AI replaces ‘woke’ TV translators in Japanese art, sparking online debate

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By Dan Sears

Western television and anime localizers have recently come under fire for injecting “woke” language into English dubs not present in the original work, prompting some companies to implement artificial intelligence (AI) as a way of limiting human intervention or to remove them entirely.

The use of AI in the industry is already well underway.

On December 21, the official X account for “The Ancient Magus’ Bride” manga announced it would soon return with a simultaneous internal release in English using AI translation created by the Japanese company Mantra.

In addition, Funimation, an American subscription video-on-demand service for anime, recently merged with the Sony Group Corporation-owned streaming service Crunchyroll.

The company has indicated it will use a “hybrid” AI localization system with humans reviewing and editing the results.

Fans are split on these decisions.

While some argue AI translations lack the authenticity that human translators bring to the table, others have said the move will stop localizers from placing political biases and modern social issues into translations, thus deviating from the original artists’ intent.

Artificial Intelligence translators will be used for English translations. phonlamaiphoto – stock.adobe.com

Max Maybury, a tech enthusiast and co-owner of Ai-Product Reviews, told Fox News Digital that AI in Anime localization promises to make translation processes more efficient and accurate but has caused controversy among creators.

He noted that many critics of human translators have focused on the alleged insertion of progressive viewpoints into these translations when converting from Japanese to English dubs.

“The fear is that AI, driven by certain ideological biases, will tamper with the intent of the original Japanese texts, resulting in a loss of originality and cultural integrity,” he said.

Recently, Katrina Leonoudakis, a professional translator and localization expert who previously worked for SEGA and Funimation, called the adoption of AI in localization “embarrassing” and “disappointing.”

Japanese manga artist Makoto Kobayashi works on his judo manga series on a computer screen in Tokyo. AFP via Getty Images

“Instead of paying a human to do a quality job, they’re using AI to get a mediocre product for free. Is this how little they think of English-speaking audiences? Of translation? For shame,” she said.

Leonoudakis also claimed that machine translation is not yet smart enough to handle television or movies and suggested that audiovisual translators are already “criminally underpaid.”

The salary for those translating and dubbing subtitles can vary wildly depending on the material’s complexity, length and the region in which an individual is employed.

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Employees in the field can expect to make anywhere between $20,000 and $100,000; however, as is the case with many entertainment jobs, the number of positions is limited.

Fans are divided on the decision. local_doctor – stock.adobe.com

Over the last several weeks, some anime fans online rejoiced at the idea of AI taking over the position of localizers, citing numerous examples of botched translations.

“Get your tiny liberal hands away from my fave animes,” one TikTok user said.

“It’s not even mistranslations: it’s blatantly changing it to something that wasn’t there in the first place,” another account chimed in.

In particular, YouTube star Asmongold, who has over 2 million subscribers, slammed localizers for concerns over translation integrity amid the AI debacle, noting that they had previously defended inaccurate translations in the name of artistic creativity.

Some fans believe AI translators will result in more authentic translations. AFP via Getty Images

“They insert woke stuff. They alter the meaning of things to fit with agendas. Well, then they’re not localizers; they’re just liars, right?” he said.

One incident of inaccurate subtitles occurred in February when fans noticed several alterations to the anime adaptation of “My Life as Inukai-san’s Dog.”

In the English version of the series’ second episode, the show’s protagonist calls another character, Mike, a “bimbo.” Such unsavory language was never included in the Japanese original.

It was eventually revealed that Leonoudakis was responsible for the questionable subtitles.

Online critics noted that Leonoudakis had also been a vocal defender of Seven Seas Entertainment’s decisions to change the “I Think I Turned My Childhood Friend Into a Girl” character Hiura Mihate from a feminine male to a transgender female.

Human translators have been criticized for adapting speech to fit agendas. Limitless Visions – stock.adobe.com

Following criticism, Leonoudakis snarkily addressed her critics, writing, “I am (unfortunately) doing some of my finest localization work on the anime about the high school girl who is legitimately sexually attracted to a corgi.”

