Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Subtitles (and why they're more of a pain than you'd think)

Tell me, what is the difference between the following two screencaps?

You might have pointed out how the second screencap has a much cheaper set or maybe the fact that Risako's hair has changed color, but I'll bet a majority of you immediately gravitated to one key difference between these two screencaps from two separate Berryz Koubou PVs. If you said, "Why Nia, that second one has English subtitles!" not only does it prove that you are somewhat fluent in the English language but also that yes, you are still capable of reading! Isn't that great news? You know what was also great news to a lot of Hello! Project fans? When UFP started releasing H!P PVs that had English subtitles. Ah yes, I recall the first H!P PV to have English subtitles was... Brainstorming, non? I remember reading comment after comment from foreign fans all saying how happy and wonderful it was to have the subtitles to follow along with the PV. It was utter bliss for many fans, as everyone frolicked and danced around the English subtitles all while basking in rainbows of happiness. Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating but a lot of people were pretty damn happy when Hello! Project's music videos started getting English subtitles, and not fansubs either. Nope, these were official English translations that had been permanently added to the official PVs that were released on each group's official channel. The whole affair was very official, in case you haven't noticed yet. So naturally, as an English-speaking fan with little to no Japanese language skills, this whole subtitles schtick H!P's got going on should make me happy as a clam. Right?


I'll admit, when the first subtitled PV was released, I kind of let it slide. After all, there were other sources from which I could view that same PV without the subtitles. It was only when the PV for Juice=Juice's Samidare Bijo ga Samidareru came out that I started to get just the teensiest bit irritated. I believe that's partially because unlike Morning Musume, Juice=Juice is an indie group with less media exposure. Hence, the domains that I relied on to upload Momusu videos aired from, say M-ON or Space Shower, videos that were sans subtitles, couldn't do the same for Juice=Juice videos. While I was most certainly miffed about that since I'd wanted to review the PV for Samidare ga Samidareru, I wasn't quite at my tipping point yet. Really, I had no intentions of expanding on my feelings regarding subtitles into an entire post, especially at that time. Why should I? I mean, Chiima already covered the reasons pretty well in one of her own posts reflecting many of the same feelings I currently have. But then went down. For those of you who don't know how effing important this site is to me, it's the one website I can rely on to extract high-quality PVs from a lot of the idol groups I review, beyond just Hello! Project. is the reason I'm able to screencap so many PVs without having to worry about downloading them and taking up more space on my hard drive. The website going down has put quite the damper in how and when I review things, but nonetheless, I am managing. Anyways, just recently, Berryz Koubou's PVs for Golden Chinatown and Sayonara Usotsuki na Watashi have been released with yet again, those bothersome English subtitles, and I feel that I can no longer just ignore acknowledging them. This new trend of subtitled official H!P PVs has been sticking to me like a dull thorn jammed in my abdomen. So instead of doing something, I don't know, productive, I decided I'd do what I do best and write about it! Or bitch about it; really this post is just an excuse for me to vent out my own personal problems with the subtitles that are now a permanent staple of Hello! Project PVs. 

So you might be thinking "What the hell Nia? What's so bad about subtitles? I mean, they're helping you understand the song you're reviewing." Well, I think what gets me so spun up about these subtitles is the fact that I am a reviewer. And I have a very specific way of reviewing idol media. I have my album reviews, my single reviews, and most importantly of all, my PV reviews. Of those three review categories, pop by my Review Index and see which one of them makes of the bulk of my review repertoire. You guys all know how I set up my PV review songs: I review the song, go through a picture-by-picture recap of the PV, then review the PV itself, and give the song and PV some apples. It's a formula I've happily stuck with for several months now since it gives me a nice balance of writing and visual in my reviews. Naturally, I have to have access to PVs to be able to screencap them, which is why it's nice when an idol group has an official channel that releases the full PVs. Uploading them in HD is a bonus but not necessarily required either. So I have this perfect little system going where I wait for full PVs to be uploaded, screencap them, and put those screencaps into my review. And then lo and behold, that whole system is interrupted when one idol franchise decides to start adding permanent subtitles to the very PVs that I screencap. In short, what I'm trying to say is because a third of my PV review relies on the use of visuals to talk about the PV, subtitles are an irritating distraction. It gives me less of an opportunity to be creative with my comments, distracts other readers, and the various subtitles will look highly out of context when strung together under one screencap. What I especially hate about these new subtitles is that there is no off switch for them. UFP could have just used Closed-Captioning (the CC button in the bar below the video) to display the subtitles but no, they are a permanent staple of the PV. A permanent, distracting staple. I wouldn't be complaining if the subtitles were CC'd; I think that's a great compromise, but they're not. English or Japanese, the viewer has no choice about whether he or she wants to look at the subtitles or not because they are permanent.

