How Are Simulcast Subtitles Made So Fast?
by Justin Sevakis,
With the rise of simulcasting, how do the foreign distributors prepare the subtitles that quickly? Do they get advance copies of the scripts? How do they work out subtitle timing on the video?
Sometimes they get advance copies of the scripts, although sometimes that doesn't help as much as you might think. But more on that below.
Early on in the season, there's usually quite a nice amount of lead time between when an episode is finished, and the day it's supposed to be broadcast -- sometimes as much as a few weeks. For the first few episodes, the final product is delivered well ahead of time, and so the translator and editor have plenty of time to research and translate, and ask the licensor if there are any things they're not sure about. The licensor will also have time to approve the subtitle script and make any changes.
After 4 or 5 episodes, things in Japan have almost certainly fallen behind schedule... sometimes severely. At this point, the translator is leaning hard on the scripts (assuming they've got them), but at the same time, the Audio Director in Japan is often making tweaks to that script, and letting the actors ad-lib certain lines. Additionally, the show's director may have decided to cut some scenes or rearrange the story a little bit, so the script they have might only match 2/3 of the show. The translator might spend a bunch of time translating directly from the script, only to find that the final video is VERY different.
By the final few episodes, the video is probably only being delivered several hours or a day before it's supposed to post. Sometimes this means the translator has to wake up in the middle of the night to rush out a quick translation and forward it along. Whoever's editing and timing will then have to wake up and speed through the episode. This is when translation quality really begins to suffer, not to mention grammar and editing. There's simply no time to proof-read, get approvals, ask questions or even do much research.
So, unfortunately, simulcast translators and editors really do have it rough, and are often not even afforded the ability to do their best work, due to the crazy deadlines and last-minute delivery endemic to the anime industustry. Given that, it's amazing those translations are as good as they are. Ideally, those scripts get a good going over before they see a DVD or Blu-ray.
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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.
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