TV in Translation Part 1: Comedy and Cultural Translation

Some television series are culturally translated for the audiences of other countries as sometimes cultural meaning is not understood by members of a foreign audience, and sometimes, television series are broadcast in their original form with voice overs in other languages or with the addition of subtitles. In accordance to cultural translation, we must consider the genre of the cultural product as it can be important in the translation of a series. In this blog we will look at the genre of comedy in line with cultural translation.

An example of culturally translated television – and not translated well at that – includes the American version of Kath and Kim, re-versioned from the Australian original. Turnbull (2008) proposes that “what has been lost in translation’ is the role and place of irony” (p. 115). What she (Turnbull 2008) means by irony in terms of Kath and Kim is that there is a “gap between how a character imagines him/herself to be and how they appear to the audience” (p. 115). Turnbull (2008) follows this with a comparison of AU Kim vs US Kim, saying AU Kim imagines herself to be a ‘hornbag’ while her performance reveals her to be “self-deluded and simply ridiculous” (p. 115), while US Kim is attractive enough to be a tabloid queen. The irony is lost because AU Kim pretends to be something she is not, and this is funny, whereas US Kim pretends to be something she already is, and this is not funny.

Following on with comedy I would like to look at the Japanese anime Ouran High School Host Club (Ouran High). Ouran High is a harem type romantic comedy that involves an ambiguous looking girl who breaks a vase worth $80,000 and has to repay her debt by bringing in money by working as a host in the all-male host club by entertaining female students. The comedy in this series translates much better because the comedy used is not culturally specific as you will see in the video below.

The comedy used in this clip is essentially comedy that borders in the realm of stupidity such as the idea of cross-dressing to make the club a more feminine place for the protagonist and the quick shots of monkeys eating bananas followed by characters slipping over. Although Bryce et al (2010) are in opposition to Iwabuchi, I agree, in some cases, when he says “that the features of the characters in manga and anime, and the contexts in which they appear, usually do not clearly indicate that the narrative occurs in any specific culture or location.” Ouran High definitely fits this criteria as there is nothing inherently Japanese about the architecture or in the appearances of the characters as most look somewhat Caucasian. I think Ouran High translates from Japanese television to Australian well because it uses comedy that is not culturally specific and because it is not heavy, culturally, with Japanese elements, making it easy to understand.


Anime Plushies 2012, Ouran High School Host Club Funny Moment, online video, 23 September, YouTube, viewed 28 September 2014,

Bryce, M, Barber, C, Kelly, J, Kunwar, S, Plumb, A 2010, ‘Manga and Anime: Fluidity and Hybridity in Global Imagery’, Electronic Journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies, vol. 10, no. 1, viewed 27 September 2014,

Turnbull, S 2008, ‘It’s Like They Threw a Panther in the Air and Caught It in Embroidery’: Television Comedy in Translation, Metro Magazine: Media & Education Magazine, No. 159, pp. 110-115.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s