If I want to know what a song means in English, I'll go look up the lyrics myself. Hell, I can even search for a devoted fan who takes the time to do subtitles themselves, because believe me, there are plenty of fansubs floating around Youtube, especially when it comes to H!P PVs. In fact, I think there are some better translations of H!P songs than the ones that are posted on the official videos. But the fact that I have access to English subtitles if I want them makes the forcing of those same subtitles on the official PVs that I use for screencapping purposes less of a convenience and more of a burden. In my opinion, there is a time and place for when I will personally want or need subtitles. Like if I'm watching foreign film, unless I'm trying to test out my Spanish-speaking abilities, I'm going to want good subtitles. If there's dialogue interspersed between an idol PV (which you get with a lot of AKB48-related PVs) then yes, it'd be nice to know what that dialogue is about via subtitles. If a perfectly normal idol PV that I have no interest in looking into what the lyrics are to said PV at the time of viewing has subtitles...? That's unnecessary. It's kind of like when you have this really efficient cell phone; it gets all your calls through, it gets great connection, it's just a highly functional phone. Then one day someone starts messing with your phone and adds a bazillion little apps that are supposed to help you use your phone but in the end are more of a nuisance than something that really helps you out. I never needed subtitles on H!P PVs, especially when I can find some myself and the fact, that I can't simply click a button to make them go away is a huge inconvenience for me as an idol blogger who relies on the screencaps from those very idol PVs.. And I honestly don't think the English subtitles are on the H!P PVs now for the foreign fans anyways. Through the grapevine that is Tumblr and also knowing just how stingy UFP is, I have a feeling that the only reason those subtitles even exist is to prevent users from downloading the official PV and being forced to buy a single that contains the -gasp- subtitles-less PV. What, did you guys think UFP was actually being considerate to foreign fans? Maybe, but I'd bet my money on the former theory.

As other bloggers have already pointed out, screencapping is a lot more difficult with H!P PVs now because those damn subtitles are distracting. In all honesty, not only do these subtitles bother me as an idol blogger but as a fan of H!P, they bother me too. I think it's just the fact that the viewer's forced to look at them that's getting under my skin. And if UFP's going to so much trouble to put English subtitles on the official PVs, can they not put in just a little more effort into subbing some of the actual videos on H!P channels that need it? Like the videos where the girls are making announcements or promoting events? I'd much rather read the translations for those videos than the PVs. And besides, who said I ever wanted to know what the translation to Samidare Bijo ga Samidareru or Kimi Sae Ireba Nani mo Iranai was? One of the reasons that I got into Japanese pop music wasn't just because I liked the sound but also because I couldn't understand the lyrics. Not being able to know what the song was about forced my mind to concentrate on other aspects of the song like the vocal structure, the instrumentals, the skills of the singers, and so many other aspects that are harder for me to shut out when I'm listening to an English-speaking song. In fact, that was part of the huge appeal of listening to foreign music for me: having to pay attention to only the sounds. Listening to a song in my native language and listening to another song in a foreign language are two alien experiences. I don't know if anyone really notices, but in my reviews, a majority of what I talk about when reviewing the song is only how it sounds. Very rarely do I mention the lyrics, and when I do, it's only when I want to point out a song that has surprisingly good and relatable translated lyrics. So when a J-pop song has silly or just plain stupid lyrics, it's easier for me to ignore those and simply judge the sound. But because these Hello! Project PVs have the translations forcefully slapped onto the PVs, they're harder for me to ignore, especially when I'm simply trying to watch the PV to gather material for my review.  

