The House in Fata Morgana and Full House: The Inherent Limits of “Pure” Translations

There has been a long history of English-language localizations doing their best to hide the fact that Japanese media is from, well, Japan. Old dubs of Gigantor and Astro Boy would have characters reading the “international newspaper.” Satoshi in Pokemon became Ash Ketchum, and onigiri became donuts, popcorn balls, and even photoshopped sandwiches. Phoenix Wright is suddenly practicing law in California, and a car with the steering wheel on the right side was “imported.” There’s enough that’s gone on over the years that fan skepticism towards translation can be justified, but more recently, there’s been a growing trend of negative criticism about the work of translators, accusing them of overly politicizing a work or introducing “Western” ideas that interfere with the “purity” of the original Japanese work. There are a lot of factors that go into this debate, and not always with the sincerest of intentions, but I’m going to elaborate on how (as the cliché goes) translation is more art than science, and why there’s an inherent limit to such purity arguments.

First things first: I do want to lay down that bad translations can exist. It’s subjective on some level, but I do believe that there is such a thing as a localization taken too far. One example I often think about is the English dub of Ojamajo Doremi, known as Magical Do-Re-Mi. Changing the names is one thing, but that version of the beloved magical girl series would inject extra dialogue and voice-overs to such an extent, often without any basis in the original, that it changed how the anime felt as a whole. At the time, it was an outdated philosophy on children’s cartoons transplanted onto a children’s anime. Another example is in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, where Ike’s line, “I fight for my friends,” sounds hilarious in English, especially with the monotone delivery, but that cheesiness is not in the Japanese. The original s closer to “I merely fight for those I must protect,” which changes the contours of what’s being conveyed.

However, there is a large spectrum when it comes to translation and localization. Translation cannot and will not ever be a 1:1 transfer, not even for two very closely related languages such as English and Dutch, let alone English and Japanese. There are cultural differences, disparities in lived experiences, and gaps in what might be considered “common knowledge, before you even get to the mechanics of languages themselves differing greatly.

One of the ground zero examples at the moment is a game called The House in Fata Morgana, and the epicenter of that debate is the translation of the word tsundere. In Japanese, it’s a slang word that’s been borne out of anime and manga fandom to describe characters who go from essentially hating someone to falling in love with them, or someone who acts like they hate someone but is secretly in love. Meanness and maybe even a bit of slapstick violence often come part in parcel. More importantly to this particular example, however, it’s become a celebrated trope. Tsundere girls are popular both because the inherent emotional conflict is powerful, but it can also have a fetishistic element. In Fata Morgana, the choice was to translate tsundere as “fragile male ego” because, as the translator explains at length, the use of the word tsundere is sarcastic here, referring more to the other character’s abusiveness. It’s not the only answer she could have arrived at, but it ultimately results in a translation that gets across not so much the nitty gritty of what’s being said in Japanese, but rather the essence and the intent behind those words. Yet, because the word tsundere has solidified in fandom, it’s seen by critics as a kind of “pure” concept that needs to be preserved.

One option was to just keep the word tsundere, but to do so would be to assume that every person playing the game would already be familiar with the word. Moreover, no amount of more direct translations could succinctly convey the fact that it is indeed a stock phrase. This, I think, is where a lot of the criticism falls short, because it presumes that one’s own experience with a work trumps everyone else’s. I think back to the Anime World Order review of Dog Soldier, where the translator, Neil Nadelman, explains that he translated instant ramen as “instant noodle soup” because ramen was not ubiquitous enough at the time to just make sense off the cuff. Times have changed, but they haven’t changed enough for tsundere to be common parlance.

One thing that might help people championing the “purity” of translation is to think about the process in the opposite direction, from English to Japanese. Plenty of English-language films and TV shows get imported and adapted, and there are challenges on the other end to localizing those works. I once wrote about how Gone with the Wind has had multiple interpretations of the iconic “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” which don’t break it down word by word but rather try to communicate the curtness and rudeness of Rhett Butler’s dismissive attitude at the end. To translate that more literally would make it lose some of the impact of Rhett’s brevity.

