Hello friends. As you can probably tell from the title, I really enjoyed reading Café Stella. Plenty of other folks have already discussed at length the qualities that made this a nice game, with one notable exception that I hope to rectify here. You see, a very consequential aspect of my enjoyment came not from the game itself (overall a middling Yuzuge with some interesting-ish ideas and directions) but from my enjoyment of the translation. The moebuta inside me was satisfied to be sure, but the translation nerd inside me was positively delighted by all the good fucking food on offer (and the slick tri-language support was just the cherry on top!)
Rest assured, there will be plenty of gushing about why I think this translation freaking slaps, but please kindly indulge me for a minute as I chat a bit about my motivation for writing this first of (hopefully) many entries in this “series.”
To cut to the chase, my motivation stems from two dissatisfactions I’ve always had about the tendencies of translation discourse in the community. Generally, I’ve been rather disappointed with the quality and nuance of translation critiques I’ve seen – nearly all of it being some combination of hopelessly broad and contextless (“yep, mhm, I thought it was pretty good”, etc.) obsessively focused on what I think are extremely trifling considerations instead (REEEing about how “onii-chan” is translated) or just clearly done in an unconstructive and bad-faith manner (holding up individual lines as “gotchas” that a translation sucks, manifestly untrue accusations of MTL, etc.)
More crucially though, it’s always made me a bit sad that the discourse about translation and translation quality tends to be so overwhelmingly negative, almost exclusively dominated by complaints and put-downs instead of praise and commendation. To be sure, it’s no secret that both of us think translators in this space generally ought to hold themselves to much higher standards, and there are plenty of unconscionably bad translations out there that 100% deserve to be panned much more than they do (though still in a constructive and civil manner, mind you!) However, the preponderance of negativity whenever translations are discussed really belies the fact that there are just as many sublimely brilliant works out there as well; works where the virtuosity and effort of the localizers stand out clear as day, and these works absolutely deserve more praise than they currently receive!
Hence my reason for writing this entry: I want to offer the sort of detailed and substantive and evidence-based translation critique I’d personally looove to see more of, and I want to challenge the cynicism and negativity that tends to pervade discussions such as these by foregrounding the impressive skill and resourcefulness and wit and effort that goes into crafting awesome TLs! Few things bring me as much joy as spotting a really brilliant line in a translation, and nothing would make me happier if you’d be able to share in that feeling! In short, I’d like to use this space to celebrate great translations!
Café Stella: An Overview
Café Stella and the Reapers’ Butterflies (喫茶ステラと死神の蝶) is an eroge developed by Yuzusoft in 2019 and localized into English/Chinese by Nekonyan/Hikari Field in 2022. The English staff credits are as follows:
Project Management: akerou
English Translator: akerou, dream
Video Editor: R Stuart
Image Editor: Quattro, Saki
QA: Adrian Kerkau, SSparks, KiriyaAoi, haerts, saki
As a broad overview, I should start by saying that I generally have a good opinion of Nekonyan’s translations, though I think the quality of their work does tend to fluctuate quite a bit (Koikari’s TL totally slaps, but Kinkoi was much more of a mixed bag). Café Stella, though, is definitely one of their big winners!
Interestingly, I wouldn’t characterize Café Stella as a particularly difficult game to translate at all; the writing is fairly simple and straightforward, and I don’t think there are many unique puzzles or challenges that the text offers either. However, I was still thoroughly impressed by how elegant and pleasurable the translation was to read. Even just an hour or so into the common route, I felt like the excellent quality of the translation was very self-evident! Make no mistake, even for a putatively “easy” work, there is still enormous amounts of room for translator skill expression, and I think a lower-effort and more workmanlike output would have been very qualitatively worse and much less enjoyable to read!
If there are a few things that I think are particularly praiseworthy about this translation that are worth highlighting, it’d be (1) the exceptionally fine balance struck with respect to its localization choices, doing an excellent job of accommodating the target text to its likely target audience, (2) the very smooth and slick dialogue that takes great efforts to capture character voice and eradicate almost all traces of stiffness and “translationese”, and (3) the display of a very commendable conscientiousness in adhering to the integrity of the source text and not committing needless “treachery”, but at the same time, exhibiting remarkable moral courage in taking extremely bold liberties where the source text truly demands it!
