Through its popular online streaming service, Funimation has been livecasting a selected number of anime series from Japan—meaning that the episodes are viewable in the U.S. the same day as their overseas counterparts. One of these is Prison School, an anime based on a notorious and award winning manga about a draconian all-girl school. While fans have had a hard time categorizing Prison School, it’s generally considered an over-the-top, trashy sexploitation series rife with BDSM and fanservice.
“Prison School is basically a boob show in which guys get beaten within an inch of their lives,” writes Rebecca Silverman on Anime New Network.
So when this line showed up in last night’s livecast translation, it was a bit jarring to many viewers:
Initial reactions from fans reacting to the reference to “dumbass Gamergate creepshows” were confused:
The short answer: it didn’t. Here’s the actual line, as translated by one fan subtitling group:
The reworking of a line about addressing your superiors politely to reference the sexual harassment of Gamergate is heavily ironic in context, like a Hooters waitress sternly informing you her eyes are up here. Even if her objection is valid, it still comes off like a cheap shot.
But in this case, the issue of cultural context is a central part of the discussion. The Funimation livecasts are a relatively new arrival to the anime landscape. They’re good news for English-language anime fans because they get their anime faster and they don’t have to rely on often-inferior (and illegal) fansubs while they wait on a painstakingly translated DVD release. But to get the episodes out that quickly, Funimation’s translators have to make snap decisions about the content and context of the shows. The standard practice among translators of international media is to “localize” translations for U.S. audiences by situating certain aspects of their shows in a more directly relevant cultural context.
Parts of this practice are standard for the industry, done to make the series look like a U.S. series would look—for instance, reversing the order of Japanese names and dates. Other parts, such as, for example, taking a joke about an “otaku” and turning it into a joke about a “fangirl,” have long been controversial, particularly because the cultural differences are part of the appeal of anime for many fans.
So the choice taken by Funimation translators felt shoehorned in, even for some people who don’t support Gamergate. Fans have been angrily reacting to the translation since it aired. Tyson Rinehart, who wrote the line, has been mired in criticism on Twitter following this response:
His supervisor Jami Marchi also came in for her share of harassment even though, as she pointed out, she wasn’t responsible for writing or ultimately approving the line:
@marchimark It's almost as if it's NOT about ethics in game journalism!— Absolutely Disgusting (@JTHomeslice) September 24, 2015
On Tumblr, user realhumandean argued that the issue was really about localization, pointing out that this was a problem affecting translated Japanese games like Ace Attorney as well as anime series. On Reddit’s r/KotakuinAction, Gamergate supporters had a field day, but they also had a point. As user tom3838 wrote, “If you [can’t] trust a translator to be accurate and impartial when translating, then they are effectively useless. The entire point is they are conveying someone [else’s] words and meaning… I certainly wouldn’t watch something where people were willing to warp the work they were translating.”
Of course, tom3838 also said he didn’t watch the anime, and the outrage over translation seemed to be a mix of genuinely upset anime fans and people caught up in concern trolling.
Prison School has delivered plenty of other potentially controversial moments:
Hana gets peed on: No one complains.— SpacemanHardy (@SpacemanHardy) September 25, 2015
Joe shoves a stick up Kiyoshi's ass: No one complains.
All of Meiko's fanservice: No one complains.
Prison School is a narrative about women deriding men and with a firm commitment to sexual exploitation, which makes it difficult to parse the translators’ choice to criticize Gamergate. Without clarification from Rinehart, it would be easy to read the line as mocking feminists rather than Gamergate supporters.
Perhaps Prison School was the wrong hill for anyone to die on in this particular political battle; but it does give us a fascinating glimpse at the ongoing issue that is Gamergate intruding into otherwise mindless entertainment.
Screengrab via Funimation