It’s time to wrap up our discussion of Wakabayashi, at least for now. Just two topics today, but I’m gonna go pretty ham on both. So let’s get started. (In case you couldn’t tell, this is the third part of a series of posts where I go through a textbook and analyze how academia thinks about the various translation problems that frequently crop up in otaku media. I highly recommend reading the other two, as they’re fascinating stuff.)
So! I’m sure you’re dying to know what academia thinks of honorifics. Here are a few quotes to sum it up:
The romanised suffix -san after names is becoming more familiar to English readers, but it is still not widely understood, and it can be distracting or convey an inappropriately exotic air. The decision on its use will depend on the assumed ‘Japan literacy’ or cosmopolitanism of intended readers and on whether the ‘Japaneseness’ of the text is relevant. If appropriate, a phrase such as with the polite/deferential addition of -san can be inserted. Usually, however, this suffix can be dropped, although with surnames the result might sound misleadingly abrupt or even insulting. (p. 46)
In Japanese, dropping formal suffixes such as さん or using the personal name instead of the surname speaks volumes about the relation between the people concerned. It can be challenging, however, to convey these distinctions in English, where use of just the first name is common (unmarked) and calling someone by their surname can sound insulting. (p. 46)
And most importantly:
Depending on the target audience, retention of the suffix is an option. (p. 47)
In other words, the debate about honorifics is no more advanced in academia than it is in the otaku sphere, and there’s no one right answer. It boils down to two considerations: is the Japaneseness of the work important, and is the target audience likely to understand them? The answer to the former question will depend on the work, but the answer to the latter question is a resounding yes most of the time in the VN medium. Even if a reader doesn’t understand honorifics at first, they can pick them up through context, just like actual Japanese people do when learning the language in their formative years. That’s actually a reason my father gave for preferring honorifics in anime subtitles: so he could learn the hard way about how Japanese people refer to each other instead of having the subtle nuance localized out. Is that a good opinion? A bad one? You decide, but I’m at least happy he’s thinking for himself instead of mindlessly accepting whatever’s put in front of him.
At first, Lonesome was reluctant to keep honorifics in Senmomo, but he ultimately admitted that they’re necessary. By which I’m guessing he meant he didn’t want to make Kanami stop calling Soujin onii-sama, but hey, I’ll take the victories I can get.
Even the Ace Attorney localization lets Prosecutor Blackquill call people -dono, and the recently released The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles has Ryunosuke and Susato use -san with each other. As anime gets more popular in Western countries, its viewers are becoming more and more receptive to Japanese honorifics, just like how Japanese translations of English-language works aren’t afraid to retain English honorifics like Mister. So it’s one thing if you’re translating a Murakami Haruki novel for the masses, but when you’re working on a manga, anime, or game, you have to ask yourself if you’re really gaining anything by cutting honorifics and making life harder on yourself.
That doesn’t mean it’s inherently wrong to localize honorifics out. The Danganronpa localization actually did a pretty good job of it. But unless you can do it that consistently well and sidestep all the obvious issues that come with the territory, you’re going to annoy your audience, which knows what’s missing. The easy road works perfectly fine, and often even better than the hard road; you might as well take it.
The last stop on the Wakabayashi train is titles.
Literal translation of Japanese titles can result in flat, vague, awkward or unenticing English, failing to create a sense of expectation or leading to unwanted associations. For instance, Juliet Winters Carpenter (2007: 14) mentions how she rendered a book titled なぜ生きる as You Were Born for a Reason, to avoid giving “the exact opposite of the message the book is trying to convey” [the literal translation is “Why Live”]. In general, translators have greater latitude with titles than with the body of a text.
I’m sure you’ve seen really creative takes on VN titles in English, and it’s often impressive how a long Japanese title can be rendered in snappy and eloquent English. I particularly liked Nukitashi: I’m a Celibate, Get Me Outta Here! Compare that to a closer translation of the Japanese title, What am I (a flat-chested girl) supposed to do, living on an island straight out of a nukige? RIP in pepperonis, Sol Press. May Nekonyan pick up what you dropped.
Here’s the thing, though: titles are supposed to be very short and catchy in English. So why did I go with what I did? Allow me to break it down.
First of all, let’s examine the full Japanese title: Sen no Hatou, Tsukisome no Kouki. Well, even a beginning Japanese student can tell you that sen means thousand, so the first part means “a thousand hatous,” whatever that is. Tsukisome is a word made up for the game, built from the kanji for peach, flower, and dye. As the game explains within the first hour, it’s an adjective revolving around peach blossoms. The some in particular suggests color. And Kouki is written with the kanji for emperor and princess, and it means exactly what you’d expect.