Of course, it does very little good to speak purely in generalities like this, so let us look at some more specific examples. Knowledge of Japanese would be helpful, of course, but by no means required (your Japanese is almost certainly better than mine!)
This exercise of writing a translation critique like this is still completely new to me, and I’m highly unsure about how best to organize these writeups and make my arguments, but I think for this post at least, I’m going to organize the ~25+ illustrative examples I’ve collated over the course of reading this game into several general translation “themes” that will hopefully show why I think this work is really something – certainly among the very best that Nekonyan has ever put out.
~Be warned, potential SPOILERS and some NSFW images (for education purposes only!) ahead~
Stock Expressions and Aisatsu
This first “theme” is admittedly nothing more than a rough heuristic I’ve developed, but out of hundreds and hundreds of otaku translations I’ve read, I’ve never encountered a single work which mishandles “stock expressions” and “aisatsu” that I thought was above average, let alone genuinely good. You probably know what I’m talking about, right? I’m referring to those commonplace turns of phrase and phatic expressions and the way that unskilled translators tend to manhandle them; thoughtlessly substituting every “shikatanai” with “it can’t be helped”, “yahari” with “as I expected”, “itadakimasu” with “thanks for the food” and so on…
I didn’t bother collecting too much evidence of an absence in Café Stella’s case, but rest assured that it manages to negotiate this (admittedly very low) bar successfully and renders these dime-a-dozen stock expressions with very mindful and contextually fitting equivalencies~
The last point is one I especially want to highlight – I think there might be a false impression that the “really hard to translate lines” are categorically those super long and dense and flowery and meaningful lines of narration. While these passages certainly pose plenty of their own challenges, in my experience, it’s often just a simple errant “arigatou” or “otsukaresama” that ends up being an absolute brick wall! As you are surely aware, many of these Japanese aisatsu simply have no good equivalencies in English and for an English speaker to say ANYTHING in such a context would be perceived as rather strange! Hence, it is often extraordinarily challenging to come up with an elegant line in substitution. Café Stella is very mindful of this fact, and the solutions that it regularly comes up with are very resourceful indeed!
Take this rendition of an “otsukaresama” exchange for example, which is rendered as “see you tomorrow”; a much more plausible and natural pleasantry you might exchange in English to your coworkers (compared to, for example, the much more default “good work, everyone!”) Not the most “difficult” solution by any means, but I don’t think every translator would’ve opted for this either, and in my mind, it’s compelling evidence of some thoughtful consideration, that the writers of the translation considered several options and selected the best one instead of mindlessly jamming out the top dictionary recommendation for otsukaresama and calling it a day.
This take on “itakdakimasu” was one I thought was particularly neat! It instrumentalizes the very specific context (two people who have been eagerly watching and awaiting the results of their cooking project) and comes up with a line that fits exceptionally well in a situation where all the “commonplace” renditions of “itadakimasu” would be terribly awkward! Just imagine if this was something like “thanks for the food!” instead… Eugh!
One final illustration of the mindful negotiation of aisatsu. In this case, a very straightforward but non-obvious “Hey, everyone”, which is an infinitely more plausible way for an English speaker to slide into a conversation with coworkers, capturing the perfunctory and non-communicative, phatic nature of these exchanges much better than a highly literal, hammy, over-the-top “great job today, everyone!” (Consider how often you get showered with a chorus of exhortations like this in an English-speaking workplace…) As Hasegawa observes, oftentimes, “silence can be the best adaptation in such cases.”
Out of interest, let’s also check out how Café Stella handles some notoriously difficult phrases, shall we? Three examples I’ve picked out are 甘える／甘やかすas well as 甘酸っぱい. The former “amaeru” (to pamper, to spoil, to fawn on, etc.) is either first or second among my personal list of “most goddamn impossible fucking words to translate FUCK” (incidentally, if you are curious about amae, I highly recommend Takeo Doi’s illuminating The Anatomy of Dependence which is one of my favourite non-fiction books!) On the other hand, “amazuppai” (lit. sweet and sour, almost always associated with youthful romance and indiscretion) is just a personal pet peeve of mine since I see it rendered as “bittersweet” so incredibly often even though I feel like it has a completely different emotional valance (with almost none of the “bitter” of bittersweet…) Anyways, let’s see how Café Stella handles these.