In that post, I also discussed the challenge of giving particular personal pronouns and honorifics usage to characters from English to Japanese. If it were a so-called “pure” translation, there wouldn’t be any such distinctions, but this would be jarring to a Japanese audience, where those elements are woven into the fabric of both language and society. Since then, I’ve come across some interesting examples. First, is the Deadpool movies. Second, is the old sitcom Full House.

In Japanese, Deadpool refers to himself with the unique personal pronounce ore-chan, where ore is a very masculine and impolite way to say “I,” and chan is an honorific that usually is reserved for young children, girls, small animals, and the like. A rough equivalent in English would be “little ol’ me,” but it’s not used in the same way. The Japanese subtitles for Deadpool try to capture his character through his pronoun usage, interpreting and localizing his speech for the audience. 

Similarly, while in the original English-language Full House, many characters refer to Jesse Katsopolis as “Uncle Jesse,” they give the youngest daughter, Michelle Tanner, a unique way of referring to her uncle in Japanese: oi-tan, or a babyish pronunciation of oji-chan (uncle). Neither Deadpool nor Michelle’s phrasings are  “literally translated” into Japanese, but are rather localized based on the characters themselves—who they are, how they act, etc. In this sense, it’s not so different from The House in Fata Morgana and the use of “fragile male ego” because it’s trying to communicate more about who is speaking to whom.

I think the point that needs to be absolutely understood is that there is always, always some compromise when it comes to translating from one language to another. The question, then, is what are acceptable sacrifices in order to get something across most faithfully, given cultures, circumstances, and even mediums. For example, a novel (or indeed visual novel) has more space to give an explanation about some cultural aspect that would fly by in anime subtitles or a manga word balloon, but does the act of throwing in a long explanation shift the work or interrupt the flow of dialogue? Different readers have different priorities, and different translators have to interpret the original works through their own lenses. It’s why multiple translations of the same works exist. 

What I see in the purity arguments of Japanese media fandom is a desire to be rewarded for one’s specialized knowledge, and it’s the perspective of those who revel in being as hardcore as possible. As someone who has devoted decades of energy to anime and manga fandom, as well as thinking about how translations function, I can relate. The unfortunate thing is that it turns experiencing these works into a kind of measuring contest to see who knows more and who has the “real” access to Japanese culture, which is in a certain sense the opposite of what translation is there to do: make something accessible.

[Anime NYC 2019] Kugimiya Rie Press Q and A: Highlights and Thoughts

Japanese voice actor Kugimiya Rie, known for roles such as Alphonse Elric (Full Metal Alchemist) and Aisaka Taiga (Toradora!), was a featured guest at Anime NYC 2019. I had the opportunity to submit questions to her, a couple of which were accepted and then made part of a group interview of sorts.

Because the format was different from a typical convention guest interview, this post is going to be less about transcribing the exact words and more about summarizing and exploring some of the more interesting answers.

The first question of mine approved was how do you think you’ve improved over the years as a voice actor?

Kugimiya responded that when she first started out, she only landed little kid parts due to her high voice. As she’s gotten older, however, she has started to play other character types such as boys, teens, older teens, and even some adult women. So in terms of improvement, the expansion of her range is the biggest one. Later, she expressed that she’d like to do more sexy female roles.

Later still, she answered the question of what role has had the greatest influence on you?. She talked about Alphonse making her known around the world over, and went into how she landed that role in the first place. Essentially, she had voiced her very first boy character for the anime Twelve Kingdoms, and FMA director Mizushima Seiji asked her to play Al based on that performance. It was a big turning point for her career, growing her repertoire.

I found this interesting because her FMA counterpart, Park Romi, expressed a similar sentiment at a press conference at Otakon 2015 concerning her lead role as Loran Cehack in Turn A Gundam. Someday, I’d like to see an interview with both together, perhaps just discussing the craft of voicing male characters.

The second question I was able to ask was how does playing animal roles differ from playing human roles?

In that regard, Kugimiya expressed two main points. First, she takes into account the size of the animal. Often, they have different head to body ratios as well as smaller hearts, as well as voices that are higher than human kids’. Second, these animals and mascots are usually partners, buddies, or companions with a closer bond to the main character than even other human characters.

I originally phrased this to include examples such as Chocotan (a talking dachshund from the manga of the same name), but it was sadly omitted during the Q&A. Still, if you actually listen to Chocotan, you can hear just how high Kugimiya plays to play a dog that small.


