Why Don’t Subtitlers Always Translate Anime Song Lyrics?

On Crunchyroll these days, it’s becoming easier to see songs being translated. So why doesn’t this happen more, and why hasn’t it happened more?

I’ve noticed that Idolish7 gets its songs translated while the ending for the Boueibu LOVE! LOVE! LOVE! OVA, Kokoro to Kokoro de, got translated, so why is it that historically subtitlers – specifically anime subtitlers – have not gone out of their way to translate songs’ lyrics?

Firstly, I think it’s a cost issue – in order to understand a show, you normally need only the dialogue translated, with the songs being secondary to that. Now that Crunchyroll can actually get in there and fund shows itself, it can bring shows it believes will be popular in the West to the West without ruining the system that has sprung up around anime production which results in more than just the OP and the ED being translated (like it was during the Funimation-centric days). It’s the reason why idol/musical shows are historically less popular than other shows – because the songs tie too heavily into the plot, and therefore become problematic to understanding of the show.

Secondly, lyrics are much harder to translate than standard dialogue. In order to understand what’s going on with songs, you need to have context and an extremely good grasp of both Japanese and the language being translated into, or else the translation will end up like mush. You need to be able to organise lyrics so that they go well with the song on top of ordinary translation duties, which is a much harder feat than it is to ordinarily translate them – this is why Crunchyroll doesn’t even bother with Anisong Station’s lyrics, I bet.

Lastly, it seems to be that because people now know where to look for lyrics – Lyrical Nonsense etc. – and because there are some Japanese to [insert other language here] translators specifically for songs, it’s merely a case of who gets to work on the song first and put it out there. Amateur song translations provided on Tumblr aren’t as harmful as pirating manga or anime, but they certainly contribute to the act, and since translators often have to emphasise speed over accuracy (hence official subtitles having typoes in them), often not translating one troublesome song speeds up the progress immensely.

So, should more songs be translated, now that there is a culture that is more receptive to anisongs in general? What do you think about leaving songs untranslated within the context of episodes, as opposed to OPs and EDs?

5 thoughts on “Why Don’t Subtitlers Always Translate Anime Song Lyrics?

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  1. I actually kind of prefer for the subtitles to not be there…I like just being able to look at the opening visuals without getting distracted. If anything, I just look the lyrics up later.

    Liked by 2 people

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