I Work in the Anime Industry and Everybody Hates Me!
Joy’s apartment was small. Uncomfortably small. It was apparent that she never planned on having company while she lived here. Most of the furniture was not intended to be permanent fixtures. A PC workstation sat in the far corner, opposite a futon couch that unfolded into her bed. The kitchen was little more than a nook on the right-hand side of the room. It was apparent the apartment hadn’t come furnished with kitchen amenities, as Joy had to purchase her own mini fridge, microwave, and an electrical hot plate burner which sat atop a folding TV tray. In lieu of a stove was a small toaster oven. It was clear she wasn’t going to be doing a lot of baking. On the left-hand wall sat Joy’s computer work station, which is where she clearly spent most of her money. The small computer desk had two monitors crammed onto it, along with an assortment of various peripherals. It looked like she spent more time at that desk than anywhere else in the apartment.
As he entered her apartment, Liam panned the room with his eyes and scoffed. “This is where the big bad anime industry worker lives?”
“Oh, I suppose you make enough money to afford better?” Joy crossed her arms defensively.
“What, me? Hah, I wouldn’t be caught dead paying rent.”
Of course, Joy thought. Of course you don’t pay rent. This guy didn’t yet have the life experience to judge how she lived. She decided that among everything else, this wasn’t worth creating an entirely new fight with him right now.
“I mean, you invited me to sit down,” Liam continued. “But in a place this small, where the heck do you expect me to sit?”
Joy growled in annoyance and stomped toward a small, narrow hallway in the back of the apartment leading to the bathroom. After a few seconds of clanging, she pulled out a cheap metal folding chair and clanged it open on the floor across from her own computer chair.
“Sit,” she commanded.
Liam begrudgingly took the seat as she sat down in her well-padded office chair, setting down his backpack that he somehow managed to keep with him through all the commotion of the day.
“Can I at least get a pillow to cushion this seat or--”
“You’re just barely above being an intruder in my home! You’re lucky I didn’t call the cops as soon as you showed up! So you’re gonna sit in that hard metal chair and you’re gonna like it, you understand?!”
Liam swallowed and scrunched his face. Joy wondered if it was possible to find his weak points after all.
It was at this moment that Joy glanced down at Liam’s wrists, as he placed them uncomfortably on his lap. She gasped when she saw they were adorned with the handcuffs the police had placed on him earlier. However, they were separated from each other, the chain snapped and dangling in the air.
“Before we start, how about you tell me how exactly it is you got away from the police, huh?”
Liam shrugged and grinned. “What’s there to tell? It’s not like it’s hard to get away from the police. Although to be fair, I am a genius, so it’s only natural I was able to get free.”
Joy gave a brief pause. Nothing about that was an explanation at all.
“Well… Okay, in any case, you wanna have a fight with me so desperately? Here I am. No interruptions. But I think you’re gonna find that you’re in way over your head here.”
The young escapee leaned forward in his uncomfortable chair, raising a hand for emphasis. “Oh, I think it’s you who has no idea what they’re in for! It’s my sworn mission to prevent you from destroying the purity of Justice Hero Knight Lancer!”
Joy stifled a laugh. “Oh, your ‘mission’?” The ‘purity’?”
“That’s right!” Liam shouted. “We of the anime community have already seen what you’ve done to all the other shows that have been released up until now, and we’re not gonna tolerate it anymore!”
The woman crossed her arms and legs, closing herself off from his bizarre fantasy using her body language.
“And how exactly do you plan on keeping the show so safe and pure? What are you gonna do, force me to personally not work on it? Threaten me?”
Liam slightly lowered his hand, confusion crossing his face. Why wasn’t she intimidated? Joy continued in confidence.
“Even if you kidnapped me and held me hostage, all you’d be doing is preventing one person you don’t like from helping to subtitle a show you want to protect. It’d be kind of inconvenient, but Toon Motion Studios would just put somebody else on the project, and then it’d go out as normal. Hell, there probably wouldn’t even be any delays, either. The entertainment industry, for better or worse, is really good at making things happen during a crunch.”
“Then you’re just gonna have to change the way you do business!”
