Love Damage: The Viz Video Girl Ai Lie Reports

The Viz Video Girl Lie DVD coverAs you've probably gathered by now, there's a lot of anime I enjoy, but the one I love the most has proven to be Video Girl Ai. Viz Video licenced the OVAs for North American release in 1998 and released them in 1999 on three sub or dub VHS tapes (which is a really poor move for a six-episode series, but Viz has always been terrible for that). I was looking forward to seeing my favourite series get a legitimate treatment. Sadly, that sense of elation got dashed pretty hard when I heard how Viz's Trish Ledoux heavily over-Americanized rewriting of the script for the dub changed a lot about the story and its characters--and not at all for the better--and heard about and saw how the subtitle script kept some of the worse rewrites of the dub script. When Viz announced after that that production was starting for the Region 1 DVD (Exhibit G, pictured on the right), I petitioned them to redo the subtitle script to be more literal for the DVD (and to proofread the script carefully and not use hard subtitles for song lyrics), and over 600 people signed it. I mailed printouts of the signatures to the people at Viz Video and Pioneer (who were manufacturing and distributing their DVDs at the time). I was told by a connection there that they were working on cleaning up the translations. And what did Viz do? The captions on the rice omelettes at the beginning of the second episode were changed to indicate that they actually show Youta and Ai's names. That's all. The translations of the dialogue remain "Working Designs, part Ledoux" and, to add insult to injury, all the song lyrics are hardsubbed--yes, including the ones that play during scenes in the actual episode. They essentially told every North American fan of Video Girl Ai that their wishes mean nothing at all to them. At that point I decided to boycott Viz Video and actively encourage others to do so (and I'm still doing both to this day). I still buy some of Viz Comics' titles, but (A) not Video Girl Ai, and (B) the ones I do buy (basically Evangelion when it comes out, and planned GNs for the stories that were in progress in Pulp when it folded) have translations that aren't so glaringly bad.

People on the rec.arts.anime.misc newsgroup have asked me just why I go on about this so much (to the point of including it in my .sig file, and replacing it only with a line celebrating my mother's memory), and the only quick answers I've really been able to give them there are the obvious ones--switching "I'm Ai Amano. Pleased to meet you" to "The name's Ai, Video Girl at large," and dropping references to Drano and the movie The Full Monty that most definitely weren't there to begin with. When the DVD was still in production, I got ahold of copies of the Viz sub and dub VHS tapes, the fansub scripts based on Donovan Floyd AKA Dallas Operator 7G's translations (which are available here, in Jacosub format), and highly detailed fan translations of the first five manga chapters written by Ka-Ping Yee (and I was surprised by how much of the dialogue in the anime was exactly the same as the manga in these chapters). The site which originally housed those is long gone, so here's a zipped file with all of them (in .euc format). All of these files are easily legible in WordPad (and presumably any other decent text viewer), and monospaced fonts like Courier New are recommended.for reading them.

With all these in place, I started compiling reports about the discrepencies I found in translations. The ones for dub episodes #1 and #2 were intended for an earlier planned version of this website. The one for sub episode #1 was sent to a connection at Viz to be passed on to the relevent people (for all the good it did), hence the different format and tone. Those are all I originally wrote before I quit to save some semblence of sanity, and all I plan to write. I don't want to get any angrier than I already am, or to burn myself out on the series.

Before I hand out the reports, a few notes:

1.  I am perfectly aware that Japanese-to-English translation is not a very exact science, and that both have expressions and words for which there are no immediate equivalent in the other language. That's why I am going to try not to be too nit-picky in my evaluations, and will occasionally cut Viz some slack; by the same token, if I spot something in the fansub script that is obviously wrong, I will say so. If I don't comment on some line, it's because I feel it was handled well by Viz, or didn't find any difference between the two worth commenting on.

2.  I cannot read, speak or transcribe spoken Japanese myself, so I had to depend on the resources I had to work with. However, if anybody out there who can do these things does spot any other major discrepancies or can set me straight on others, I would appreciate it if you were to contact me (mind the spamtrap) and let me know about them.

3.  I know that fan translations are not canonical (few anime translations are, actually; those would be the ones available on Japanese LD and DVD releases), given what I pointed out in item #1. However, given the fact that Viz's translations obviously play fast and loose far more than the fan translations do, I feel that I can still use the fansub scripts as a reasonable measuring standard (until someone who chooses to take me up on point #2 can shed some more light).

4.  Comparisons are made of the Viz videotapes against the fansub scripts in another window of the word processor. Easier to manage, and I don't have to watch both the tapes right after the other. Don't want to get sick of Video Girl Ai quite yet dB).

Yeah, yeah, enough lead-in, here are the reports:

Dub Episode #1
Dub Episode #2
Sub Episode #1

If you feel as PO'ed about these (mis)treatments as I do, write a proper letter (company execs take those much more seriously than E-mail) to Viz head honcho Toshifumi Yoshida. If they've also got you angry enough to not buy it and/or any of their other "Trished" videos, tell him so in no uncertain terms; company heads can plug their ears and shut their eyes, but when you hit them in the pocketbook, they feel it. The address:

Viz Media
295 Bay Street
San Francisco, CA
USA 94133

Before I wrap this up, some have wondered why I don't just drop this issue. There are two big reasons:

1.  Trish Ledoux continues to deface translations of Viz Video's titles; most notably, one of their recent titles, Trouble Chocolate. Each episode ends with a computer monitor scrolling text of a phrase from the Book of Summoning Spells (from the series) which serves as a sort of moral of the preceding episode. Trish's "English adaptation" not only put overlays over top of the original Japanese text, but changed the text completely:

Episode 1:
VIZ:  If love is the answer, could you please rephrase the question?--Lily Tomlin
FANSUB:  A life without love is equal to death.
Episode 2:
VIZ:  We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.--George Bernard Shaw
FANSUB:  History is made while you sleep.
Episode 3:
VIZ:  Who, being loved, is poor?--Oscar Wilde
FANSUB:  Become a rival with the transfer student.
Episode 4:
VIZ:  Never eat more than you can lift.--Miss Piggy
FANSUB:  One who does not work, should not eat; one who did not eat, cannot work.

Pretty bad, huh? Nobody's said anything about the dialogue translations that I can find yet, but, given the above, I'm not going to trust that they're any good. She has since also gone on to equally deface other people's work at other companies, most notably the Negima manga at Del Ray (whose manga division is headed by Dallas Middaugh, a former Viz employee). As if Peter David's destruction of the original nuances that made the story stand out a bit for the first four volumes wasn't bad enough, she and Toshifumi Yoshida (also from Viz, and also Trish's husband/partner) have been brought on to Californicate it from volume 6 onwards.

2.  Several anime companies who have made mistakes in the production of their DVDs have gone back and fixed them, and (in the case of major glitches) even set up exchange programs for customers who bought the bad versions. These include ADV Films, CPM, AnimEigo and Right Stuf (whose positive response to a faulty Irresponsible Captain Tylor TV series DVD just a few days after the fans complained to them was extremely--and wonderfully--surprising). I can find no reason why Viz Video can't go back and fix the Video Girl Ai subtitle script (and can those hardsubs and restore the Japanese voice actors' credits while they're at it). Surely they have enough resources to do so, thanks to that enormous cash mouse known as Pikachu.

There you have it. If you're going to get mad, get mad at the people who can possibly do something to put things right and make it count towards something positive.

Legal Spiel: This website is in no way affiliated with Viz Video or anybody involved with the creation or production of Video Girl Ai. It is strictly the feelings and findings of a devoted (and very disappointed) fan.

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