「Localization Decisions For Literal Dummies」 Syaoran the Bestie

Great boxset, terrible subtitles

When Nip­pon Ichi Soft­ware Amer­i­ca released their pre­mi­um edi­tion of the Card­cap­tor Saku­ra Blu-ray col­lec­tion in 2014, I was obvi­ous­ly the hap­pi­est per­son on Earth final­ly being able to own the defin­i­tive view­ing expe­ri­ence of pos­si­bly one the cutest ani­me series in exis­tence, at an afford­able price. And every­thing was almost per­fect, espe­cial­ly the video trans­fer. It’s exact­ly the same as the Japan­ese release.

But there’s one thing that went wrong with this release: the sub­ti­tles. Now, it’s no secret that NISA trans­la­tions are real­ly, real­ly bad. True to form, the sub­ti­tles are pret­ty iffy here and there. Nat­u­ral­ly, it’s not a bad as Nel­vana’s retool hack­job of a dub “Card­cap­tors” back in the ear­ly 2000’s, which was quite frankly the dev­il’s incar­nate. In com­par­i­son, iffy sub­ti­tles are incred­i­bly minor and a god­send. But there’s one trans­la­tion flub present in this release that is rather both­er­some. And that is, Saku­ra call­ing Syao­ran her “bestie”.

internal screaming

Crunchy­roll Sog­gy­roll screencap

Now, for con­text, up until a cer­tain point lat­er in the series, Saku­ra calls Syao­ran by his sur­name (“Li”). How­ev­er, in the NISA sub­ti­tles, they decid­ed to have Saku­ra call him by his first name (translit­er­at­ed in Pinyin as Xiaolang, which is also cor­rect), pos­si­bly because they want­ed to local­ize it for EOPs or some­thing. I dunno.

What they did­n’t fore­see is it becom­ing a plot point lat­er on. After one of the sweet­est moments that ever hap­pens between the two, Saku­ra offers to call Syao­ran by his first name. Now, in Japan, refer­ring to some­one by their first name indi­cates a lev­el of inti­ma­cy and close­ness between your­self and that indi­vid­ual. How­ev­er, they clear­ly fucked this up from the get-go in the Eng­lish sub­ti­tles and it was appar­ent­ly too late for them to back­track. So what do they do? Well, keep it “Xiaolang” in the afore­men­tioned scene, but then have it so that Saku­ra starts call­ing him “bestie” to explain a sur­prised reac­tion from Tomoyo in a lat­er episode, which veers com­plete­ly off from the con­no­ta­tion CLAMP was going for with Saku­ra’s char­ac­ter development.

How­ev­er, instead of the translation/editing team being com­plete dum­mies, it seems to most­ly have been an over­sight from some­one who clear­ly was­n’t famil­iar with the series before­hand, and as said before, they were too far into the project to go back and cor­rect every­thing. But that’s just me giv­ing them the ben­e­fit of the doubt. Alter­na­tive­ly, it’s also pos­si­ble that the per­son behind this trans­la­tion gen­uine­ly thought it was a good fuck­ing idea, it’s extreme­ly believ­able if you’ve ever expe­ri­enced peo­ple (either in gen­er­al or just from the indus­try itself). I still don’t agree with the deci­sion. This goes with my belief that one point­less change will always poten­tial­ly spi­ral into a big­ger prob­lem, incit­ing more changes.

Even the Ani­max dub that comes includ­ed with the set did­n’t fuck around with this. Hell, this whole thing is one of those rare occa­sions where an Eng­lish dub is more faith­ful than the “pro­fes­sion­al” sub­ti­tled version.

[heart attack]

(Con­text: Saku­ra real­izes how close Syao­ran’s got­ten with her, being so hap­py he called her “Saku­ra” in the ele­va­tor. NISA subbed Saku­ra is hap­py he was concerned.)

Japan­ese Episode 57

さくら 『なんか、李君ととっても仲良しになれた気がしたから・・・ねっ、わたしも李君のこと小狼君って読んでいいかな?』
小狼 「す、好きにしろ」
さくら 『うんっ、小狼君!それじゃ、また明日学校でね!』

Saku­ra: Hey, since it feels like I’ve become real­ly close to Li-kun… is it okay if I called you “Syao­ran-kun” from now on?
Syaoron: D…-do as you like.
Saku­ra: Okay, Syao­ran-kun! See you tomor­row at school then!