“And exactly what part of that business do you have such a problem with, anyway?”
“Everything!” Liam waved his hands broadly as if all of his problems were there in the room all around him. “Should I list them all off for you? Fine, let’s start with the fact that you deliberately change words in your translations! You’re trying to Americanize a Japanese show! We real anime fans want to have the most accurate Japanese experience as possible!”
“Okay, first of all, Liam, I need to know exactly what you think my personal involvement in the localization of anime is.”
“Huh?” Liam wasn’t sure what exactly he was being asked. “Why are you asking me that question? Aren’t you responsible for giving us your awful translations?”
Joy exhaled. “Yes and no. The process is probably a lot bigger than you think it is. For starters, I’m not a translator. I studied Japanese and I even briefly lived in Japan for a while during college, but I don’t know that I’m confident enough to say I could be a translator. But what I am really good at is English. That’s why I’m actually a subtitle editor. It’s my job to make sure that the translation that comes to me from the translator gets out to you in a form you can actually read.”
Liam shot up out of his chair. “So it is your fault the lines are different!”
“Now hold on!” Joy shot back. “For one thing, the biggest part of my job is actually just to make sure the sentences are even grammatically correct. I make sure we didn’t misspell anything, all the punctuation is in it’s proper place, and that the subtitles are actually timed out properly with what the character is saying. It wouldn’t be a very good experience if you couldn’t even read it, or if the subtitles popped in way too early or way too late, or if they didn’t last for the full duration of what the character was saying.
"Second of all, what do you mean, the lines are different? Do you speak Japanese?”
“No, I don’t! That’s your job!”
Joy stood momentarily baffled, then finally stammered out, “T-Then how do you even know the translation is wrong?!”
“Because it’s obvious, isn’t it? Take a look at some of these lines!” Liam sat back down and reached into his backpack, pulling out a laptop, and lifting the screen. It was already on, and a folder full of extraordinarily specific examples were already at the ready, as if he was about to present it as evidence in court.
“Take a look at all this cringe-worthy slang you put into your translations! In fact, since we’re on the topic of cringe…”
Liam clicked on a video file and opened it full screen, turning his laptop around to face Joy. A clip from an anime started playing. Joy recognized it. It was a slice-of-life teen romance show titled Girls Life, Boys Love. She hadn’t worked on it herself, but she was familiar with it. She even remembered hearing something about fans getting worked up about the translation on social media a few months back.
On the screen, two high school girls walked up a hill, apparently on their way to school. They were gossiping between each other about their classmates, specifically the boys. A girl with bright red hair started the conversation.
“Ugh, did you hear what Haruki did at the school festival last week?”
The girl next to her with blue hair rolled her eyes. “Oh, yeah. Didn’t he try to serenade Musumi in the courtyard? The guy is completely tone-deaf! Super cringe-worthy!”
The clip ended. Joy put her hand on her chin and furrowed her brow.
She didn’t get it.
“Uh… okay, what exactly was wrong with that?”
Liam's eyes flared. “What was wrong with it? Don’t you see this?” He shoved his finger against the screen, pressing it next to the word cringe-worthy. “It’s this awful slang! There’s no way a Japanese person would speak like this!”
Joy chuckled, then progressed into full-on laughter. She closed her eyes grabbed her stomach, as if she was trying to keep her guts on the inside.
Liam snarled. “Why are you laughing? Nothing about this is funny!”
“Are you kidding me?” Joy managed to squeak out through her laughter. “It’s hilarious! You’re so angry about something you don’t even understand!”
“I understand enough!”
“No, you don’t!” Joy finally broke from her anger, her face stone-cold and serious. “You’re having a problem with the word cringe-worthy, yes? I’m going to assume you don’t know what the Japanese word was that the translator got this from.”
Liam sat in silence, his brow furrowed. It looked to Joy like he just wanted so badly to be right, but still couldn’t say anything.
“Do you even know the Japanese sentence structure well enough to be able to pick out where the word is in the sentence?”
Liam didn’t move an inch, brow still furrowed.
“Yeah, I didn’t think so. You wanna know what the Japanese word was?”
Liam sat in silence, just listening.