There were also a few questions about the industry. First, what are the most important skills in being a voice actor? Kugimiya answered that people skills are big, because even if you’re an amazing actor, if you’re a difficult person then no one will want to keep working with you. She didn’t name names or mention if this is based on any personal experience. Second, what advice would you give to aspiring voice actors? Kugimiya’s response: “purity of emotions.”

Elaborating on the second answer, she said that many people tend to put filters up, but voice actors should be able to bring in and keep the emotions they feel (both positive and negative) so that they can be expressed in a pure manner. I found this answer enlightening because it hints at one of the challenges of being an actor or voice actor—that you have to be willing to go places emotionally that may not be considered “okay” by society.

Third, how has the industry changed since you started? In past interviews, other voice actors (especially much older ones) have talked about the rise of voice acting schools and the transformation of voice acting from something one does with theatre experience to a specific craft. Kugimiya, perhaps due to starting in the 1990s, instead talks about how in her early days, she would be the only new voice actor among a cast of veterans but these days entire productions might only have inexperienced voice actors. When she was younger, her senpai would give her advice, but now there will be shows where that isn’t possible, so they have to figure out how to improve without more experienced hands around.

It makes me curious as to why this would be the case. My suspicion is that it either has to do with cost, or it has to do with trying to push a new set of voice actors-as-stars (or maybe even as idols) into the limelight. Maybe it’s also a way to give something to do to these voice actors coming out of schools. There’s also the simple fact that more anime are being produced than ever before, and perhaps these shows just sometimes need the numbers.

The last question, in my opinion generated the most intriguing answers: what challenges do you face when voicing characters in an anime or a video game?

For anime, she talked about the difficulties of voicing minor characters. When playing a main character, it’s expected that they’d have bigger or more prominent reactions because the troubles and events are happening with them at the center. However, for minor characters, they have to approach it differently, and they’re often saddled with long and complex lines—such as when a military officer has to come in and give some technical info.

In regards to games, Kugimiya detailed the difficulty in working for social/mobile games. Sometimes there are only one or two drawings and a couple of lines for reference. As a result, she sometimes uses things like what colors are in the image to try and get a better idea of the character. It reminds me of older topics on anime character trends, such as Ito Go’s distinction of character vs. kyara, i.e. the degree to which a given character can be excised from their story and still maintain their identity. It reminds me a lot of listening to the early clips of the Love Live! Sunshine!! characters when they just didn’t have much more than a basic backstory to go on, versus seeing them with some CD dramas and an anime to work off of instead. Most of the time, the whole kyara thing is thought of in regards to how consumers might approach a given work, but the fact that voice actors also have to grapple with it when trying to bring a role to life is something I hadn’t thought about previously. It’s also something that would make a great topic for a future essay.

That’s all for this press Q&A summary! If you like this pseudo-annotated format with comments from me, let me know, and I’ll think about doing more of this in the future.

What Does Marie Kondo’s “Spark Joy” REALLY Mean?

Japanese tidying and organizing guru Marie Kondo (aka Konmari) has a new Netflix show out where she helps people around the United States unclutter their spaces and, potentially, their lives. Predictably, the series has generated mixed opinions, as those who love having “stuff” are resistant to the notion that throwing things out could lead to happiness. One particular point of contention comes from Konmari’s core idea that we should only keep things that “spark joy.” This has been especially controversial among book lovers, as the notion that one should only keep books that “spark joy” is viewed as antithetical to the purpose of books.

This actually isn’t the first time this backlash has occurred. Back when Kondo’s book first came out in English, it was received with similar skepticism.

However, is sparking joy—that is to say, “create a feeling of comfort and placidity—really what Konmari is trying to say? What I’ve found is that the phrase “spark joy” is a somewhat narrow translation of the original Japanese. Instead, in the original language, Konmari uses the terms tokimeki and tokimeku (the meanings of which I’ll explain below), and knowing this can potentially change how one views her Konmari Method.

(Note that this is not meant to be a scathing criticism of the book’s English translation so much as it is a lesson in the difficulties of translation and localization that are inherent to the whole process).

