FEATURE: Found in Translation - The "Your Lie in April" English Dub is Amazing

It's time to revisit one of the most touching anime of 2014.

Last week, Crunchyroll added Aniplex of America’s English dub of Your Lie in April to its streaming catalog. You can watch the dub in North America, Central America, South America, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. If you live in any of those regions and haven’t seen Your Lie in April yet, what are you waiting for? You now have an extra reason to watch this excellent show.


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For those of you who are unfamiliar with this anime, the story follows Kousei Arima, a former child prodigy who lost his ability to play the piano when his mother died. But after he encounters the beautiful and eccentric Kaori one day, his life begins to change. Over the course of twenty-two episodes, Your Lie in April tells a touching story about dealing with grief and the power of music.


Arguably, what makes Your Lie in April so impressive is not its script, however. The anime is at its most powerful when it lets its music and visuals do the talking. I think that Patrick Seitz, the director and writer of the English dub, must have realized that too, because the English dub audio never sounds intrusive. There’s an air of natural ease about the voice acting, as if nobody is pushing their voices too hard. I think that understatement was the best approach Seitz could have taken with a Japanese script that was, in my opinion, somewhat ungraceful at times.


There are, admittedly, some missteps. Sometimes, the English actors speak too quickly, or their lines sound a bit muffled compared to the crisp Japanese audio. But overall the dub is a fantastic effort. After watching the subbed and dubbed versions of the first episode carefully, I can confidently state that the dub script is a remarkably smooth and accurate adaptation of the Japanese. There are the usual tweaks in the dub script to make the lines easier for the actors to read aloud, but few of these changes involved radical changes to the Japanese script. For example, consider this conversation from 11:39—11:46:


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In the dub, the conversation goes like this:


Tsubaki: “Tomorrow’s Saturday, so I’m guessing you’re free, yeah?” (公生、明日の土曜日ヒマでしょ?)


Kousei: “You can’t just assume that.” (決めつけるなよ。)


Tsubaki: “Tell me about your big plans.” (じゃあ、予定あるの?)  


The biggest difference here is Tsubaki’s final “Tell me about your big plans,” which sounds drier and more sardonic than, “Oh, so you have plans, then?” But not only does the joke still land, the exchange arguably flows more smoothly in the dub.


For example, Tsubaki’s “Tomorrow’s Saturday, so I’m guessing you’re free, yeah?” feels like a more presumptive thing to say compared to her line in the sub. Putting “right?” at the end of the sentence makes her sound uncertain; that’s not in the Japanese line at all. So you could also argue that the intent of this conversation is conveyed more accurately in the dub; at the very least, the comedic timing certainly comes off better.


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There’s another occasion at 11:22—11:23 where the dub is closer to the Japanese dialogue than the subtitles are. In the Japanese, Tsubaki is saying that it's a Goose House song, which is true—they’re listening to the anime’s opening theme. The dub also says the same thing. But the subtitle says it’s a song by “The Millions.” It turns out that in the manga, Tsubaki also says “The Millions,” which makes me wonder if the subtitles in this case were based off an earlier version of the script. It’s not a major inaccuracy or anything, but it’s an interesting thing to note.


On other occasions, the dub translation was subtly differently from the Japanese original. I get the feeling that the dub script was different because the voice actors’ interpretations of the characters were also different. Here’s an example from 8:18—8:25:


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The context of this scene is that Kousei and Tsubaki are walking home together when Tsubaki tells him that his outlook on life is too bleak. He’s fourteen years old; he ought to have some sparkle in his eyes. Kousei responds by telling Tsubaki that her eyes sparkle.  


The subtitles here are a fairly literal translation of the Japanese: 椿の目には、きっと風景がカラフルに見えているんだろうな。僕とは違う。


Now compare that to what he says in the dub:  “For Tsubaki, I bet the world looks pretty colorful. How could it not? Must be nice.”


The comparison between Kousei and Tsubaki is much less direct in the dub. The indirectness of the script also matches the spoken delivery of the line. Max Mittelman sounds more nonchalant than Natsuki Hanae does. Hanae’s lines sound more like a self-conscious soliloquy, while Mittelman merely sounds as if he’s musing.


Yet despite (or maybe because of?) that offhand tone, that “Must be nice” made a deep impact on me. One can sense a deep emptiness that Kousei himself can’t fully comprehend, which is all the more painful because he doesn’t know anything different.


In comparison, Kousei’s monologue at 10:03—10:15 makes his sentiments more explicit, but it also lacks the subtlety and quiet power of the example above. The “tell, not show” tendency is in the Japanese script too, however, so there’s not much that can be done about it. The scene of him playing piano in an auditorium as a child and then stopping abruptly, clutching his head in his hands, is nevertheless very powerful.


Soon afterward, the English dub deviates slightly from the Japanese script:


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In the dub, he says: “There, in that moment, I knew… my days of playing were done.”


There’s no reference to autumn or being eleven here. Instead, the line emphasizes the primacy of this particular moment, and invites the viewer to fill in the gaps with the context. On its own, the line is striking and full of pathos, and I really loved the calm and measured way Mittelman that delivered it.


Nevertheless, I’m sad that the autumn part was removed from the dub. The seasons play a huge symbolic role in the anime, and the significance of “autumn” in this context is very clear. At the very end of the episode, Kousei even directly calls back to this line, saying (in the sub): “The spring of my fourteenth year… I… I’m taking off with you.” In the dub, he says, “Spring is blooming all around, and I… am taking off with you.” The seasons are no longer used to mark the passing of time, and since that’s plot-important information, I can’t say that I approve of the omission.


On the other hand, the “There, in that moment, I knew… my days of playing were done” is a good line in another way. In the Japanese, Kousei says, “ピアノが弾けなくなった” to refer to the fact that he has stopped playing the piano. The grammar here is a bit tricky to express in English. He is emphasizing the fact that he became unable to play the piano, or that the piano itself became unplayable. This sense of fatalism comes across very strongly in the English dub, but feels comparatively weaker in the subtitled translation.


All in all, the English dub of Your Lie in April is a very well-composed product. The only complaints I have it with it are minor. I personally enjoyed how the dub doesn’t “over-translate” the script, and that it leaves some things unspoken for the viewer to interpret. In some ways, the writing even feels more nuanced than the Japanese script. If you enjoy a good English dub that has a strong sense of rhythm and flow, I recommend that you check it out!


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Have you seen the Your Lie in April anime? What did you think of the scriptwriting and voice acting? It doesn't matter whether you've seen the dub or sub. Feel free to share your thoughts on the anime below!



Kim Morrissy is a freelance writer and translator. He writes about anime, light novels, and Japanese culture on his personal blog. You can also follow him on Twitter at @frog_kun.

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