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Lost in Translation - This is My Translator Way Dattebanyao!

Hey everyone!
DzyDzyDino back again.

Was a couple weeks away, was off during the Jump Break week, and then had a busy week last week, but here again!

Finally finished playing and translating through the Yakuza 5 HD Remaster on stream! All that’s left are Isshin and Kenzan in the future at some point! Still have some more games in mind for translation playthroughs too!

Anyways, quick flashback sequence!

So to quickly review the main points I hopefully got to in the previous posts -- if you weren’t already aware, in Japanese, depending how you say something it can be honorific, polite, casual, or straight up rude… and everything in between. In manga and anime, how a character talks and what kind of language they use with whom define them.

These are “untranslatable” things in the sense that there’s no direct translation for them, but they need to be interpreted and localized to preserve the personality of the character and how they express themselves.

Literal translations fall into the trap of “X means Y always” and you end up with dry and often incorrect translations. Just because you can look up each word in a dictionary and it will equate doesn’t necessarily mean a translation is correct.

Okay, speaking of language that defines characters, I’m sure you’ve all seen characters defined by ways they end their sentences -- Like Naruto with his -dattebayo.

This whole “slapping an ending on your words and sentences” concept doesn’t really fly that well in English, we don’t end all our sentences with verbs that have a small finite amount of endings they conjugate to -- and even if we did, our verbs don’t conjugate with endings in that way.

If there’s a world where Naruto’s speech translates to --

“I’m Naruto dattebayo!”

“This is my Ninja Way dattebayo!”

“I’m gonna become the Hokage dattebayo!”

Then I seriously don’t want to be a part of that world. Let’s say we translated it to something… it’s still not much better.

“I’m Naruto, don’t you forget it!”

“This is my Ninja Way, don’t you forget it!”

“I’m gonna become the Hokage, don’t you forget it!”

Although that might work in a few situations, it definitely would get real awkward real quick, especially when it’s not used to proclaim something.

That doesn’t mean we can’t work in speech mannerisms, but forcing them onto the end of every single line the original appears will sound… well… forced.

Take the timeless high cultured interest that is… cat girls. You’ll usually always see the conversation rife with cat puns and double entendres. 

“Did you wanna go right meow or later? That’s absolutely purrfect~” etc etc etc. (my soul hurt typing those out)

The Japanese end of those is almost always less interesting actually. It’s just the usual cutesy/moe dialog with a “-nya” or -nyao” tacked on at the end. Sometimes turning na sounds into nya sounds too. (In case you didn’t already know, nya/nyao is the Japanese version of “meow”)

The cat girl with cat puns everywhere comes off as corny and cute, as was meant to be, as opposed to --

“Welcome home, meow!”
“Why are you coming home so late, meow?”
“And who’s that other girl you were with, meow?”

“Oh, I’m not jealous or anything, meow.”

“But If I see her with you again, I’ll take this knife and play Kurohige Kiki Ippatsu with her body, meow.”

I mean… /could/ it work? I guess? Does it sound natural? Not really.

So what do we do about these? It’s honestly different all the time. How central is this specific mannerism to the series and the character? (Like most every character in One Piece having their own personal laugh that makes a sound representative of their ability/personality -- and now you come to expect it from everyone) Does including it add something to the translation or take something away? How else can this be conveyed?

Like in the case of the cat girl nyao endings. It’s meant to make the character sound cute and… well… like a cat. So make the character sound cute and catsy and campy by slipping puns and meows in where you can, seems like a straight-forward thought process.

In the case of Naruto, often times translations would omit it entirely, or choose a consistent phrase to use for it and include it only in really meaningful moments. Sometimes this one can come back to haunt later… like when a character says the main character’s catchphrase back to them and it’s supposed to be meaningful… but it doesn’t have the weight because it wasn’t used to define the character.

Knowing the series and knowing the context are definitely important when making these kinds of decisions.

Like if you were doing a high school slice of life series, you’d almost certainly leave the honorifics like -san, -kun, -chan, -senpai intact, along with letting people refer to people by their last names instead of substituting in first names (which happens a lot), because all of that is going to come into play at some point almost certainly. Of course, this is just my opinion, but if you’re going to do a series that takes place in a Japanese High School, it doesn’t hurt to keep a little bit of Japanese in when it’s that relevant.

Of course it can be a slippery slope down to “Just according to keikaku -- keikaku means plan” of arbitrarily leaving words in Japanese for no other reason than to do so.

There’s also an argument of “Anime fans like it this way.” that comes up a lot… and when it comes down to it, it’s for the fans… the viewers… the readers. You’ve always got to translate with your audience in mind… but I’ve definitely seen that go wrong too… since the loudest fans often represent a minority of the audience… and once you start compromising everything to try and satisfy specific people… everything kind of crashes and burns.

Gonna actually keep today’s post short. 

Should be back to mostly weekly posts now!

As always, you can click on the post title to comment, and you can catch me streaming on Twitch at http://www.twitch.tv/dzydzydino

See you next week!