Tokimeki in Japanese means “throbbing” or “palpitation,” but is probably better translated as “heart-pounding excitement.” If you follow Japanese anime, manga, and video games, you might see the term pop up quite often: Tokimeki Memorial, Tokimeki Tonight, etc. Tokimeku is a verb form of this—”to induce heart-pounding excitement.” While that overlaps somewhat with “sparking joy,” the two can carry very different meanings, and tokimeki doesn’t necessarily hinge on a sense of bliss or unabashed happiness that the word “joy” can imply. Things, including books, can disturb and perturb and still create excitement.

In fact, the Japanese title of her first book (The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up in English) translates literally to Life’s Heart-Pounding Cleaning Magic. In other words, tokimeki is a part of the title itself.

Personally speaking, I can’t go all in on the Konmari Method, as I love collecting things, on top of also believing in having a strong library for both reference purposes and personal satisfaction. However, when it comes to books in particular, I’ve recently thought over how I view books and their importance. The purpose of a book is to be read, and whenever I finish a book, I find myself wondering, “Is this book better off on my shelf within arm’s reach, or being out there in the world for someone else to find?” There’s never a consistent answer, but I find it’s an important question to ask myself. Those who think letting go of their books is an inherent problem might consider how books that don’t excite them might find a home with someone else.

Little Witch Academia Translation Trickery

Little Witch Academia has been out on Netflix since last year, and it’s a wonderful show worth everyone’s time. Having watched it with English subtitles, I’ve noticed a few hiccups here and there when it comes to the translation. These are not deal breakers, but it does speak to how translation is more art than science, and it’s worth looking into the fact that translating for anime and manga comes with its own share of unique pitfalls.

One unusual aspect of the translation that even non-Japanese speakers might notice is a tendency to avoid repetition despite it being present in the original Japanese. For example, a character might say, “Witches.” Then another character would ask “Witches?,” in response. In the subtitles, the first character would still say “Witches,” but the second might respond, “What are you talking about?”

This has partly to do with the fact that using the same word over and over again is not necessarily considered bad writing in Japanese, but in English (which is famous for its sheer amount of synonyms), this can make dialogue sound extremely awkward and unnatural. Changing up the vocabulary for English not in itself a bad idea, but it can run the risk of introducing ideas or words into a character’s speech that might not reflect who they are or what they would say. It creates room for inaccuracy even as it ends up sounding a little more natural, and it’s a tricky balance to maintain.

What’s worse is that sometimes the desire to make the English sound good can backfire. Anime and manga come out on a pretty constant schedule, with little lead time between chapters and episodes. Japanese as a language thrives on context to shape meaning, and terms or phrases are often left intentionally ambiguous, becoming clearer as the series goes on. Sometimes a phrase can be so awkwardly ambiguous when translated directly that a translator might feel compelled to massage it, only for it to bite them in the ass down the line. For example, a character whose gender is unknown can get away with never being referred to by gender in Japanese pretty naturally, but someone who doesn’t know this is an important plot point might assign a gender because gender-neutral pronouns in English are not entrenched into the language.

In Little Witch Academia, to a certain extent, one of the series is a quote from the character Shiny Chariot, which translates literally as “A believing heart is your magic.” It sometimes appears in the show itself, in English, so a simple solution would have been to use that directly, but it does sound a bit clumsy. The translator decided to go with “Believing in yourself is your magic.” Initially, this makes sense, as what exactly the heart believes in is unclear, and the heroine Akko uses it as a refrain to keep soldiering on. However, by the end of the series, this turns out to be somewhat inaccurate; it’s not necessarily that Akko believes in herself, but that she is able to believe in what’s possible.

Given that Little Witch Academia was released all at once on Netflix, there was the potential to go back and fix this, but I don’t blame the translator for not doing so. I don’t know what the schedule or system is like for subtitling on Netflix. It’s just a strong case of why translating is a tricky beast.

AnimeNEXT 2017 Interview: Yuri!!! on ICE Staff

This interview was conducted at AnimeNEXT with guests Tatenaka Junpei (co-lead figure skating animation supervisor), Ito Noriko (animator), Ogawa Takahiro (production desk manager), Hirose Izumi (color designer).

Creating animation, especially for television, is a very time-sensitive endeavor. You have to work hard to get things on time. So when you were working on Yuri!!! On ICE and you were running low on time, what did you prioritize? What is most important?