Both halves of the title are name-dropped within the game, so I immediately decided to retain them both for impact. However, that meant that no matter what I did, the title would be long and unwieldy, so I decided to take a page out of the light novel translation industry’s book and include an abbreviation within the title. Just as much as it loves long titles, Japan loves shortening them to four syllables for ease of pronunciation. The accepted abbreviation for this title is, you guessed it, Senmomo (the momo coming from the peach kanji that’s pronounced differently in the full title). Just as Yen Press decided to include Konosuba as part of that series’ localized title, I decided to include Senmomo as part of this game’s.
We’ll start from the second half of the title. It’s no surprise to anybody that this refers to the main heroine, Akari. I immediately ruled out Imperial Princess for being too much of a mouthful, shortening it to just Princess. And by the time I was thinking about the title, I had already translated Tsukisome in-game as Peach-Blossom. Hey, look at that—alliteration! Suddenly, half the title was A Peach-Blossom Princess.
One problem: peach is not a very pretty-sounding word. At all. Just listen to that ugly ch sound! Nasty. Thankfully, Lonesome came up with the idea of using part of the scientific name for peaches: Persica. A Persica Princess sounds much nicer and rolls off the tongue much easier. There’s the obvious flaw that the average English reader won’t know what Persica means, but that’s not a problem because the game explains it very early on anyway. (We also briefly considered A Princess in (or of) Persica, but that ran the risk of being misinterpreted as a proper noun, so we decided against it.)
Now back to the first half of the title. I glossed over it earlier, but let’s look at Hatou again. It means a stormy sea, but there’s one problem: the actual word uses the kanji for wave for the ha, whereas the game’s title uses the kanji for blade (which can also be read as ha). Awesome! Wordplay right in the title. I had my work cut out for me.
However, as Wakabayashi said, I had considerable latitude, even knowing that this phrase appears in the body of the text. It only shows up once, near the very end. Having seen that, I knew that the thousand part wasn’t important. Indeed, in Japanese folklore and mythology, ridiculously large numbers aren’t often used for their literal meaning. Such-and-such god doesn’t have ten thousand arms—just a lot. So my takeaway was that the Sen should be interpreted as providing a sense of grandness, of multitudes, of volume.
Having already achieved alliteration in the second half of the title, I wanted to see if I could do the same in the first. Didn’t have to be the same letter—the comma between them provides a good pause to sort of reset the reader’s mind—but it would give a nice sense of rhythm to the title. I wanted to incorporate blade somehow due to how frequently it shows up in the game, and I decided to make it part of a portmanteau to reflect the neologistic nature of Hatou. I considered tide briefly, but I quickly zeroed in on storm, making Bladestorm. Now I just needed a suitable adjective beginning with B.
In keeping with my contextual understanding of Sen, I tried to think of words that could be used to show the size or severity of a storm. It didn’t take long for me to land on Billowing, and so I had my full title, Senmomo: A Billowing Bladestorm, A Persica Princess. (This was before Lonesome joined, of course, so at the time it was A Peach-Blossom Princess, but you get the point.) What’s nice is that both halves of the title have the same syllable count. I wasn’t even trying for that.
Funnily enough, long after the title was set in stone, Lonesome found scans of an official soundtrack booklet with August’s in-house English translations of some of the track names. One track within the game is called Sen no Hatou, which August rendered as In Billows of Blade, or something like that. By sheer coincidence, I came up with the same word they did!
Many titles are easy to translate—heck, some don’t need translating at all. But when you’ve got something as elegant and creative as Senmomo’s Japanese title, you have to go the extra mile, and I’m quite proud of what we have.
To finish our odyssey through these four chapters of Wakabayashi’s textbook, allow me to copy/paste a passage from its end:
Translating is an intellectual puzzle and a creative challenge, and this chapter has looked at aspects where these elements come to the fore even more than usual. Wordplay, phonological and prosodic effects, mimetic expressions, slogans, titles and headings all present special challenges. Yet they also allow translators to savour the effects of the Japanese text and have fun recreating similar or compensatory effects in English, or even to introduce creative usages where none existed in the Japanese. Depending on the genre, text type (informative, expressive, persuasive), target readership and the translator’s creativity, the elements discussed here lend themselves to taking some poetic licence in producing a text where nothing is ‘lost in translation’ and something might even be gained. (p. 211)
God, I love translation.
Holy shit, this turned out a lot longer than I expected. I initially wrote this Wakabayashi journey as a single post, but I went back and split it up into three because of how absurdly long it ended up being. Next time, I’m gonna cool down a bit and talk about a much shorter book by a prolific translator named Jay Rubin. Until then, leave any feedback you have in the usual places. I’ll see you next time!