The way I see it, any work of art in any medium that needs to be translated is in danger of straying from the creator’s intent. Therefore, a translator who prepares something for mass consumption needs to be fluent in both languages, conversant in both cultures, familiar with the artist’s background as well as any historic or societal references within the work, and on top of that have a good artistic appreciation of their own. They cannot be too careful or too meticulous in trying to capture the essence of the original work faithfully and artistically.

Those who translate anime commercially, for dubbing especially but frequently for subtitling as well, are, unfortunately, none of these things, or at least few enough of them that the outcome is the same. I can say nothing for their dedication to the work, not knowing them personally, but their abysmal products are evidence enough that something is not quite adding up. What I assume goes on is a constant rush to meet deadlines (in order to sell! sell! sell!) that results in careless or ignorant translation, unnatural English dialogue, misinterpretation of character and theme, dumbing-down or even outright pointless alteration of scripts and story, and an overall product that is shoddy at best and downright nauseating at worst.

They also seem to assume that watchers will be either too stupid to pick up nuances of a different culture, or too lazy to make the effort. While this in large part may be true, pandering to the lowest common denominator by clumsy attempts to replace aspects of one culture with those of another rather than educating the viewer about them is not only destructive to the intent with which the work was created but insulting to those who are capable of learning and willing to do so. In the same vein, some translators seem to make choices based on the most absurd speculations about their audience; to name just one, that viewers will become confused if the number of syllables in spoke dialogue don’t match up from Japanese to English, resulting in added words or awkward phrasing to force a fit.

And that’s just the translating aspect of it. The same capitalistic drive that deters from a methodical, accurate, and artistic translation causes the same companies to hire the cheapest, and therefore necessarily the least talented, voice-actors they can possibly find. Realizing that the public will buy anything, that the true push comes from the marketing department, not QA, they have no reason whatsoever to make an effort for quality in their dubbing. While sometimes larger companies (though I personally have found only Disney to be up to snuff in this area) have a wider pool of talent to choose from and are willing to spring for it, they seldom do so… tolerable dubs such as Princess Mononoke are few and far between.

The other drawback to dubbing is that it’s yet another step away from the creator’s intent, which has already been filtered by the translator even after whatever it went through back in Japan to reach the public in the first place. Every voice actor is going to have their own opinion, their own interpretation, not only about their individual character (or characters, as these desperate companies don’t have any qualms about using the same actor for three or four or five different roles), but about the work as a whole — and as the director of the project, who, even if they are not in fact the original creator, must have a good eye for the basic and advanced intents, is obviously not there, there is no guiding voice to retain cohesion of theme and feeling.

Having said so much about artistic integrity and the importance of remaining as close as possible to the spirit of a work as the artist originally intended it, there’s very little I need to say about editing. It’s simply an insult to everyone involved, the creator most of all. Culture clash is the basis for most anime editing, but while it’s an understandable desire, for example, to make what is considered suitable for children in the mature east suitable for children in the stodgy west, the insult of hacking someone’s work to pieces and reconstructing it however you please is not lessened by the fact that you can’t turn a profit without catering to a certain restrictive set of values to do so.

The best way to enjoy anime would be to spend enough time in Japan to learn the language, grow to understand the culture, and pick up the history. The worst way to enjoy anime is an edited dub. Suitable middle ground is rare; it can be found, but it takes some looking. One can only hope it will become more plentiful in the future.