Tatenaka: When creating animation, the difficult thing is that you can’t skip any parts. You can’t skip the voice, you can’t skip the music, you can’t skip the art. You have to prioritize everything.

What about terms of style, say, going for better movement or more detailed artwork during figure skating scenes?

Tatenaka: I animated the figuring skating scenes. For the first episode with Victor’s free skating, we had three chances for trial and error to fix it up. And when time is sensitive, we do one check and send it out. Most of it is just, draw it and then it’s out for production.

Maruyama Masao has been a guest at cons in America for a number of years, so there have been plenty of opportunities to get his impression of animation. What is it like working under Maruyama-san, and does he resemble the character that’s based on in Shirobako [Marukawa Masato]?

Tatenaka: Maruyama is very unique. He gives us a lot of control. The most unique thing about him is that, instead of picking what’s going to be the winning formula, he picks unusual combinations and tries them out. It’s like the chemistry of two items, two characters, two of anything that might not work—he likes to experiment with that sort of thing. So it’s either a very big win or a very big loss.

Yuri!!! on ICE has received praise from a lot of pro figure skaters. Is there anything that went into animating Yuri!!! On ICE that differs from other sports series?

Tatenaka: The most difficult and challenging part of animating Yuri!!! is that there are no pauses in movements. In baseball, there’s usually a pause, but in figure skating the characters are constantly on the move, so you have to keep drawing each sequence. All of the poses and the movements are things I haven’t drawn before.

During the skating scenes, the characters have thoughts running through their heads. Did you do research into what real figure skaters are thinking about as they perform?

Ogawa: It’s probably something Director Yamamoto came up with. Because she loves figure skating.

Hirose: She actually did interview some real figure skaters to ask, “What do you think about while you’re skating?”

This next question is about the film In This Corner of the World. In between the chapters of the manga, there are a number of quirky little guides, like how to make your rice last as long as possible by adding as much water as possible and mashing it. Are these funny little moments also in the movie?

Ito: Not all of them because there are a lot of those handwritten notes, but for most of them the characters will have a line explaining why they’re doing something. In the movie, the animated sequence about cooking in the kitchen is done very meticulously. You can see what’s being done while she’s explaining.

This is a question for the female guests here: are there any unique challenges to being women in the animation industry?

Hirose: I have a child. Being a mom and doing production in a tight schedule is very hard for me.

Ito: Not being able to go home. Not being able to shower. I don’t take naps at work because I don’t want people to see me sleeping at the office. But a lot of the male workers don’t care. They’ll sleep on the chairs and on the floors. But I can’t.

Thank you for the interview. I wish you the best of luck on your future projects!




When the Nakama Are Feeling FRUSTRATION: Translation and Use of Foreign Words

One of the big bugaboos of Japanese to English translation has been the use of untranslated words. Whether it’s senpai (“upperclassman”) nakama (“comrade”), or the utterly fictitious zankantou (“colossal blade”) the question of whether words should be left as is or fully adapted to English rages in arguments between fans, translators, and everything in between. Of course, there are no solid rules, and determining where in this spectrum your translation should fall is very much a case-by-case basis. However, what intrigues me about this debate is that, when you look at the Japanese language and how it’s used in anime, advertisements, and more, there is a very intentional sprinkling of foreign words with the clear idea that they are used for their exoticism.

The show that actually got me to think about it was, of all things, Show By Rock!! Here are the first lines of the opening:

Ren’ai inochi VERY VERY HAPPY!
Yuujou inochi hajikeru JUMPING!
Bouken inochi dokidoki OK?
Seishun ouka COM’ON READY? LET’S GO!

I’m leaving it untranslated just to show the clear use of English vs. Japanese. They didn’t have to use English words but they did. Similarly, let’s look at the popular One Punch Man opening:

Sanjou!   Hisshou!   Shijou saikyou
Nan dattenda?   FRUSTRATION   Ore wa tomaranai

One concession is that a lot of these words are very simple, like “HAPPY” and “JUMPING.” They’re not terribly complex and don’t carry a great deal of cultural baggage like senpai (though one might argue that ren’ai (romantic love) being originally a concept introduced from Europe to Japan falls into that range). However, I think where the actual big cultural difference comes from is that Japan has been open to receiving a lot of foreign words and maintaining them as emphatically foreign, as opposed to fully integrating them into the language. So while English has its fair share of Japanese loan words, from sushi to karaoke, they don’t maintain as much of their exoticism. It’s just a very different environment for sentences and words themselves.

