Cultural Cross-Reference

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You're watching the dub of an anime, playing a localized version of an imported game, or reading a book or manga in translation. You stumble across a cultural reference that you're absolutely sure couldn't have been in the original — it just seems too culturally out-of-place to have been in the original source. Except that it was in the original.

Thanks to the increasingly international nature of popular culture, combined with Pop-Cultural Osmosis, an all-too-familiar cultural reference has managed to make its way halfway around the world, showing up in a completely unexpected place.


Examples:

    Comic Books 

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 
  • A significant subplot in Whisper of the Heart revolves around translating John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads" into Japanese for a school performance.
  • A Totoro doll appears at Bonnie's house in Toy Story 3. See here.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • There's this cop movie from Hong Kong where a jaded veteran cop has accepted his lot, having been crippled in the line of duty but winding up with a promotion. He says that his daughter got him hooked on manga, where he learned about something the subs called "fair trade". Think the actual translation might be "equivalent exchange"?
  • Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium has a Sgt. Frog doll appear.
  • Sunny is a Korean film about a group of woman being reunited due to the illness and later death of their friend. A large amount of it is flashbacks to them as high schoolers in The '80s. There are multiple references to western media, especially the song "Sunny" by Boney M.

    Literature 
  • The Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami does this a lot, and it's considered one of the distinguishing features of his popular style from more traditional Japanese literature. It also makes sense, as he lived in the U.S. for much of his life. Examples include:
    • The novel Norwegian Wood is named for the song by The Beatles, which plays a pivotal role in the story. (It's also a bit of a pun, since the song refers to "Wood" as in wood and the novel's title refers to "wood" as in a forest.)
    • Kafka on the Shore: the title character is named after Franz Kafka and the plot alludes to Oedipus Rex, which are not so unusual for literature, but the novel also features Colonel Sanders (as a pimp!), and Johnnie Walker as a cat-killer and possibly Kafka's father.
    • The title would also seem to be a riff on Philip Glass's Einstein on the Beach.
  • In the first Night Watch book, Anton briefly considers telling Egor he can be a Jedi of the Light, but quickly decides it's a bad idea. He also specifically explains that Night Watch agents are different to Superman.
    • Another book has a girl named Alita wearing a t-shirt of Battle Angel...Alita.
    • 'Who is James Bond?' 'A mythological character.'
  • The Canterbury Tales, written in the 14th century, has The Squire's Tale, about none other than Genghis Khan. Ironically, medieval Europeans knew of him, but not of many of the places he conquered.
  • In Dance of the Butterfly, Skothiam is explaining the two rival families' secret duty and how they breed or find demon hunters, and Lilja likens it to force-sensitives becoming Jedi or Sith.

    Live-Action TV 

    Music 

    Tabletop Games 
  • An American example: Twilight: 2000 has some of the early modules set in Poland after WW III. Some of the Polish gamers can't believe that this game exists.