Ani­max Dubbed Episode 57

Saku­ra: Now that we’re clos­er, do you think it’s okay if I call you “Syao­ran”?
Syao­ran: If you want to…
Saku­ra: Good! Bye Syaoran!

NISA Subbed Episode 57

Saku­ra: I feel like I’ve become real­ly good friends with you. Hey, Xiaolang, do you feel that too?
Xiaolang: I‑I guess if you feel like that…
Saku­ra: Okay, Xiaolang!

(^ NISA sure are mas­ters of nat­u­ral­ly flow­ing dia­logue…)


(Con­text: First time Tomoyo heard Saku­ra call Syao­ran by his first name)

Japan­ese Episode 59

さくら 「ありがとう、小狼君」
知世 「『小狼君』?」
さくら 「うんっ! この前エレベーターに閉じ込められた時にねっ、小狼君って呼んで言いて。で、私の事さくらって呼んでくれるって。」
知世 「まあ!」
さくら 「ね小狼君っ

Saku­ra: Thanks, Syaoran-kun.
Tomoyo: “Syao­ran-kun”?
(Syao­ran BLUSHES)
Saku­ra: Yup! That time back when we were trapped in the ele­va­tor, he told me I could call him Syao­ran-kun. And he said he would call me Sakura.
Tomoyo: Oh my!
Saku­ra: Right, Syao­ran-kun?

Ani­max Dubbed Episode 59

Saku­ra: Thanks Syaoran.
Tomoyo: Huh, “Syao­ran”?
[Syao­ran BLUSHES]
Saku­ra: Yeah. The oth­er day when we were stuck in the ele­va­tor togeth­er, he said I could call him Syao­ran, and then he said that he’d call me Saku­ra too!
Tomoyo: Wow!
Saku­ra: Isn’t that right, Syao­ran?

NISA Subbed Episode 59

Saku­ra: Thanks bestie.
Tomoyo: “Bestie”?
[Xiaolang BLUSHES]
Saku­ra: Yeah. When we got trapped in the ele­va­tor a few days ago, I think we became bet­ter friends. And, he said that he thinks so too.
Tomoyo: Oh!
Saku­ra: Right, Xiaolang?

It’s one thing to change Snow Rab­bit to Yuk­i­toad (okay, it’s still ter­ri­ble, but at least it’s fun­ny), chang­ing Japan­ese-only hon­orifics to close Eng­lish equiv­a­lents (-san to Mr/Mrs., etc), rework­ing Japan­ese puns so they res­onate bet­ter with an Eng­lish audi­ence, but holy fuck­ing shit, if a char­ac­ter calls anoth­er char­ac­ter by their last name or first name, just leave it as-is. Espe­cial­ly when it isn’t a dub. Senior/junior rela­tions and last/first name basis isn’t that crazy of a con­cept to grasp to begin with, espe­cial­ly for peo­ple who watch Japan­ese ani­me with Eng­lish subtitles.

I can some­what see the point of Amer­i­can­iz­ing dia­logue to a cer­tain extent in Eng­lish dubs aimed at your typ­i­cal Super EOP, but I nev­er got the point of being super anal about it when it comes to sub­ti­tling Japan­ese dia­logue. There’s an attempt at being acces­si­ble to an out­side audi­ence, and then there’s an attempt at being acces­si­ble to an out­side audi­ence who isn’t going to be watch­ing it sub­ti­tled or even buy­ing the entire col­lec­tion to begin with after watch­ing it on Sog­gy­roll. But I’m digress­ing a bit — I’ll just sum­ma­rize by say­ing the large amounts Card­cap­tor Saku­ra fans real­ly aren’t that con­fused by the way char­ac­ters refer to each oth­er in the ani­me and man­ga. Don’t try to fix what isn’t broken.

That aside, what about my obvi­ous audi­ence-sur­ro­gate-char­ac­ter-even-though-she’s-rich-and-I’m-not Queen Tomoyo? If Syao­ran’s not only Saku­ra’s soul mate, but her “bestie” as well, what of Tomoyo? Chopped liv­er? Sor­ry Syao­ran, there is only room for one bestie here.

Based Otrollchan

Based otrollchan

This isn’t the first nor last time NISA makes a local­iza­tion deci­sion for lit­er­al dum­mies even in an oth­er­wise sol­id release, but mess­ing with CCS of all things is down­right sac­ri­lege in this neigh­bor­hood. Until next time.

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