Fansub Editing Guide by tun (m.3.3.w fansubs)

This is an ironic disclaimer to make for an editing guide, but please excuse any mistakes in English grammar that you might come across while reading this guide. 😮

So, you want to get into fansub editing? Editing is an often overlooked step in the fansub process. It’s true that an excellent translator can render an editor meaningless, but those kinds of translators are very rare, and probably wouldn’t (shouldn’t) be wasting their time translating anime. Contrary to what some people think, editing is more than just knowing good grammar.

Take a look at the Wikipedia entry on “Copy editing”. I’ll highlight some of the important stuff that is relevant to fansub editing. If you’re lazy and don’t feel like reading this guide, just follow these key rules when you edit.

“The ‘Five Cs’ summarize the copy editor’s job: make the copy (i) clear, (ii) correct, (iii) concise, (iv) comprehensible, and (v) consistent; that is: make it say what it means, and mean what it says.”

“Besides an excellent command of language, copy editors need broad general knowledge of the world at large (for spotting factual errors), good critical thinking skills (to recognize inconsistencies), diplomacy (for dealing with writers), and a thick skin for when editorial diplomacy fails. Also, they must establish priorities and balance a striving for perfection with the necessity to follow deadlines.”

I’d also like to mention that this is more of a practical editing guide. There are plenty of other fansub editing guides out there that cover the more technical nature of fansub editing. If you’re looking for something like that, you won’t find it here.

An editor’s functions

  1. Phrasing and diction. After much consideration, I have decided that this is the most important function of an editor. Most anime translators are simply concerned with translating the full meaning of the sentence. It is then your job to make sure that the translated line is presented to the audience in a way that they can easily read and understand it.

  2. Check for errors. As an editor, you are the first line of quality control. You should be able to spot most simple errors in a script. But that doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to catch everything; there’s no replacement for a good QC team.

  3. Maintain consistency. This is a big responsibility for any editor. You have to make sure that you’ve been using the same conventions throughout the series. The following are some areas to watch out for consistency.

    • Examples (they’re certainly not limited to the following):
      1. Interjections. “Geez, Jeez, Jesus” and “Um, Umm, Ummm”.
      2. Catch phrases. Characters can typically have a catch phrase that they always say, so you have to make sure that it remains consistent throughout the series. “Who the hell do you think I am?”
      3. Flashbacks. Often times there are flashbacks to scenes in previous episodes. Make sure that these lines remain the same as the ones in the previous episode.
      4. Contractions. Sometimes I see subtitles where the character has been using contractions consistently and then suddenly they say something in its non-contracted form. It just looks incredibly awkward, especially when the character is a normal teenager and he suddenly sounds like an English professor.


    • Never have multiple editors on one project. When you have more than one editor on a project, consistency is pretty much destroyed. Each editor has their own ideas about what constitutes good editing practices, so you guys will be editing over each other constantly.

      If you’re taking over editing duties for someone who has quit or cannot edit for some reason, you MUST do your homework. Go back and watch the previous episodes and get a sense of the editor’s style. A good fill-in editor should always be mindful of small details. How productive this homework will be will depend on how good the previous editor was. If they sucked, then just try to pick a style similar to their previous work and maintain your own consistency.

  4. Consider the characters and setting. Think about the kind of show are you editing. Is it a typical romantic comedy harem with high school students? Is it a story about aristocrats in the 1700’s? Maybe even futuristic mecha? Regardless of what it is, make sure that your phrasing and diction are appropriate for the characters and the setting. My advice to new editors would be to start with “daily life” types of anime and then work your way towards historical or futuristic anime if that’s what you prefer. As for characters, keep in mind a variety of factors: age, gender, geographical origin, social status, native culture (if different than Japanese), etc. You know that teenage girls and 40 year old men speak differently. Make sure that your editing reflects this, but don’t make it so obvious. Your goal is to try to keep the translations from standing out.