In the first example, the sentiment being expressed is along the lines of “it’d be okay for a heartbroken girlfriend to amaeru to her boyfriend… right?” and the rephrasing of the question as well as the use of the verb “to comfort” constructs a wonderfully natural equivalence in English that still captures all of the insecure, anxious gap moe of Suzune expressing a desire to amaeru! Hauu~ omochikaeri~!
I think the second example represents a nice case study of the tradeoffs inherently involved in translation. I think you could raise a reasonable argument that Nekonyan’s take does erase some degree of the nuance expressed with “amayakasu” (to coddle, to excessively indulge) by rendering it as “not too keen [to force her back to work]” but I think to translate it any more directly would negatively impact the naturalness of the line (consider the difficulty of directly, explicitly fitting in the sentiment that he thinks her parents are perhaps spoiling/indulging her) I think this take also does a great job with capturing the equivocacy and uneasy nature of the exchange, with the “not too keen on” word choice doing a lot to embed and compensate for a lot of the “things left unsaid” nuance that is originally present. Overall, a very interesting line that I likely wouldn’t have written myself, but I really do like and can see the merits of.
The last example is simply brilliant, easily one of the best renditions of this exclamation of “amazuppai!” I’ve ever seen! It’s immensely clever and liberal in the best of ways; one of those takes that if you handed to ten different translators, only one would come up with this! It’s such a great equivalency in every respect, fitting the energy of the situation, Suzune’s characterization, the sentiment behind the exclamation all perfectly! Imagine this line as just something like “Uwaah! How bittersweet!” instead, oof…
Linguistic and Sociocultural Thoughtfulness
This is a really understatedly important and valuable aspect of great translation I feel. It should really go without saying of course, but the challenges of translation aren’t merely of a purely linguistic nature. They also necessarily require a thoughtful accounting of the sociocultural nuances of the source and target languages! (And yep, I acknowledge it wouldn’t be unreasonable to consider these sociocultural aspects as part of a fundamental definition of what “linguistics” is about!)
I think this very simple line is an illuminating example of what I’m referring to. The Japanese here literally expresses something along the lines of “What do you mean ‘am I coming?’ That first period class is compulsory/required, isn’t it?” Besides the impressive way that the translation naturalizes the largely rhetorical language in the first clause, I thought it shows off an impressive amount of thoughtfulness in how it deals with the second clause!
Assuming that you are familiar with the norms of Western higher education, it should stand out as at least slightly strange that a course being “必修” (compulsory/required/a graduation requirement) is somehow a manifestly sensible rejoinder to the notion that you might otherwise consider cutting class, right? As any undergraduate with a dreaded 9AM lecture could attest, a course being a graduation requirement is hardly an especially compelling reason to attend lecture!
Rather, the “default” assumption with Western higher education is that lecture attendance is optional and that non-attendance typically faces no sanction, with the “requisite” nature of the class being a generally irrelevant factor. Hence, I think a literal and straightforward rendition of this line wouldn’t be an especially great equivalency for an audience that isn’t intuitively familiar with the subtleties of Japanese higher education (where it seems attendance is much more of an expectation, with this expectation differing between “mandatory” and “elective” coursework)
It seems that the English translation shares this view, hence opting for a very natural alternative of “a prof that uncharacteristically always takes attendance” that makes Hiroto’s argument of “of course I’m gonna go to class” much more self-evident to the target audience. It’s such an elegant sleight of hand that I highly doubt anyone would have even noticed, which is exactly what you should want with changes like this, and it’s really a treat to see this level of effortful attention to detail and mindfulness applied even to entirely inconsequential throwaway lines such as this.
Interestingly, it was this particular passage about 15 minutes into the prologue that elevated this translation from “decent” to “damn good” in my evaluation. I think it initially might look fairly non-descript, but belies some very impressive and thoughtful translation decisions I’d like to unpack.
