Why Do Credits Only Sometimes Get Translated?
by Justin Sevakis,
I love it when publishers translate anime credits and put them into the OPs and EDs in English. Funimation used to do this with like every release (although they've faltered on this a bit as of late), and other companies seem to never do them at all, or do what I call the “Sentai credits”: a white-on-black English credits roll with no audio after each episode finishes. I was surprised to read you saying that licensors sometimes require the credits to be translated. I was wondering if you could share some more about this topic. Does the effort take a lot of labor/money? Why do (or don't) credits get translated? Has it made a difference in disc sales?
English credits are usually provided by the Japanese licensor. In fact, they have to be provided by the Japanese producer because every kanji name can be pronounced several ways, and there's no way of telling how to phonetically write out a name in romaji just by looking. While some names are well known, others aren't, and some producer would need to literally go through and ask literally everyone how their name is supposed to be written out in romaji, or at least hiragana. These days, anime credits also have names in Korean (sometimes written in romaji, sometimes in kanji, but seldom in hangul), Chinese, Thai (in romaji) and Filipino.
Translating credits from Japanese is not a straightforward or easy task. Trying to find actual, real-sounding English parallels for Japanese production roles is sometimes quite the brain bender: common roles like "enshutsu" and "econte" are pretty clear (episode/unit director and storyboard/continuity, respectively), but how do you translate "seisaku purodusaa"? "Production producer" is a pretty direct translation, and that's a bit confusing.
Ultimately it's up to the original producers to decide how everyone should be credited. In many cases these days, the licensor will dutifully report every name and job title for every episode in one big Excel file, and send it to the US publisher. In other cases (especially with older shows where it'd be nearly impossible to contact everyone involved to ask how their name should be written), the licensor will decide to only translate the most important roles -- generally, the people that get credited in the opening, as well as the cast, episode director, animation director and storyboard artist for each episode. That's generally it. If the publisher wants more, they probably aren't going to get it, and trying to translate the credits themselves is a fool's errand. They'd almost certainly get at least 1/3 of the names wrong.
In terms of whether the credits get integrated into the show footage in place of the Japanese credits, or rendered as a simple credit roll afterwards, that's usually up to the publisher. If they hope to get the show on television, or present the dub on streaming services, they usually try to integrate it, because otherwise the translated credits would likely get cut off entirely. There's also a philosophy behind presenting a show in English: translating the credits and putting them where they're supposed to be just makes the English production look thorough and finished. Recutting the clean opening and ending into every episode, and adding in the English titles, typesetting them to look like the Japanese ones did, is a lot of work. But it can be very satisfying work. As the titling built into editing software gets better, it becomes an easier task.
I've heard a lot of fans complain over the years about integrated credits. These fans complain that by getting credits that they can actually read, they're not getting the full Japanese experience. They usually just miss seeing the kanji on screen. I can understand that, but mostly because if you actually do know Japanese, you can find credits that were not translated or translated incorrectly. I don't know that any actual sales are affected by these choices, but I do hear people use this as an excuse not to buy US releases.
Personally, I like seeing (and making) nice, polished English credits. It appeals to my obsessive side. But this is one of those where I can genuinely see the value in both choices. Funimation used to include both English and Japanese OP/ED sequences on their discs by using DVD's alternate angle feature, but this caused a lot of technical problems and a noticeable loss in video quality, so now they don't bother. Can't say I blame them.
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Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for over 20 years. He's the original founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.
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