Raw Impressions

I’m not usually the kind of douchebag who walks into (or worse, out of) a test crying about how he’s definitely going to fail, only to end up pissing all over the condolence flowers he suckered everyone else into buying him. Still, I have no idea how I passed the JLPT N2, let alone got a respectable reading score when I didn’t get around to reading all the passages. It’s almost as mind-boggling as passing the JLPT N3 without knowing how to read kanji. Not that I’m complaining or anything.

At the very least, passing N2 is proof that coming to Japan has improved my Japanese skills considerably, even if it hasn’t happened as quickly as I’d hoped. I’ve at least gotten to the point where I’m comfortable dabbling in raw (unsubtitled) anime.

Here’s a rundown of every TV anime I’ve watched somewhat regularly without English subbing or dubbing so far.


Prison School: Not only is this the best anime of 2015, it’s also fairly comfortable to watch without subtitles, even taking into consideration Gakuto’s incomprehensible samurai speak. Most of what’s going on can be inferred from visual clues, and I mean this without the slightest drop of sarcasm. The show is great at showing you what it means. Once again, I mean this without the slightest drop of sarcasm. Estimated Comprehension: 75%

Charlotte: Knowing nothing about Charlotte, I started watching it simply because it follows Durarara on Saturday nights. After a brilliant half an episode, it became fairly average, which is still more interesting than your average Key work. Perhaps because everything Key makes is targeted at pedophiles, the language was easy to understand, at least until the climax. Estimated Comprehension: 80%

Working S3: The final leg of the Saturday night Durarara-Charlotte-Working lineup. On one hand, I probably picked the best season to start watching Working. On the other hand, missing references and developments from the first two seasons was occasionally mistaken for not understanding Japanese, and vice versa. There aren’t too many visual clues either, as everyone’s just standing around in a restaurant. Context aside, however, the language in and of itself is pretty understandable. Estimated Comprehension: 70%

Raw on TV, then (usually) once more with English subtitles:

Durarara S3: I screwed myself over with this one. I got cocky after watching an episode raw and understanding more than I’d anticipated. After going raw for a few more episodes, I went running back to the subs. However, I was too lazy to go all the way back to the beginning with subs, and given the non-stop introduction of new characters and plot threads, I barely understand this season in English. Estimated Comprehension: 35%

Sword Art Online II: This is the first show I experimented with watching raw on TV. Although it aired last year when my Japanese was significantly worse, I doubt my comprehension level would increase too much if I watched it now. The biggest roadblock was random technical language. Otherwise it wasn’t too difficult to follow. Estimated Comprehension: 70%

Unlimited Blade Works: There’s a lot of philosophical language and uncommon speech patterns. The only reason I got away with watching this raw was because I’d read the VN. Estimated Comprehension: 60%

In Japanese with Japanese Subtitles:

Arslan Senki: If Tytania is a poor man’s Legend of the Galactic Heroes, then Arslan Senki is a slack-jawed yokel’s Tytania. I teach a 3rd grader who’s crazy about this show, and perhaps that’s the intellectual level you need to see Arslan Senki as a work of genius. But maybe that’s the audience you need to snag the coveted Sunday 5PM time slot. Logical simplicity aside, the language is tough. Everyone speaks feudal Japanese. Estimated Comprehension: 50%

Ansatsu Kyoushitsu: The first anime I watched completely in Japanese with Japanese subtitles. As with pretty much every anime, there was a huge comprehension gap between the children’s speech and the adults’ speech. Overall this was a moderately difficult watch. Estimated Comprehension: 65%

Dragon Ball Super: More like Dragon Ball Super Boring. DBZ took five episodes to finish a fight. DBS took five episodes to start a fight. Through 10 episodes, there’s been approximately 60% idle chit-chat, 20% crappy jokes, 15% worthless side-character hijinks, and 5% fighting. Unfortunately I understand most of it. Estimated Comprehension: 90%

Key Takeaways:

  • Once you turn 18, your speech becomes 500x harder to understand
  • Even the most complex shows have swaths of comprehensible daily conversation
  • Watching raw anime significantly and temporarily improves your listening when watching subs
  • Channels and time slots matter
  • Anime I wouldn’t otherwise watch can become tolerable if used as a study tool
  • Raw voices are generally great
  • Raw Dragon Ball Z/Super voices are terrible
  • Prison School is the best anime of 2015

5 Replies to “Raw Impressions”

  1. “Anime I wouldn’t otherwise watch can become tolerable if used as a study tool”
    So you’re going to be rewatching K-on then? :p

    • First of all, I already rewatched K-ON by watching its second half, which was exactly the same as its first half with an extra “character” thrown in. Second, the only thing I could possibly learn from K-ON is pedophilia. I’ll abstain.

  2. You cut me deep with those comments about Arslan Senki. I love that show. Prison School… I’m just not ready for. I could see myself sorta getting into it, but I… I dunno. I guess I’m not honest enough with myself. Maybe I’m Tsun-tsun for this series. Though, this isn’t so much a critique of anime in terms of whose taste is more shit, it is an examination of listening and reading comprehension through anime. I’ve been practicing some comprehension by reading Demon Lord on the Floor in spanish. It’s a very bland manga…I think. We’ll see once my comprehension goes up.

    • As much as I’d like to write a full post about Arslan Senki (in large part because I put a lot of effort into translating it) chances are I’m never going to get around to it, so I’ll sum up my 3 main criticisms here:
      – You can read every character’s personality too easily. That guy looks incompetent. That guy looks evil. That guy looks like a traitor. I was never wrong, and it never surprised me. The problem was two-fold: many characters were one-dimensional, and everyone’s character design alone was a spoiler.
      – Arlsan’s team is ridiculously overpowered. Narsus in particular.
      – The politics and battle strategy are simplistic (with a few exceptions). From another author I might be able to shrug it off, but from the author of Legend of the Galactic Heroes it feels like he’s talking down to us.

      I liked it, but it’s nowhere near the level of Legend of the Galactic Heroes or Tytania.

      Final Grade: +

  3. What’s really sad is that 10 years ago when I went to Japan, I caught the 2 latest episodes of Gundam SEED: Destiny on TV (yeah I was following it, didn’t realize it would be THAT bad), and I basically understood 90% of it with my entire knowledge of Japanese based on watching anime. And then there’s shows like Ghost in the Shell where I had to watch it twice just to understand it IN ENGLISH 🙂

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