Ninja Warrior’s Subtitles

“Ninja Warrior” and “Women of Ninja Warrior” known in Japan as “Sasuke” and “Kunoichi” respectively, are competition shows taken from Japan where men and women compete to complete increasingly difficult obstacle courses to prove their ninja prowess. And as anyone who’s seen these shows on G4 in America know, most of the program is Japanese language subtitled into English. For anyone who knows a bit of Japanese though, you might have noticed that the subtitles are never 100% accurate or really even 70% accurate, with parts of sentences being dropped and even entire sentences being left out entirely.

Watching subtitled anime all the time, others like me may be wondering why they do their subtitles this way, but when you realize that most viewers of G4 don’t know any Japanese and are probably not used to reading words at the bottom of the screen, their decision to simplify and omit certain parts makes a lot more sense. First, they probably don’t want the subtitles to be too distracting, and second, if you’re unfamiliar with subtitles it can be a hassle to keep up with them, especially because the Ninja Warrior announcer speaks rather quickly and will load his sentences down with humorous descriptions of the contestants. To just be able to get the gist of what’s going on is more important, especially when they want your eyes focused on the guy dressed like Amuro Ray falling into cold and muddy water.

The funny thing is that this is how subtitles used to be. If you go back and watch old movies, they had to simplify a lot so that people could keep up with them while still paying attention to the films themselves. The desire for perfectly accurate subtitles is probably a minority, especially when you realize that not very many people would even be able to notice if the translation was a little off.

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4 thoughts on “Ninja Warrior’s Subtitles

  1. When I watched the show with my Japanese speaking friend, he did clue me in to how wrong the subs are, and I’ve noticed it sometimes myself even with my limited JP skill. I’ve never cared much, though, because Ninja Warrior isn’t a show who’s dialogue really matters, lol.

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  2. Good point about the subtitle simplification. I also like the way they do it. Subtitles in fansubbed anime are so complicated when compared to other subtitled media out there. It’s understandable why the Average Joe (who, as you said, isn’t accustomed to subtitles) finds fansubs a turn-off. Combine it with foreign words in the subtitles and non-standard colors and typography and you’ve got one giant mess. No wonder the Average Joe has difficulty getting into anime with fansubs.

    One balance between distracting on-screen text and expensive dubbing that I rarely see used is the “narrator.” On a public broadcasting station in Spain, I’ve seen a small number of foreign programmes that are translated by a narrator. You can still hear the voices of the foreign actors, but they are slightly muted to allow for a single narrator to speak their lines. It’s like an audiobook come to life. I was really impressed the first time I saw this, since I could hear the expressions and tones in the actors’ voices, and I didn’t need to read any text to understand what was going on. This is probably also inexpensive to produce, since only one narrative voice is used. It won’t work for all varieties of shows, but I’m surprised it is not seen more often in foreign programmes.

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