Oshi no Ko was hyped up as the anime to watch this season, and rightfully so: Episode 1 is a fantastic combination of a faithful adaptation, well written story-telling, and twists and turns that leave viewers desiring more. Unfortunately, the beauty of this episode is marred by the absolute travesty that is HIDIVE's subtitles that were released to pair with it. Let's take a look at why.
Oh, and spoilers for Oshi no Ko episode one. Watch it before reading.
Let's start with the elephant in the room: for some reason, HIDIVE doesn't like to use italics at all. Using an italicized font is industry standards these days to represent inner monologues or thoughts that a character is verbalizing to us, the viewer. Unfortunately, HIDIVE doesn't... really... use italics at all? Which means that for every inner monologue that we get during the entirety of the episode (of which there are plenty), unless you're picking up on context clues, can see whether or not the characters' lips are moving, or can link it together after the fact, the viewer is unsure of whether or not lines are being said out loud or not. This creates very awkward moments when the children are thinking to themselves (since, you know, they can do that without being sus), or when Gorou is talking to himself after realizing that Ai is visiting his hospital. Is he verbalizing his thought processes out loud? Is he outing her? If you're just reading the subtitles - who knows!
I cannot stress how much of a problem this is throughout the show. There is so much internal monologuing happening by characters during their respective chapters that it is laughable that HIDIVE thought that getting away with no italics for this series would be acceptable.
Of course, the problems don't end with just "no italics, subtitles bad". Rather, the entire script is littered with typos, bad editing, bad writing, and even bad translations. Since the episode is 90 minutes long, we don't really have time to go over each and every instance of this (since some of it is personal preference), but let's go over some highlights. Here's a good typo for you:
It's not like the imagery of Hoshino Ai and stars has important meaning. I'm sure it isn't important she's got stars in her eyes. I'm sure that her name, which literally translates to "Starry Eyes" (amongst other meanings) means nothing. The fact that HIDIVE fumbled the ball so hard on one of the most impactful metaphors for this show should give you a good idea of the quality of the rest of the script.
And it doesn't take long for this to be evident. Our first questionable translation comes 16 seconds into the show, as the protagonist says "都合の悪い部分はきれいに隠す". The original manga puts emphasis on the きれい part of this sentence, highlighting that word as "cleanly", "neatly", or even "beautifully", hiding the inconvenient/bad/messy parts (都合の悪い部分). The show's early premise is on how the idol industry focuses on creating a beautiful being of worship on the backbone of lies, and appearances and the imagery of "perfection" plays a big part of this. The juxtaposition of "messy parts" with "well-kept/clean image" is what matters here.
So of course, we get the following translation:
Thoroughly? That's not what the emphasis on the きれい meant, that it was a "thorough concealment", not just a run-of-the-mill casual concealment... Gone is the original notion of caring about cleanliness, we're just trying to conceal stuff now - but just anything that's "inconvenient". When reading this line, you don't get any of the play of the original manga or the original Japanese. The official translation of the manga did this line better, by calling it how they "hide their dirty little secrets".
Fast forward a literal 47 seconds to this line, where the assistant calls out our protagonist for playing an Idol DVD (アイドルのDVD), with the word アイドル very clearly said by the voice actress, and yet we get this line:
Because the problem is that no media consumption is allowed at all, of course. The original Japanese line is specifically calling out the fact that the protagonist is playing an idol DVD, but that is curiously lacking from the subtitles here.
Look, this may sound like "old man yells at subtitles", but a) I'm not old, and b) these kinds of translation choices can and will hamper someone's enjoyment of the show. It's Aka Akasaka writing, we should know by now that wordplay and word choice are very important. Nothing here is going to make it so that you have a completely inverted understanding of what's happening in the show, but for a show of this quality, it deserves better, and we should expect better.
There are plenty more of these minor translation mishaps, but the most memorable one (for me) might be near the end of the episode, where Miyako asks Ruby if they'd like to be taken in by her family:
The line here is 本当にうちの子になりませんか？, which is what the translated line above says... if you're using a really literal translation and vanilla use of the term うちの子. The actual line isn't really Miyako asking if the kids want to become her children, it's asking if the kids want to become their family. The line after this ("After all, Ai-san will always be your only mother, and you don't need to think of me as your mother...") makes significantly more sense if the first line properly reflects this as a familial outreach more than it is a strict mother-child-relationship. It's also worth noting here that this is less about Miyako asking if they want to become her kids, but speaking on behalf of both her and her husband.