    Ideally, you will go over all of this with your translator at the beginning of a series. Once you decide to go with a certain style, you should stick with it throughout the series unless there is a good reason to change it (there aren’t many). If the translator is replaced in the middle of a series, it is also your job to make sure you discuss your style conventions with the new translator. It will save you some effort to change it yourself and prevent any unnecessary errors.

  5. Communicate. This is going off the previous point, but you must communicate with the other members in your group. This goes for your translators and QCers in particular. Never assume that the other person knows what you’re thinking or doing. As much as it might annoy them, make sure you go over everything you need to know in order to do your job (or they need to know in the case of QCers). If they actually care about the craftsmanship of their work, they won’t mind taking the time to go over it with you.

  6. Don’t over-edit. From talking with translators, I’ve found that a lot of them become frustrated when their editors “over-edit” their scripts. Translators have their own personal styles that they would like to see preserved in the editing process. Assuming that you have a competent translator, if you find yourself making changes to every other line, you’re probably editing too much. This isn’t your script; you’re simply patching it up. Like the saying goes, “Keep it simple, stupid.”


  1. Fluency in English. This seems like such an obvious requirement, but I’ve come across many “editors” who don’t speak English as their native language. It shows in their work when lines are left with awkward phrasing and poor diction. You shouldn’t be editing if you can’t speak English.

  2. Knowledge of English grammar. No explanation necessary. You really don’t need to have a PhD in the English language to know most applicable grammar rules in fansubbing. A good reference you can use is The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. That book is usually required reading in most high school or college level English classes. It will also help you with your phrasing too.


Recommended Skill Sets

  1. Good knowledge of Japanese. One of the best ways to edit a translation is to know the original language. I have a pretty advanced knowledge of Japanese grammar, sentence structure, and vocabulary. This has helped me many times when I’ve come across difficult lines. Japanese sentence structure in particular puts translators and editors in a tough spot because there are many times when there are implied subjects/objects/meanings. It can become difficult to accurately and appropriately phrase the translation if you aren’t aware of this.

  2. Good knowledge of the fansub process and all related aspects. As an editor, I’ve had to work with everyone in the fansubbing chain. It’s also good if you have an understanding of what the other person is doing. You should be familiar with all fansubbing jobs, terms, programs, and other related things.

  3. Read books and practice your writing. This isn’t really a recommended skill set, but more like advice. The only way you’re going to improve your phrasing and diction is through practice and exposure. I would suggest reading online news sites like CNN or MSNBC. News writers are usually very concise with their writing and that can serve as a good model for an aspiring editor. As for writing practice, focus more on academic based essays, not yaoi shounen-ai fan fiction.


Things to Consider

  1. Literal translation vs. Heavy localization. You’ll hear all sorts of debates on this one. There are definitely pros and cons to each. You’ll have the elitist weeaboos criticizing you for “mistranslating” something, and then you’ll have people who complain about heavy localization such as using the western order for peoples’ names. I personally don’t like either extreme. Usually, a literal translation will get the job done most of the time. However, you will come across situations where the line will simply sound awkward. This is when you have to either use your own knowledge of Japanese or consult with your translator about the real meaning behind the line. Always remember that a fansub is a translation. Don’t be like those One Piece subbers who feel that “nakama” is too sacred a word to be translated. It means friend. Just put that in the fucking script. On a 1-10 scale, with 1 being literal translation and 10 being heavy localization, I would say that I fall around 6 and 7. Since I have a good understanding of Japanese, I’m always mindful of alienating viewers who are like me. But when push comes to shove, I will usually cater to a person with zero knowledge because they far outnumber those who do know some Japanese. That’s why they’re watching with English subtitles, right?

    Examples. Use boxed lunch instead of bento. Use bullet train instead of shinkansen. Use Kiyomizu Temple instead of Kiyomizu-dera or Pure Water Temple. You have to use your judgment in these cases. If it’s not a proper noun, will the audience know what it is? I would avoid concluding that “Everyone should know what this means!” I guess the best way to decide is if your parents were watching and they needed to fully understand the subtitles. Would they know what a bento is? Probably not. So don’t leave it in there. Regarding proper nouns, I usually prefer to keep the Japanese name. My Kiyomizu Temple example happens to have a translation in English (Pure Water), but that won’t be the case for everything. Your audience should be understanding of proper names being left in their original language.