Liam didn’t move an inch.
“You don’t know what that means, do you?”
He continued to pretend he wasn’t out of his league.
“Fine, I’ll bring it up in the dictionary for you.” Joy kept a Japanese-to-English dictionary on her computer table, as she frequently referenced it during work. She flipped through the pages to find what she needed. “Ah, ka, sa, ta… ah-hah, there it is! Chuunibyou!”
She flipped the book around to face Liam. “Here. Why don’t you read for yourself what the definition of chuunibyou is?”
Liam grumbled and reluctantly took the book from Joy’s hand’s. His eyes glazed over looking at the seemingly endless list of words written with Japanese characters that he couldn’t even read. Finally, he found it, written out in romanized characters.
“‘Chuunibyou. Literally, second year of middle school illness. Describes the way teenagers behave when going through puberty, either through being self-conscious or trying to impress their peers.’” He looked up from the book. “Wait, I’ve heard this word before! This is when all those characters pretend to be cool fantasy characters even though they aren’t because they think it’s fun! It’s just like Sakura in that one show, Otaku Days of my Youth. What the hell does that have to do with being cringey?”
To an extent, Liam was right. In the show he named, the characters often threw around the word chuunibyou to describe that character Sakura. Joy could remember the girl, a middle-schooler who wore an eyepatch and pretended that if she ever took it off, it would unleash incredible mystical powers that had the potential to destroy the whole school. She often spoke in lofty fantasy language, and even came up with goofy poses, pretending they made her cooler than she really was. But the reality was that the character didn’t possess anything special about her at all. She was just a normal student, trying to do anything she could to forget how absolutely normal and boring her real life was, even though nobody around her was playing along.
“It’s true,” Joy replied. “That’s a really popular interpretation of chuunibyou in anime. But just because it’s popular in anime doesn’t mean that’s always how it’s used in real life. Actually, chuunibyou is often used to talk about any behavior that could be considered really embarrassing. Maybe you remember some times like that. After all, middle school wasn’t all that long ago for you.”
“Hey, I’m an adult!”
“Sure you are.
" Anyway, maybe a middle schooler might have the idea that they need to start doing cool things, or things that make them look like an adult. Maybe they start dressing differently, in a way that they think makes them look older and more mature, but in reality it looks awful on them. Or maybe they begin listening to certain kinds of music not because they actually like it but because they think it’ll make other people think they’re more mature or cooler than they really are. There’s a million different examples like this one you could use, and all of them could be described as chuunibyou. So why don’t you take a look at your clip from Girls Life, Boys Love one more time?”
Liam handed the dictionary back to Joy, then turned his laptop back around to face himself and replayed the clip. He looked again at the context of the sentence. The girl with the blue hair repeated her line.
“Oh, yeah. Didn’t he try to serenade Musumi in the courtyard? The guy is completely tone-deaf! Super cringe-worthy!”
As he watched, he actually seemed fairly focused, thinking about what he was being shown. “And you’re saying this was a situation where they used the word chuunibyou?”
“That’s right. That means that the boy they’re describing, Haruki, really thought he was doing something super mature and cool by trying to serenade the girl he liked. Unfortunately for him in the end, nobody thought his efforts were cool at all. People watching it happen right in front of them might actually physically cringe at his uncomfortable performance. And that’s why the translator chose to use the phrase ‘cringe-worthy’.”
Despite all the evidence, Liam still wasn’t convinced. “Okay, but hold on! All that might be true, but they still chose a stupid English slang word!”
“What? What are you talking about? I just told you the translation was accurate!”
“Yeah, but they could have chosen any other words to put here! They could have said something like, ‘He’s acting like a child,’ or something! Why are they trying to make them sound like awkward Americans? This didn’t need to be slang!”
Joy raised her hands in front of her with her palms facing Liam, as if trying to tell him with her body language that he needed to slow down a little.
“Wait a second. Are you trying to tell me that you don’t think that the Japanese language has slang?”
“Of course they don’t! The Japanese language is built around levels of politeness! Nobody in Japan would ever talk like this.”
