The Problem with Nagatoro’s “Sus”

The Problem with Nagatoro’s “Sus”

The “Sus” That Started It All

It’s been a good 9 months since Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro aired, so I think I’m finally ready to write about Nagatoro’s use of the word “sus.” And while this article is going to focus on Nagatoro, my arguments apply to any anime that use short-lived slang in their translations.

So, let’s start by revisiting the fateful “sus.” As shown below, Nagatoro says “You’ve been acting sus this whole time.” to her senpai in one of the episodes. This caused chaos in the community online. And while I don’t necessarily think this is the worst offender, it’s an example of one of my issues with liberal translations.

I tend to prefer translations that are more literal. And while subtitles tend to be more literal than dubbed lines, translators still take liberties with them. Nagatoro’s “sus” is one such liberty.

Nagatoro saying "sus" from the anime series Don't Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro
Nagatoro saying “sus”

In the official translation of the manga, Nagatoro refers to her senpai’s actions as “super weird.” And in a fan translation, she says “totally suspicious.” Based on that, “sus” isn’t a terrible translation for the anime to use. It means the same thing and it’s recognizable as being short for suspicious.

What makes this a “bad” translation choice in my eyes is the reasoning behind it. If we’re being honest, the only reason “sus” was chosen as the translation is because of the slang word’s rise in popularity due to the game Among Us and the memes it spawned.

If Among Us memes didn’t take the internet by storm, this translation wouldn’t have happened. Unfortunately for the anime, by the time it aired, Among Us memes were outdated and “cringe,” as the kids would say.

Cheap, Short-Term Victories

If Among Us and the memes spawned from it were still at the height of their popularity when Nagatoro aired, her use of “sus” probably wouldn’t have been as divisive. People would have thought it was funny (some people still did).

But since the meme had already died and the majority of people had moved on from playing Among Us, this translation got a lot of backlash. And that’s the risk taken when using short-lived memes within translations. They can increase popularity within a very short window. But outside of that window, they’ll typically be viewed negatively.

Let’s use another meme as an example. The whole Harambe thing lasted for a relatively long time as far as memes are concerned. But would anyone really think it’s funny if Nagatoro referenced Harambe in an episode? I don’t think so. The time for that is long gone and now it would just be viewed as desperate.

Sakura, Maki, Nagatoro, and Yoshi dressed as cat maids from the anime Don't Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro
Sakura, Maki, Nagatoro, and Yoshi dressed as cat maids

Using a meme that’s out of style has a very “how do you do, fellow kids?” vibe to it. I’d also say that anime these days feel much more corporate. There are huge companies, like Sony and Amazon, buying up series left and right. And that definitely plays into what makes the appropriation of these memes feel even more disingenuous.

Did you watch The God of High School? It was a Crunchyroll (which is now owned by Sony) “original” anime that had Crunchyroll ads placed throughout the series. Imagine if an anime like that also attempted to rely on memes for cheap wins while already selling out.

I’m sure we’re going to see more anime do this in the future. If some random seasonal anime that will be forgotten in a month anyway happens to use a meme while it’s still relevant, it’s going to be a huge talking point (which, to be fair, still happened with Nagatoro).

Dating an Anime

The other issue I see with using memes and short-lived slang in translations is that it can date an anime. And unfortunately, when I say “date an anime,” I don’t mean it in a good way like “date an anime girl.”

What I mean is that it causes anime to show their age. Obviously, anime show their age in many ways. The visual style of a series can tell you when it was made. Or maybe if you see characters in the anime with flip phones, you know it was made, or at least originally written, in the 2000s.

With memes, however, anime can be dated on much shorter timespans. It’s no longer a matter of being able to tell which decade an anime is from just by looking at it. Now you can tell what year, or even season it came out in.

Nagatoro's cute smile from the anime series Don't Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro
Nagatoro’s cute smile

Let’s say you’re watching Nagatoro in 2022. Nothing about it would really tell you when it was from. That is until you reach Nagatoro saying “sus.” Then, you’d have a good idea that it came out shortly after, or maybe even during, the Among Us craze.

And I think tying anime to events in the real world is somewhat detrimental. It breaks the immersiveness of a series, in my opinion. When I’m watching an anime, I don’t want to be reminded that Among Us was a huge online phenomenon. It’s kind of like how the translator for Netflix’s Evangelion subtitles added in modern politics. Nobody wants that.

One last thing I’ll mention in regards to dating anime is that some of these jokes simply won’t make sense in the near future. Sus will still make sense because it’s just slang for suspicious. But if the Harambe example I mentioned earlier was real, that would make no sense to a lot of people today.

Harambe died 6 years ago, by the way. Kids are watching anime now, and maybe even reading this, who have no idea who that is.

Conclusion

What do you think of adding memes and time-limited slang in anime subtitles? Should series do it? Or should they stay away and go with more traditional translations? Let me know in the comments.

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