What’s funny is that English wasn’t always this way, especially when it was not the lingua franca of the world. Prior to World War II, French was the most dominant language in diplomacy, and (correct me if I’m wrong!) throwing in French words with the expectation that only a few would understand it was not uncommon among the educated. Of course, this is different from the use of “HAPPY” and “JUMPING,” but I do think that the English language’s ubiquity leads to the sense in us users that it doesn’t have to bend to the will of others.

Translating to English often assumes that English is important. That sounds like a no-brainer, but what I mean specifically is that English speakers value their own native language so highly that it comes across to some extent as a rejection of foreign influence. France today for example is known for trying to keep foreign words out of its language, preferring to take existing French words and modify/combine them accordingly to eschew the need for new loan words.

I’m not saying translators who do not use senpai or whatever are imperialists anymore than I think that using nakama means someone is fetishizing Asian culture. Moreover, the exotic aspects of English usage in Japan come with their own sets of considerations and concerns. Rather, the seeming need for everything to be transformed into English might say something about how we as English speakers look at ourselves, and that this differs depending on how we individually approach that self-reflection.

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Gone with the Wind, and Translation


A few months ago on Twitter, a number of manga translators and readers threw their hats into the ring to discuss the persistent issue of “authenticity” vs. “localization.” The central point of argument was whether the fact that the English translation of the JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure manga kept antagonist Dio Brando’s signature catch phrase untranslated (MUDA MUDA MUDA MUDA / USELESS USELESS USELESS USELESS) is a sign of faithfulness, Japanophilia, or something else entirely.

There’s no real right side to all of this. As the Reverse Thieves explained well, there are many facets to consider, and translation is more an art than a science. For example, people who argue that translations should be as localized as possible so as to remove the sense that it comes from another language would assume that the primary audience is a broad, general readership. What if it isn’t, however? Academic translations for instance tend to be filled with footnotes and marks and other things because you’re supposed to be fully explaining the nuance of meaning through translation.

What’s even more fascinating, however, is seeing the problem of translation from the English to Japanese side, and the challenge that is posed to English translators in Japan. For example, let’s look at one of the on-going controversies within this greater Japanese to English translation debate: whether or not to include Japanese honorifics in English translations. After all, while “-san” might be already known to fans of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and other similar works, for the most part it’s the realm of the manga fan, so to speak. When the decision is made to remove them, a translation either has to compensate for the loss of immediate information pertaining to how two characters relate to each other through a more liberal translation, or ignore that aspect entirely.

What about English to Japanese? From that perspective, the problem is completely flipped around. Suddenly you go from a language with no honorifics to one where they’re a part of everyday life. Let’s take a movie like Gone with the Wind. How would you translate Rhett Butler’s speech? The official translation has him use “Ore,” possibly to show that he’s both masculine and skirts standards of politeness and pomp. Is that the right decision?

If you were in charge of translating Gone with the Wind to Japanese, what honorifics would Rhett have to use when talking to other characters, if any? Would they change over the course of the movie? The change or removal of honorific usage to determine the progression of a relationship between two characters is a classic trope of manga and anime, and something English translators have to be constantly wary of (as is switching from last name to first name), but here with Gone with the Wind it’s potentially something that the translator has to build into the story where it once did not exist. The decision could be made to ignore honorifics specifically, but then a lot still has to be done to adapt characteristics and speech patterns to particular personalities. Rather than having to subtract, the English to Japanese translator has to consider additional components if they want to go for a “natural”-sounding language. Or do you just get rid of them all because it takes place in the US, or to show again that Rhett doesn’t have much use for politeness?

Of course, that’s not to say that Japanese to English translators also don’t have to create what ostensibly isn’t there to get the meaning of a line across. In both cases, there are things to be gained and lost in the decision to interpret lines in certain specific ways.

There are even multiple different translations of Gone with the Wind, each of them taking different liberties. Rhett’s famous “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn,” has been variously translated as 「俺には関係ない」(Ore ni wa kankei nai, “This has no relation to me”) and 「俺の知った事か」(Ore no shitta koto ka, “I have nothing to do with that”). Notably, both do not bother to preserve the cultural meaning of “damn,” nor the “Frankly my dear” part. The frankness is in the lack of formality and the general implied rudeness of the sentence construction.

