anime very often.)

  4. Oh wow. I skipped this show so I didn’t notice that issue. I have noticed a lot of other ways in which they’ve outright changed the meaning of scenes in anime. For me, it’s outright disgusting. It’s super disrespectful not only to the audience that trusts Funimation to do their jobs properly, but also to the original creators. Generally Funi’s excuse for this kind of stuff is “Westernization”, but that’s obviously as really poor excuse.

    I’ve noticed a lot of (generally less serious) similar issues with CR’s translations in the past few years, too.

    1. I need to start paying more attention to CR’s translations. A lot of the time once I start reading subtitles, I totally zone out on what’s being said, even when I could understand the Japanese if I was actually paying attention.

      Of course my less-than-stellar hearing plays a role there -__-. Lately though, when I notice something up with CR’s subs, it’s a typo. Seems to happen in about one out of every three shows.

  5. Sad to hear this, especially since I rarely watch dubs and want these companies to succeed so we can keep getting more in the west.

    Jamie Marchi who was the script writer for Miss Kobayashi tried to do some damage control to no effect I think. I have met her personally and didn’t seem like that type of person, especially since she worked on Panty and Stocking and Shin Chan, so it was a bit of a surprise that it was someone who’s been in the industry a long time and not some one new that may have tried to change things without really consulting the company.

    I also didn’t like the fact that Funimation’s response to the whole thing was a twitter post saying “Don’t harass our workers” as if they didn’t do anything the customers didn’t like. I get that some people take things a bit to far, but this seemed like a big deflection to me.

    Last thought, if it is the case that Funimation is trying to push some sort of narrative here it does seem a bit hypocritical that they snatch up licences like this and then try to talk down to its most likely consumers.

  6. Yeah I’m getting really tired of the whole “Some people on the internet were mean to us, which means any disagreement with us is evil by default, so we can completely dismiss the concerns of anyone else,” tactic. It’s transparent as hell, yet people still seem to buy into it.

    You’re right too, that if Funimation has an issue with “misogynistic” fanservice, they should not be making money on titles that have it. Either get the license or don’t, don’t license a property with sexual content and then decide it’s your job to save the fans from themselves. That’s the worst possible course of action.

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