The second line is just some very slick dynamic equivalence. The original 避けるべき代表的なワード (lit. “archetypal words that ought to be avoided”) is very thoughtfully and deliberately rendered with the colloquial English expressions “buzzwords” and “red flags” which are extremely contextual and specific to the practice of job hunting; I can’t think of any better mot juste, very nice!
The third line is especially interesting. It features the compound 少数精鋭, which Wakabayashi defines as “employing only a few workers, but ones of superior ability” (funnily enough, in the specific chapter where this expression is used as an example of the difficulties of word economy in finding concise English equivalencies for dense kanji compounds!) It also has the quality of sounding like a “buzzword”; the sort of inauthentic corporate-speak that would totally be at place in a cheesy hiring slogan. Hence, the challenge here is twofold, (1) to somehow capture the meaning of 少数精鋭 with very concise brevity and (2) write something that plausibly reads like an English job advert, necessarily rife with the same sort of exaggerated puffery that you’d expect from such texts. I think the solution Nekonyan came up with here “Small team, employee-friendly!” shows that the translators were clearly cognizant of the demands of such a line. I might’ve gone for something more hammy (“Looking for motivated self-starters to join our small, tight-knit family!”, perhaps?) but I quite like their take as well, and I could so very easily imagine disastrous takes on this line, such as an unskilled TLer thoughtlessly sticking in the clunky dictionary definition for 少数精鋭 and calling it a day.
Finally, the last line, too, features some very clear evidence of thoughtfulness, and specifically, something I find particularly commendable given that I struggle a lot with it: realizing when to simply “give up” and sacrifice some fidelity and meaning for greatly improved flow! This line features a neat bit of wasei-eigo with ワンオペ (wan-ope, which as you can probably guess, derives from “one-operation”) and specifically refers to the situation of being the sole employee staffing an entire enterprise (like a conbini) by themselves. As far as I’m aware, there isn’t an elegant English expression to convey this very specific (and admittedly very useful!) idea. “One-operation” is a complete non-starter as it’d just be nonsense to a native English speaker, and something like “[working the] graveyard shift”, while not too far off, foregrounds the wrong nuance, implying that the objectionable feature are the hours, rather than an employer abandoning you to take on an onerous amount of responsibility all on your own. I think Nekonyan made the sensible choice here in deciding that there is indeed no way to elegantly convey this idea, merely opting for “getting screwed over” and showing some impressive “moral courage” (I will write about this idea at a future date if Dubs doesn’t beat me to it) in deliberately losing out on some semantic meaning in exchange for a line that flows smoothly and makes sense. I think in this case, it’s an eminently reasonable decision with very worthwhile tradeoffs that nonetheless couldn’t have been easy to make!
I hope unpacking lines like these showcases the type of deliberation that goes into crafting a nice translation. To be sure, all of this is purely speculation on my part, but I do feel like the translation speaks for itself and showcases clear evidence of this sort of thoughtfulness I’m particularly fond of seeing! A few more rapid-fire interesting examples:
My opinions on the extremely questionable “Americanization” of 3年 as “[college] junior” aside, I thought it was neat how the text dances around the issues of directly mentioning “languages” and thereby prevents inadvertently highlighting its status as a translation, which rendering the former line as the literal “She’s in my foreign language (presumably English) class” or the latter as “Do you mind speaking Japanese?” would have done.
I thought this handling of “inline quotations in kagikakko” was likewise very slick and non-obvious. I feel like this practice of speaking in a hypothetical manner “on behalf of non-existent people” would be perceived as fairly strange in English even though it is commonplace in Japanese, and therefore a literal rendering of this line would be rather untoward (not to mention excessively long…) I find that Nekonyan’s solution of summarizing “tsugi koso wa tanoshii jinsei wo okuritai!” (I want to be happy in my next life!”) and “aitsu ga yurusenai!” (I’ll never forgive that SOB!”) as simply “regrets and resentments” is pretty damn elegant.
