This post is a continuation of my various and sundry musings on translation. You can find the previous part here.
Localization can be handled in different ways, depending on how the translators decide to recontextualize the story.
I love the Ace Attorney series, featuring Phoenix Wright and Miles Edgeworth, and a cast of other wacky lawyers, detectives, and witnesses. It’s also a great example of how Japanese media can be localized to English.
Since all the names in Japanese are puns, the localizers at CAPCOM decided to change all the names in English to different names. In Japanese, Phoenix’s last name is 成歩堂 Naruhodou, which is a play on the Japanese word naruhodo, which means “I see.” In English, changing this name to “Wright” makes the joke different from the Japanese, but keeps the author’s general intent, as it’s possible to make jokes based on the similarity between Wright and “right.” However, as last names are used more in Japanese to address others versus English, the Japanese pun probably gets more mileage. In English, first names are much more commonly used, so a name like Phoenix carries an additional context of “rising from the ashes” or coming back from the brink of destruction. This seems to happen a lot for poor Phoenix.
The location is also moved from somewhere in Japan to somewhere in the US. As I talked about in my previous article, Keeping the Author’s Intent, all of our manga take place in the original settings. Of course, whether the localization chooses to move the location or not, each comes with their own issues. Both ways have to explain Japanese concepts to a foreign audience in a way that still makes sense. Maya Fey (in Japanese 綾里真宵 Mayoi Ayasato), Phoenix’s young spirit-channeling sidekick is obsessed with eating hamburgers in the US version, while in the original Japanese version she can’t get enough of ramen.
When the story takes place entirely in a new location, it can make things like going to a village of Japanese spirits somewhat unrealistic, but the translators must work around this concept with their decision. Likewise, if the context is still in Japan, it still needs to be explained to a foreign audience using other methods such as a roundabout explanation or through connecting it to something familiar to the reader.
Other games also change names to suit their audience better. For Final Fantasy VI, while a name that sounds cool and foreign in Japanese like “Tina” may sound cool to Japanese speakers, in the West it sounds like a regular girl’s name. “Terra” has a much more foreign ring to it, don’t you think?
A Pokemon with a name that sounds cool in Japanese like “Fire” doesn’t really have the same nuance in English. Moltres captures that same coolness spirit in English, while also connecting the other two legendary Pokemon. Being able to translate a work and add a context that the author can’t express in their native language is something that every translator dreams about!
Here at Renta! too, we’re proud of being able to sometimes get that perfect pun. Our popular title, Over-Cumming Writer’s Block, is a great example of being able to continue the author’s meaning while still being constrained in the world and the context of the original story. The original title, “Teach Me, Mr. Fujishima” would be fine in English, but as the main character is a writer, being able to include a bit of extra humor in the title is amazing!
One more puntastic title I’d like to recommend today is “Stuck Between a Sexy Rock and a Hard Friend.” The original title, “Love Friend Triangle” doesn’t really have that same oomph. When you can write a title that sticks in the mind of your readers, that’s when you know you’ve made it.