A while back I translated the last episode of HeartCatch Precure, which just got released today.

It’s been a weird and long journey. HeartCatch Precure is a show that started airing in February 2010, and ran for a year. In terms of the show, and for most people who really cared about it, it ended three and a half years ago. But for me personally it’s the show which has meant the most to me, and one it feels kind of weird to be finishing after all this time.

I love it dearly, of course. Whilst Precure 5 is probably my favourite Precure, I’d say HeartCatch is the best. Lovingly animated, with a vibrant cast and cohesive writing – no episode feels like a waste, they all feel fun and every situation and story it brings to the table is resonant and matters somehow down the line. When it wants you to smile, it can make you smile, when it wants you to cry, it can make you cry, and when it wants you to sing then it makes you owe it to the show to do so. I can say no words against it beyond “maybe it could do with an episode 48.5.” But that’s a whole other kettle of fish.

But the story of HeartCatch – the story of subbing HeartCatch – to me, is a very personal one. When the show started and we decided to sub it, it did so under the helm of three people who weren’t really up to the task, as a whole. A team that loved putting their stupid jokes into the script because it made things “funnier”, a team who simultaneously took everything too seriously and yet not seriously enough. And a team with a translator who had no real place being there.

That’s me, by the way.

When HC came around, we were all part of TV-Nihon. That’s a badge I wore and still look back on with some pride. For all the criticism you can lay at TV-N’s door for their work, they were good people. Set in their ways, definitely. But receptive and remarkably tolerant of our attempts to, as a little insular internal clique, do our weird magical girl shows whilst stretching every rule of how they operated.

I wouldn’t say we treated them well. Our project at the time, Precure 5, was a slaphazard mess. Our processes so chaotic, our workflow so slow, our execution so slapdash, the translator we roped into doing the show gave up about two episodes in, and I thought I could give translating a try. I’d been doing “translating” for a while before that, mind you, but just translating song lyrics and short things for my own amusement. Being self-taught in Japanese I’d picked up a lot of misconceptions and bad practice, and I had shocking gaps in my understanding. But I did “alright.” There were no captions for the show back then, and trying to translate sentences by ear was something I’d never done before. It was slow. Our workflow was shocking in both speed and execution, and our style in terms of the technical aspects of production was way too experimental for our skill and experience levels.

But for all the foibles, I think we made something passable. Maybe not something I’d find acceptable now, and almost probably not the best we could have done. But we didn’t have the knowledge and experience to know how to do our “best.” So we did what we did, and things were “okay.”

And then HeartCatch came along.

It was love at first sight, of course, how couldn’t it be? Our workflow on a non-weekly show was shockingly slow, but we still thought it was a good idea to try and do a weekly. So we did. It was a bumpy start – we had people on board who weren’t doing the project any favors, and being such a big popular show it became one of TV-N’s flagships. Takenoko loved the show. He wanted the best for it, and the best wasn’t what we could provide. Our speed wasn’t great at times but it was passable. We had to boot off our original editor after about 5 episodes when we got suspicious and version checked the script and realized all their changes were deliberate sabotages. Having to stick to TV-N’s QC and encoding processes was a cause of stress for some of our more progressive people. And there was me, bumbling along being passable still.

The entire thing soon collapsed under its own weight. How could it not? Lobster – my partner in crime on the show and timer/encoder wiz – was getting so stressed out at TV-N’s refusal to modernize, to adopt the improvements to their practices (and they were technical improvements) he was willing to suffer through a lot of bullshit to try and get them to implement. Meanwhile, my inexperience and nervousness over handling a project like this made me desperate to overdiscuss and think about every last little line, which quickly drove Takenoko up the wall. And it all contributed to make the project a chore, which in turn slowed it down, which in turn annoyed Takenoko further because it reflected badly on the group and tarnished a project he was personally very invested in. It all came to a head, things were said that shouldn’t have been on both sides, and we went our seperate ways in an ignominious and ungraceful parting.

In fairness to all sides, it was bound to happen. We were incompatible with TV-N, and our inexperience showed through on most aspects of the script. In a sensible world, we’d have thought long and hard about what went wrong and what to do about it.

In the world we live in, though, we just made Aesir and kept doing exactly what we were doing.

At our core there were four of us – myself, Lobster, our editor Podima, and a QCer we poached from TV-N named Alkaid. A few other QCers tagged along too. And that was enough. We could keep doing our subbing, with the people we enjoyed doing it with, and we were free to do whatever we liked! Free to encode how we wanted? Well, no, because people were used to having hardsubs and we didn’t want to alienate our audience. Free to not use the QC workflow that’s the cause of almost all TV-N’s problems? Well, no, because the QCers were used to it and anything that deviated too far would have been mindblowing. But free to do what we like with the script? Absolutely, so let’s fill it with dumb jokes and typesetting gags because no-one can tell us what to do anymore!

And on TV-N’s side, it was kind of their dream come true, I think. They were rid of us and all the baggage we brought, Takenoko got to do the translation of HeartCatch he’d been wanting to do the whole time (but couldn’t because we found the show and had dibs, basically) and do what he wanted with it. It could have been great, actually, Takenoko on a show he really loves is actually a sight to behold. But the time wasn’t taken. The moment we were gone, he started up immediately, rushing their version to market in the heat of the moment, making bad choices, and leading to such wonderous catchphrases as “My bag of tolerance has snapped.” And that too, in a way, was probably our fault.