Ok, some last couple of translation venting before we get to the other side of this script's problems, the editing/word choice things. First off, in the section where Miyako is asking the kids about what her "punishment" would be if she goes against God's will, and is asking in more concrete/specific terms what it would be, the kids just say 死ぬ, or that she'd die. The entire joke is that, compared to all the complex verbiage and everything else the kids have been saying, the fact that the specifics of her punishment is just "you die" is extremely jarring. Of course, we get:
Which is way too cute and archaic for the joke here. This over-translation ends up completely killing (err, perishing) the joke for viewers. One last translation thing (though there's plenty more we don't have time to get into), a logic error where the tense of the sentence is completely wrong, when Aqua is asking Ruby if she's like him, having reincarnated and all:
Because you totally know what your fate is going to be and that's it's shared. It should be "did you share the same fate as me" or something similar to that regard, because he's asking if the mechanisms that brought her here are the same, not if their future fate together is the same.
Separate from translation quirks and concerns, there's plenty of editing choices that had me distraught from very early on. Consider capitalization inconsistencies with using titles as replacement for names:
Or some inconsistencies when it comes to numbers:
What's probably happening here is that HIDIVE's style guide is following the "spell out numbers if they appear at the start of sentences" rule, but here's the secret: a lot of the time, that rule is commonly paired with the recommendation to rewrite sentences to avoid numbers at the start of sentences, which isn't happening here. The end result is dialogue that uses two character sequences (16 and Sixteen) to refer to the same concept, a sign of a poorly edited and poorly written script.
We've also got lines that are very obviously questions but don't have a question mark:
A chain of ", and"s:
And some minor editing things, too:
All of these probably take a backseat to the biggest problem of the script, which is just... the writing is bad. I don't know if it's the translator or the editor, but there's some weird aversion to using contractions in a lot of sentences, which means that there's lines that just read weird.
Actually, it's not just the contractions. There's plenty of other lines that read like run-on sentences, that just aren't natural things for people to say, or otherwise just don't make sense. A lot of the times, these run-on sentences feel like they're byproducts of trying to follow Japanese sentence structure way too closely, at the cost of readability/making things sounds natural.
Actually, that whole "too attached to the Japanese" thing might actually be what's happening here. Some lines are awkwardly written because the original Japanese dialogue uses an English word in them and they're trying to forcefully fit it in, or that it's trying to be too parallel to the Japanese line. The whole "numbers at the beginning of the sentence" from before probably stems from the fact that the original Japanese also had numbers to start its sentence. Or take the following line, used for "またタイムリーな..."
It's not a bad line, but the line "Talk about timing..." or something similar is way more natural. This also happens for the doctor talking about his "practical plan" (called a 現実的なプラン in the original Japanese), which is less egregious but still slightly out of place. Hey, at least they didn't translate スタイル as style!
The net result, however, is a script that feels stilted and clunky. It doesn't really work to give any of the characters life, and just ends up feeling like you're enjoying the show in spite of the subtitles. It's a disappointing release.
Translating stuff and writing subtitles is hard! Maybe part of what went wrong is that episode 1 was 90 minutes and the translation team was rushed to get it done. But for a series as popular as this (that anyone with a pulse would have been able to tell you that it would be this popular), it honestly deserves better. Look at how popular the show is on MAL—as of writing this, #1 on the Top Anime charts with a rating of 9.32 out of 10—and tell me that subtitles of this quality (or lack thereof) are acceptable for a show of that moniker and prestige. I don't think you can.
(And before you get into my mentions about how fansubs would save this show - no fansubbing content allowed on fansubbing.com, okay?)
1. Ok, they silently fixed this after the initial release. But c'mon, really? How did this pass QA?
2. They also patched this, too, but again - how is an error like this getting through in a professional-grade release? Also, gonna need some patch notes from HIDIVE soon with all these edits.