  2. Maintain a certain level of professionalism. I know that fansubbing is a hobby, but please put your best effort into it. Avoid putting in your own opinions, biases, and commentary into the script; it has no place there. I know fansubbers like to personalize the shows that they sub, but you should be doing that through the craftsmanship of your work. I should never see a “Don’t tase me bro!” like gg put in one of their Code Geass R2 subs. Also, try to avoid using curses unless it’s an anime like Black Lagoon.

    Don’t make it too impersonal though. I wasn’t sure whether to put this under here or the previous point. However, don’t go extreme with the professionalism or heavy localization. We’re all anime fans here, and with that comes a certain interest in Japanese culture. Keep the name suffixes, the onee-chan’s, the oba-san’s, the proper nouns, Japanese name order, etc. If I wanted to see subs with Mr. Naoki Moriyama instead of Moriyama Naoki-san, I wouldn’t be watching fansubs. Also, please NEVER use Auntie for Oba-san. This isn’t Amy Tan and the Joy Luck Club. I absolutely despise this translation for Oba-san and I will hunt you down and kill you if I ever see it. 😉

    WTF contradicting yourself! Yes, I realize that keeping onee-chan contradicts the “Will my parents understand this?” rule, but this is where you use your judgment to balance your target audience and your love of anime.

  3. Never forget your audience. Are you subbing Naruto or Serial Experiments Lain? These shows have different target audiences. Obviously. If you’re subbing Naruto, you should be making the subs easy to read for 14 year old boys. There’s more to your audience than just the people in your IRC channel or website. There are thousands of people who watch on streaming sites like YouTube, Crunchyroll, Veoh, etc. So maybe they aren’t increasing your download or IRC channel idler counts, but they are still watching your work too. Make sure your phrasing and diction is appropriate for your target audience.

    American vs. British English. This was a large source of conflict for me personally. Our translator is used to speaking and writing in British English, while I’m used to American English since I’m American. I have no numbers to back this up, but I think the number of American viewers far outweighs the number of non-American viewers. Thus, I would recommend that you use American English. Let me just say that I’ve had more complaints about using “Mum” than I’ve had about using “Mom.”

  4. You have the final say. This is going to depend a lot on the chain of power in your fansub group. You might have a group leader or translator who is very controlling and wants to have the last say on every matter. However, it is the editor who is supposed to have the final decision on all things related to the script. You don’t see a newspaper writer telling his copy editor what to change and what to leave alone. They’d get their ass fired right on the spot. That doesn’t mean that you can just ignore everyone else though. Communicate with your translator and QCers to arrive at a solution that will satisfy everyone, and make tough decisions when there is no common ground.

  5. Know when to quit. Sometimes fansub groups will ask you to go above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to editing. That’s perfectly fine, but you should know the difference between doing a little extra work and fixing up another person’s laziness or incompetence. I’ve had cases where I’ve received translated scripts with one or more of the following problems: the translator clearly does not know English, there was absolutely NO punctuation (not even a period at the end of each sentence), lazy timing of the script (ten second long timing for two lines that should be separate), tons of personal commentary of the episode, and many “I don’t know lol” lines in the script. Just tell them to fuck off. Don’t waste your time fixing that horse shit. If you do it once, it basically tells them that they can rely on you to clean up their laziness every week. That simply encourages the shitty work that has degraded fansubbing to the pathetic scene that we see today.

As you can see, a lot of this is common sense. When I was letting people preview this guide, a lot of them would tell me that they knew most of the stuff that they just read. The only problem was that it wasn’t reflected in their work, so I figure that it really does need to be spelled out for some people.

That’s all I can think of. I’m sure there’s more stuff that I missed. Feel free to leave feedback on the website or just message me on IRC and tell me how big of a moron I am. Thanks for reading!