“Liam. You must be joking.” She glanced back down at her dictionary. “I want you to take one last look at the chuunibyou definition.”
“I already read it once!”
“Just look!” She shoved the book back in his face. He focused his eyes on the definition. That’s when he saw it.
Liam’s eyes widened. Even though he was being presented clearly with the information, he still didn’t understand. There still had to be some other explanation.
“So you’re really gonna tell me that you don’t think that teenagers in any other region of the world, and especially Japan, make use of slang? Do you really think slang is an enigma known only to the United States? You’re kidding me.”
It didn’t matter. Liam was still in denial.
“Anyway, the slang is just gonna age poorly! If it doesn’t sound stupid now, it’ll sound stupid in just a few years!”
“You know, that’s probably gonna be true in Japanese, too. You’ll just never know it because you don’t speak the language.”
“Well, what do you know?! You’re not even the translator, anyway! You’re just some editor!”
“Liam, you would consider yourself to be an otaku, yes?”
Liam stood up again with immense pride. “Of course I do! My favorite video games are from Japan! I prefer manga over American comics! My diet consists of ramen and pocky! And all the Japanese I know, I learned from my favorite anime! For me, being an otaku isn’t just a label. It’s a way of life!” He was brimming with Japanese patriotism, despite not being a citizen. Joy could almost swear she could see the famous Great Wave off Kanagawa painting by the artist Hokusai come to life splashing behind him.
“Then congratulations,” Joy smiled. “By calling yourself an otaku, you’ve just willingly described yourself… with Japanese slang.”
Liam’s prideful grin drooped into a sudden horrific realization.
“After all,” Joy continued, “the word otaku is borrowed from a polite word for ‘house’. So once it started getting used to describe people, it kinda just meant that somebody was so caught up in their hobbies that they don’t ever leave their home. It’s a little mean, but then real otaku started taking it back for themselves, using it with pride rather than with shame. So you see, you’re using Japanese slang every single day. Good job, otaku kid.”
Liam did not deal very well with being bested, or with being called a kid. His shame turned into anger. If there was one thing he hated more than anything, it was being told he was wrong.
“Well, that’s hardly the only example of the localization industry screwing up anime!” The young man grabbed his laptop from where he had left it on his chair when he stood up. “I have another 742 examples here that you need to answer for!”
“What?! I have another presentation at All-Out Anime Festival tomorrow, and I am not going to stay up all night arguing with you over something you aren’t even qualified to discuss!”
“I’m not going anywhere until you address every single crime you’ve committed!”
It was then that there was a loud knock at the door. A deep voice boomed from outside.
“Los Angeles Police! We’re here on a call about a noise disturbance!”
Joy rolled her eyes. “Ugh, this is all your fault, Liam!”
“Me?! I wouldn’t even be here if you weren’t actively destroying Japanese media! Somebody had to put you in your place!”
“You didn’t even put me in my place! Everything you had to say was completely wrong!”
The police were getting more frustrated.
“This is the police! Open the door!”
Joy snarled. “Just stay there, Liam!” She got up and stomped over to the door. Two uniformed officers waited with grouchy looks on their faces on the other side of the door.
“Ma’am, do you realize how late it is? Do you guys think you can possibly keep your voice down?”
Joy did her best to switch to a bright and polite tone. “Oh, yes sir, officer. I’m sorry, I guess the time just got away from me. I’ll be sure to keep it down. Thank you!”
“All right, thank you. We’ll just--hmm?” It was at that moment that both officers looked past Joy to see Liam sitting in the folding chair. What especially interested them was the broken pair of handcuffs still hanging around his wrists.
“Hey, Joe! It’s that guy! The one that got away from us at the car accident earlier today!”
Liam winced. “Oh, crap!”
“Don’t let him get away this time, Steve!”
“Me?! Hey, I wasn’t the one who left the car door open and looked away!”
“Anyway, you’re under arrest! Again!”
Liam jumped up with his laptop clutched against his chest. “Oh, no, you’re not gonna do this to me again! Aren’t you even gonna ask her about all the crimes she’s committed against Japan?!”
The two officers pushed Joy to the side as they barreled in with a fresh set of handcuffs. They wrangled the laptop out of his hands and pulled his wrists behind his back.
