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There’s been a tendency in English anime dubs of children’s shows that I’ve noticed for a while now, which is this tendency to imbue characters with ATTITUDE where previously there was none, or at the very least not such an overt presence as such. Basically, what dubs do is turn Doug Funnie, nice average guy with some decent qualities, into a Roger Klotz, a snarkier sort who’s quick to deliver verbal jabs.

After I watched the first episode of toy commercial-as-anime Monsuno in Japanese, I got this feeling that the English dub (which actually premiered months before the Japanese version) would give to characters the voices their character stereotypes expected of them. Sure enough, the nerd was incredibly nasal, and the main character, who isn’t quite Doug Funnie but is the nice sort, is cracking wise at his friends, bits of sarcasm seeping through his dialogue.

A more interesting example comes from Yu-Gi-Oh!, not so much from Yugi himself but from Kaiba. Kaiba in the Japanese version is certainly no Doug Funnie. He’s ruthless and blunt and lives by his own agenda, but what happens is that his Roger Klotz dubbing just takes these qualities to the nth degree. Where he might say something in Japanese like, “Get out of my way. I have no time to waste on you,” in English it would become, “Get your worthless existence out of my way, you dweeb. I can’t have you breathing the same air as me or it might make me sick to my stomach.” Certainly it makes Kaiba memorable in an odd sort of way, but it also gives him an entirely different set of fangs.

Have you noticed this? Is my reference to Doug too old for people at this point? Do people still watch dubs?

Though my first experience with Genshiken came as a result of watching the first series fansubbed, my first impression of Ogiue comes from the Japanese version of the manga. And in the original Japanese language version, Ogiue speaks in a way that I can only describe as “polite bluntness.” In a normal situation where she is not flustered to the point of switching back to her native dialect, Ogiue uses a standard polite form of Japanese, but does so in a very terse manner, like she’s telling people to back off, or that she wants to say as little as possible and end the conversation quickly. The content of her words also speaks towards this, as exemplified in her legendary introduction, translated officially as “My name is Ogiue and I hate otaku.”

When you look at the original Japanese however, the structure of the sentence is different. To clarify what I mean, I’m providing not only the original image along with the original Japanese, but also the romanization of the Japanese, as well as a more literal translation.

「オタクが嫌いな荻上です。」

“Otaku ga kirai na Ogiue desu.”

“I am the otaku-hating Ogiue.”

You can sort of see how much is changed here. Now, keep in mind that the official translation, the “My name is Ogiue and I hate otaku,” is very much how I prefer to translate that very line. The overly literal translation doesn’t sound like good English, and the grammatical differences between English and Japanese, let alone the cultural ones, mean that you cannot achieve the same effect through a strict translation. But at the same time, I began to wonder just how much Ogiue’s manner of speaking was able to translate from the original releases in Monthly Afternoon to the Del Rey Manga English versions. I’ve read a good deal of the English version, and often times I felt like the many of the subtleties of the dialogue were being lost in translation. There was a problem, however.  The Del Rey version was not designed for people who knew Japanese, and I was in a sense “tainted” by my exposure to the original Japanese.

This potential problem with dialogue didn’t apply to just Ogiue, and in fact I noticed it possibly moreso with the rest of the cast, but I decided to use Ogiue as a metric. So a week ago, I asked people via this blog, what do you think of Ogiue’s dialogue? I asked it without explaining my experiment, as I was worried that I would influence the people responding with my own doubts, though looking back, I think by asking them specifically about the “English” version, I already planted that seed. In spite of that, however, I managed to get some good responses which had me re-evaluate my own thoughts on the accuracy of the “spirit” of the translation.

Chaostangent felt that Ogiue’s dialogue “never seems too polite or too brash,” which in a way is how Ogiue talks, or is at least a compromise. Paul said that Ogiue “always sounded angry when she talked,” which is also quite accurate. And digital boy even claims that in reading the English version, he could “hear” the Japanese voices in his head. So, at least according to people who weren’t looking at it from the perspective of having read it in its original language, Ogiue’s character comes across in her dialogue. Though it might not be to the extent that it captures 100% of everything there, it still works and works well, enough to turn people into fans of Ogiue.

And I also think I focused too much on the dialogue itself. Ogiue as well as all the other characters don’t show their personality just through their usage of Japanese, but through their facial expressions, their mannerisms, and not just how they speak but when they choose to speak and why.

So, I know I’m going to regret explaining the background on this, but I am once again going to ask people how they feel about not just Ogiue’s, but the dialogue in Genshiken in general. Let’s not even limit it to the manga translation, but the anime as well. For those of you who’ve seen the dub, how does the translation fare? I found it unusually stilted, but again, maybe I’m just biased.

Official sources for Genshiken Second Season

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