Update: Cyberpunk 2077 developer and Cyberpunk: Edgerunners producer CD Projekt Red contacted us today to let us know that they’ve updated the subtitles for their (excellent) anime. We took a look at a few of the previous episodes and found none of the previous oddities we had seen. Slang words were spelled consistently and read fluently. We still think the dub vocal track is worth watching, but now you should have a good experience no matter which vocal and subtitle tracks you choose.
The gender and aesthetic cyberpunk have been on the fringes of the mainstream for decades thanks to stories like Neuromancer, Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell. It exploded in 2020, however, when CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077 hit consoles. Whatever any of us may think of this game, it was a huge deal. Recently, the promised Cyberpunk anime, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, finally arrived on Netflix. It is, in every way, an absolutely magnificent sight. He has a killer voice in both English and Japanese. And it’s almost impossible to watch when you watch it with subtitles.
And no – this is not a subs-versus-dubs argument.
The world of Cyberpunk, created by Mike Pondsmith for the original tabletop RPG, is rich in detail, fleshed out with a flow of slang that’s barely close enough to be understood without keeping a dictionary handy. “You can’t trust a corporation to pay you the whirlwinds you’ve earned, choom. Don’t be a gonk. A real edgerunner doesn’t even trust his ripperdoc. Have you checked this comic?”
Let’s not pretend it’s very good writing, on paper, but it gets the message across: this world is so full of slang it might as well be some other language. If you make the mistake of watching the show with subtitles, whether the voice track is in English or Japanese, you will be left confused unless you know the language of the game world intimately, because the subtrack is more wrong. than right. When you watch the English vocal track alone without subtitles, it’s easy to see how great a job the actors did to master all those terms and make them sound natural.
But I usually keep the subtitles on when watching TV just to reduce the overall volume of my TV in my apartment. Every time I looked down at my screen, I was left speechless at the quality of the subtitles. Choom is spelled correctly in some places, then chume in others. The term IC, intended to refer to intrusion countermeasures (aka cybersecurity) is rendered as the eyes. A character says Edgerunner – you know, the title of the show – and the subtitles read Headrunner. They confused “ripper” with “reaper” on more than one occasion – not every time all opportunity.
And it’s hard to say where it went wrong. Reading this “eyes” error, we might attribute this to a translator whose native language is Japanese, hearing a similar word and becoming confused. But the longer I watched the show, the less it felt like a human translator had actually touched the subtitles. Sentences often have little meaning; they read less as if they were mistranslated and more as if they were machine translated. Some of the sentences have all the hallmarks of “I was talking a text message on my phone and half the words got it wrong”, with the example words being spelled a few different ways really highlighting the possibility.
This not only affects the English subtitle track intended to play over Japanese dialogue, but also the English subtitle text intended for hearing people. It’s not worth going into a line-by-line dissection of every error here. It’s hard to believe that a high-profile show like this, from a company so passionate about anime, got such a shoddy treatment like this. It’s pretty clear that whatever happened for the subtitles to end like this, the show didn’t get any love from the QA team before it went live, or they just ignored the QA notes to release it on a certain date.
Make no mistake: if you’re into gaming, tabletop RPGs, or even aesthetics, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is awesome as hell. It’s bright, loud, colorful and lively. It has all the flash of gaming paired with an engaging story and some of Studio Trigger’s best work. Just watch it in English and turn off the subtitles. Or maybe wait and hope Netflix fixes it. And be sure to check out our review before diving in – this is a special sight.
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