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Lost in Localization - Furigana

Hello again, DzyDzyDino here!

I wanted to talk about Furigana and some of the ways it’s used in manga.

Japanese can be written three ways. Two alphabets and kanji, which are Chinese characters (though they often have different meanings from their Chinese counterparts). Alphabets are alphabets. Collections of characters that individually mean nothing but make phonetic sounds you can put together to make words.

Kanji are “symbols” that each represent different words.

上, 下, 右, 左 = up, down, left, right.

春、夏、秋、冬 = Spring, summer, fall, winter.

赤、青、緑、黒、白 = Red, Blue, Green, Black, White.

Kanji can have multiple readings and these readings can change depending on context.

For example, 力 is read “chikara” and means power or strength.

人 is read “hito” and means person.

人力, however, is not read “hitochikara” but “jinriki” and means manpower (literally person power).

重 read “omo”, normally written out as an adjective as 重い “omoi” means heavy.

But 重力 isn’t read “omochikara”, and it isn’t read “omoriki”. It’s read “juuryoku” and means gravity (heavy power).

That’s at least three different ways to read 力 depending on context. But that’s only one of roughly 2,000 kanji that make up the most commonly used and taught ones.

With so many possible readings for so many kanji, the process of learning all (or most) of them isn’t something that happens overnight. Reading material aimed at younger audiences will almost always have “furigana” or “yomigana”. These are small characters written above (or to the right in the case of vertical oriented writing) the kanji giving the reading. This way you can start to recognize and associate the kanji with its reading and, ideally, eventually remember it.

Furigana gets used for other purposes as well, particularly in manga.

The most common and prevalent example is attack names. No manga would be complete without shouting out names of special attacks as you toss them out. For some reason, these moves always have English names, or German, or French, or Spanish, or something foreign. Sometimes, the name of the attack and the kanji used for have the same meanings.

For example, in Seven Deadly Sins, Merlin has an ability called “Perfect Cube” and it’s written,

完璧なる立方体 which is normally read “kanpeki naru rippoutai” and means “perfect cube”. In the manga, you would see 完璧なる立方体 with パーフェクトキューブ (Paafekuto Kyuubu) written next to it.

Sometimes the attack has a “cool” sounding name that gives one meaning, and then the kanji describes what the attack actually is. For example, back in Joseph Joestar’s younger days, he had a move called “Overdrive” オーバードライブ and the kanji for it was 波紋疾走 (Hamon Shissou).

The kanji literally translate to Ripple Rush or Ripple Dash, though in context of the series, Hamon would be left as Hamon as it’s a proper name of a technique. In this case, he uses this technique to project his Hamon energy out. Overdrive makes it sound like he’s overcharging his hamon energy, and then the kanji leads you to the meaning of him expelling it after charging it up. Also the “high-speed” imagery too.

Hunter X Hunter is an interesting example of all this. Togashi loooooves to have the kanji and the reading have a referential or witty connection rather than be connected by definition.

Let’s take Shalnark/Chrolo’s cellphone ability.

The ability uses a cellphone and antenna to control someone else and is called “Black Voice”, or ブラックボイス (burakku boisu).

It’s written as 携帯する他人の運命 or Keitai Suru Tanin no Unmei, which literally means Portable Someone Else’s Fate. You could probably call it something cool like Portable Fate, Mobile Phate (instead of mobile phone? No? Okay, nvm.), or slightly liberal but long-winded to match the original. “Another’s Fate in Your Hands”.

The portable/handheld part of the ability is what you call a cellphone in Japanese. 携帯電話 or Keitai Denwa: Portable/handheld phone.

Meanwhile Black Voice might give you an idea of a voice whispering sinister commands into someone’s ear, or whatever your imagination wants to do with it.

Another ability he had was called Sun and Moon (サンアンドムーン)with the kanji being 番いの破壊者 normally read Tsugai no Hakaisha and meaning Paired Destroyers or The Destroyer Pair/Couple.

Both parts together describe the ability. He places a sun symbol on one person and a moon symbol on another. When the two make contact, they explode. So, how would you translate that? Well… you don’t. Generally we call the move whatever the reading is. If it’s supposed to be read “Sun and Moon”, the move is called Sun and Moon. Our standard procedure is to put a translator note and say what the meaning of the kanji was.

Furigana can also be used to remind you of things, like again in Hunter X Hunter, the current arc has 14 Princes and remembering which is which can be a headache. Usually when they reference the princes in Hunter X Hunter, they’ll call them, for example, “First Prince” with the reading “Benjamin”. In that situation, we can just simply translate it to “First Prince Benjamin”, unless it’s like the third time it’s being said on one page, in which case I’d probably just leave it as Benjamin at that point.

Other times you’ll see it used for referential subtext, like someone saying あのバカ (ano baka, that idiot) with another character’s name given as the reading. So they’re saying “that idiot”, but we know who they’re talking about. Again, in these cases, it’s easy to translate to “that idiot, soandso”.

Sometimes you’ll even see ellipses given as a reading to insinuate something unspoken/unknown or sinister. Like if someone picks up the phone lookin’ all shady and says “I’ll get back to you about THAT INCIDENT”. With “THAT INCIDENT”, (あの事件), having ellipses for the reading. Meant to mean either “you know what incident we’re talking about and it ain’t good.” or “Whatever this is… it’s shady.”. Often, italics can get this across just adding stress to it.

Now that I’m doing these blogs regularly again, I’m doing my best to collect interesting examples. I’ll try to see if I can start embedding screenshots of panels too. I know I glossed over a lot of stuff, this already ran long as is. I wanted to talk about a lot more but I’ll save it for next week!

As always, you can click on the title of the post to leave a comment!

And I’ve finished Yakuza 3 and currently llive translating and playing through Yakuza 4/龍が如く4 HD Remaster right now - 5 nights a week at: http://www.twitch.tv/dzydzydino

Until next week!