Translation Style Choices

Translation is something of a difficult process. When translating from one language to another (Japanese to English or vice versa being an example many readers will be familiar with) there are a number of cultural quirks and little rules for you to consider. (See Gratuitous Japanese for more on this.)

So, there are basically five ways translators go about their work (and three in which they hopefully don't):
1. Cut-and-Paste Translation: It shouldn't be too hard to guess what method this is; essentially, it's an extremely loose adaptation, or translation by Broad Strokes. This can be fairly advantageous for the viewer who is otherwise unfamiliar with the source material (hey, no cultural changes for you to appreciate/go "what the blank" over!), but hardcore fans of the original will feel violated to say the least (and if done without the consent or knowledge of the original producers, they can feel rather violated as well).

Examples

  • Just about any anime dubbed by 4Kids Entertainment. This still leaves out stuff like Funky Cops and the more recent Dinosaur King, both which are perfectly faithful to the original.
  • Robotech, the original anime example.
  • Voltron, another major early example, didn't try to be so faithful to the source material, cutting out most examples of violence and death and hiding the fact that (in the GoLion, or "Lion Voltron" part) Earth has nuked itself into oblitaration by making the Five-Man Band not last survivors of Earth, but agents of the Galaxy Alliance from the Dairugger XV ("Vehicle Voltron" part), also tying the two series together.
  • Outside of anime, there are far fewer examples of this. One of note, however was Eric Thompson's adaptation of The Magic Roundabout for The BBC, in which only the visuals of the original French versions were used. Thompson made up his own storylines which were conveyed by the dubbed narration.
  • Like The Magic Roundabout, the UK dub of Insektors abandoned the original French lines for brand new lines with lots of regional accents. The US dub was less creative.
  • Samurai Pizza Cats fell into this by necessity, since Saban was not given scripts along with the footage (or they were given scripts but they were completely unusable). The staff made up their own names, stories and dialogue. As with the Magic Roundabout example, very few people even know or care about the original, and the English version is considered quite good in its own right.
  • The DiC dub of Sailor Moon.
    • Cloverway's dub of S and Super S wasn't as bad. It did, however, try to continue where DiC left off (using their terms and names) as well as trying to be faithful to the original. It didn't mesh well.
  • Every dub of the original Science Ninja Team Gatchaman series (with the exception of the ADV dub), including Battle of the Planets, G-Force: Guardians of Space, and Saban's Eagle Riders.
  • This form of translation isn't unique to animation:
    • During the Cold War the American B-movie market managed to get hold of Soviet sci-fi films and either creatively adapt them or use them as Stock Footage. Nebo Zovyot ("The Sky Calls") becoming Battle Beyond the Sun is particualrly notable, not only for involving a young Francis Ford Coppola (who was responsible for inserting a short scene involving genetalia-inspired monsters) but for clearly hiding its blatantly Soviet origins by making the space race to Mars depicted as being two future post-apoclyptic supersates (North and South Hemis) and replacing the Framing Device of an interview with a Soviet concept designer with a mini-documentary intro featuring American concept models of spacecraft. Character names are Anglicized and the acting credits are the dub voice actors, not the original Soviet cast.
    • On TV, of course, we have Power Rangers (and similar cash-in attempts like VR Troopers) which avoided the obvious cultural problems (and showing an all-Asian cast) by simply dispensing with the original narrative for a completely new one, only using the action scenes and occasionally scenes involving the bad guys.


1.5. Streamlined: Somewhere between Cut-and-Paste Translation and Woolseyism. With Streamlined dubs, the plot is usually kept intact, although almost all dialogue is thrown out the window and replaced. Sometimes, this works quite well. Streamline Pictures, the Trope Namer, and Manga UK were very famous for this style of dubbing.

Examples:


2. Woolseyism: Named on TVTropes after Ted Woolsey, who was known for his more pragmatic translations of games. This approach is formally referred to as dynamic equivalence; the general idea is that the translation should give the foreign audience the same experience as the original, even if some details have to be altered and some aspects that would cause controversy or fail to translate sensibly just have to be left out. The general guideline when using this method is that the work needs to be self-contained; if the script contains references or connotations that wouldn't be obvious to the target audience, those elements should probably be left out or changed. It's probably the best tool for a localization: the purists get their original storyline intact (more or less), but you don't need an introductory lesson in a foreign language and culture to understand what's going on. Of course, the hardcore purists will still hate it. But when you get right down to it, the hardcore purists hate everything — they should probably stick to the original language of the production in question.