I’m just glad they did something for Nozomi’s Shinto norito here! It’s a pretty solid take as well, but more than the quality, just seeing supererogatory efforts like this that make me very happy; I could easily imagine a lazier translator simply opting to leave it Romanized or giving a flavourless literal translation instead >__<
Humour and Wit
Just as much as the romance, solid comedy lies at the heart of the appeal of moege, and humour and wit always represent enormous opportunities for translator skill expression. The quality of comedy itself is pretty subjective, so I won’t bother to argue that any specific joke is funny or not, but I do still want to highlight the sound application of translation principles that underpins lots of the really clever jokes written by the translation.
This passage, I think, is really emblematic of the excellent style with which Nekonyan approached the comedy in this game. As you can probably guess, each of the MC’s tsukkomis as Natsume adds more and more sugar are only loosely based off of the original line, reflecting what I think is a nice attitude towards negotiating comedy specifically – being excessively beholden to the original text would end up strangling a lot of the wit out of the prose, but the translation never strays too far either, always still making sure to reflect the “spirit” of the original line. I particularly liked the take on #5, it’s easily the funniest out of the bunch, reflecting a very “naturally English” interjection, on account of the original おっとさらに追い砂糖 (“oh dear, another sugar…”) being largely unworkable and running contrary to the pattern of escalating bewilderment and exasperation. Really nice line and passage.
Damn, aren’t these just two really lovely and witty takes? They’re rather brilliant applications of an idea I like to think of as “memetic equivalent exchange” (or, if you insist on being lame and technical, “compensation in kind”) Both of the original lines are culturally-steeped references that constitute funny punchlines, the former emulating an exasperated director/producer calling for an abrupt dismissal, and the latter harkening to the commonplace otaku meme of “[riajuu] bakuhatsu shiro!” In both cases, the humorous content of the lines absolutely must be retained – something which a flat, literal rendition of either line wouldn’t be very successful at doing. The natural solution, of course, is to “compensate” for the humour of the original with a similar in-kind type of reference (read: insert dank memes), and I feel like the wittiness and cleverness on display here speaks for itself~
Some really nice ideas in this pair of examples as well, specifically with capturing subtext and sarcasm! In the first example, the line “Hiuchidani-san wa kashkoi desu” is (1) deliberately written in katakana and (2) very off-register as the MC incongruously uses “desu”, both of which should be clear indicators that the line is meant to be read as excessively stiff and pretending. The translation does a sublime job of capturing this effect, especially with the very non-obvious and deliberate use of ellipses! A few lines down, the extremely colloquial “I’m a big dumb-dumb!” is also just perfect; pure poetry at work~
In the second example, the “arigatou Mei, aishiteru” is also clearly intended to be sarcastic (especially on account of the use of “aishiteru”) Of course, the much more obvious rendition of “Thanks Mei, I love you” would still be able to convey the sarcasm and not induce any misunderstanding on the part of the reader, but I especially love how the English script opted to go above and beyond with the manifestly flippant “Love ya bunches” which does so much more to capture the absurdity of responding with “aishiteru” upon being granted an outrageous sexual favour.
A final principle I want to highlight is a related notion of “compensation in place” (some might call it “making up new jokes that totally weren’t there originally”) Naturally, a brief defense is in order:
I think there’s a perverse belief that doing so would be outside the prerogative of an ethical translator, but this belief is rather misplaced in my view. My argument is simple, any act of translation, no matter how skilled, is necessarily going to result in some amount of erasure. Applied over the length of an entire source text, a strict principle of never attempting to compensate would yield a purely subtractive process, necessarily resulting in a target text where a vast amount of substance (tone, comedy, beauty, etc.) is “lost in translation.” (I especially recommend the chapter in the Wakabayashi titled “Translators at play”) Hence, some poetic license in compensating for comedy is certainly very necessary, though it goes without saying that restraint is crucial. I think Café Stella did a good job with striking this balance, as shown with the two above examples.
