Noko Shikanoko in My Deer Friend Nokotan
(Wit Studio)

Is ‘My Deer Friend Nokotan’ Using an AI Translator? There May Be Another Explanation

My Deer Friend Nokotan is one of the most anticipated anime of the summer 2024 season. But fans eagerly watched the first episode and quickly discovered something was … off.

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On Sunday, July 7, criticisms started pouring in on social media. The subtitles for My Deer Friend Nokotan—or Shikanoko Nokonoko Koshitantan in Japanese, which we all now know because of the expert theme song—had multiple bizarre irregularities. The English, French, and German versions were particularly bad, featuring incorrect grammar and stilted word choices.

What’s more, the dub version of the show had to use that exact same script, so all those strange decisions are affecting both localized versions of the show.

Rightfully outraged fans wondered if the show was translated by AI. Many also pointed their fingers straight at Crunchyroll, the largest anime streamer and distributor for territories outside of Japan. But it should be noted that the dub isn’t even available on Crunchyroll currently—it’s on Prime Video. So even though Crunchyroll’s CEO spoke last year about being open to AI translation, this one’s not on them.

So did Nokotan suffer from an AI translation or pure human negligence? And who’s to blame?

Is it AI?

My Deer Friend Nokotan’s first episode has noticeably low-quality subtitle translations. Throughout the episode, there are grammar errors galore. I noticed that, if one screen of subtitles had two or more sentences, only the very first sentence would be capitalized. The episode is littered with rookie mistakes like that.

However, there’s one line that makes it unlikely that Nokotan’s poor translation is due to AI. Later in the first episode, protagonist Nokotan starts getting people to use the greeting “notsu,” which is translated to “nroh.” Because the rest of the episode was poorly translated, this joke was instead perceived as an error. But as sociolinguist Dr. Wes Robertson pointed out on Twitter/X, “tsuno” is “horn” spelled backward in Japanese, which has a syllabic alphabet, so to speak. Translating that to “nroh” is actually pretty clever, and something that AI is definitely not capable of coming up with.

As someone who works as a writer and has also dabbled in subtitling work before, I can tell you I truly think Nokotan simply suffers from bad human work. Nokotan’s subtitles clearly did not get a quality check and/or had oversight from an editor fluent in the necessary languages.

Even though it’s probably not AI, a sloppy job is still unfortunate and unpleasant to watch.

Why we might be here, and where to point fingers

It’s worth noting that My Deer Friend Nokotan’s status as a major title for the season was far from a given. Despite being animated by Wit Studio, the same studio behind Suicide Squad Isekai and half of Spy x Family, My Deer Friend Nokotan wasn’t this mega-popular manga destined to be a huge hit.

We’re here because, in late May, the second trailer for the series went viral for its absolute absurdity. The social media team behind the show then capitalized on that virality with brilliant followups. Shikanokonokonokokoshitantan, shikanokonokonokokoshitantan

This is pure conjecture, but perhaps a decision was made long ago not to pour a lot of money into My Deer Friend Nokotan’s distribution. This feels plausible because, no matter how you look at it, My Deer Friend Nokotan’s subtitling and dub script fail to live up to a high standard.

A series’ distributor is typically the party in charge of subtitling and getting the dub together (and, rather ironically, marketing). Crunchyroll is not the distributor for Nokotan. My Deer Friend Nokotan is not even a Crunchyroll exclusive—you can also watch it on Prime Video, ADN, and others. The distributor is a company called REMOW, which has only been around since November 2021. My Deer Friend Nokotan is by far their biggest title to date.

The fact that this kerfluffle will likely affect the reputation of the dub is disappointing because Nokotan’s dub is making history as the biggest dub since the pandemic done remotely. If the experiment succeeds, that could open the doors to a lot of new, exciting voice talent—actors wouldn’t necessarily have to be based in L.A. or Texas, which is great. So it should be noted that none of this is the performers’ fault. The script they’re reading from is, in this case, the same stilted script that sub fans are reading.

Twitter/X user HareshiAnime compiled some useful ways to give feedback to REMOW. And while frustration is one hundred percent justified, remember when giving feedback that aggressive messages are not going to help. Please be respectful!

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Kirsten Carey
Kirsten (she/her) is a contributing writer at the Mary Sue specializing in anime and gaming. In the last decade, she's also written for Channel Frederator (and its offshoots), Screen Rant, and more. In the other half of her professional life, she's also a musician, which includes leading a very weird rock band named Throwaway. When not talking about One Piece or The Legend of Zelda, she's talking about her cats, Momo and Jimbei.