I would like to preface this post by putting it out there up front that there will be a lot of frustration contained within. It will also be kinda wordy and ranty. Perhaps that “spoils” the “review” too quickly, but I guarantee it will not be in the way that you might think. Do not misunderstand — there is a huge difference between the content of a show and its presentation. Be sure to keep those separate in your head as you read on.
I have spoken at length how one of my favorite aspects of shônen is the camaraderie. This same concept showcased and executed in other anime “genres” works just as flawlessly on me — it is somewhat fascinating to watch this concept go from my standard shônen fandom over to josei, but how themes can cross over “intended” audiences and strike a chord with someone is what I have always loved about anime so much. For an obvious example, DragonBall is a show for young boys, and yet I still love it.
For those of you who may have followed some of my other online adventures over the years, it should come as no surprise that Honey & Clover was one of my favorite shows in recent history.
I conceived the above video in 2007 and created it together with Meri and Jeff over the span of about six months. It was one of the best projects I have ever worked on, both in terms of the actual collaboration process, and seeing my vision come to reality.
Needless to say, I had been waiting a long time for a domestic release of the show. R2s are nice, and fansubs are nice… but the convenience of a domestic DVD box set is always the sweet spot for us fans. Viz announced their license of the show way the heck back in July 2007, and while episodes would trickle (dubbed) to iTunes, the first DVD set would not hit until September 2009, over two years later.
I do not want to focus on the content of the show too much. I have seen it be “hit or miss” to some folks, with them either latching on to the characters and enjoying the progression of time with them, or being put off by the somewhat-spastic timeline jumping (suddenly we are months later in the story, and yet there is some excuse for a party every episode). “Hagu” can also be a dividing character, occasionally dipping into what feels like the dreaded “moe” territory with her petite size, stress-related frailty, and Morita’s insistence on dressing her up and putting her into wacky photo poses (all of which is strange, since the series is intended for older women… but far be it from me to comment on the desires and fantasies of the josei audience).
Personally, I feel like the show hits on nearly every level. The characters do not deliver trite and groan-worthy dialogue. Everything they say and do feels completely “real”. You feel for them when they have their epiphanies — the look on Ayu’s face, realizing she has been acting the same way with Mayama, after receiving the confessions from her fellow-generation peers…? It is heart-breaking tough-love. I have given a lot of shows a chance in my time, and few have hit me from their very start with such a mature and realistic way of sharing life stories.
Even if I wanted to expand upon the content of the show in greater depth, any review of the DVD releases from Viz will ultimately have to focus on their numerous pitfalls, giving the amazing content there-in a total shaft. And that really sucks.
Given/Family Name Subs
No, I am not fluent in Japanese. No, I did not take a bazillion years of the language in college (although I did take a bit). Yes, I know people who are fluent. Yes, some of them have translated purely on a fandom level. Yes, some of them have translated on a professional level. No, their work does not directly affect or grow my own personal understanding of the language. Yes, in some ways it does help. Yes, I have been watching anime for something like 15 years. No, I do not think that fact alone gives me the knowledge necessary to make 100%-accurate translation decisions all of the time.
With all this in mind (and feel free to take whatever I say with a grain of salt), I have always had a huge problem when a translator decides to place a character’s given name (their “first name”) in the subtitles when the character speaking aloud is clearly using their family name (their “last name”), regardless of any suffix being or not being used (-kun, –san, etc.). I feel that it speaks volumes about the relationship the characters have with each other, which is something that can (and does) regularly change over the course of a series. The audible and visible disconnect that occurs when I hear “Morita” and read “Shinobu” drives me slightly bonkers. If I did not already know what was going on and have a general knowledge of the language and personal interactions between the characters, I might be slightly confused. To make matters worse, some characters will refer to someone by their last name, while others will refer to them by their first name. Some characters exclusively call everyone by their last name. Some characters are always referred to by their first name. You cannot consistently subtitle something like this when you make a conscious effort to change what text appears, rather than going with what is actually being spoken aloud.
I can only imagine these intentional changes combined with utter carelessness leads to examples like what I will share below. “Shu” (Shuji Hanamoto)…? He is not even in this scene, never mind on screen. That’s Morita running away (sorry for the blended fields!). Does anyone even bother to proof-read/watch this before it gets pressed…?
You might be able to convince me to excuse a one-off mistake like this. It could have been an honest fluke. What if it kept happening, though? What if names that do not even belong to any character in the show begin to appear? Sure, perhaps they meant “Takumi” (again, even though it is clearly “Mayama” being spoken aloud)… but at what point does this become inexcusable? At only seven episodes in to the box set, a wrong name has appeared twice.
In another scene, Mayama (first name “Takumi”, but almost exclusively referred to by his last name) describes the location of Ayumi’s home to Shu. It is the “Yamada Liquor Store”… except the subtitles read as “Ayumi Yamada Liquor Store”. Really? Ayumi runs the place by herself? She owns it? Did someone just do a global search-and-replace, or something?
As the series moves on, the subtitles’ translation/adaptation of Hagu’s “Shu-chan” changes from “Shu” to his full first name of “Shuji”… despite the tone, delivery, and intent remaining the same as “Shu-chan” throughout. Why the inconsistency?
