FUNimation’s GamerGate Blunder

FUNimation has gotten into some hot water with fans recently, regarding their broadcast dub of Prison School. In a scene, one character accuses another of being “one of those dumbass GamerGate creepshows.”

On the surface, this might not seem like a big deal. It makes sense that not everything a licensing and localization firm for anime puts in its dubs is something it necessarily supports, opposes, or has any stance on whatsoever. I’m sure it’s safe to say that FUNimation doesn’t support the government-sponsored abduction of children to make into cyborgs for counter-terrorism operations, despite the fact that they licensed and dubbed Gunslinger Girl.

Prison School subThe deeper implications of this turn of events, however, are very much worth considering. Adding GamerGate to the dub was a conscious effort. Something needed to be removed from the original Japanese script in order for it to be replaced with a GamerGate reference. The work was changed and a topical jab at a relatively niche hashtag revolt was added in place of whatever was there previously.

Despite being in the age of dual-audio disc releases (As opposed to the dub and subtitled versions of a title being on separate tapes), the dub and sub communities are still divided. Many anime fans swear by subs, and I honestly can’t blame them, given the paradigm that allows GamerGate references to be dubbed into shows. There’s a real concern about changing the original work, regardless of whether or not it’s for “localization’ purposes.

When we consume anime, we’re consuming the product of another culture. Many of us have accepted that, but not all of us actually endeavour to gain an understanding of the culture this stuff comes from. That’s fine, but when localization companies pick up on that, it becomes tempting to change elements of the original script to appeal to the segments of the fandom that aren’t too bothered about cultural origins or authorial intent.

The problem is, the script has a lot of power. The words the characters say and how they say them can change the tone and direction of the show. When substantial changes are made to the script, those who enjoyed the original run of the show in Japanese with subtitles (Which is becoming an increasing demographic of anime fans, as streaming services and simulcasts proliferate) stand a risk of being alienated. It’s a challenging question to ask: “Do we change the original script to make it more palatable or relatable to people who have no interest in the show as it was created?” and with their GamerGate reference, it seems FUNi’s answer is “Yes we do,” despite the fact that in a few years it will be a meaningless reference.

Further, the reference is a poor choice, at best, and cheap shot, at worst. It’s a complete non-sequitur. It’s dropped in a situation that has nothing to do with anything GamerGate is doing. If I were to assume malicious intent, it’s as if the scriptwriter was looking for a situation that would be appropriate to drop the reference, but failing that, decided an arcade scene was just tangentially-related enough to sneak in a pot-shot.

There’s no telling if the line will make it into the disc release. I honestly hope it doesn’t. It’s got no business being where it is.