Over the weekend, Netflix added FUNimation’s adaptation of Attack on Titan to their service. As one would expect, calls were made everywhere, from Reddit to micro-blogging site tumblr, for everybody who hasn’t seen the show to drop what they were doing and to get their asses over Netflix. Now. As in five minutes ago. It didn’t matter that the show was subtitled-only at this point. People wanted everyone to just go and watch, damn it!
…Why are you still here? Oh, right! The article!
As the news broke that Attack on Titan was on the popular streaming service, users were elated. Heaps of five-star reviews flooded the show’s landing page, and praise for both Netflix and FUNimation began to roll in on social media. New users clamored to experience the show, while veterans gleefully started their second (or third!) time through.
Within 24 hours of the show’s first addition, though, more established fans began to cite concerns. The show was fantastic, and the translation worked decently enough, something felt “off” to them. The content was still fantastic, though, and the overwhelming praise muted concerns and criticisms. Instead, these voices of concern gathered in quiet corners of the web to discuss their concerns.
The first shot
Within twenty-four hours of the show’s addition to Netflix, we saw an eruption on social media. The first rumblings began on tumblr, before rippling out out other networks. Suddenly, the jubilation was split, and the voices of dissent were heard loudly and clearly. “I’m sorry, but” was posted to tumblr by user brendanpinsky, which was accompanied by a screenshot from a scene where the characters were discussing the show’s signature gadget, the 3D Maneuver Gear. In FUNimation’s translation, this was changed to “Omni-Directional Mobility Gear.”
Suddenly, across tumblr, across Facebook and Twitter, frantic posts began to pop up, highlighting changes to character names and to organizations within the show’s universe. Suddenly, Hange Zoe was named “Hanzi”, and Jean Kirstein was being referred to as “John.” The show’s key organization, the Survey Corps, was now the Scouting Regiment. Others began to point out segments where dialogue was perceived to be toned down. Armin’s poetic introductions suddenly became blunt, and Eren’s fiery pledge to kill all Titans became a muted desire to “drive them out,” instead. Others began to post accusations of content being removed from the episodes entirely.
Suddenly, to a growing core of fans, FUNimation and Netflix were pariahs. They were being mentioned with the same caustic tone that one would reserve for people that kick puppies, or push the elderly down flights of stairs. Across social media, we began to see calls for users to watch on Crunchyroll, to watch on Hulu, to do anything but support the Netflix release if it could be helped.
FUNimation’s reaction to the entire situation has been, well, to keep going as if nothing’s happened at this point. The company actually never mentioned that Attack on Titan even hit Netflix via their official channels. And, as the complaints rolled in, they’ve maintained a steady policy of radio silence on the matter. No official statements have been made, and no comments were given on the situation. We’ve reached out to our contacts at FUNimation, but were unable to secure an answer as of press time.
The path they’re taking is a double-edged sword, though. In Dave Kerpen’s Likeable Social Media, an example similar to this was highlighted as a case study. However, instead of an anime series that’s been re-translated and toned down in dialogue, we had a poorly chosen advertisement that rightfully rustled the jimmies of moms everywhere. In 2008, Motrin ran a new advertisement to celebrate International Baby Wearing Week. The advert, which touted the tagline “we feel your pain”, was a passive-aggressive advertisement, which gleefully stated “Wearing your baby seems to be in fashion,” and that wearable baby slings “totally make[s a mother] look like an official mom.”
As one would expect, the advertisement was received as well as a flaming bag of dog feces. Influential parent bloggers sprung into action, organizing outraged moms on Twitter with the hashtag #motrinmoms. Calls for boycotts and pledges to quit using Motrin’s products were rampant, but Motrin stood silent. Even when an apology was issued, it was something that didn’t feel genuine. The words rang hollow, and everything was presented as if it were run through some committee five times over before it had hit the market. By the time the apology was released, the damage was done, and the insincere apology seemed to do more harm than good.
Sound familiar? Good!
Frankly, the utter silence on the matter reeks of the Motrin Moms case in 2008. People are demanding answers, they’re demanding information and resolution on this. They want to know why the changes were made, why things were toned down, or why characters are suddenly named differently. They want to know what led to such drastic changes from the Crunchyroll scripts they had used for the show. And, had FUNimation used this as an opportunity for dialogue, we could have seen a lot of the annoyance subside. In that case, they’d be managing the problem, and taking control of the message. They’d be in a good position to counter knee-jerk anger with real, substantive answers on the “why” and “what” went into the translation, and the changes that were made.
But, unfortunately, we received radio silence. And this lack of communication on the matter is allowing the core of angry customers to grip the narrative by the horns. Every minute that passes that we don’t hear at least something from FUNimation on the matter is a minute that this group can use to poison the well on FUNimation’s release of the show.
Now, we can easily argue that Attack on Titan’s situation isn’t of the same magnitude of the Motrin Moms debacle. They didn’t anger a gigantic swath of the market with callous and insensitive commentary that bordered on the offensive. Quite frankly, the matter, at its most atomic, boils down to “the new subtitle script sucks.”
Still, to not answer the growing crowd of angry customers is a risky proposition for any marketer. Frankly, such anger is typically sparked by intense passion for a product or franchise. The most active players in this current situation are the invested customers. They’re the ones that go out and lay down hundreds of dollars on cosplay gear, on toys, on art books and manga. They’re the ones that aren’t only excited about the series, they’re excited to support it with their greenbacks.
Comments and Conclusion
Personally, I’m not thrilled with FUNimation’s translation for the show. What I’ve watched felt far less lively and engaging from what was previously streamed on other providers, to the detriment of the overall experience. The name changes and alterations to established terms felt both arbitrary and pointless in many cases, and the dialogue felt like it lacked flavor in numerous cases. In short, it felt utilitarian. It got the job done, and it conveyed the point, though much of the flavor of conversations was missing.
It’s not something that will hurt my opinion of the show itself, which is still fabulous. Likewise, it’s not something that will deter me from purchasing the show down the line, as it’s one that I feel is worth supporting from my pocket. Still, it is something that does affect the overall feel and flow of the show, which can diminish the experience for viewers.
I can understand exactly why people are upset, and why people are responding so vocally. FUNimation’s silence on the matter creates the impression that they are ignoring the pleas of the market. I don’t doubt that an answer will come in the near future, but the clock is ticking. It’s only a matter of time before potential customers begin to back away from the product.
Note: I’m not going to comment on the accusations of removed content, as I was unable to verify this personally. However, this is something that I do take incredibly seriously, and will try to follow up on during the week. We’re in an age where this sort of thing simply should not happen anymore, and I will be happy to call this out if it is indeed the case.
Update: 2/8/2014: It appears that there have been tweaks made to the translation since this article ran. Jean is no longer “John”, Hanji is now “Hange”, a few other tweaks have been made to the script. Omni-Directional Maneuver Gear is with us to stay, though. After watch of the series on Netflix, I could not confirm any missing footage, so I’ll have to mark this bit as a group of people capitalizing on the whole kerfuffle of the time.