The post showed examples of when she included English slang not present in the Japanese version of the series, including the terms “yeeted” and “resting b—ch” face.”

However, the most egregious example of altered Japanese works discussed online happened in the English dub of the show “Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid.”

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The much-talked-about moment occurs in the twelfth episode of the first season, titled “Tohru and Kobayashi’s Impactful Meeting! (We’re Raising the Bar on Ourselves),” when Aztec dragon goddess Quetzalcoatl, also known as Lucoa, tries to cover up her body following comments by Tohru.

“The Ancient Magus Bride.” Bushiroad

“Look at these clothes. I made sure to tone down the body exposure,” Lucoa later says in the original manga.

“It would be nice if you could change the body next time,” Tohru responds.

The tone and language of the discussion was kept similar in Kyoto Animation’s animated adaption. Even Seven Seas, whose recent localizations of manga have become controversial, retained the playful personality of Lucoa throughout their version of the series.

But the English dub from Funimation was significantly altered by former scriptwriter Jamie Marchi, who was accused of injecting her “own flavor of feminist virtue signaling.”

In this version, when asked why she changed her outfit, Lucoa says, “Oh, those pesky patriarchal societal demands were getting on my nerves, so I changed my clothes.”

“Give it a week; they’ll be begging you to change back,” Tohru replies.

During an appearance on the Summer SacAnime Convention’s “Women of My Hero Academia” panel, Marchi was asked about the backlash to her interpretation of the source material.

“I have a vagina. Deal with it,” Marchi responded.

“Honestly, that’s the truth,” she added. “I am a woman. I am a funny woman. We are all talented, funny, powerful women. We are out here. It is going to happen. Deal with it. I’m sorry you’re not getting laid. It’s not about you, move on.”

Marchi has continued to defend her work and translations in recent months.

“Why do you rewrite with an agenda? Why are you forcing politics into your writing? Why do you hate men? Why are you racist? Why do you hate the work that you do? Bad faith questions don’t deserve my respect. If you think they do, then I don’t care if you think I’m a bad person,” Marchi wrote in a December 31 post on X.

Marchi would later claim her work is “what happens” when a script is dubbed into a different language, claiming that all the lines inevitably change.

When asked why her dub doesn’t follow the subtitles, she suggested that subtitles will never be as close to the Japanese version as the translation because of “subtitle rules.”

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Marchi said that when a script is changed into a new language, all the lines inevitably change. Limitless Visions – stock.adobe.com

“I had a lot of flaps to fill and pesky patriarchal society filled up the flaps,” she would later write to a critic of the material. “I know you don’t like the word; you’ve made that abundantly clear.”

Marchi has also called critics of her work “misogynist” and “Nazis” and claimed they are only mad about the language change because some are desperate for the approval of “grifters.”

Aviv Digital founder and marketing consultant Vipin Nayar said that while the automation of translation can streamline processes, maintaining “cultural nuances” and avoiding the imposition of biases remains critical.  

“It’s a delicate balance,” Nayar said. ‘The recent backlash against Marchi and other localizers emphasizes the need for transparency and sensitivity in the localization process. As digital platforms continue to evolve, companies need to navigate these controversies with a commitment to authenticity and respect for diverse perspectives.”

Maybury agreed and said the controversy surrounding Marchi has reignited debates about human translators, the potential biases of AI algorithms and the implications of injecting political opinions into translations.

“The online outcry against Marchi and localizers accused of using political language in translations shows how sensitive fans are to preserving original content,” he added. “AI in anime localization can be a mixed bag. It can be effective but also put cultural authenticity at risk. The online outcry against localizers accused of ‘ideological insertions’ highlights the need to balance AI and human expertise to ensure accurate and culturally relevant translations.”

Leonoudakis, Marchi, Asmongold and Sony did not return Fox News Digital’s request for comment. 

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