    Theater 

    Video Games 
  • The Mad Butcher enemy from Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia looks an awful lot like Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. He even has the chainsaw, despite the game taking place in the 19th century. There's also the Jersey Devil that shows up in the Agila Swamp.
  • Battalion Wars II's last boss was described by Kaiser Vlad as a "fully armed and operational mining spider". You do the math.
  • The Final Fantasy series has recurring minor characters known as Biggs (occasionally mistranslated as "Vicks") and Wedge, named after Luke Skywalker's fellow Red Squadron pilots in Star Wars.
    • In addition to "Biggs" and "Wedge," Final Fantasy VIII had a character named "Piett" (as in The Imperial Admiral from ESB and RotJ) as well. The characters Nida (like "Needa") and Martine (who was named "Dodonna" in the Japanese version) are also Star Wars references.
    • When Celes is introduced in Final Fantasy VI, if Locke is still wearing the stolen Imperial soldier uniform when he releases her, she'll remark "Aren't you a little short for a soldier?" and then he switches back to his regular clothes when he realizes he's still in disguise.
    • There's also the final boss of the ninth game quotes Yoda: "Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering."
    • Vicks, Wedge, and Piett also appear as part of a guessing game in Chrono Trigger.
    • Aside from Balthier's uncanny resemblance to Han Solo, Final Fantasy XII also throws in several Homage Shots to Star Wars.
    • The very first game had numerous creatures, spells, and even a major character (Bahamut) lifted directly from Dungeons & Dragons. A few were name-changed, such as Kary on the NES who received her real, D&D name of Marilith in later releases, and Wizard and Sorcerer on the NES, who are clearly Mind Flayers. Others, such Lich and Nightmare, keep their D&D origin. Finally, some that D&D took from mythology appear closer to the D&D form than to myth, such as Kraken and Tiamat.
    • Bahamut is a recurring character in Final Fantasy, and his visual reference almost always evokes his Dungeons & Dragons origin, though he doesn't always take on Bahamut's significance. Exhibits: Bahamut in the Final Fantasy Series and Bahamut from one of many Dungeons And Dragons settings.
  • While Viva Piñata is native to Britain, the Ponocky species' Punny Name references the popular Japanese cookie snack Pocky.
  • Shin Megami Tensei tosses in a few of these. Possibly the most famous are a No Celebrities Were Harmed version of Michael Jackson and Lawyer Friendly Cameos of Audrey Jr. and Betelgeuse in Shin Megami Tensei II, but they take demons and other things from such diverse sources that they're hardly the only ones. Among others, the inhabitants of the Velvet Room in the Persona series have theme naming from Frankenstein that goes far deeper than the cursory knowledge one would expect, and Persona's Philemon is derived from a Jungian figure that's obscure in cultures you would expect to be familiar with his work.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
  • The Metal Gear series contains so many Shout Outs to American and British action movies you could easily forget it was made in Japan. The surprise was Metal Gear Solid 4 including a Shout-Out to Police Squad!.
  • The NES game Monster Party would have been released in Japan as Parody World: Monster Party, with parodies of Alien, Gremlins, and Planet of the Apes. These references were removed in the US release.
  • When Gig of Soul Nomad & the World Eaters is asked about any of the other World Eaters, he responds by describing Superman, Martian Manhunter, a generic Green Lantern, and The Flash.
  • EarthBound was made in Japan, but has a huge number of Shout Outs to The Beatles and others, though a few references, including one to Monopoly, were decidedly Lost in Translation, some deliberately to avoid potential lawsuits.
  • In Dragon Age: Origins you are asked a riddle that begins 'The smallest lark can carry it...'. One of the multiple choices is 'A coconut'. However, Monty Python and the Holy Grail probably has more cultural penetration than any film you can think of. How often do you hear "I'm not dead", "It's just a flesh wound", etc. More than one game has sentinels asking "What is your name", "What is your quest" followed by something difficult. And the ancient game Wizardry 1 has the Vorpal Bunny that had only a few hit points but could suddenly do 100 damage.
  • The first Silent Hill game, during a level in the school you can obtain a list of teachers, which reads: K. Gordon, T. Moore, L. Ranaldo, S. Shelley. A much larger list of references is available on That Other Wiki.
  • Nostalgia features a minor pair of NPCs, the newlywed Anastasia and Dmitri. Yes, like the Don Bluth Anastasia movie.
  • Touhou:
    • The references range from the overt (a lot of the gameplay in Undefined Fantastic Object is one big Space Invaders reference) to the subtle (Flandre's theme music and one of her Spell Cards take their names from Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None) and everything in between.
    • Another overt reference comes in Urban Legend in Limbo, where every character has a super move based off of an Urban Legend; Mamizou's is based off of The Men in Black, and has her using a Neuralizer on her opponent.
  • In Yoake Mae Yori Ruriiro Na: Moonlight Cradle (a collection of side-stories), there's a scene in which Stars and Stripes Forever appears as background music.
  • The Quox in The Tower of Druaga is apparently named after a dragon from Tik-Tok of Oz.
  • World of Warcraft:
  • In Tales of Innocence, Iria's father comments that her siblings are called Monica, Ross and Gunther — characters from Friends. Some actually believed this to be an attempt at Woolseyism by the game's fan translator, but when questioned about it, he confirmed that yes, that's in the Japanese script too. He was as surprised as anyone else.
  • The Witch and the Hundred Knight has one of eponymous characters (the protagonist, though not the player character) named Metallica. The localization took out the c to avoid lawsuits.
  • Animal Crossing, despite being a Japanese game, has two different references to the 4th of July (American Independence Day):
    • The villager Apollo, a bald eagle (the USA's national bird) whose birthday is on July 4. It's also speculated that his name (which, unlike most characters, is the same in both the Japanese and English versions of the games) is a reference to Apollo 11, the first manned spacecraft to land on the moon.
    • In the original game, July 4 is the anniversary of the opening of the town's train station. This "holiday" is celebrated with fireworks, Redd giving out balloons and pinwheels, and Tortimer giving you a model bottle rocket.
  • Harle, one of the Loads and Loads of Characters in Chrono Cross, is apparently based on Harley Quinn from the Batman series. She even had the same color scheme in an early prototype.
  • If you enter your name as "SOUTHPARK" in Ao Oni then the game's sprites will be drawn in the South Park paper cutout style, complete with plentiful references to the series with characters saying catchphrases from the show and rats eating the corpses of any of the characters who die.
  • Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti was only released in Japan, yet most of its Boss Battles reference American Horror Films.
  • The Yo-kai Watch spinoff Yokai Watch Blasters is one big reference to Ghost Busters.
    • The character of Robonyan in said franchise is one big Terminator reference, to the point that there was a Japan-only event where Ahnold himself had a meet-and-greet with a Robonyan costumed mascot.
  • Secret of Mana has werewolves strike a Michael Jackson pose when they heal themselves. If that's not enough, zombie enemies sometimes moonwalk.

    Visual Novels 

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 

Alternative Title(s): Cross Cultural Reference

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