“Hey, let go of me! I have rights! Just wait until my mom hears about this!”
“Yeah, yeah,” the officer seemingly named Joe said dismissively. “Do you know how often we hear somebody tell us how important their parents are? This is Los Angeles!”
“Joy!” Liam shouted while being dragged out the door. “Joy Darwin, I have a lot more to say to you! You’d better be expecting me!”
“Stop calling me by my full name! It’s weird!”
Officer Steve turned to face Joy while Officer Joe was shoving Liam out the door. “Uh, anyway ma’am, just try to keep the noise level down, all right? Er, have a good evening!”
“Be careful with him this time, officers,” Joy replied in a serious tone.
She shut the door as the two officers escorted Liam down the stairs. It would still be another full minute before she could no longer hear Liam screaming about some ridiculous and incomprehensible thing.
Joy collapsed back down in her computer chair and let out what was perhaps the biggest sigh she’d ever breathed. Was the day finally over? She really hoped she could just call it a night.
And yet, the young professional couldn’t help but mull over just how angry Liam was. She was familiar enough with the arguments he was bringing up, but usually she avoided listening to the uneducated criticism and moved on with her life, continuing to work on her projects as usual. But this time, the unrepentant outrage Liam had poured out onto her had actually gotten under her skin. She didn’t want to admit it, but she couldn’t stop thinking about it.
She switched her computer and monitor on and did some internet searching. Specifically, she wanted to look up more about the slang used in that specific episode of Girls Life, Boys Love that the two of them had discussed. Maybe she was feeling somewhat self-destructive after that conversation.
What she found were seemingly endless discussions about how terrible the decision to localize the word chuunibyou as cringe-worthy. Huge message board threads. Social media posts with massive interactions. All of them screaming about how much they hated the decision, about how much the show was ruined, that it erased Japanese culture. Joy knew they were all wrong, of course. How could one word have ruined an entire show? It was ridiculous. She knew they were just like Liam. She knew they weren’t actually bilingual. She knew that if they were, they wouldn’t be saying any of this. And yet, it made her so angry to see. She didn’t know who worked on that specific show. In fact, it was licensed by a totally different production company. But she felt so sorry for them, so sorry for their translators and editors.
And perhaps what shocked Joy the most wasn’t just how mean the comments were over a single line in a single episode of a single show. What was more concerning was how serious they were.
There were some especially concerning comments, comments about wanting the translators dead. That everything would be better if all the localization team were killed, leaving the Japanese rights holders to localize everything themselves.
For one thing, the fans didn’t understand the symbiotic relationship the Japanese studios had with the American localization studios. They didn’t understand that they had a working partnership, and that the English-speaking team was helping to make a Japanese show available to the rest of the world. And that misunderstanding not only made them angry out of ignorance, but caused the most passionate of fans to start saying things that quite frankly frightened her.
Up until this point, Joy had experienced some unreasonable fans, though she’d never held any reason for that to change how much she loved working in the anime industry. She knew there were angry fans, but they never directly bothered her, and life went on. But now, after meeting Liam, all that changed. Now she was distractingly aware of the fury fans held for their favorite anime, and the lengths they would go to in order to save what they thought needed saving.
As she shut her computer down and pulled her futon out into a bed, she focused on how terrifying life might be from this point forward. She knew she was doing the right thing with her job. She knew it without question. She knew there were countless fans who were happy to have access to these wonderful shows. But hearing that the kind of work that she and her colleagues did for a living was worthy of threatening hate speech still made her unspeakably sad. She dwelled on it for longer than she would have liked to admit, and it kept her from easily falling asleep.
Without question, most fan interactions had been positive ones. There were hundreds of thousands of people attending the convention this weekend who seemed to be no trouble at all, all of them excited to be sharing the joy of anime with one another. But now, there was a part of her brain unreasonably nagging at her, wondering just how many of those people there actually hated everything about what they were trying to do.
How could she go back to the convention tomorrow, not knowing whether or not somebody was going to want to hurt her for working on something she thought they all loved?
She didn’t even remember falling asleep.