But Aesir kept trundling along. And for a while, it was good. We hammered out some episodes for a few months, had fun being our own masters. This was in the period of time where – in the toku side of the fansub-watching community where we hung out, Over-Time didn’t exist yet, really. W-Time was still small, and as a result TV-N was the norm. We weren’t held to any kind of standards, because the great fansub wars hadn’t occurred to make people really question how their shows should be subbed. So we coasted on doing our thing, free from any real kind of expectation or condemnation, soldiering on. Being passable.

But really, our problems were never TV-N – they were our own. A change of scene had, at best, put things to one side. We were still the kind of people who got mad over things that really, in the grand scheme of things, don’t matter. We were still the kind of people who let that slow us down and disrupt our work. And we were still the kind of people for whom that would cause even more stress and bring things to a head. So HC slowed, and we all got mired down in fansubbing drama – getting mad at each other and ourselves, and letting that spoil our work. By the time we’d gotten to the 3/4 mark of subbing the show, the show was over.

And so, at that point, was our project.

Aesir’s HeartCatch died – in that form – a year after we started, 11 episodes away from the finish line. It was, much like our leaving TV-N, probably inevitable. Maybe we could have toughed it out and finished, but that’d probably only have made the stress worse, made the fallout worse. We weren’t, as individuals or a team, cut out for what we were doing. Not yet, at least.

Eventually, we all just merged into Over-Time. We kind of avoided working directly together within that framework as much as we could, out of a desire to at least protect our friendship from the ravages of fansubbing, but even just working side-by-side managed to inflame tensions. People moved on, and “Aesir” – the four people that originally comprised it, fell apart.

The end.

=== Epilogue: Three Years Later ===

The Aesir name, alas, didn’t die so easily. For all my faults – and I have many – I did keep translating stuff, maybe eventually getting to the point where I was a bit better than “passable.” Not my judgement call to make, I guess, but the Aesir name came in handy when I had something I wanted to do. Or we, I should say, had something we wanted to do – because Alkaid stuck around and we make a pretty good team if I say so myself.

So Aesir popped up to sub Fourze, which was great, and when we decided to start subbing Gaim – itself another story I could write 2000 words about, but let’s save that for when that project ends – the Aesir name came in handy there too. The people change, but the name stays the same. I like to think there’s a methodology there that stays the same too. Answer to no-one, have fun, and to thine own heart be true. In that sense, I don’t think Aesir ever really died. I’d like to hope as long as at least one of us is still around, it never will.

But I digress.

I was hanging around on IRC one day when I got a message from Rika. Rika’s a cool guy who kind of does a lot of admin for the Precure subbing community – running our main IRC bot, generally keeping people and things in line. A facilitator. Also a pretty good editor, it has to be said.

Anyway, Rika was like “Hey, your HeartCatch script archive only has your scripts for up to episode 24. Would you mind uploading the rest, because Commie needs them for their scrub.”

Wait, what?

At this point it should be said I wasn’t really keeping too close an eye on the Precure fansubbing community. I’d just come off of subbing Smile Precure, a show that could drain the souls out of far hardier people than I, and whilst I had been helping out on CureCom’s DokiDoki sub project, I’d kind of had to hand in my resignation when Gaim started up. So basically I had no clue that there was a HeartCatch reairing, no clue that Commie was subbing it, and no clue they were doing so using our scripts.

In a sense, I’m sort of flattered. Our early HeartCatch subs were not, by any stretch of the imagination, good – I was a novice translator struggling to get to grips with the technique of translating. In addition we never finished the show, and there were two other groups that had. In a sense I wish I’d known beforehand so I could have had a chance to address a lot of the odd stuff in our early HC – ditch the “[x] of the [y]” naming format I’d clung too way too strongly for starters. But had I committed to doing anything resembling a weekly, it probably wouldn’t have ended well knowing my motivation issues. Looking at it objectively, taking responsibility out of my hands was a good move.

Anyway, I uploaded the scripts for 25-38 as asked, as well as the 39+40 I’d done on a whim a year or so earlier because I had pretimes around. I got in contact with the lovely herkz who was running the project and said I’d translate the last nine episodes as well. In my true inimitable style I put that off for way too long, but still got it all done with time to spare to spend refining it. And the last nine episodes I’m very proud of, on the whole. I’m not in a position to judge how objectively “good” the scripts are, being the person who translated them I guess, but I think comparing the last few episodes to the first made for interesting reading on my part – though I’m sure Commie fixed the worst of my early blunders.

And there we go. Four years later, almost, and we’re done with HeartCatch. A lot of the people I’d like to thank are no longer in the community to be thanked, but to everyone who worked with us, who put up with us, who watched our work over the years – thank you. It’s been a long road since then and I still have a lot further to go to be where I want to be as a translator, but HeartCatch was the first step on that road to me. And that’s, I think, why I’ll always love it as much as I do.