Examples:

  • Final Fantasy VI
  • Chrono Trigger
  • The Ace Attorney series.
  • The Paper Mario series.
  • The Spanish translation of "Phineas and Ferb" has a lot of this. One of the translated songs goes like this: "ornitorrinco, australiano, mamífero, semi-acuático, agente" (a duck-billed Australian amphibious mammal agent) instead of "semi-aquatic egg laying mammal of action". This prevents WMG regarding Perry's gender - since, if he's male, why would he lay eggs? For bonus points, the translation keeps the rhymes intact.
  • The Mario & Luigi Series not only has this, but Fawful speaks in Engrish, an obvious Take That to the original language.
  • Naruto's dub probably qualifies. The character names and general setting are left intact, but all the jutsu names and other general terminology are translated, not literally at times.
    • Case in point: When Jiraiya comes to the rescue with a giant toad to crush a three-headed snake, the name of the Ninja Art Summoning Jutsu in Japanese is Yatai Kuzushi no Jutsu or Food Cart Destroyer Technique. The English version (Whoo, David Lodge!) has the name rendered as Bring Down the House Jutsu. While just being plain funny for an attack name, it's also very appropriate given Jiraiya's hammy personality. The fact that the toad itself could very likely actually smoosh a house helps too!
  • When translations of well-known plays in other languages aren't directly 'academic' or cut-and-paste, they can get this treatment. For instance, a particularly interesting translation of Chekhov's Three Sisters involves a servant saying 'Up yours, butterballs'.
  • The Astérix series. Although faithful to the general plots and spirit of the originals, many of the jokes and puns are completely changed in the English version. Notably, a lot of afficionados feel that the punny names are even better in the English version.
  • Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy XII and the PSP version of Final Fantasy Tactics (the original PSX version was an Engrish wonderland).
  • Any of the Disney-Ghibli dubs. The character's names, stories, and overall plots remain true to the originals, even though the translations are often liberal (and in the case of Kikis Delivery Service and Castle in the Sky, contain some additional pieces of music – the latter of which was done by, interestingly, original composer Joe Hisaishi himself with Miyazaki's personal approval). Of course there are fans who insist that the Japanese versions and/or previous English translations are the only way to experience his films... but there are others who have responded otherwise.
    • Come to think of it, didn't Miyazaki himself say that the ideal experience for any viewer is in their own language – i.e. dubbed?Answer 
  • Brazilian translation for Harry Potter uses it. The character's and the four houses' names were changed, probably due the age of target public of the books when they were published. But most Brazilian fans dislike these translated names, and they're usually not used.
  • Most games translated by Working Designs, particularly the Lunar series.
  • Most translations of Discworld novels. The first edition of The Discworld Companion has a piece about the Dutch translator, trying to figure out the Dutch equivalent of comparing Granny's Flying Broomstick to "a split-window Morris Minor".
  • Pretty much most, if not all, non-English versions of the Lord of the Rings series was rooted into this. Tolkien himself provided detailed indications for translating the names for places, characters, artifacts and so on, when not giving the translation himself (as he was a polyglot).
  • Baccano!!'s translation and dub was specifically written to give off the air of old-time gangster flick. Research involved watching entirely too many James Cagney and 1930's crime movies.
    • Similarly, the dub of Chrono Crusade, which takes place during The Roaring Twenties, makes liberal use of period slang and references to make the show better reflect the period.
  • The fansubbers of Æsir prefer to do this, particularly seen with their translation of Kamen Rider Gaim. They changed Armored Rider Gridon's name to Ornac in order to communicate the idea that it was supposed to be an Atrocious Alias, saying that the original intent was ruined by English-speaking fans who had declared Gridon an Awesome McCool Name because they didn't know that it was just an anagram of "donguri", the Japanese word for acorn. For the same reason, they changed the name of Gridon's hammer, the Donkachi ("kachi" being the onomatopoeia for a heavy impact), to Ornac Donker.
    • However, this did come back to bite them in one example. The series' Transformation Trinkets are called Sengoku Drivers, taking the name of the Warring States Period of Japanese history (a major theme of the show) and replacing the kanji for "states" with "extreme". Æsir tried to retain this by renaming the belts "Wärring Driver", figuring that the use of a Heävy Mëtal Ümlaut was a reasonable way to depict the "extreme" concept. Unfortunately, several episodes into the show we learn that the belts are named after their inventor, Ryoma Sengoku; Æsir simply shrugged, said "We've made our bed, so now we'll lay in it", and translated his name as "Ryoma Wärring".


3. Formal equivalence: Some productions, however, decide they're going the direct route. The story is getting straight-up translated, Values Dissonance be damned, and no pesky honorific changes, dialect jokes, or cultural variations are going to get in the way. This is the most literal of the methods, typically translating only dialogue and leaving anything that doesn't directly translate fully intact. The downside to this is that a lot of the necessary elements for full understanding don't make the journey overseas with the dialogue; as a result, J. Random Viewer (lacking proper context) is left scratching his head, as some lines will sound strange or seem to come out of nowhere. In the worst cases, some figures of speech may be translated literally, instead of going with an equivalent from the vernacular language or simply translating the meaning. Despite this method catering to them, the hardcore purists will probably hate it, too; they'll just use it as another example of "how dubbing is the devil's work", for instance.

