Well, this and editing are quite related, so why not.
The two schools of thought regarding literal vs liberal subs have existed for a long time. To the extent people don’t debate about them much nowadays.
As for me, I think it doesn’t matter. Almost. What I feel fansub groups should strive for is to make sure that it is understandable to everyone in the world who knows English. The guidelines should be:
- Use simple English. Flowery words are a no-no, even if the speaker speaks very formal language(Most people don’t know what “bombastic” or “precocious” mean).
- Do not localize. There are above 190 countries in the world apart from the US, and English is spoken in many of those too. This means, assume that the audience is distributed worldwide, not only in America.
- This does not mean write a plain and flat script that’s boring to read. If there are character quirks, show it in the subs to an extent.
- Please please try not to lose any nuance than necessary. The purpose of the subtitles is to make viewers acquainted with another culture, not to spoonfeed them in terms of their own culture.
- Avoid using any terms of phrases specific to a region. Why? Simple. No one other than the people of that culture would understand.
It might sound that I am contradicting myself. But the main thing is to make it both. It must not sound flat and plain, and should have some nice dialog which are simple to understand. A nice example would be from FFF’s Love Live! release. I found it very enjoyable due to the sheer simple yet witty language. For example, lines were like “At last we have a member with a good head on her shoulders!”, “Keep your eyes to yourself.” They are simple to understand, yet witty.
And some personal thoughts on how quirks can be conveyed:
- For maid and butler-speak, use a formal kind of language. But don’t use archaic English. “I beg to state that you have a flaw in your assumptions, Master.” is fine, but more than that is not.
- Do not use contractions(I’m, You’re) for the formal characters (maids, butlers who speak like that etc). This might be perhaps the most notable way of showing the difference.
- I am not quite unaware and unsure on how to show accent differences (Tokyo Japanese vs Kansai-ben) though. There are methods, I think.
Guess that’s all for now. But then again, I’m not an editor. I don’t know how to phrase a line so that it sounds nice and keeps to the features I mentioned. However, this is from my experience from QCing a few hundred scripts. Obviously, constructive comments, corrections, and alternate perspectives are more than welcome.