"A picture is worth a thousand words." We've all heard that before. The theory is that what our eyes see defies easy description. What of anime, then, which has both pictures and words? "Full" animation is 24 frames per second, for 36,000 frames at most for a standard TV episode (and typically a third of that for many shows). In the anime translations I've participated in, an average episode has 2200 words -- which could mean that dialog is insignificant to conveying a show's message.
Or is it? Professional translators with whom I've spoken take roughly double the duration of an anime episode to draft a script for it. My five years of Japanese study don't quite put me at that level -- my drafts often take three to four times the anime episode's length to make, and probably require more editing. For a professional, this again takes a minimum of the show's duration. And what good is a script by itself? Adding timing information from the show typically requires five times the duration with a skilled timer, and possibly twenty times the duration with an unskilled one. Tack on another episode length for putting to tape, and presto: at least nine times the original duration spent subbing. Why would anyone do that, unless dialog really does matter that much?
Perhaps it depends on the show. Certain kinds of action need no explanation -- times when words only get in the way. Certain scenes in Kenshin or Macross Plus come to mind. And some anime are more about atmosphere than information: Angel's Egg is a classic example. But even in those shows, it helps to know how the fights got set up, and what the outcomes will mean for the rest of the cast. With the exception of a very small number of animated pieces that contain no dialog at all, like parts of Robot Carnival or Disney's Fantasia, just about every title in existence uses the spoken and written word to help draw us into the story.
I mention this because one of the facts of life for anime fans is dealing with differences in subtitles. Translations vary in accuracy, readability, and care of editing. And subtitles based on those translations vary in precision of timing, choice of font, quality of source material, and so forth. Commercial translators have advantages in obtaining printed screenplays, but there's nothing to say that a fansub can't be excellent, or that a commercial translation can't be poor. I believe that CJAS is being treated to examples of both this year.
What constitutes a "good" subtitle is a subject of personal opinion and innumerable flamewars, but the process of forming those opinions is valuable in and of itself. KareKano is not a show where dialog can be ignored, and starting this week, CJAS is switching who we get our KareKano fansubs from. The translation is the same, but the timers, software, and hardware are all different. Take the time to think a bit about whether slick fonts, fancy screen positioning, and all that matters more or less than the translation itself. And whether a translation, good or bad, can affect the quality of the show beneath.