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Lost in Translation - A New Age Band by Any Other Name...

Guess what time it is? Yup! Time to get derailed from my scheduled topics and talk about other stuff!

DzyDzyDino here!

So as I’m doing this blogs weekly and still trying to come up with a format that works and that I’m always interested in writing, I think I’ll be sticking to having a loose schedule of things I’d like to talk about (and will get to eventually), but postponing it if anything pops up interesting to talk about -- usually from either the chapters I translate weekly, the games I stream and translate while playing on the daily, or just random stuff that happens that week.

So this week I thought I’d derail our ongoing topic with a fun little thing I bumped into last night while streaming Yakuza 5 HD Remaster.

There’s a chapter where you play as an idol (which is, IMO, the best Idol Simulator in any game ever. [email protected] needs to get on this level.), living her life, rehearsals, show appearances, fan events, everything -- in addition to the main plot, ofc. 

One of the side quests involves bumping into a bunch of fans on the street, and they all crowd around and ask for autographs, so you agree to sign stuff for all of them. It plays out kind of like a minigame, where each person tells you their name and gives a description of what kanji are used, and you’ve got to multiple choice select the right kanji.

This ties back in a bit to my post about names in Japanese. There’s so many readings for every kanji, and especially when it comes to names where people can be a bit creative and expressive, they can “spell” a name with whichever kanji they want that name to mean. ESPECIALLY in manga and anime, where names can try to be cool or represent the character in some way. Like a name “Touya” could be 遠矢 literally “far” and “arrow”, a far-flying arrow (and the same kanji could also be used as a name and pronounced “Enya” -- also interesting, because in Jojo, there was the old woman named Enya after the New Age band, but she’s got her special arrows that become a plot point later on, and though her name isn’t written with kanji, it could have that implication.) 

Touya could also be 塔谷 for tower valley, I mean… the list goes on and on even for common ones. Or you can get into anime-ish names like 刀夜 or 十夜 (Blade Night and Ten Nights) still pronounced Touya. 

Usually with names if no reading is given, you’ll probably be guessing the most “common” reading of that name, though in manga -- even in seinen manga where furigana (readings for kanji) are not commonplace or visual novels where they’re almost never present, upon introducing a character for the first time, they’ll give the reading for their name.

So, back to this quest --

The first guy comes up and says “My name is Ichirou, written with “ichi” as in the number and “rou” like the usual one you’d use for a name.” -- and among your choices, 一郎 is one of them. Though they’ll throw in at least one to trip you up, this time it was “一朗” which of course, also reads “Ichirou”.

The second was a woman who says “My name is ‘Misaki’, written with beautiful (utsukushii), bloomed (saita), and princess (ohimesama).” -- Of course, when she says what they’re written with, the game doesn’t display it in kanji, but just in hiragana.

Utsukushii is written 美しい and the 美 part is very common in female names, since it means beauty. Usually carries the reading of “mi”, though the other reading of this kanji is “bi” as in 美少女 (bishoujo) or 美少年 (bishounen). There’s no rule as to why it’s bishoujo and not mishoujo. You just learn these things. (PS. Don’t say Mishoujo. It’s not a thing.)

So her name is 美咲姫, though 美咲 by itself could already be read as “Misaki” (and Miki, and Misa.) There’s a fair amount of female names that start with 美咲 which would mean beautiful bloom by itself.

Third guy says he’s “Toshio” (meow). So when describing what kanji a name is made up with, if the kanji isn’t described like “ya as in night” or “ichi as in the number” like the above, they’ll cite an example where that kanji is used. Like in this case, Toshio says his name is written with  びんかんの「びん」and おすめすの「おす」which means the “bin” from binkan (which means perceptive/aware, quick-witted, alert, etc.) and the “osu” from “osumesu”.  Osu/Mesu means Male/Female, though almost always used for animals or non-human things. If you called a girl a “mesu” you almost assuredly wouldn’t be saying it in a nice way (or maybe you were calling her a scalpel… or a… mess…?) You may also see “mesu” a lot if you read… ermm… certain independently published fan-made manga… often times with characters from popular series… ummm… often in… less characteristic scenarios?... ummm… yeah, you get it. Usually in those scenarios it kinda gets used like to describe someone as being just kinda animalistic like “a b*tch in heat.” (yes, I’ve translated all kinds of things in the past…)

So “binkan” is written 敏感, and the bin part is 敏 (the latter part, kan, means feeling. As a suffix in words, it usually denotes some kind of feeling or emotion or sense). -- now, this kanji doesn’t actually have a reading of “toshi” apart from in names. Why that is? I’m not sure, I’m sure someone knows -- maybe it’s an outdated reading, or maybe someone famous had it as their name once and it stuck? There are lots of super unique readings for names out there, maybe we’ll get into that some other day.

Though you may know man/woman as 男(otoko) and 女(onna), Osu and Mesu are 雄 and 雌, though these kanji are not super common -- you’ll normally just see them written out as オス and メス. In this case it’s just taking 雄 with the reading of “o”.

