I’ve written before that memes don’t flow very freely across language groups, and anime visual jokes and ideas we take for granted in English aren’t generally known in Japan, while the Japanese have a whole list of classic memes that we don’t know. There are exceptions — the Haruhi dance, the global cult of Bob Ross, the works of H.P. Lovecraft — but by and large, the two “meme-spaces” are separated by the Great Wall of Language. This goes for famous anime phrases, too.
People of my generation traded clever Star Wars quotes with each other, quipping “what an incredible smell I’ve discovered” if someone’s room wasn’t very clean, or if we disapprove of a friend’s romantic partner, “You came in that thing? You’re braver than I thought.” But kids of later generations have moved on to quotes from anime and games, describing things being “over 9000,” observing that “people die if they are killed” or telling a friend, “it’s dangerous to go alone, take this!”
Do you like jelly filled doughnuts? I love them! They're totally not onigiri or anything! pic.twitter.com/zbuEr3Mm7z
— Peter Payne (@JListPeter) September 17, 2019
You might be surprised to know that none of these well-known quotes are famous in Japan. I thought it’d be fun to examine what the most famous anime lines are inside Japan and compare them with the ones English-speaking fans know.
How to Learn Japanese Through Famous Anime Phrases
There are several approaches to learning a foreign language, which I studied back in my days learning linguistics in university. The Grammar-Translation Method. The Army Method, based on the intense training programs developed by the military during WWII. The Natural Approach, which tries to mimic how children acquire language, first through listening comprehension and moving on to producing speech much later.
Then there’s what I call the Social Feedback Method, also known as “do whatever will make you fun to be around and give you positive feedback from Japanese people.” Developing enough language skills to be fun to talk to in a bar is actually a pretty solid approach to learning. And depending on who you’re hanging out with, knowing famous anime phrases in Japanese might make for some fun interaction with Japanese people.
One extremely famous phrase is あきらめたらそこで試合終了ですよ, Akirametara soko de shiai shuryo desu yo, meaning, ”When you give up, that’s when the game is over.” Spoken by Coach Anzai in Slam Dunk, it’s become part of otaku lore. I used this line in my post on anime dating advice.
While English speaking fans know "over 9000" and "it's dangerous to go alone, take this," Japanese fans have a different set of famous phrases. Let's learn some of them!
One is the classic "You hit me! Even my own father never hit me!" scene, which every Japanese person knows. pic.twitter.com/LTaJ0Z2ANc
— Peter Payne (@JListPeter) September 17, 2019
Mobile Suit Gundam has given us many famous anime phrases and quotes. The most famous would have to be “You hit me! Even my father didn’t hit me!” or 殴ったね！親父にもブられた事ないのに！ Nagutta ne! Oyaji ni mo burareta koto nai no ni! Note that, like “Houston, we have a problem” (which was really “Houston, we’ve had a problem here”) the quote has drifted from it’s original a bit.
Another line from the original Gundam that’s become legendary is when Char Aznable arranges the death of Garma Zabi. Garma’s last words were シャー！謀ったな、シャー！ Char! Hakatta na, Char! meaning “Char! You planned this, didn’t you, Char!” So anytime someone gets the better of you in some way, you can say hakatta na! and get a laugh.
You won’t be surprised that some lines from Jojo have become immortalized in the domestic otaku scene. In addition to the obvious yare yare daze (essentially meaning “good grief”), there’s だが断る daga kotowaru, meaning “But I refuse,” spoken by Rohan Kishibe in Diamond is Unbreakable. It’s recycled in dozens of other anime, and when Kurisu uses it in Steins;Gate she outs herself as an otaku to the others.
Another similar phrase is だがしかし which means “but…however…” (it’s two different words that almost mean the same thing). The word was taken over by the Dagashi Kashi anime, which made a wonderful pun about a shop selling dagashi, traditional. It probably comes from Jojo.
While we’re on anime phrases that start with daga, there’s the famous line だが男だ daga otoko da or “but he’s a guy” from Steins;Gate.
I’m a huge fan of Hayao Miyazaki’s epic Tenku no Shiro Laputa, usually listed as Castle in the Sky in English as Laputa means “the whore” in Spanish, which represents Jonathan Swift trolling all of us from nearly 300 years ago. Laputa has become quite a meme machine inside Japan in recent years — there’s even an official Laputa karuta card game that helps fans memorize every line from the movie. There are dozens of well-known quotes from Laputa, but the most famous one is 見ろ！人がゴミの様だ！ Miro! Hito ga gomi no yoh da! which means “Look, the people are just like garbage!” If you said this while looking at a huge crowd of people, Japanese people around you would giggle at the reference. (Gomi means garbage, but also phonetically means “crowd.”)
Another famous anime quote inside Japan is Card Captor Sakura saying 何とかなるよ、絶対大丈夫だよ！Nantoka naru yo, zettai daijoubu dayo! or “It will work out somehow, everything will be okay!” This is pretty much my life’s slogan.
Some famous anime phrases are well known both in Japan and the West. One is Kamino’s line 自分を信じるな、俺を信じろ！おまえを信じる、俺を信じろ！！ Jibun wo shinjiru na, ore wo shinjiro! Omae wo shinjiru, ore wo shinjiro!! or “Don’t believe in yourself, believe in me! Believe in me, who believes in you.” Makes me want to re-watch Gurren Lagann again now…
Finally, a dumb pun you can make and get a laugh with Japanese people. AnoHana: The Flower We Saw On That Day is the story of young people who are visited by the ghost of one of their friends who died, nicknamed Menma. This word describes the bamboo shoot that’s found in ramen, so if you eat ramen in Japan you can pick up the bamboo shoot and say, メンマ、見ーつけた！Menma, mitsuketa!
Did you enjoy learning about famous anime phrases that are popular inside Japan? Got any other favorites? Tell us on Twitter!
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