Funimation Con – Adventures in Translation with Industry Expert

11:30 AM – 12:30 AM (PDT) | Room 1 | Friday 3 July 2020

Panel Description: Ever wonder what it takes to translate anime? There’s a lot more to it than you’d think! Listen to a vivid experiential recollection of translating Japanese anime into English from one of the leading authorities in the field.

Host: Sarah Lindholm (Translator Funimation) 

Usual questions: How does the process start? What does translation at Funimation look like?

First things first, it helps the translator to know the story in advance. If you can, type out the solution to the mystery or give a full summary it helps the translators get a feel for how they frame the translation. So before simulcasting an anime, our team talks to the Japanese team that worked on the anime or manga and sends the manga to the translator to start analyzing the text and get the story right before we start re-scripting an anime to English. 

Things we’re looking for as we re-script/translate to English (or any other langauge): 

  • Jokes, puns, wordplay
  • Cultural references (original culture) 
  • Cultural references (referred culture) < ex. Animes set in france with french puns for the audience
  • Non-verbal cues)

Wordplay is the Devil’s Work: 

Case Example: Black Butler

Where do we start? First, look at background and setting: 

  • Where is it set? Set in Victorian England, 1888
  • Who are the main characters: Sebastian, a demon serving in the role of butler. Ciel, his young master. Claude, a rival demon butler in season 2. Alois, Claude’s young master.

Second, we look at important or recurring elements. In our case example (Black Butler) we have Sebastian’s catchphrase, “Akumade shitsuji desu kara,” which happens in nearly every episode. It features a double meaning to , ostensibly he’s saying “You see, I am but a mere butler.” But the exact same sentence pronounced or spelled slightly differently would mean “You see, I am a demon and a butler” because “akuma” means demon in Japanese. 

Remember that:

  • Listeners may take the statement differently based on their knowledge that Sebastian’s a demon.
  • If you don’t know he’s a demon, you will take the line for its actual meaning of him being a “mere butler.” If you know he is a demon, you will enjoy the double meaning of the text. 
  • Specific concepts to therefore be aware of is: demon, butler/servitude 
  • Miscellaneous factor: smugness of the character.

Therefore: “Akumade shitsuji desu kara.”

  • Literal meaning: You see, I am but a mere butler. 
  • Double meaning: “You see, I am a demon and a butler.” 

How would you translate it?


PUN BATTLE! Black Butler II

Claude’s (butler 2) catchphrase is “Danna-sama wo aku made musaboritai.” It is commonly addressed to Alios and it means “I want to gorge myself on you/devour you until I’m overfull.” But you can see it has the same “akumade” sound that Sebastian’s pun did, with “akuma” meaning “demon.” 

What do we do about translating? We break out the scratchpad! Different potential translations include: 


Non-Verbal Cues:

Case Example: Kase no Stigma

Visual Mismatch:

  • Result of missing a cue or of translating from the script only. 
  • Typically involves question & answer pairs
  • Breaks the story

When Up is Down and Right is Wrong

Context: Ren is grieving for a girl he couldn’t save. Ren’s older brother consoles him, “I think she was happy, in her way. […] you made her into a living person.” Then he asks a question: “Sora ja fuman ka?” Ren shakes his head (the non-verbal cue). 

Now “right” is wrong! How? In English culture, shaking your head means “No.” But in the context of the story and Japan’s culture, the shake of the head is not “no” but that you’ve given me some piece. 

How do we mediate these right-wrongs? We like to do a watch-through to focus on the bigger picture. The questions we seek to answer are:

  • (Prewatch) What problems do you see coming up in the season that may need foreshadowing?
  • Does the video mess with the words you chose? Is there a lot of word play present in the current text?
  • Did you miss anything?
  • Is it too fast or to slow?
  • (We also do a general proofreading of the script!)

Another note: Idioms don’t translate well so you need to rewrite some lines to give you as similar an experience as possible. 

The Final Big Question: “What is Accuracy, really?”

Think of yourself as the characters and think of the experience the creator wanted. Where am I? Japan? France? Outerspace? What are the rules of those areas? How does the creator view the show (potentially)? What’s the genre?

A good tip is to watch a lot of movies and film criticism–it plays into your work a lot! Particularly in fitting the genre.

Another note: Google translation has played no effect in thus far in the profession of translating at Funimation simulcast department of translation. Google’s software still has many flaws in translating, and can’t describe the meaning of the sentence well enough to be useful. It is also particularly poor with idioms. 


Case Example: Princess Jellyfish

Background:  THE AMA-ZU (the name of the group of geeky girls in Princess Jellyfish.) Ama with this kanji is “nun” and it is Japanese slang for a spinster (someone of marrying age but who’s never gonna to marry). It is also associated with the “b word.”

So, how do we translate this? Our answer: “The sisterhood” 



Finally: Some books on translation theory the host recommends: Theories of Translation ( and The Craft of Translation (

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