The comedic misuse of English is pervasive in Japanese culture, to the point that there are entire websites dedicated just to hilarious gaffes that pop up constantly on billboards and store signs in Japan. But it's definitely not just advertisers and small business owners getting in on the English-mangling fun. Of late, the Japanese anime industry has been making great strides toward turning the concept of "Engrish" into an art form.
Here are three lessons we learned about the English language by watching Japanese anime ...
#3. Choose Words at Random
When an animator just needs a handful of words on a sign or storefront, picking at random can be the way to go. They just need to be careful not to get a combination of words like this, from Outlaw Star Episode 13. In an episode about an alien cactus forcing people to buy soft serve with its mind-control powers, something even odder flashes in the background briefly. Look at the store sign in the upper right:
Looks like the animators were trying a bit of subliminal mind-control of their own! We might have suggested "Swallow," but we don't do that stuff for a living, so what do we know?
#2. Copy the Text from a Semi-Relevant Source
When Lupin the 3rd went global in 1977 for his second TV series, the animators wanted the audience to be able to tell that the famed thief was no longer in Japan and started adding in foreign languages to drive the point home. In one episode, his occasional lover and constant betrayer Fujiko lures the Loch Ness Monster out of hiding with (obviously) her lovely singing. Lupin and his crew find out about her misadventures by reading the following newspaper article:
Basically, the animators searched for an article in the Japan Times, an English-language Japanese newspaper, that featured the word "singer" and copied it into the show. They may have tried searching for Loch Ness Monster first, but were surprisingly unable to find an article about the cryptid. While the story they found could feasibly explain how Fujiko saw the fabled beast, it hardly matches what Lupin is reading aloud to his cronies and the audience.
#1. Copy the Text but Insert Relevant Words
In the 1989 movie Garaga, the creators decided that in the year 2755, English would be the primary language of all space farers. The animators pepper the movie with bits of signage and basic instructions, all in the chosen language. While the studio was able to get some proper English for traffic signs, when the lead character, Jay, searches an enemy computer, things take a turn for the bizarre. While he reads off information about military deathbots and subversive brainwashing, something very different is flashing across the screen. Freeze framing reveals descriptions of American-built trucks:
The title of the movie, which is also the name of the planet, is interspersed throughout. The computer continues listing off features that seem to be of questionable merit in an unmanned, bipedal war machine, such as air conditioning, AM/FM radio, radial tires, cassette player and digital clock.
Hell, if you buy the Bronco model they'll throw in the A/C for free! Once the computer starts listing off models, it becomes apparent that the animators took a Ford press release and replaced every instance of the word "Ford" with "Garaga."
Sadly, with the prevalence of Internet translation services in the modern era, the days of faking foreign-language proficiency may be behind us. Fortunately, there are plenty of older titles, so viewers with a sharp eye and an agile pause finger can still hunt for these gems.