Suffice it to say, translation isn’t easy, and the decision to keep or remove cultural elements is a unique challenge that perhaps few other fields have to contend with. Whether you’re a translator or just a reader, it might be helpful to express how you feel about the work that goes into translating.

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Waku Waku +NYC Blog: Let Your Imagination Soar with Onigiri Rice Balls

I wrote a short post on onigiri over at the Waku Waku +NYC Blog. Why not take a look, and then think about what you’d like to put in a Japanese rice ball?

Waku Waku +NYC Blog – IPPUDO’s Ramen King on What It Takes to Run a Ramen Restaurant

I wrote a small post on the Waku Waku +NYC blog, translating a couple of choice quotes from the founder of the ramen restaurant chain IPPUDO.

IPPUDO is going to be at Waku Waku +NYC so if you want to enjoy anime, cosplay, and more while eating authentic Japanese ramen, tickets are on sale now.

Yo-Kai Watch: Amano Keita vs. Nathan Adams and the Meanings of Names


The Yo-Kai Watch video game series has been a smash hit in Japan, even managing to outsell Pokemon. Recently there has been news to start bringing the franchise and its accompanying merchandise to English-speaking audiences, and the main character of Yo-Kai Watch, Amano Keita (pictured above, right), has become Nathan Adams. This leads me to speculate on the specific choice made here, and to think about how it compares to the meaning inherent to the original name.

Video games are no stranger to changing characters’ names to make them more culturally accessible, but a question arises as to whether there is any meaning lost (or even gained) in localization of names. For example, a lot of Pokemon characters names gain become much more explicit in terms of wordplay though in a way that has less to do with the inherent meanings of names and more to do with how they sound or have built up associations through culture and history (Lance the Dragon Master, Brock the Rock Gym Leader).

In the case of Amano Keita (which sounds like a fairly typical Japanese name) in Japanese his name references very specific things, and because the name has official kanji it becomes easier to see what it could mean. Amano Keita is 天野景太, where 天 means “sky/heaven,” and 景 means “scenery/view.” The Ama in Amano is on a basic level associated with the Japanese goddess Amaterasu (EDIT: It also might very well refer to Amanojaku, a demon-like creature in Japanese folklore. Thanks to Zack Davisson for informing me!). Thus, Amano Keita’s name basically means “a view of the heavens,” which I think associates him with spirituality and mythology and thus the titular youkai in Yo-Kai Watch.

What about Nathan Adams? Initially, what can’t be ignored is the fact that “Amano” and “Adams” sound somewhat similar. I have little doubt about that.

In terms of basic meaning, a Google search reveals that both Nathan and Adam are Hebrew in origin (Adam being a little more obvious in that regard), so there might very well be a continued connection to heaven and spirituality through the name as well. At the same time it probably won’t earn the ire of those who don’t wish to associate Judeo-Christian beliefs with the Japanese occult, because even though Nathan means “gift from God,” Nathan Adams is also fairly generic-sounding and few truly associate names like “Christopher” with Christ anymore.

However, I’m not sure if this is the actual reasoning, because as explained above, I don’t know the degree to which a localization would actually pursue the deeper origins of names, especially because they don’t have the benefit of kanji to make things explicit. That said, sometimes names are selected because of how they sound, with different kanji used to transform it into a “real” name, similar to English. For example, the female character in Hurricane Polymar is Nanba Teru, or “Number Telephone.”

There is another way in which the English name can be associated with the spiritual and the occult, which is The Addams Family. This, I think is actually more of a likely origin, and while Yo-Kai Watch isn’t focused on the macabre the way The Addams Family is, there’s still that connection with the afterlife, ghosts, and monsters. As for Keita vs. Nathan, I wonder if Nathan was picked because it sounds close to “nature.”

While it’s difficult to draw firm conclusion, I believe that both names spirits and the occult/celestial, though due to cultural differences their exact meanings don’t exactly draw from quite the same concepts. I get the feeling little of this will actually matter in terms of how the character of “Nathan Adams” is perceived, but it was at least fun to explore the potential connotations of his name.

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