Note: I’m not writing this as a hit piece on Funimation, the script writer, or dubs in general. I’m only writing to analyze the place of dubs and adaptive scripting. I don’t condone harassment of any sort and this shouldn’t be taken as me having anything against the people involved with the dub.
Funimation’s dub of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid has generated a lot of controversy these past few weeks. Not because of the acting, which is decent quality, but because of the script rewrites. Adaptive scripting for dubs is nothing new and isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but Maidragon had a couple of changes that went too far. The one that’s gotten the most attention was from a scene late in the series where Lucoa comes to visit Tohru. Here’s the original line:
Tohru: “What’s with that outfit?”
Lucoa: “Everyone was always saying something to me, so I tried toning down the exposure. How is it?”
Tohru: “You should try changing your body next.”
Here’s the dub version:
Tohru: “What are you wearing that for?”
Lucoa: “Oh those pesky patriarchal societal demands were getting on my nerves, so I changed clothes.”
Tohru: “Give it a week, they’ll be begging you to change back.” (source)
Notice the difference? The original version of the line is a quick joke about Locoa’s sex appeal. It’s not a particularly significant line and it’s far from the anime’s funniest joke, but it’s perfectly fine. The dub version changes it to a feminist commentary on beauty standards and the contradictory expectations put on women. I don’t have a problem with feminism or feminist criticism, but that line is forced, doesn’t fit the characters at all, and inserts a message that wasn’t present in the original. Lucoa is supposed to be ditzy and clueless. Having her suddenly start talking about feminist theory is jarringly out of place and completely inconsistent with the rest of her character. It’s a case of adaptive scripting going way too far.
That said, dubs having script rewrites is nothing new and isn’t a big deal on its own. Japanese and English are radically different languages with radically different structures. A line that sounds natural in Japanese might sound stilted or awkward in English, and almost certainly wouldn’t fit the lip flaps. Humor also often requires rewrites, since puns and cultural references rarely translate well. Some of the best dubs out there (Cowboy Bebop, Fullmetal Alchemist, Steins;Gate) have a lot of rewrites to keep the dialogue flowing naturally while still conveying the same meaning as the original Japanese. The goal of a dub should be to give the audience a similar experience to what the Japanese audience would have gotten. Sometimes that requires staying faithful to the original, sometimes that requires rewrites to make the dialogue flow better. Adaptive scripting is a necessary part of producing good dubs. Without it, you’d get awkward sounding dubs like Garzey’s Wing.
The problem with Maidragon’s dub is that it isn’t conveying the work itself, it’s conveying the script writer’s interpretation of the work. You see the same thing with an earlier scene that turned Kobayashi saying “But I’m a girl.” in response to Tohru declaring her love to Kobayashi saying “I’m not into girls or dragons.” The former is just a common yuri trope that doesn’t mean much of anything, while the latter is a straightforward rejection. In a show with such heavy lesbian subtext that intentionally kept the core relationship somewhat ambiguous, adding a more direct statement about the leads’ relationship completely changes the meaning of the entire show, which is something that a dub should never do. Instead of having an ambiguous relationship where they could be lovers or just close friends, the dub forces them into an explicitly platonic relationship. The writer justified it on twitter by saying that speaking in an active voice suits Kobayshi’s character better, but that’s missing the significance of the Japanese line and going beyond what an adaptive script writer should be doing. Dub script writers should focus on conveying the original dialogue in a way that sounds natural and makes sense to an English speaking audience. It’s not their job to provide their own interpretation of a character, especially if it requires diverging from the original dialogue.
Now, does this mean all Funimation dubs are bad? No. Funimation has produced a lot of great dubs and even their newest work is pretty good quality. This is just an isolated incident of adaptive scripting gone too far.