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):
. Cut-and-Paste Translation
: It shouldn't be too hard to guess what method this is; the line between "translation" and "adaptation" is often blurry with regards to this style of localization. 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).
- 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.
- Outside of anime, there are far fewer examples of this. One of note, however was Eric Thompson's translations 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. The staff made up their own names, stories and dialogue. As with the previous 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.
: Somewhere between Cut-and-Paste Translation
. 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 Entertainment
UK were very famous for this style of dubbing.
: 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.
- 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 Kiki's Delivery Service and Castle in the Sky, contin some additional pieces of music; the latter of which was done by, interestingly, the original composer himself, Joe Hisaishi, to 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?
- 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 crime movies.
. 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. 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.
- 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.
- "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. 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.
- Older Than Print: Most early translations of Latin poetry into the vernacular.
- Hellsing provides another example. A proper translation taking into account English names and titles would have resulted in "Dame Integra" (a female knight, as opposed to "Sir Integra").
- Then again, Hellsing is not a proper example, at least in the manga — the American translators decided to randomly give Father Anderson a Scottish accent and had the Major speak with an exaggerated German accent even when he was supposedly speaking in German.
- 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".
. 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:
- 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.
- Animeigo was well-known for this, and actually had paper liner notes in the days before DVDs, but has also adapted references at times.
- Common with notes on the top of the screen among fansubs.
- Towards the end of its individual novel run, Azumanga Daioh had 'Translator Notes' in the back to help explain a few things; they did admit to dipping into method 2 for a couple of very language-dependent jokes. Note that the anime actually kept the jokes as is, for the most part. Yotsuba& seems to be adding the comments in the gutters between frames in the manga.
- Del Rey Manga seems to go this route often, including translation notes (including two pages on name suffixes like "-san" and "-kun") in Negima!, Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle and XXX Holic.
- Too bad the people who adapted the dialogue for the first few volumes of Negima didn't get the memo...
- The fansub of Pani Poni Dash!, a Widget Series with so many in-jokes you have to freeze-frame to get all of them, 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.
- In the ADV Films release, there's a separate subtitle track where all the writing in the background is translated as well as pop-up cultural notes. 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 translated Naruto manga does this... during the characters' speeches. For example, Sasuke would say, "Katon! Gokakyu no Jutsu! The art of the Fireball!" which sounds awkward.
- 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 technically falls under this one due to its American release. Considering the abundance of many of the 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 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 explain on the section of the translators' blog noted.
- The English version of Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei (manga) 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.
. "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
. 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!
- Every single Hong Kong bootleg DVD that doesn't just rip the R1 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.