Challenges of Localization: The Never-Ending Debate

Artist: 05 (passelclow)
While I have talked a bit about the subtitles and dubbing debate early in my anime blogging career briefly, there is something that caught my attention regarding localization. Just this week, there has been news that Tecmo Koei won’t be having dual audio to the English version of Atelier Ayesha. As you would expect, the whole fandom blew up in rage just like that and advocating boycotts. However, there have been recent instances in Anime where licensing companies such as Sentai Filmworks excluded the Japanese Audio from Blu-rays, most notably the Persona 4 The Animation to make the release unattractive for reverse importation. Of course, that too had repercussions.

In general, localization and the whole sub vs. dub debate is a never-ending controversy for many reasons that I will explain. (Image Source)

Issues with Translating

When you translate anything, there is a good possibility that something will get lost such as cultural references such as jokes and not to mention, translation errors.  Since I’m currently learning Japanese, there are many ways to translate a sentence since some words that have more than 1 English translation. However, it gets worse since the Japanese Language also have honorifics and Keigo (敬語, honorific speech).  Honorific speech is usually used when talking to superiors such as a professor or a division manager. Here is one example of how it’s used:

Respect Form (尊敬語)


President Obama (graciously) gave us a speech at a high school.

Humble Form (謙譲語)


I (humbly) met Professor Takanashi yesterday to (humbly) receive help on my science homework.

Most likely, this sentence will be translated as “I met Professor Takanashi to receive help on my science homework.” When it’s translated in English, the sentence loses its honorific speech. This also applies to honorifics like さん, くん, and ちゃん. They usually don’t get shown in subs because they look awkward to the viewer. This is because Japanese people use last names to refer to people and add these endings (first names are reserved for people who are close to you like your friends). So basically, 古川さんin Japanese would be translated as Mr/Ms Furukawa in English.

Subs vs Dubs

Believe it or not, this continues to be an issue up to this day, although it’s not as big compared to the early days. During the VHS era, you can only have either an English Dub or Sub. With DVDs, it’s possible to have both if the localization company provides it. Because of that, you have a choice. While I don’t have a preference, I think choice is a good thing.

In a few rare cases, dubs can have a lot of issues besides bad voice acting such as excessive changes. Excessive changes are pretty rare nowadays, but it certainly gave dubs a bad reputation. This was infamously done by 4Kids with numerous edits they made to “Americanize” Japanese Animation with significant changes to the script, removed scenes, animation and name changes. Shows like Cardcaptor Sakura got shafted a lot because of this. While this is no longer an issue because 4Kids went under recently, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen at all. There are still name changes, although it’s nothing too major (Esty Erhard is translated as Esty Dee in the English version in the Arland trilogy).

Second and most controversial issue is the subs. As mentioned earlier, it’s difficult to get the same translation because there are many ways to translate it. Of course, it doesn’t stop people from debating over literal or localized subs. Literal translations usually stay close to the actual meaning while maintaining cultural references. On the other hand, localization is basically translating everything so people can understand it. The problem is, nothing is 100% perfect and there will always be people who won’t be satisfied. In my belief, learning Japanese and watching it raw is probably the only way you can watch it as intended since you can interpret what they say yourself without dealing with translation errors. Sadly, for the fact that Japanese is a difficult language that takes time to learn, it may not be a viable option for most people. Therefore, I think it’s important to have subs that everyone can understand with few mistakes.

Region Locking

Lastly, region locking is a problem as not everyone gets every release. This still holds true for people who live elsewhere besides North America as they might get fewer DVD releases in comparison. However, with streaming sites like Crunchyroll, it’s becoming less of a problem. Still, the issue of region restrictions still exists for the fact that there are some countries where you can’t stream any or certain titles. It a dilemma since the industry wants people to watch it legally, but won’t allow a select few to watch them. It’s probably due to restrictions in the contract that prevents them from streaming for all regions, but I think it will eventually get resolved someday.


Overall, the issue of localization remains a very controversial one. This is because every language interprets things differently, thus some viewers will have different preference when it comes to how it’s translated. However, I think companies should do it’s best to please its fans. Removing Japanese audio and preventing people from streaming Anime legally is probably not the best way to do that and will only cause people to become outraged. Still, it remains important as it allows everyone to enjoy a show.

Aside from that, I leave this question for you to discuss about: What is your opinion about localization? Do you prefer watching with dubs, literal or localized subs?


I realize that I offended some people with some remarks I made and I apologize if anyone feel this way. I wanted to say is that learning Japanese takes a lot of effort. Also, dubs are not necessarily bad as there are good ones out there. It’s basically up to preference of the person. 

6 Comments… read them or add your own.

  1. BeldenOtaku says:

    Wait…so you’re telling me…that everyone isn’t spending all their free time studying Japanese?
    Wow, do I feel weird now.
    What do people do with all their time then? I don’t much time left after studying just for my Japanese class. Maybe that’s why I don’t have much of a social life :3

    Also, as for “localization”, sometimes it works, sometimes it’s a laugh riot.
    Sentai “localized” Yuuko’s Kansai accent in their DVD release of A Channel (or as they put it “Yuuko’s rough-and-ready Kansai accent”). And I was not aware that the Kansai accent made you sound like an uneducated hick compared to everyone else…

    • chikorita157 says:

      I may have worded some stuff in my argument and inherently offended some people, so I’m sorry if I offended anyone. I’m going to reword it, but basically I want to say is that it Japanese is a difficult language that takes time and effort to learn, which is why it’s not a viable option for people who just want to watch it.

      As for the English dub, not all dubs are necessarily bad. I have heard good ones such as Haruhi. The Clannad dub was a bit rough in the beginning, but it eventually got better. Aside from that, please don’t lash out at me if I accidentally said something offending. Just point it out and I’ll rewrite it.

      • BeldenOtaku says:

        (Sorry if I implied offense, was joking actually. Japanese is supremely difficult to master, even as I near 2 years of studying.)

        Bad dubs can be bad. But sometimes people take them too seriously.

        • chikorita157 says:

          I failed to detect sarcasm/joke earlier, but I agree that it takes a lot of effort to master Japanese. While I have become more accustomed to the grammar and a handful of words (I memorized at least 1500+ words so far), Kanji still remains a challenge I need to overcome although I do know 100+. Still, I’m becoming more confident in it after 1 year and a few months of studying practically every day (vocabuary, going over grammar rules, etc).

  2. Justin says:

    It’s probably due to restrictions in the contract that prevents them from streaming for all regions

    I think it’s also just a case of money. Example, why stream X anime in a place like Sweden? Compared to the U.S, it’s not going to make a ton of money. When they make decisions as to what country gets to see the streams, it’s most likely done with money in mind.

    • chikorita157 says:

      Yes, there is a business aspect to it, which is probably why they don’t make it available to every country. The problem is by restricting regions, they aren’t technically convincing people to use the legal alternative. So basically, people have to jump through the hoops like using a VPN to get a US IP just to watch it. For that, most would have no way of supporting the industry as I highly doubt there are many physical releases as well. I think it would be in their best interest to have it open to all of Europe and North America, but we’ll see.

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