One day back in 1988, I was lucky enough to be one of the first people outside of Japan to see the film Tonari no Totoro. I was hanging out in the anime room of the San Diego Comic-Con — this was back before the current sprawling convention center was completed, when attendance was a mere 8000 — when representatives from Tokuma Shoten showed up, asking us to watch the just-released film and give our views on whether international fans would be interested in a story like this. I told them I thought we would embrace such a magical story, but wondered whether fans not familiar with Japanese would be able to remember a (then) unfamiliar Japanese title. It soon got an official English release as My Neighbor Totoro…and I got my picture in Animage magazine.
When anime licensors go to sell an anime or manga in international markets, one challenge they face is how to get as many fans as possible to learn the names of their property. If there’s a long or complex title that hinders the spread of popularity of that work, it’s not good for anyone. After all, Kyatto Ninden Teyandee (“Cat Ninja Legend Teyandee”) would never have achieved legendary status without its name change to Samurai Pizza Cats.
Many anime come with a decent official English title, like Food Wars, The Place Promised in Our Early Days, The Rising of the Shield Hero. These are easy for studios to market around the world as-is.
Some anime titles have hellishly long Japanese names, which would be impossible for the average consumer to memorize. Often licensors take the four-kana abbreviation (so important in the age of Google searches) as the English title for marketing, such as Oreimo or Haganai.
Sometimes licensors take the short abbreviation and tack on a translation, like WataMote: No Matter How I Look At It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Unpopular! or AnoHana: The Flower We Saw That Day. This is often the best route to take to engage current fans while piquing the curiosity of new ones.
Another excellent English anime title change was converting Chunibyo demo Koi ga Shitai! to Love, Chunibyo and Other Delusions, a title that makes it easier for new fans to approach.
One thing I like is when licensors replace a complex Japanese title with an English name that’s totally original. One English anime title change I liked was renaming Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko (roughly, “Electromagnetic Wave Woman and Adolescent Man”) into Ground Control to Psychoelectric Girl.
Another outstanding English title was Quintessential Quintuplets, from Gotoubun no Hanayome (“Five Servings of Flower Brides”). Whatever marketing guy thought that title up deserves a raise.
Another great English anime title change was B Gata H Kei, meaningless to most potential viewers, into Yamada’s First Time, which captures the soul of the show with true elegance.
Another great original English anime title change was Asobi ni Iku Yo! becoming Cat Planet Cuties. This sums up the show perfectly.
Sometimes we’re not sure where certain anime title changes come from. The outstanding Working! anime, about young people working in a Japanee family restaurant, was changed to Wagnaria! in English. Perhaps this was done to make it easier to Google the title in the age of SEO, or perhaps from Japanese anxiety that “working” might be confused with prostitution (as in “a working girl”).
Title Changes in Visual Novels
Visual novels often face similar problems, and if a complex Japanese title is a barrier to getting a lot of fans on board with a new game, it can be a problem. For the fabulously gorgeous BL game 咎狗の血 Togainu no Chi, we’ve decided on Togainu no Chi: Lost Blood for the official English title. Coming soon from JAST BLUE!
Got any more interesting English anime titles? Post them on Twitter!
The “doujin” world of amateur fan-created works isn’t limited to naughty doujinshi. There are tons of other awesome products sold at the Comiket and other similar events, including doujin music CDs, which bring together amazing artists and singers remixing music from Touhou, Fate/Grand Order, and more. See our new stock here (we have sample music tracks too!)