And honestly... Japanese lyrics don't translate very well to English anyways. Before you track me down and find my house to egg, let me explain.

Look, Japanese is a very complex language with a lot of cultural norms that aren't present in the English language. English is a very complex language with a lot of cultural norms that aren't present in the Japanese language. Can you see the difficulty in trying to translate one of those two languages into the other? I applaud anyone who has the skill and patience to master either one of those two languages, let alone try and translate something from one language into the other. And from what I've noticed, Japanese lyrics just don't translate very fluidly into English. I think that's mainly because the languages are structured so differently with so many different terms and grammatical rules, that it's very hard to have a translation that sounds the same in both languages. I'm not saying the translations are Google Translate levels of atrociousness; most J-pop translations are readable. But often... they simply don't make sense. Look closely at the English lyrics to Samidare Bijo ga Samidareru and I mean really closely. Yes, the translation is legible but half the time the phrases don't make any goddamn sense, nor are they cohesive. You'll get one verse talking about having a lack of confidence and then the next one musing about what shops celebrities go to. Even the lyrics to the famous Love Machine don't make a lot of sense when you put the stanzas back to back. I'm not saying that all translations are going to come out that weird, but for a lot of idol songs, translations just... don't quite sound right. Still not convinced? Okay, I want you to try a little exercise: find an idol song's translation and read it out loud. Doesn't it sound just a little bit off? And I think the reason for that is because English-speaking songs often have a different arrangement of Japanese songs. Just how things are worded in the two separate languages is what makes for such odd-sounding translations. And I'm sure English lyrics translated into Japanese sound just as weird too. So why on earth would I want these strange phrases littered all over a PV that I'm trying to watch?

I'm really in quite a bend with these Hello! Project subtitles. It's like the more I write about them, the more I'm starting to hate them. With down, I really don't know what I'm going to do when it comes to my H!P reviews now. Maybe I'll just have to review the singles more than the PVs. Or I guess I can lurk around and wait for a DL link pop up. I don't know, I just needed to rant about something and these subtitles have been like a mosquito buzzing around my bedroom for the past month. And I know, this is such a minuscule problem; I shouldn't even be complaining about this when there are so many other more substantial things I can write about but argh, I can't get these subtitles off my mind. What I'm worried is that this is what I'm supposed to expect from Hello! Project's official PVs for a long time. I'm not okay with that. And if these subtitles are going to be a long time thing, my head aches of thinking all the shady DL sites I'll have to scour to find PVs without subtitles. So in conclusion, yes, I have a problem with the subtitles on Hello! Project's PVs. Do I think they're going away anytime soon? No. Do I think this little rant is going to make them go away? Absolutely not. But it is nice being able to vent about the subtitles instead of waiting for to come back up and scheming up ways to find subtitles-less H!P PVs now. On the subject of that, I really hope the public Jpopsuki comes back up soon. Like really soon. Only now am I starting to realize just how much I miss having that site around and how many PVs I screencapped on that site. Ah, those were the good ol' days. So... does anyone else feel the same way about these subtitles or am I just in the very small but very frustrated minority? Am I simply making a mountain out of a molehill because I have nothing else better to do in my very sheltered life? Is there something else that I should complain about?


  1. With H!P's subtitles if they sound strange it's probably just because the line was poorly translated rather than because of language differences. That's a little concerning since H!P is paying for these translations.

    1. I kind of figured part of the reason the translations were so awkward might have been because of the translators. Accurate or not, they still annoy me along with the fact that H!P is spending money on them...