Examples:

  • Bleach is particularly egregious. Only three recurring terms in the dub were translated: shinigami (to Soul Reaper, likely to distance itself from the western conception of the idea); the Gotei 13 (to the 13 Court Guard Squads); and "reiatsu" (to "spiritual energy" or "spiritual pressure"). Everything else — shikai and bankai, zanpakuto, spell names and incantations, even wordplay gags about the proper usage of one's first name and philosophical metaphors regarding old parables — was left pretty much completely intact. In a rare inversion of how this tends to go, the fansubs often adapted more terms than the official version.
    • "Soul Reaper" is creator Tite Kubo's preferred translation of shinigami. It even appears on some Japanese Bleach merchandise.
    • In more recent episodes you can move that down to two: reiatsu is it at least part of the time left untranslated now.
    • To be fair, the Bleach dub also changes the naming conventions, and has half-Japanese half-Mexican Yasutora "Chad" Sado going by his westernized name (he's called "Chado", a portmanteau of his Western and family names, in the Japanese). It is still one of the most literal of translations.
  • .hack//, even to the point of characters being unsure of how a character's written name is "read". Not spelled, read.
  • Death Note's dub drifts into this direction. The public's name for Light ("Kira", an Engrish rendering of the English word "killer") is left intact, as is shinigami. The Translation Convention also appears to be in full effect, with no attempt at a whitewash. This is sort of necessary: consider how often tiny details that involve language (especially how names are written) can be extremely important. However, the literal translations can make things confusing sometimes; at one point Misa notes that Light's name also means "moon". Unless someone knows Japanese (and as a result knows that the symbol used for Light's name can, with a different pronunciation, mean "moon") this line is likely to confuse them.
    • The sub does this at times too — notably, a saying that we would consider equivalent to "an eye for an eye" is literally translated to "one time is one time", leaving some members of the audience scratching their heads.
      • The Viz manga does that too, as "once is once!" Members of the audience on this very wiki were still confused.
    • The original work goes out of its way to point out Kira is derived from the word killer, so it's extremely likely that having them keep the name Kira was in respect for that.
      • The Viz translation even spells "Kira" as "Killa" in chapter 21, in the notes written by prisoners - though the original uses the standard katakana spelling, and when we first see the note in volume 1, it's still spelt as Kira. Maybe L fiddled the note to throw Light off.
  • The English dub of Lucky Star is this in spades, including retention of all honorifics and zero adaptation of references to shows or products that just do not exist in North America. As for the other aspects of its Western release, see further down.
  • Older Than Print: Most early translations of Latin poetry into the vernacular.
  • Although a less extreme example of this type, Star Ocean: The Second Story for the PSX was widely derided for its bland, overly literal translation, resulting in conversations that barely made sense and stripped out most of the entertainment value in favor of literalism.
  • Persona 3 kept food and place names intact, along with Japanese honorifics like -chan and -san. Did not cause undue confusion, as most fans of the game would understand what those mean anyway.
    • The sequel Persona 4 did the same thing. Atlus went as far as including a glossary including all the non-translated terms.
  • Fate/stay night hovers along the sliding scale here; the anime drifted more toward Woolseyism, while the otherwise appreciated fan translation by Mirror Moon erred on the side of a "Blind Idiot" Translation.
    • For one example, Mirror Moon often literally translates the expression, "the time the date changes", which Western viewers would understand clearer as simply "midnight".

3A. The same, but with footnotes, liner notes, or captions to explain the details. Widely used by fansubbers of anime. Explaining a joke may make it not be very funny, but some cultural references work a lot better this way:

