A translator is like a dog with two masters, the author of the original work and the audience. A translator’s allegiance—to culture, to language, even to literature—shapes their every decision. Thus, a single work can have multiple translations, each possessing a unique aspect. In ‘fansubbing,’ the often illegal subtitling of anime series by fans, the translator transforms from a dog to a gateway. These guerilla translators use the Internet not only to fight against the Network decided the distribution of anime but even standardized translations. Putting aside the moral and legal aspects of copyright infringement, fansubbing has garnered appreciation and even fan support for translators working for free to provide access not only to a foreign commodity but culture.
The fansubbing of an anime is a group project, composed of individuals who know each other only by avatar names, but by the power of the Internet come together to produce unique translations of anime series. Some groups will only subtitle certain genres of anime—historical, romance, comedy etc.—while others focus more on the speed of production as oppose to accuracy. Either way, a group’s style of translation or subtitling influences their popularity amongst fans. Some viewers of online anime prefer one group’s translation to another. As a result traditional anime distribution network’s version of translations have come under attack. An example of a corporate distributor adopting the fansubbing style of translation is Crunchyroll, whose subtitling and promotional campaigns attempt to include fans in both the culture of Anime and Japan.
Translations by fansubbing groups include the meaning of the word as well as the explanation of the popular culture significance of the word, usually in a translator’s note. Whether you’re a fan of translators’ notes or not, some fans find the note helpful. By engaging the audience the translator makes the translation and meaning more accessible to a wider audience.
Though ironically, by initiating a conversation with the audience, the translators of these fansubbing groups, such as New Life Anime, are beholden to a new, albeit more demanding master, the audience. In an effort to try and gain more followers and subscribers, a fansubbing group may rush their translations, often sacrificing good grammar in order to produce an online version of the episode the day after it originally airs in Japan. The question then becomes which is more important—the audience or the translation? Perhaps in the future, there will be subtitles that will be able to both engage with the audience, as well as provide accurate translations. For now, there is only the choice.