So, Toshio is 敏雄 - an alert/aware/perceptive male. The multiple choices in this case gave other readings for Toshio like 敏男 which on top of having the same reading, has pretty much the same meaning. 利雄, 敏夫, etc. There’s a massive number of ways to write the name “Toshio” like most other names.

The next guy comes up and says his name is “Ryouma” just like /the/ Ryouma, he says. To which your character understands to be Sakamoto Ryouma -- an important historical figure during the Bakumatsu of Japan/ending of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

That’s all the info the game gives you, but his name is written as dragon and horse. 龍馬. Among your multiple choices is also 竜馬 which is read as “Ryouma” and which means… dragon and horse. Yay.

According to the dialog that follows in the game, there was a story and a drama about Sakamoto Ryouma in which the main character’s name was 竜馬 among other things. It went on to say that it can be a common mistake as to how his name is actually written because of this, but the name in actuality is 龍馬. 

Yup, two ways in Japanese in write Dragon. (Simplified Chinese has another even).

The last one is a little kid who says his name is “Kirari” written with the ‘ki’ from ‘kirei’ (pretty/beautiful), the ‘ra’ from ‘Ashura’(like the mythological demigods… bruh.), and the ‘ri’ from ‘ruri’(Lapis Lazuli).

Needless to say, the last two words/kanji are much less common. I know Ashura ‘cause I’m a nerd and play tons of video games. I only vaguely if at all could recall the kanji for ‘ruri’ from doing Dr. Stone -- though the character Ruri in it doesn’t write her name with kanji, though she is named after Lapis Lazuli.

The main character literally gives the pikachu blank stare to the kid and says “Ehrm… do /you/ actually know how to write this in kanji?” (and the kid responds “duh, it’s my own name. Besides they’re not even hard.” just to make her feel bad.)

綺麗(kirei - beautiful)      綺 - ki

阿修羅(ashura/asura - mythological demigod(s))   羅 - ra

瑠璃(ruri - Lapis Lazuli)    璃 - ri

They definitely try to be mean on the multiple choice on this one. The right answer, 綺羅璃 is right next to 綺羅瑠 (the other kanji from ruri, which I guess would end up reading Kiruru?). Just in case you only vaguely remembered how to write it.

The 羅 from Ashura by itself could mean gauze or thin silk, or relating to Rome, or arranged/spread.

So I guess this name could be beautifully arranged lapis lazuli?

Oof. It was a fun little quest we went through last night. You may be wondering -- How in the world do you translate a quest like that to localize it to an American audience? Well… you… don’t.

In the original non-remaster version of this game that did get an American localization, this quest pretty much went “Hi, could you make my autograph out to ‘John’?”

Then the multiple choice would have “Jon, John, Jhon, Jawn, Johnny” and assuming you had some semblance of short term memory, you just picked whatever they told you one second ago. Since there’s no way to write out the name in English without… well… writing it out.

There’s a handful of things throughout the Yakuza/龍が如く game series that just don’t translate at all, and they had to do some localization gymnastics to weave into the game still. It’s been a great experience playing through the whole series in Japanese and getting to see the game in its original form. As a translator, I love to see how other people have approached their translations. While I obviously don’t always agree, as long as they had intent in what they did and actually cared and put effort in, I always respect their work.

I always feel as though no matter how much you may want a translation that’s totally literal, anything translated work you read will always be through the filter and voice of the person translating it. This has been true long, long before manga and anime. Great works of literature often get multiple passes of translation, with scholars debating over how things should have been translated and what nuances were intact in the original.

Even in music, the works of many early composers, particularly in the Baroque era, were written without any phrasing present in the manuscript. You can usually find these “raw” manuscripts available, like in Bach’s case, as what are known as the Urtext editions. Otherwise every single publisher that prints Bach’s music will study the score, applying what they’ve studied and how they interpret the piece to put their own vision and understanding of everything from phrasing and dynamics to the tempo of the piece on it. Not everyone has the time to study the Baroque Era to such a degree that they could come up with a solid interpretation of a Bach piece, and maybe not everyone wants to create their own interpretation. Either way, what you get is “translated” by someone with a (presumed) understanding of the source material into something more easily communicated and understandable.

Anyways -- I could literally do endless posts about Japanese names, especially ones in manga/anime, but I’ll end this one here as I’ve once again been running on for way too long! We’ll be back on topic again next week!

Thank you as always for reading mangastream and for reading my posts! You can click on the post title to comment if you’d like to discuss anything, or you can come by and check out my streams on twitch.tv at

http://www.twitch.tv/dzydzydino

I’m still streaming through Yakuza 5 (龍が如く5) HD Remaster and translating on-the-fly 5 nights a week (every night except Monday and Thursday). It’s a long game, but it’s a masterpiece!

Until next week then! Take care and stay cool everyone! (ugh, heat sucks.)