Cyberpunk: Edgerunners' Atrocious Subtitles Make It Almost Unwatchable
The genre and aesthetic of cyberpunk have been on the edges of the mainstream for decades thanks to stories like Neuromancer, Blade Runner, and Ghost in the Shell. It exploded in 2020, however, when CD Projekt Red's Cyberpunk 2077 hit consoles. Whatever any of us might feel about that game, it was a huge deal. Recently, the promised Cyberpunk anime, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, finally hit Netflix. It is, by any metric, an absolutely gorgeous show. It has a killer voice cast in both English and Japanese. And it's almost unwatchable when you watch it with subtitles.
And no--this is not a subs-versus-dubs argument.
The world of Cyberpunk, created by Mike Pondsmith for the original tabletop role-playing game, is rich with detail, fleshed out with a brain-frying stream of slang that is just barely close enough to understand without keeping a dictionary handy. "You can't trust a corpo to pay you the eddies you earned, choom. Don't be a gonk. A real edgerunner doesn't even trust their ripperdoc. Did you check that BD?"
Let's not pretend that's very good writing, on paper, but it gets the point across: this world is so packed with slang that it might as well be another language. If you make the mistake of watching the show with subtitles on, regardless of whether the voice track is in English or Japanese, you'll leave confused unless you're intimately familiar with the game world's language because the sub track gets more of it wrong than right. When watching the English voice track on its own without subtitles, it's easy to see what a great job the actors did of mastering all of those terms and making them feel natural.
But I habitually keep subtitles on when watching TV just to keep my overall TV volume down in my apartment. Every time I looked down at the bottom of my screen, I found myself gaping in awe of just how bad the subtitles are. Choom is spelled correctly in some places, and then spelled chume in others. The term IC, meant to refer to Intrusion Countermeasures (a.k.a. cybersecurity) is rendered as eyes. A character says Edgerunner--you know, the title of the show--and the subs read Headrunner. They confused "ripper" with "reaper" on more than one occasion--not not on every occasion.
And it's hard to tell where it went wrong. Reading that "eyes" mistake, we could chalk it up to a translator whose first language is Japanese hearing a soundalike word and getting confused. But the more I watched the show, the less it seemed like a human translator had actually touched the subtitles. Sentences frequently make little sense; they read less like they were poorly translated and more like they were machine translated. Some of the sentences have all the hallmarks of 'I was speaking a text message to my phone and it got half of the words wrong,' with the examples of words being spelled multiple different ways really highlighting the possibility.
This affects not just the English subtitle track meant to play over the Japanese dialogue, but the English closed-captioning text meant for the heard-of-hearing as well. It's not worthwhile to go into a line-by-line dissection of every mistake here. It's hard to believe that a high-profile show like this, from a company so hot on anime, received such slapdash treatment like this. It's pretty clear that whatever happened to make the subtitles end up like this, the show didn't get any love from the Quality Assurance team before they put it online, or they simply ignored the notes from QA to get it out by a certain date.
Make no mistake: if you have any love for the video game, the tabletop RPG, or even the aesthetic, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is rad as hell. It's bright, loud, colorful, and lively. It has all the flash of the game coupled with an engaging story and some of Studio Trigger's best work. Just watch it in English and turn off the subtitles. Or maybe wait and hope Netflix fixes it. And make sure to check out our review before you dive in--this is a special show.
This story originally appeared on: Gamespot - Author:Eric Frederiksen