The former example deliberately inserts the much more cute and flavourful association of “selling like hotcakes” to “飛ぶように売れて” (selling lots of goods, flying off the shelves) The latter example renders “jyanakute sa” (“Er, it’s not…”) as the rather bold “That’s not what it says on my birth certificate” which, while quite enterprising, does manage to capture the flippancy of the tone while also being considerably funnier. I might’ve opted for something a touch more grounded like “Try again” but I can certainly appreciate the sentiment behind such a take~
Elegance in Prose and “Justified” Treachery
The last theme I want to highlight are the sorts of lines that get me the most excited, and it features some of my favourite lines from the whole script. These are the sorts of lines I think especially manage to distinguish translator skill; lines that often demand courageous amounts of treachery in order to craft elegant, flowing prose and beautiful takes that don’t lose to the original. For any dogmatic literalists still reading this for some reason, viewer discretion is advised~
Isn’t that such a lovely view? Those two round curves sure are a sight for sore eyes indeed~
Of course, I’m talking about the exceptionally clever use of parentheses here. The tricky construction in question is the 一人暮らしの男の部屋 (the room/apartment of a man who lives alone) which is an awfully clunky mouthful and represents some terribly awkward English if retained in its entirety. I think I honestly would have just decided that the “living alone part” wasn’t sufficiently important enough and dropped it entirely for the sake of improved flow, but Nekonyan’s clever solution here to include this information in the parenthetical manages to both be more faithful, but also inject a touch of wit into the line. Supremely resourceful take; the sort of thing that seems so obvious in hindsight, but I think would be very difficult to come up with originally!
Japanese onomatopoeia often represent a very tricky, but rarely entirely intractable translation problem. They often just require really clever and resourceful takes such as this one here. This line here “fuwafuwa to suru you na… dokidoki suru you na… ii nioi ga suru” is probably very easy for most versed with otaku media to intuitively understand, but represents an enormous challenge to render into English. How does one effectively distill the essence of a “slightly fuwafuwa and dokidoki” sensation? I think Nekonyan’s take here is rather brilliant, “somewhat sweet and somewhat thrilling” is just perfect, despite being very far from the standard definitions for these phrases. The cherry on top is the skillful leveraging of “punctuation as a resource” with the insertion of the ellipses, a very nice touch in order to modulate the pacing and tone of the line in a way that aligns it super finely with the cadence of the original!
Take a look at those last two lines, a deceptively trivial eleven moji that was likely far more difficult to translate than the entre preceding paragraph! It immediately strikes me as such a quintessentially Japanese reflection that takes some real ingenuity to properly reflect into English.
I hope it’s fairly apparent to everyone that anything bordering on a stiff, literal rendition of “totonotta kirei na yokogao… suki da” (lit. “a well-formed and beautiful profile… I love [it/her/etc.]”) is absolutely intolerable and belongs nowhere near an acceptable English script. However, I think their boldly treacherous take here is quite lovely indeed, with its elegant brevity, the way it effectively instrumentalizes the crucial line break, and most importantly, the feeling that really just does capture the same “soul” of the original~
For what it’s worth, the Chinese translation of Café Stella is also quite excellent, but its extremely bland take on this passage just doesn’t land nearly as well as the English! (For reference: 她那端正的侧颜也是那么的美。…越看越喜欢)
I previously mentioned the way Café Stella’s translation handles this convention of “inline quotations” and here’s another really excellent example. I also want to highlight the third line, and the very sensible rendition of both the “sore demo… iya, dakara koso!” as well as the “shiawase ni shitekure!”
If you’ve spent any time reading dubious translations, you’ve surely seen both of these lines handled terribly, take for example:
“Despite that… No! Because of that, I want to make you happy!” aaaaaaaAAAAAA
I saved the two best for last. This extremely non-descript line is probably actually my favourite take in the entire script! It might not even be obvious which line I’m talking about, right? The line I love so much is this last one, “tonikaku ore wa hitasura furai-pan o futta” (lit. “Anyways, I devotedly flipped my frying pan”) I think I enjoyed this take so much because it immediately struck me as being the sort of “deceptively easy”, highly intuitive take that an MTL or an unskilled human TL could never possibly come up with in a million years. But once you see it, it looks so obvious! It’s just such an elegant and high-context English equivalency that I think perfectly expresses the sentiment and meaning behind the original line, one that manages to sublime the transitional とにかく without feeling abrupt or strange, managing to embed this “affect of diligent industriousness” conveyed by the ひたすら without needing to reach for a clunky and self-aggrandizing adjective… Just simply wonderful, one of those rare brilliancies that make reading translations so much more rewarding than the original text~
This final passage, by contrast, is certainly what I think is the “best” (or at least, most courageous) take in the entire game! (I even managed to use it to convince Dubs to be a bit braver on at least one occasion~)
As you can see, Natsume’s Father terminates this poignant, emotional speech with “arigatou” which is boldly rendered in the English script as “We love you.”
