Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Best Show of the Spring 2011 Season is...

The Spring 2011 anime season is winding down, and the inevitable debate has begun about the best show of the season.  Considering that the season had more than forty new series, the candidate list is surprisingly small: basically just Ano Hana and Hanasaku Iroha, both of which have vocal proponents.  Denpa Onna started out strong but petered out.  A few fans hold out for Deadman Wonderland, C, The World God Only Knows S2, or Steins;Gate.  However, they're all wrong.  The best show of the Spring 2011 season is... Fireball Charming.

I can hear the cries of outrage already.  How can a two-minute CG-anime starring two very strange robots outshine the moe cuteness of Ano Hano or Hanasaku Iroha, the violence in Deadman Wonderland, or the complexity in Steins;Gate?  The answer is simple.  Fireball Charming is funny, side-splittingly funny.  Its humor isn't based on gross-outs, like Hen Zemi or Yondemasu yo, Azazel-san, or whimsy and nostalgia, like A Channel or Nichijou.  No, the humor is based on sharp dialog, great repartee, and inventive gags.  In short, Fireball Charming is verbally funny.  Each episode is like a miniature 1930's screwball comedy.  I'm an editor, after all, and nothing appeals to me more than great dialog.

I can't comment on the accuracy of gg's translations, but the editing is tight, and the puns and references have been localized with great ingenuity.  The voice acting is superb.  The episodes look great, with high-def CG animation, and they're over in two minutes.  What's not to like?

So if you haven't watched Fireball Charming yet, check it out. You can marathon the whole season in about the amount of time you'd waste on one episode of Naruto Shippuuden.  You have nothing to lose (except, perhaps, your mind).

Monday, June 27, 2011

Do You Need An Editor? I Need A Timer!

Lately, I've been seeing a lot of "want ads" on fansub sites for editors.  This is unusual; editors used to be a dime a dozen.  Now they've become scarce.  Maybe all the English majors have full time jobs at McDonalds?  (Please, no hate mail from the Professional Organization of English Majors, aka POEM.)

As an editor, I've usually worked only on shows I like, but I have my "wants" too.  In particular, I have a backlog of resubbing projects, all of which are characterized by poorly edited subtitles.  The backlog includes:
  • Polished Sub's Nagasarete Airantou.  Here the problem lies with the original fansub subtitles, which show a cheerful disregard for the rules of punctuation and capitalization.
  • ARR's Urusei Yatsura Special.  These subtitles also need substantial reworking.
Unfortunately, bad editing seems to go hand-in-hand with bad timing, and I'm just awful at timing.  I can do it, but I'm slow, and whatever method I'm using must be wrong, because I end up with aching wrists and other ergonomic problems.  Consequently, these projects are proceeding at a snail's pace.  Indeed, my one successful effort at resubbing a series, Hand Maid Mai, only finished because I was able to enlist a real timer to help.

So here's the deal, fansub groups. I'll edit your series, even if I don't like it.  But in return, you have to time my resub projects.  The "exchange rate" is one-for-one: one episode edited for one episode timed.

I'm looking for other skills as well, particularly a translation checker for ARR's Sotsugyousei, which appears to be machine translated, and a translator for two specials from Haruka Naru Toki no Naka de: Hachiyoushou and the three OVAs from Harukanaru Toki no Naka de 2: Shiroki Ryuu no Miko.  But right now, I'll settle for a timer.

Let's make a deal!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Why Johnny Can't Edit

In his blog, my colleague Dark Sage has dissected the editing errors in the Spring 2011 season with precision, humor, and an appropriate degree of outrage. His reviews have made me wonder why editing mistakes are so pervasive in fansubbing, and I’d like to toss out a few hypotheses for discussion.

My first guess is that fansubbing, as a hobby, tends to attract people from technical disciplines rather than the liberal arts. Most of the people I fansub with are in software development, IT, engineering, and so on. Engineers are not known for the quality of their writing. (After all, if they liked writing and were good at it, they’d be English majors, wouldn’t they?) I’ve run many engineering teams over my career, and one of my jobs has always been to correct the written work of team members. However, this hypothesis isn’t sufficient. In my work, I’ve seen bad writing from communications specialists, technical writers, and other professionals. Something deeper is amiss.

More broadly, I’d hazard that the priority of writing skills in the US educational system has declined. Education “reform” has turned our schools into factories for passing standardized tests, which focus on reading and math. The courses that promote good writing skills have been eliminated in budget cuts. The creative writing part of the SATs has become optional. Many colleges no longer require essays as part of the admissions process.

Finally, belief that the rules of composition and grammar actually matter has disappeared. The usage essays of the late William Safire, or the indictment of modern compositional practice in a book such as “Eats Shoots and Leaves,” are treated as humor, irony, or curmudgeonly rants. One doesn’t need to look any further than the promotion of “alright” to acceptable usage to see that editorial laxness is ingrained. In short, no one gives a damn.

I was lucky in my educational experience. Back in the Dark Ages when I went to high school, educators at least gave lip-service to developing students’ talents, as well as drilling them in the basics. As a result, a student with a good academic record had access to electives that were off the beaten track. I used that freedom to learn touch typing (on a manual typewriter – no PCs in those days); I was the only boy in the class. I studied Latin. And I took a class in journalism.

Journalism class was far less about reporting than it was about composition. The focus was on writing: how to write articles that were organized well and easy to comprehend. Journalism taught me about parallel construction, use of the active voice, simplicity of vocabulary, clarity of references, and other techniques that are directly visible in my editing. Combined with the lessons from Latin – proper grammar, sentence parsing, vocabulary – journalism class gave me the foundation I needed for decent composition.

Where will aspiring editors learn these lessons today? Journalism classes are vanishing; indeed, journalism as a profession is on the endangered list. Latin is regarded as a luxury and is rarely taught. I fully understand that Mandarin or Spanish will be more useful in real life than Latin, and that science is better preparation for a viable career than journalism. Still, as a species we depend on communication. How will we fare if understanding drowns in a sea of Internet memes, texting abbreviations, and written trash?

[For those too young to understand the title reference, see this article: Why Johnny Can’t Read.]