Why I found Joshiraku an interesting series

September 20, 2014

I watch anime in translation (via subtitles), and almost all of the time I passively assume that the translation is essentially seamless and more or less transparent; what I'm reading on the screen is close enough to the original Japanese dialog that I'm missing at most minor nuances. Every so often there are stumbling blocks and near non-sequiturs and the rare moment where I can make out a Japanese word that I recognize and tell that the translated dialog is not quite what the characters actually said, but in those moments I assume that the translators have dropped the ball and done a bad job. I think this is an easy mindset to get into and to be honest I think that almost all of the time it's accurate; to put it one way, most shows likely don't have dialog that is all that complex.

(Most shows are not all that complex.)

Joshiraku demolishes this illusion. In Joshiraku the seams of the translation show frequently, not just in the puns but also in dialog that was clearly supposed to be funny and full of jokes but that went completely over my head. Watching Joshiraku was in part a continual process of being reminded that I was watching something in a foreign language and I very much was not getting all of the nuances. As a result, even (or especially) the jokes that I didn't get were interesting because they vividly show me those rarely-visible seams in the translations and my understanding of what was really going on. My puzzled silence when I was supposed to laugh made this gap quite visible.

I generally didn't find Joshiraku funny per se (although it had quite a lot of fun and enjoyable bits), but I always found it interesting to watch because of this and I'm very glad I saw it all. It's not often that I get such a useful and pointed reminder that yes, translation is happening and what I'm following is actually a simulacrum of the real thing (even if it's often probably a very close one).

(This is another aspect of the problem of interpretation, of course.)

PS: This is the reason I was talking about in my Summer 2012 midseason comments on Joshiraku. Yes, sometimes the wheels of blogging grind very slowly around here.

Comments on this page:

By Pete at 2014-09-20 23:33:25:

Did you try it raw? It's a riot even for low level BRW. I mostly rewatch it raw nowadays, even though I plainly don't understand half.

By cks at 2014-09-21 00:16:47:

I haven't tried it raw because I'm don't have any sort of even low level BRW skill. The extent of my ability to handle raw Japanese is basically nonexistent; I can recognize a common word here and there (if I'm lucky) and that's about it.

Written on 20 September 2014.
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Last modified: Sat Sep 20 18:04:23 2014
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