Far too often I find myself nerd-raging at the screen for a name being incorrectly-adapted for the bazillionth time each episode. It just bugs the Hell out of me… but maybe it’s just me.
“Hard-Subbed” Sign Translations
No, I will not go to the extent in proclaiming that “hard-subs” (subtitles or translations that are “burned in” to the actual video track, rather than being optional a la traditional dialogue subtitles on DVDs) somehow “defile” the “purity” of the “art”. They are, however, ridiculous in modern times. They look ridiculous in fansubs, and they look even more ridiculous in professional releases. You do not need to erase some Japanese text and replace it with English text. You do not need to stretch and curve English text around some available white space next to the Japanese text. You do not need to plaster giant text on-screen when what you are translating is one-third the size. Simply putting a translation (if one is even necessary) at the top of the screen is more than sufficient. It doesn’t take me “out of the moment”. Trust me. It’s OK. I give you permission.
One of these silly examples is a scene in which Takemoto returns home and winds up in a batting cage with his mother’s new husband. The “Home Run” sensor is hit, and the characters talk for a little bit about how funny and great it is. The phrase “Home Run” is used several times. It is clear what’s going on. When the frame heads back to that sensor one last time, Viz felt it was necessary to complement the ホームランwith “Home Run” plastered (and hard-subbed) in large font below it. Hey guys? I’m watching the show, too. I got it.
Of course, the old Solar fansub did the exact same thing (immediately followed by a verbal “Home Run!” subtitled at the bottom of the screen), but that is to be expected from fansubbers… though expectation does not excuse behavior.
Yes, yes, yes. It is a simple little translation that explains what is on the screen. We do need them from time to time. I am not so crazy that I do not think sign translation tracks should not exist — they serve their purpose and should always be welcome. It is just the almost-unnecessary ones like this that make my scratch my head a little bit, and only truly dislike them when they cross the line into intrusive hard-subs. Is the “Home Run” example “intrusive”? Not particularly.
What about this example, though? Check out Viz’s version, where “Lottery Ticket” has been hard-subbed onto the ticket, itself… as if you would be completely unable to tell from the context of the conversation.
Amazingly enough, the Solar fansubbers, in an age where digitally plastering text on as many things as possible was (and still is) the trend, chose not to do it.
I do not expect (or want!) perfect consistency between fansubbers and the domestic licensee. If anything, it is simply interesting to compare the two and try to decide how and why one of them felt it was necessary to translate or adapt on-screen text so differently from the other.
Be careful what you wish for, anime fans. Domestic licensing companies may not receive every single last bit of audio and video for things like next-episode previews (something North American DBZ fans have dealt with for years), and a compromise must always be made. In the case of Honey & Clover, something is missing, leaving a horribly confusing and seemingly-haphazard next-episode preview. It is an empty background screen with a sample of the opening theme playing. It feels half-complete, because it is half-complete. Would we have been better off without them? Perhaps changed around somehow?
The most interesting part of this specific inclusion is that they are not included on the original Japanese R2 DVDs! I can’t even tell what the darn thing is! Is it a sponsor card…?
What Do We Get?
I fully believe that more fans need to put their money where their mouth is and support their favorite franchises, whether that is through a purchase of a DVD set, merchandise, or some other way. You could argue that it is less about the consumer and more about the raw business model… but if you like something so much, you should at least try to support it somehow. So what exactly are we paying for with a release like this? Is it the sub-par video transfer? Is it the inconsistent name translations/adaptations? Is it the amateur hard-subs?
I desperately want to be able to support the official, domestic licensed products and the companies spending the money to bring them over to me in a convenient package. The question that has been asked so often in recent memory, though, is: when the free and infinitely reproducible product (digital fansubs) are leagues ahead of, or at least in the same ballpark as, the paid and scarce physical product (domestic DVDs)… where is the incentive?
What am I paying for? Did I just pay for the salary of someone to inconsistently name characters? Did I just pay for a dub I am never going to watch? Or did I just fund a future endeavor with another great show that I love…? Will it help bring that show over to me? What if the treatment is the same as what I just saw with Honey & Clover, though?
So many of the issues with this release seem so avoidable, which is what disappoints me so much. I would probably look past the hard-subs if the name translations were at least halfway consistent. I might even excuse some of the extra video compression since we are getting the set for a decent price. Toss all of these factors together, though, and you have a situation where you hold the set in your hand, make that weird deep-breath through your teeth as if you are unsure about it, and put it back on the shelf.
When we have so much of a choice with our entertainment, I have a really hard time justifying the purchase and support of a product like this. I love Honey & Clover to death, but other series that I love are being treated extremely well right now, and those are the products that need and deserve to get first-dibs on my cash.
There is the conundrum, though — how do you speak with your wallet when the action of “speaking” itself is to not pay for something…? The message being sent is that I am not interested… which is not the correct message at all. I am very interested, but not with the way it is currently being handled. Does a measly blog post by some dude that likes DBZ send the right message? Somehow I doubt it.
And that really sucks.