> Ehhhhh?! WTF Nekonyan, I’m JLPT N6 and both I and Google Translate can confirm that “arigatou” does NOT mean “I love you”! Fire your incompetent translator at once!
But seriously though, what an absolutely marvelous take that surely required no small amount of courage~ I can so easily imagine the temptation to simply render this line as “thank you”, and I have no doubt that the lesser-skilled or more-chickenhearted might’ve opted for this “safe” option. Still though, just think about it! Damn would this entire scene have been so much worse for it! This is clearly intended as a profound expression of love and gratitude, and “thank you” just comes nowhere close to delivering that poignancy, with the literal English equivalent expression doing a very poor job of conveying the implicit subtext “thank you for being born, for being our daughter, etc.” I think it’s just very apparent that “We love you” is absolutely the best equivalency here bar none, and the translators here absolutely deserve to be celebrated for having the skill (and moral courage!) to make the right call. It was worth reading the entire game just to see this line.
Good Translations Still Make Mistakes!
I hope all those examples were illuminating and instructive. However, by no means do I want to give off the impression that Café Stella is a flawless translation or that I’m just a paid Nekonyan shill. Literally any translation, and especially a translation of an eroge with hundreds of thousands of words, is bound to have plenty of errors. Here are just a few examples I’d like to highlight for the sake of completeness:
There are of course a handful of spelling and grammar issues (“set wether to skup…”, “prove of…”) as is to be expected. Though I feel like the translator and editor certainly bear some responsibility for their negligence, it’s obviously unfair to use this as evidence to accuse a translator of being bad/unskilled.
Moreover, I’d say that having only a handful of mistakes, once every several hundred lines or so, is only natural and even commendable if the error rate is truly so low. On the other hand, it’s being rife with mistakes that regularly show up once every few dozen lines that is indeed intolerable. For what it’s worth, Café Stella has my approval for being impressively error-free despite its sheer length, and certainly is very below average in terms of error frequency.
Naturally, everything mentioned above also applies to untranslated lines. Again, an unfortunate but understandable mistake, especially in isolation, so long as they’re not especially frequent or anything.
Of course, there are a handful of “actual” translation errors I spotted as well, though I’d again emphasize that I feel like they were very few in number and well below the typical amount of errors contained in most other works. I thought this was a particularly interesting example, since it is legitimately one (much rarer than you’d think!) case of that mystical, fabled “Japanese ambiguity”. In this case, it is unclear who 朝武さん is referring to, the father or the daughter of a certain shrine from Senren Banka. I (and the Chinese translation) both agree that it makes much more sense for him to be referring to Tomotake Yoshino the daughter as opposed to Nekonyan’s interpretation of her father. It seems strange that these numerous exchanges should all be mediated between her father rather than Rokurou speaking to Yoshino directly, and it seems much less plausible that “[the father being] rather busy with some things this year” should prevent the daughter from performing the dance. Indeed, I believe there are occasions later on as well where the English script does interpret “Tomotake-san” to mean Yoshino herself, which makes prior mentions such as this somewhat incongruous. An especially interesting case study, isn’t it? At any rate, all other errors I spotted were on levels such as this, nothing rising above the level of mild-to-inconsequential inaccuracies and mistakes, which I think further speaks to the high quality of the work.
In the interest of full completeness, a few more minor issues I have with the translation, in no particular order:
- I suspect this might be more of an American tendency, but the word “cafe” shows up thousands of times in the script without the accent aigu! This wouldn’t bother me nearly as much if the official title of the game didn’t freaking include the accent, suggesting that this was just an inconsistent oversight rather than a deliberate artistic choice…
- This is very likely just another personal pet peeve, but there are SO MANY freaking “wry smiles” >__< Yes, 苦笑 certainly deserves a pretty high spot on “that list”, but this was one phrase I feel like the text could’ve consistently handled a lot better. The Chinese script did a far better job with multiple diverse variations like 无奈的笑 even though they could’ve just copied 苦笑 1:1!
