Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Translation Nightmares: part 1 - What's in a Name?

I had a mini rant on this. I covered it in a footnote on page 47…

Ok, so not page 47, I covered it in a footnote in Trinity Blood: RAGE!, but don't go read that right now, because I'm gonna do it again in a little bit more detail here. Then you can read the article and understand my rage without reading the footnote.

The biggest problem for these three Translation Nightmares stems from a fairly simple phenomenon, and most people interested in this sort of thing are already familiar with it. The Japanese phonetic system consists of roughly 45 basic parts. In this system, each symbol represents syllable consisting of either a vowel, a consonant then a vowel, or a closed n/m ending sound. Also, in this system, the English concept of "L" and "R" are covered by the same set of sounds. In the native, this representative sound can resemble anything from an "L" to a flipped "R" to even a "D." This, of course doesn't bother native speakers because their own language doesn't bother with the distinction (but believe me, they distinguish between plenty of other sounds). If anything, it's more of an issue for speakers of western languages to represent what they hear than it is for speakers of eastern languages to distinguish what they say.

Hellsing: Alucard vs. Arucard

The earliest of these three-- and probably most well-known-- is Hellsing's "Alucard vs. Arucard."

I stated earlier that when speaking standard Japanese, the distinction between "L" and "R" is a non-issue. Of course, this changes when trying to represent western or western-sounding words. Dracula, for instance, spelled something like ヅラクラ* comes back to the western speaker as something like "jurakura" or "julakula" but the important feature here is the ラ "ra/la" symbol. Some beg consistency, but a discerning interpreter would eventually recognize the word as "Dracula" and, rather than try to transliterate, a clearly non-sensical word, use the word that is intended.

*Non-Japanese words are represented by katakana in the Japanese written language. These are the symbols used here and hence forth for further illustration. p.s. I'm too lazy to look up the actual transliteration. It isn't important in this context anyway.

In the context of Hellsing, we have a character named アルカルド "Alucaludo" or "Arucarudo." In the translation, it came off as Alucard or Arucard. Other than the fact that one sounds like a name and the other sounds like an Engrish side dish, what's the nightmare here? Well, because translators and fans couldn't decide, we got two versions of the name in varying translations. Some demanded a "truness" to the "original" and that the name should only have "R"s (or only "L" but that argument doesn't seem to have shown up), but others recognized a subtlety: "Alucard" is "Dracula" spelled backwards.

The official translators eventually reached a "compromise": the dub said "Alucard" and the subtitles read "Arucard." Though this seems fair enough, considering subtitles are usually more literal and aimed at an audience more willing to do the interpretation themselves, some will still complain on both sides.

One Piece: Zoro vs. Zolo

The Zoro vs. Zolo mishap of One Piece has similar roots to Alucard/Arucard, so I won't spend any more time on that.

While most self-respecting American anime fans won't be caught dead with One Piece in their sights since 4kids raped it, I did read its original American publication in Shounen Jump's monthly magazine.

When I read it, my favorite character, the three-sword-wielding pirate hunter was named Roronoa Zoro and bore humorous references to numerous well-known characters, including South-Western hero, Zorro. He was an expert swordsman, at odds with the military because of his power and sense of justice. His headband often cast a mask-like shadow over his eyes. And Zoro's three-slash-in-one-pass finishing move even made the mark of a "Z" on the page. I was in junior high, and it was funny.

Then one day I opened the magazine and was introduced to "Roronoa Zolo." The f-ck? It wasn't until later that I learned of the anime on Fox (Zorro is "fox" in Spanish, BTW) and it became apparent that the name in the manga was changed to match it.

It is actually possible that, despite the fact that most of the kids watching the show had no idea who Zorro was, the walls of protection provided under parody provisions in copyright law simply couldn't withstand the wrath of the great god, Disney-sama. Or it's entirely possible that 4kids are a bunch of pussies. Or more possibly, Disney-sama and 4kids have teamed up to crush even more of our childhood.

Shortly after that change I lost interest in the series. Not to say that the name change caused me to stop reading, but the soured experience probably made it harder to hang on to what interest remained.

Trinity Blood: Ester vs. Estelle

This one is probably not very well known, but it's still the most gratuitous and infuriating to me.

Trinity Blood is infuriating enough as it is, and this character is probably most of the reason why. But her name is the icing on top.

Her name in Japanese is エステル "esuteru" or "esutelu," though when you listen to the Japanese dialogue, it sounds more like the latter. Most of the show is western in setting, so the translators at least got as far as "Ester" (even my computer tries to change "esuteru" to "ester"). But when you take into account the star-shaped birthmark on her body, numerous references to the "Star Queen," and the fact that she is informed by other characters in the show that her name means "star" in the ancient language of their country, Italy (making it Italian or Latin), it should be obvious: HER NAME IS ESTELLE, DAMNIT!!!!!

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