Viz/Nico-Nico’s Sailor Moon Crystal is the Paragon of Liberal Translations

Article — By on July 5, 2014 5:43 pm

This post was written by Dark_Sage. He is Dark_Sage.

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We all know literal translations are bad, and nobody knows this more than Nico-Nico.

Update: This may be a Nico-Nico translation instead of a Viz one. It’s still Viz’s license, so they deserve blame, but if the translation was done by Nico-Nico, I figure they oughta take most of the lumps. So I’ve updated the post accordingly.

 

Liberal > Literal. Always.

Believe it.

Believe it.

 

 

 

Evidence in images

Characterization

If you can say all of the following without sounding like a speech-to-text program…

[HorribleSubs] Sailor Moon Crystal - 01 [720p].mkv_snapshot_02.28_[2014.07.05_11.07.47]  [HorribleSubs] Sailor Moon Crystal - 01 [720p].mkv_snapshot_11.50_[2014.07.05_12.55.26] [HorribleSubs] Sailor Moon Crystal - 01 [720p].mkv_snapshot_19.33_[2014.07.05_13.27.39]

…you’re missing the clever characterization the translator gave to Usagi-chan. See, she’s supposed to be a soulless robot in this adaptation.

True, she may not be one in the Japanese release, but liberal translations are supposed to make the show better in any way the translator can think of. And hell, it’s hard to get better than robots.

Sailor SMASH!

Sailor SMASH!

 

 

Sentence Length

Beyond rewriting characters, another central tenet of liberal translation is shortening long Japanese phrases when you don’t know what the words mean.

[HorribleSubs] Sailor Moon Crystal - 01 [720p].mkv_snapshot_02.36_[2014.07.05_11.08.15]

Just remember: it’s not incompetence; it’s efficiency!

[mp3t track="http://www.crymore.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Efficiency.mp3" play="Start audio" stop="Pause this shit" volslider="y"]

 

 

Grammars

Indefinite articles? Definite articles? Pronouns?! Tools of the white man. Being 5% Native American myself (Ojibwe, to be precise), I can empathize with the translator’s struggle to bring down the patriarchy.

[HorribleSubs] Sailor Moon Crystal - 01 [720p].mkv_snapshot_04.37_[2014.07.05_12.35.36]

[HorribleSubs] Sailor Moon Crystal - 01 [720p].mkv_snapshot_15.20_[2014.07.05_13.02.07]

[HorribleSubs] Sailor Moon Crystal - 01 [720p].mkv_snapshot_11.48_[2014.07.05_12.55.17]

Pharaoh English, let my people go!

 

 

Language

It’s key to avoid anything that might be seen as a common translation in liberal subs. For example, rather than having a character “Ahh!” or “Oh no!” when they trip and fall (which would be expected), “Wow!” could suffice.

[HorribleSubs] Sailor Moon Crystal - 01 [720p].mkv_snapshot_04.43_[2014.07.05_12.36.18]

As in, “Wow! Lucky me!”

Cuz, y’know, everything in life is an adventure. Even the bad things. Or at least that’s what my Wes Anderson movies tell me. ^__^

 

 

Naming Order

When you’re ordered by the patriarchy to use honorifics (a disgusting practice that must be avoided at all costs!), it’s important to make sure the target audience can still understand what’s going on.

Thus, per liberal standards, always make sure to reverse the names of the characters so they’re in western naming order.

[HorribleSubs] Sailor Moon Crystal - 01 [720p].mkv_snapshot_06.18_[2014.07.05_12.41.12]

The familiarity of the order will distract people from having to learn anything new.

Lucky them!

Lucky them!

 

 

On Baka

Nico-Nico thankfully provided us with a fabulous translation for one of the more common phrases in the Sailor Moon universe: “baka Usagi”.

[HorribleSubs] Sailor Moon Crystal - 01 [720p].mkv_snapshot_13.09_[2014.07.05_12.58.12]

As everyone knows, “baka” is a word that has such utility, you would have to be a baka to simply translate it as “stupid” or “idiot”.

