TV in Translation Part 2: Drama and Performance

Television serials usually have interesting characters that make up the interest of the series. These characters are usually interesting and are somewhat relatable or endearing to the audiences. The translation of television does not solely rely upon cultural translation but also the performance of characters. What I mean by this is how the character is actually portrayed. To look at performance we will look at two examples from within the genre of drama.

Although looking at comedy, I still think that the following Medhurst quote used by Turnbull applies to drama series. Turnbull (2008) quotes Medhurst, saying meaning in performance “reside[s] in inflection, timing, nuance, gesture, the balance of sound and silence, the unexpected pronunciation of key words, the raising of eyebrows or the flipping of wrists” (p. 112). What they are effectively getting at is that performance plays a key part in how actors/actresses portray their characters and how the audience receives them is influenced by this performance.

The first example we will look at is the character of Sherlock Holmes in both the US Elementary and the UK Sherlock. Asher-Perrin (2014) says that both shows try to depict a similar man but that Holmes – in Elementary – is forever being “called out for his personal failings, to be scolded and never allowed an inch of superiority no matter how hard he grasps for it” by the various people in his life whereas the Holmes from Sherlock has no problem stepping over and steamrolling those around him because he is the resident genius. Both versions of Holmes are portrayed as intelligent beings who feel superior to those around them because of their intelligence and this appeals to both UK and US audiences because their performance portrays them as witty and sarcastic beings.

The second example we will be looking at is the Japanese anime Sword Art Online (SAO). SAO is about a VMMORPG (virtual massive multiplayer online role playing game) entitled ‘Sword Art Online’ which around 10,000 players begin to play. Shortly into the game the players discover that they cannot log out and this is when the games creator appears, telling all the players that to escape the virtual reality they must clear all 100 floors and that if they died in-game they would also die in real life via the helmet allowing them to play ‘Sword Art Online’ frying their brains.

The above video demonstrates that performance in anime is in some ways the same and different to conventional acting. The ways in which they are the same is through facial expression, strong emotive feeling expressed though voice, and emotive actions such as hugging and crying. The ways in which they are different is that they are not real people. Despite not being real, I feel that the characters Kirito and Asuna from SAO effectively express their love and devotion for each other in the above clip through their expressions, voices, and actions. The performance of these characters makes them endearing to the audience because they are enraptured by the love between them. In terms of translation of performance consider the two following videos.

Although both videos are in different languages and their performances are different, they each effectively express Kirito’s grief over Asuna’s death through the emotion in his voice when he reaches out into thin air, reaching for his precious loved one who sacrificed herself to save him. These videos effectively express how performance across cultures is important because the common emotions of love, grief, and loss are expressed clearly through performance for both Japanese and English audiences.


Asher-Perrin, E 2014, Battling Super Sleuths: The Awkward Case of Elementary, Sherlock, and Building the Better Adaption, TOR, viewed 28 September 2014,

MehHorsei 2014, SAO-Asuna and Kirito Final Moment English Dub, online video, 2 June, YouTube, viewed 28 September 2014,

PixelNinja 2014, Sword Art Online – Asuna’s Death, online video, 14 July, YouTube, viewed 28 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.

Warren, A 2014, SAO Asuna Death [English Dub, Cropped, HD], online video, 4 June, YouTube, viewed 28 September 2014,


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