- It would have been nice if the vocal songs were translated. I’m aware that doing so would be supererogatory and the vast majority of commercial translations don’t seem to feel obligated to do this, but it still would be nice…
At any rate, I hope it’s clear that my intention here is by no means to bash this translation or the staff for merely containing errors. Errors are an ineliminable fact of life for a project any size, and the presence of mistakes is very poor evidence for the quality of any translation. Instead, what ought matter is the relative frequency of mistakes (in Café Stella’s case, impressively low!), their nature (in Café Stella’s case, easily understandable errors that by no means belie the work of an unskilled TLer), and of course, whether there are praiseworthy elements to contrast the bad (see… literally all my profuse gushing about how great this script is!)
This translation was a genuine pleasure to read, and I found it extremely instructive! If you haven’t checked it out yet, I’d highly recommend picking up Café Stella and making good use out of the tri-language integration (PS: The Chinese TL is really great too!)
As I mentioned, I’d be interested in doing similar writeups such as this for other translations that really catch my eye, but I’m not sure how consistent this will prove to be, especially because it is so much more annoying to make comparisons and collect evidence if the game only contains the English script.
Dubs seems to be doing a great job in relaying our thoughts on general translation theory, so I’m not too sure what to be writing about in the future. I have an essay outlining some principles of “Neutral International English” and a discussion of some interesting cognitive biases associated with translation in the works, but after that, who knows? At any rate, if you enjoyed content like this, do let me know, and if you hated it, please do also let me know. If you somehow made it this far, thanks for your time! I’d especially love to hear any thoughts you have about this post, content you’d like to see, or Café Stella in general. Have a nice day and don’t forget to read more moege~
3 thoughts on “Celebrating Great Translations: Café Stella”
I loved this post, and would love to read more like it! Or at the very least I’d just like to know a list of translations you think are decent, as I have a very hard time trusting most people’s notion of a good translation, and hate having to roll the dice on what VNs I buy. I have an enormous list of recurring grievances with translations I see, and it was cathartic to see you list so many of them, and sensible solutions for how to do them better. A couple that stuck out to me:
– My biggest pet peeve in JP-EN translation is probably the “something something… no, something something something” expressions translated as is. They’re so prevalent and almost all the time they just sound plain terrible in English. People don’t start saying something, stop, then restart the sentence corrected. They just patch over it with “rather”s, or reinforce/clarify the meaning with commas or something of the sort.
– I forget what was the game I played where the “wry smile” count was through the roof. Seemingly every few sentences the protagonist would “smile wrily” (I also hate the way it sounds conjugated like that.) It drove me crazy.
ps: Do you guys read comments here? Should I be writing feedback somewhere else?
I dunno about anyone else, but I read comments here.
There are a lot of sentence structures that bug me, the one you mentioned being one of them. Particularly a subset of that: “even though ~, or maybe because ~.” You see it really often when an author thinks he’s clever. You’re not smart for realizing that they’re two sides of the same coin, like “and” and “but” are. Whenever I see that phrase, I nuke it mercilessly from orbit.
If you recall one of my posts from a while ago, I alluded to making a “Top Ten Words Translators Hate” article. I did end up doing that, and it’s coming up soon. “Wry smile” is number ten, though for reasons you might not expect. I don’t get into full-on sentence structures in that post, but look forward to it anyway.
I’m actually starting a new translation project, and if I feel like it, I might take screenshots as I go and use it to illustrate my points about some of this stuff.
Great writeup! I really enjoyed reading it. Like you said, it’s pretty rare to see anything close to resembling constructive criticism when it comes to translations (VNs or otherwise) for some reason, let alone actual (justifiable) praise, so this was very refreshing to read.
I also love what you said about how translation, without compensation and so-called “treachery”, ultimately becomes a “purely subtractive process”. Very eloquently put. While I’ve always been of the opinion that liberties can and should be taken in translation, I’d never thought about it that particular way before.