We now join CSI: New York Season 8, Episode 17: Unwrapped already in progress…

Dr. Sheldon Hawkes is busy trying to piece together fragments of a porcelain figure recovered by detectives Messer and Flack. With any luck this figure may be a clue to the mysterious murder of Kelvin Moore, a successful accountant who was trying to give back to his community.

When the figure is complete they find it’s in the shape of a cat. Not only that, it has a strange symbol on the bottom that no one on their team nor all of their technology can appear to decipher.

It’s at this point that viewers in Japan start screaming at their TVs, “It’s NEKO ya dummies!”

Neko is the Japanese word for cat and in the case of this CSI figure, it is written in what could be called Japanese’s easiest character set, katakana.  Granted the “ko” is a little wonky but Japanese readers could have no trouble picking it out in about a millisecond.

Subtitles
“In Japan, it’s said that businesses thrive when placing them outside.
When I looked at the bottom there was some writing. It looked like Japanese characters.
This is not Chinese, Japanese, or Korean.
It doesn’t mean anything at all.”

Tweet
“Neko!”

Many comments came out over this conversation such as “Doesn’t anyone on the staff even have an acquaintance who knows anything about Japanese culture?” Indeed it seemed odd that in this information age, a high-tech crime lab couldn’t decipher one of the most basic words in Japanese.

The first challenge was finding this exact episode in the vast library of CSI. One of the Twitter comments mentioned seeing it on pay-TV service WOWOW. I cross-referenced the date of the tweet with WOWOW’s schedule but found that it was an episode of CSI: Las Vegas on at that time, not CSI: New York as the tweets had said.

Back at zero, I decided to analyse the photos again. I noticed a watermark in the corner of the TV screen and performed an image enhancement by holding ctrl and rolling the mouse wheel.

This revealed that the original tweet actually came from someone watching on TV Tokyo! However, checking their schedule I found that an episode of Grey’s Anatomy was on at the time of the tweet. Finally, I said “screw it” and googled “CSI NY cat.” Sure enough, I was taken to a summary of the exact episode in seconds.

With the information I decided to boot up my Hulu app and watch the episode to find what was actually said during that fateful scene. However, I forgot that Hulu kind of sucks and only had seasons one, five, six, and seven available…which doesn’t even make sense really. In the end I googled again and pulled up a script of the scene thus finding what they said in English.

“You ever heard of a Maneki Neko? It means ‘beckoning cat.’
It’s supposed to bring good luck to shop owners who display it.
Sure, I’ve seen ’em.
They are supposed to have their paw up.
This one’s just lying there.
I know, but the coloring and design details resemble that of maneki nekos.
Also there’s some type of Japanese calligraphy on its base.
What’s that telling us? Nothing yet, but I did confirm that the porcelain matches the trace that we found on the vestibule floor where Kelvin was killed.”

So, according to this, in the original dialog they seemed fully aware of the word “neko” but didn’t clearly reveal whether they knew its meaning or if they could read it in katakana. It was irrelevant anyway as traces of cocaine were also found on the figure leading the CSI: NY team down a whole other line of investigation.

Considering this, the subtitles do match up fairly close to the English dialog. It just seems that the ambiguous meaning of “mean” when juxtaposed with the image of “neko” on the screen suggested that the word itself didn’t mean anything, when actually they said it didn’t mean anything to the investigation.

This still leaves the line about it not being Chinese, Japanese, or Korean. Perhaps this was the subtitle writer misunderstanding the way “What’s this telling us?” was asked, or maybe they knew but just wanted to spice things up a bit by making Americans look extra ignorant of Asian languages.

Either way this case is closed. It wasn’t that the CSI: NY crew didn’t know “neko” it’s just that they didn’t care. And to the thousands of surprised Japanese Twitter users, watch out for dodgy subtitles and you won’t get fooled again.

Source: Twitter via Hamusoku (Japanese)