Especially when it's supposed to mean those things.

Even when it’s supposed to mean those things.

 

 

To Wit

If liberal translators weren’t so clever, why would they constantly tell us they are? Exchanges like the following just back them up:

[HorribleSubs] Sailor Moon Crystal - 01 [720p].mkv_snapshot_10.19_[2014.07.05_12.49.12] [HorribleSubs] Sailor Moon Crystal - 01 [720p].mkv_snapshot_10.22_[2014.07.05_12.49.19] [HorribleSubs] Sailor Moon Crystal - 01 [720p].mkv_snapshot_10.24_[2014.07.05_12.50.10] [HorribleSubs] Sailor Moon Crystal - 01 [720p].mkv_snapshot_10.30_[2014.07.05_12.49.42]

Good job on taking out the word play here. English just can’t match Japanese when it comes tongue twistering, so there’s no reason to bother trying to match them.

One could say that’s cleverness in its own way.

 

 

Efficiency Revisited

Every true liberal translator knows grammar is just a suggestion, much like wearing pants or having genitals. And Nico-Nico demonstrates that philosophy perfectly here.

[HorribleSubs] Sailor Moon Crystal - 01 [720p].mkv_snapshot_18.45_[2014.07.05_13.26.30]

[HorribleSubs] Sailor Moon Crystal - 01 [720p].mkv_snapshot_18.47_[2014.07.05_13.26.37]

[HorribleSubs] Sailor Moon Crystal - 01 [720p].mkv_snapshot_18.49_[2014.07.05_13.26.43]

“The Pretty Guardian in a Sailor Suit Guardian”? Nobody knows what means, adding to the mystery of the show!

Kudos to Nico-Nico. By avoiding any form of grammar that might make Usagi’s introduction be clear and understandable, they are keeping audiences in the dark until they look up her actual title on Google later. That’s called adding suspense.

Could you imagine putting this translator on a show like Madoka or Shinsekai? It’d be perfect.

 

 

 

So thanks.

Thank you, official-subs-tl-kun.

Sample Thanks

This release would have definitely sucked if it was one of those dirty literal translations. But with you at the helm, it became a pure release that defied the standards of yore.

We asked for a liberal translation, and we got one.

And we got exactly what we asked for.

We got exactly that.



Tags: ,

42 Comments

lauren says:

Just remember: it’s not incompetence; it’s efficiency!

+ so how does one translate this?
Usagi, come on… ?

Dark_Sage says:

Doesn’t matter; it’s a filler line. Just convey the spirit in a timeframe that matches the Japanese dialogue.

Random Guy says:

Or… have alphabet soup for lunch and find the answer in there!

Licca says:

I don’t think Viz actually had anything to do with that translation – it sounds like it was done by the Nico-Nico guys.

Dark_Sage says:

I’ll change the article if need be, but what makes ya think nico takes responsibility over viz?

Licca says:

Certain elements of the translation are more Japanesy than Viz’s subs usually are (for one, I’ve never seen a Viz sub consistently use honorifics, and their streams don’t tend to translate OPEDs). I get the general idea that NND prepared their own translations in several languages which they then provided to Viz and CR and that’s what were used globally. Again, just a hunch.

Dark_Sage says:

Makes sense to me. I’ll update the post and add a note at the beginning. Thanks.

You gonna be switching up your naming standard for Sailor Moon? I get the feeling most people will ignore your release as-is, cuz it comes across as just another CR re-release.

Puto says:

We did specifically note in the release post that our release was heavily edited and TLCed, so make of that what you will.

Dark_Sage says:

There’s nothing to make of it. I’m already going to review your release, but fansubbing is primarily a game of marketing. All I’m saying is it’s gonna be more difficult to get your release out there if it doesn’t look like a fansub at first blush.

Licca says:

Well, yeah. And I’ve never been good at the marketing machine – hype’s just not my thing and never really was. I had one release slowly get good circulation as a The Sub back in 2004 – was probably the only sub I worked on that had any reach before my current team came together in 2011.

