Whether it’s a cartoon TV series from Japan or an animated feature from the U.S., animated content is a huge industry around the world. With streaming media services like Netflix and Hulu, there are new distribution outlets allowing for more animated content and wider reach.
This accessibility brings with it an international set of challenges and needs to be met. What many may not know is that when watching a foreign animated film or show, a great deal of care has been put into adapting the animation for that particular market.
In this blog we will share some fun examples of animation localization around the world and explore the key things to know about localizing animation.
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Localization, covered in a previous blog, incorporates the specific cultural and local references of a region and adapts the content to reach that target audience. Disney-Pixar films are beloved throughout the world and they’re known for their strong storytelling and meticulous animation. This attention to detail is also applied towards their localization process. For example, can you tell the difference between the two images below from the film “Inside Out”?
As you can probably tell, the vegetable on the left is broccoli, which the main character refuses to eat and is a vegetable that many American children loathe. In Japan, however, that’s not the case. In fact, many Japanese children love to eat broccoli, but many detest the dreaded green bell pepper (ピーマン, piman). Thus for the scene to make sense in Japan, the animators replaced broccoli with green bell pepper.
Here’s another example from the film “Up”:
Instead of translating “Paradise Falls” into multiple languages, the team used a sketch of “Paradise Falls” for the international version of the film. This was a clever way to save time and money while also getting the story across regardless of the language.
When localizing for certain languages, the localization may affect the action that happens on screen. For example, in another scene from “Inside Out”:
Bing Bong, the pink imaginary friend, uses his trunk to spell out DANGER from left to right. However, certain languages like Hebrew (pictured above) are read from right to left. Thus the animators had to animate the movement of Bing Bong’s trunk moving from right to left as he spelled out DANGER in Hebrew (סכנה).
(Note: Stills pulled from Oh My Disney‘s comparison video.)
…that is the question. As you can see from the above examples, localization encompasses not just translation but also adapting the titles and visuals on screen. However, it can be argued that there are certain aspects of an animated work that, if localized, may lose it’s original appeal. For example, many fans were not happy when the beloved Doraemon anime was localized for Western audiences, see if you can spot the differences below (pictures from tofugu):
The anime takes place in Japan and Doraemon fans felt that switching from chopsticks to forks and Japanese yen into American dollars would confuse audiences and also water down the appeal of the original. However, these fans, who’re most likely already familiar with Japanese culture and anime, may not be the main demographic intended for the localized version of the anime. Doraemon is a kids’ show and in general the average child growing up in America would be more familiar with forks than chopsticks, American dollars than Japanese yen.
Another disputed example, common in Japanese to English animation localization, is the translation of “tanuki” to raccoon. Tanukis are Japanese raccoon dogs that are prevalent in Japanese folklore and look surprisingly like raccoons, though they belong to completely different animal families (tanukis are of the canidae [dog] family, raccoons are of the procyonidae family). Japanese consider tanukis as mischievous and playful, similar to how Americans regard raccoons. Americans do not have the same cultural connection to tanukis as the Japanese, but the similar relationship with raccoons (those rascally bandits) could explain the translation.
The decision whether to localize certain content or not is also affected by a myriad of other factors outside of cultural considerations such as budgets, deadlines, technical issues, etc… It’s a tricky balancing act, but it’s something that the creator and localization team should discuss in detail so that the content doesn’t lose it’s original essence, while also making sure it’s as accessible as possible.
For animation localization, aside from adapting the onscreen text and visuals, a huge component is dubbing the animation into a target audience language. Though some prefer subtitling over dubbing to hear the original voice acting, many young children may not have the reading skills or the patience to read subtitles when watching a cartoon. Dubbing allows children to experience the animated content with more ease and enjoyment.
During the localization process, the animation script is adapted and recorded to better fit the target language, which can lead to some interesting, hilarious choices. In the Latin American Spanish version of Lilo & Stitch, at 7:00 in the video below, when told to go to her room by her older sister, instead of Lilo responding, “I’m already in my room!” (English version), she says:
“¡¡Adivina donde estoooooy!!” = “Guess where I aaaaam!”
In addition to adding another level of performance to the story, dubbing can also be a great way for children living in multilingual households in America to learn and maintain their heritage language. Cartoons dubbed in another language help kids associate the language with something fun and cool, instead of just their parents.
As we can see, animation is a diverse, growing medium that is prime for localization. Deciding on what to localize and how to adapt the recording script for a target audience takes careful research, planning, and acknowledging that there’s no 100% right or wrong answer. The main work of localization is to remove language and cultural barriers so that target audiences are better able to understand and enjoy the story. The effort is well worth it: localized versions of the cartoons mentioned above have reached millions of international viewers and have also increased studio profits exponentially. For a studio to share their animated stories across the world, localization is the way to go.
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