Examples

  • The Finnish translation of the Ginga Nagareboshi Gin manga uses footnotes for the translations of the different Battougas. They are seldom used otherwise.
  • Done with the translation of Excel Saga in the anime, though the notes were deleted from the collected edition to encourage fans with more money to buy the more expensive one. Although the original release went out of print not long after. And thanks to the anime's licence changing hands, the old notes can no longer be legally included anyway.
  • AnimEigo was well-known for this, and actually had paper liner notes in the days before DVDs, but has also adapted references at times. Their release of Youre Under Arrest managed to do both simultaneously.
  • Common with notes on the top of the screen among fansubs.
  • The original American releases of both the anime and manga of Azumanga Daioh had translator notes to explain a few things. However, the manga's translators admitted to dipping into Method 2 for a couple of very language-dependent jokes/puns. Note that the anime usually kept those same jokes as-is, mostly because they were accompanied by visuals that would make even less sense if the gag were translated properly.
    • The follow-up series Yotsuba&! zigzags this – ADV's adaptation of the first five books was often straight from the Woolsey school. After ADV collapsed and Yen Press picked up the title, later volumes (and reprints of the first five) had much more literal translations. In both cases, some things would be explained in the gutters between frames in the manga.
  • Del Rey Manga and its successor imprint Kodansha Comics USA use a rather literalist house style. Fortunately, their books often include translation notes (including a page about honorifics like "-san" and "-kun"). See, well, any series they handle, such as Negima!, Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle, or XXX Holic
    • Too bad the people who adapted the dialogue for the first few volumes of Negima didn't get the memo...
  • ADV Films' original DVD release of Pani Poni Dash!, a Widget Series with so many in-jokes you have to literally freeze-frame to get all of them, came with multiple subtitle options – one where all the background writing is translated, one that has pop-up cultural notes just like they did for Excel Saga, and one that does both of those things simultaneously.note  Trying to read the extended subtitles and the cultural notes and see the action is nearly impossible (all the extra information covers a lot of it up anyway, and is really only meant for a second or third watchthrough).
    • The fansub had a PDF file accompany each episode explaining the references. These files often ran to a page a minute – over 20 pages for a 22-minute episode.
  • Viz Media has a bad habit with some of the series in their Shonen Jump line of translating a term within a character's dialogue. For example, in the Naruto manga, Sasuke might say, "Katon! Gokakyu no Jutsu! The art of the Fireball!" which sounds awkward. Their adaptation of Bleach is, if anything, even worse about it – though unlike the anime version, at least terms actually get translated in the manga.
    • Also done in the Brazilian edition of Bleach with the Zanpakutou of the Espadas when they perform the Ressurrección - even though they came in Spanish names, which would be easy enough to understand, the translating team always appends the meaning of the kanji provided by Tite Kubo for the name (for example, Ulquiorra's would be "Murciélago, Great Demon with Black Wings").
  • Lucky Star falls under this one in its American release outside of the English dub. Considering the abundance of anime and cultural references, Bandai Entertainment had the foresight to include a 4-page pamphlet of liner notes for any particular volume. While some of the references are incredibly obvious and don't need mentioning (they do it anyway), they go so far as to include things that can only be noticed when watching the show with the Japanese language track, even if the dub had used language in such a way that none of the original context was lost.
    • Bandai's translation of the manga is the same way.
      • And the first two volumes were a pain to read for anyone who cares about English sentence structure and grammar. Whoever was supposed to be doing the translating (i.e. the anime's translator) wasn't doing a particularly good job, even with the notes at the end, making it almost impossible to know what the joke was supposed to be. The third volume had much better English, and probably because the translator was replaced according to the credits at the end of the three volumes.
  • The official translations of Harry Potter into Chinese have notes explaining jokes like "it's getting blacker every day" and other things that don't translate very well in Chinese. It gets a little silly, however, when they have explanations for things that shouldn't even be explained. For example, in the sixth book, when there are only three people in potions because of Apparation lessons, there is a footnote explaining that they are all turning seventeen after the lessons, or something like that.
  • Also common for modern translations of older works, especially classics – The Iliad or The Odyssey, for example – though often the translators choose a more pragmatic (Woolseyist) than literal approach.
    • This style is most common for scholarly editions, where accuracy is the most important thing (besides, the scholars usually either know the ancient/foreign culture already or are using the text as a gateway to it).
  • The legal translation of Rinne is this out of necessity, as it is being translated and put online a very short time after the Japanese publication. They don't have enough time to even replace visual sound effects, so everything is explained in the margins, and what can't be there is explained on the section of the translators' blog noted.
  • The English version of Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei features several pages of notes at the back of the volume, and even with that they make a point of saying that there are so many references and details, they don't have enough room to explain them all.


4. "Blind Idiot" Translation: What happens when the people responsible for the translation just don't care. Grammar rules will be violated and homonyms may have the wrong meaning translated. Fortunately, the vast, vast majority of serious commercial releases rarely fall into this category, but there are a depressing number of 1980s video games that were translated in this manner. And let's not even get started on bootlegs...

Examples


5. Recursive Translation: The exclusive domain of Hong Kong bootleggers. Want to translate something but don't know any English? Translate it into your language and Babelfish it into English! Better yet, if you don't even know the language you're translating it from, you can Babelfish it into your language and then Babelfish that translation into English! Now you too can translate anything from any language into any other language without understanding either!

Examples

  • Every single Hong Kong bootleg DVD that doesn't just rip an official subtitle track or download an existing fansub script off the Internet.
  • Before broadband internet became widespread in Poland, a large chunk of the pirated games market was controlled by Russian bootleggers. They sometimes attempted to localize English PC games into Polish, but in their case they usually knew some Polish but didn't know English. The results were amusing.
  • Pokémon Vietnamese Crystal is infamous for this. The game's Japanese > Chinese > English translation, and the hilarity that ensued, are the sole reasons for this game's popularity and memetic status.