Anime Flubbing, or "When Does a Joke Go Too Far?"

I’ve been noticing a trend in anime dubs lately, a sort of bad habit. It’s not super common, but it’s cropping up more and more. It’s weird, it’s silly, it’s downright obnoxious. I call it “anime flubbing”.

What IS flubbing? It’s a term used to describe errors. The context could be a textbook, an essay, or, in this case, a line read. Flubbing’s commonplace because we’re all only human, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of in theory. It’s one of the many reasons why actors and actresses do multiple retakes of their lines, as even the most-experienced thespian can flub occasionally. Flubbing, essentially, is normal, but it’s also something to be learned from.

Which is all the more reason why dubs, which translate lines from one language to another, must take careful consideration to not include flubbing in their final versions. But I wouldn’t be writing this if they did, so…

Anyway, I’ve turned a blind eye to this for a while. At first, I figured that these silly quips and jokes, which I consider flubbing, were personal preference, and that people were overreacting. Then I thought they were one-offs. Then I thought they weren’t nearly that bad. Then I thought they were only in Stephen Foster dubs, and that no one else would stoop that low. But as my ears became more in-tune to the expectations that came with dubs, I realized that this was the early stage of an epidemic.

Here are a few examples of flubbing, as well as why it’s a problem. And no, Stephen Foster’s work won’t be included, as he’s too easy a target:

Good Luck Girl! is a series from 2012. I’m not sure what it’s about, but from what little I’ve seen it looks like a comedy hijinks show. Due to its relatively strong popularity, it got licensed for a dub by FUNimation Entertainment. You’d think that a company as prestigious as that would do the series justice. And, for the most part, they have…with one glaring exception. See, the lead writer was Jamie Marchi, a FUNimation VA with a habit of including pop-culture references in her scripts where not needed, and while the acting and writing appear to be top-notch from what I’ve seen on their YouTube channel, occasionally you get goodies like this:

I have no idea what happened here… (Courtesy of FUNimation.)

I can already make three deductions: 1. The energy in this show is fast-paced. 2. The humour is incredibly weird and nonsensical. 3. Despite swimming in pop-culture, the line, “It’s on like Donkey Kong!” feels out-of-place. And yet, it’s in the dub.

I get why it was included: the show is already pop-culture heavy, so why not add another reference? The answer is because it doesn’t fit. Good Luck Girl! is referential, true, but it’s all Japanese. The show alludes to a variety of anime from the 80’s, 90’s and 21st Century. “It’s on like Donkey Kong!” is a line that only Nintendo fans will really get, and even then only in the West. It’s one pop-culture reference too far, and it sucks you out of the experience.

Okay, that’s not a great example. How about Prison School?

*Sigh* Really?! (Courtesy of Doomskander 1.)

I’ll try to keep this one brief, since I’ve already discussed it in detail, but this is a facepalm-worthy moment. For one, most people watching this are too young to know Happy Days, which is what the “Arthur Fonzarelli” reference was about. And two, their insistence on dragging in GamerGate dates the material. Ignoring the fact that GamerGate is a Western phenomenon, or even what your general stance is, what purpose does this serve 10, 15, even 20 years down the line? I know Digimon Adventure had a Teeny Beanie Baby reference in its dub, but that was 16 years ago, can be somewhat overlooked due to the limited knowledge of dubbing back then and also dates that too. But this is 2015, we’re better than this.

I know FUNimation’s staff, and even some fans, don’t understand why this is a big deal, so I’ll spell it out: imagine if The Lion King were a Japanese movie being dubbed into English. Now, let’s pretend someone futzed around with a single line in this scene:

This gets me every time. (Via John Maverick.)

I’m sure some of you know where I’m going with this, but for everyone else, pretend that “Long live the king!” was changed to “The GOP is waiting!”. Everything else remains intact, it’s only that one line. What would your reaction be? I know some people might find the jab at the American Republican party funny, but it ruins the dramatic weight of the original line. Scar isn’t out for any political agenda except his own, so while it might be funny to those who get the reference, it’ll confuse and annoy everyone else. Particularly kids, whom this movie is intended for, and parents, some of whom might be GOP supporters and are clever enough to understand it.

Basically, it’s in poor taste, personal politics be damned. So yeah, flubbing exists outside of Stephen Foster. But even with that, it’s easy to assume this is only a Texas issue; after all, their voice acting base is tiny compared to LA’s, so VA’s are bound to frequent between Sentai Filmworks and FUNimation Entertainment and bring their quirks with them. Clearly it’s only a problem there, right?

Enter Toradora!, a 2008 romance series that, for the longest time, remained undubbed for…reasons I can’t begin to explain or understand. Which was a shame, as I’d heard nothing but praise from the people who’d seen it. Fortunately, a dub was announced last year by NIS America, which meant the project would go to the only remaining LA dubbing studio of note, Bang-Zoom! Entertainment, and have a high chance of being hit-or-miss. It ended up being a hit, but it wasn’t until I watched the WatchMojo Top 10 on anime Christmas episodes (it was what prompted me to write this piece) that I noticed this oddity:
“This is so freakity friggin’ confusing, y’alls!”
I can’t find an isolated clip, so watch the video I mentioned in the previous paragraph and see for yourselves. It’s awful. I actually had to take a minute to process it, as it was too weird to register: freakity friggin’ confusing? Y’alls? What’s this hillbilly nonsense?

I don’t get it, why was this included in the dub? It sounds like something from a gag reel, which’d be fine if that’s what this was. But nope! It’s the finished product, and it’s dumber for it! I’m not gonna bother rebutting any potential arguments defending the line, because it’s downright horrible. Funny, yes, but so is Cards Against Humanity. That doesn’t make it acceptable.

You see why this is an issue? Like I said in my Prison School rant, these sorts of quips draw you out of the experience. People worked hard to give you these shows and are trusting you with a fair translation. Don’t go ruining it without their consent, it’s disrespectful. Not to mention, it makes it much harder for dub fans, like myself, to take your work seriously. And, ultimately, aren’t we what matter most?

Think about it.


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