Licca says:

Well, it is and it isn’t, as I said when I uploaded it. We did start with the CR raw and subs – it was originally going to be ColdFusion & Baaro (marking a rip that had been run through a translation check and retypeset) until we went over the result and decided the translation had been mauled so hard (for reasons seen here) and was more in line with the radically reworked studio translation fixups I released for a few Detective Conan episodes as just Baaro.

Actar says:

There’s a difference between good translations and bad translations even within the literal and liberal dichotomy.

V2Blast says:

Seems flawless to me.

A. Crush says:

Whether “literal” or “liberal” is better depends on what the criteria is.

There are plenty of liberal translations that are terrible, because they aren’t even what is actually being said and use common English expressions instead.

There are also literal translations that are fantastic, and manage to convey exactly what the characters are saying, using English words and sentence structure.

Liberal interpretations, to me, are those that are so localized and changed, it may as well be a script for a dub, made for morons who need their hand held the whole way through a show because they’ll miss anything that isn’t thoroughly explained in dialogue.

Literal translations, to me, are those that just translate the words that are actually being said, arrange them in a proper sentence, tweaking it slightly if needed for proper grammar, and leave it at that, with the rest for the viewer to understand from the visuals.

This terrible translation was obviously by a non-native English speaker who didn’t care that much about what they were translating, and it was probably just a rush job. Hardly comparable to a literal translation that would be made by a TL in a subbing group who actually spoke English and gave a damn about the show they were working on and the quality of the release.

Actar says:

Saw your comments on another site. I think we will be able to get along swimmingly.

puddi says:

Liberal interpretations, to me, are those that are so localized and changed, it may as well be a script for a dub, made for morons who need their hand held the whole way through a show because they’ll miss anything that isn’t thoroughly explained in dialogue.

Literal translations, to me, are those that just translate the words that are actually being said, arrange them in a proper sentence, tweaking it slightly if needed for proper grammar, and leave it at that, with the rest for the viewer to understand from the visuals.

When was the last time you understood everything from an anime from the visuals?

The script is more important than the visuals in basically any media form. The script is what’s powering the story. It’s dictating what the characters are saying, it’s controlling the plot, it’s developing character. Most visuals only serve to provide additional context and information. They’re at location X. Here’s a picture of location X. They’re eating food Y. Here’s a depiction of food Y.

Think of light novels. They’ve got like, four, five anime drawings per chapter. You can’t get the entire story from those drawings, though. You have to read the damn thing, because the script is what’s driving the story.

Obviously, then, some level of consideration needs to go into working on the script. Most of this consideration falls under the translator – it’s their job to take that Japanese script, and convert it into its English equivalent. I think we can agree on this much. However, you’re advocating for “literal translations”, in which all that’s done is translating the words and polishing it up for grammar.

Here’s why that doesn’t work.

When translating content, part of it is achieving formal equivalence, yes. This is the word-to-word translation that you’re talking about: if a character says “I want to eat an apple” in Japanese, you can’t translate it as “I want to eat an orange.”

However, words aren’t the only thing that goes into a script. There’s cultural references, jokes, tones, etc., that aren’t simply just… words. If a character talks in an accent, for instance, there’s probably a reason behind that accent. And that reason needs to be reflected in the script. This is dynamic equivalence – translating the meaning and nuances in the script, as opposed to direct words.

Now, here’s where you come into play.

As a translator, I don’t expect you to understand everything that the original Japanese is saying. If you did, then either a) you’d be translating it yourself, or b) you wouldn’t be watching the content I translate.

As a result, my job is to fill in the holes that you don’t understand. At a base level, it’s taking a language you don’t understand, and converting that into a language you do. That’s formal equivalence. At a higher level, it’s taking cultural references that you won’t understand, jokes that you won’t understand (think of puns and stuff), and making references and jokes that you will. That’s dynamic equivalence.

I could strive for formal equivalence and nothing else. But then you wouldn’t be getting a similar experience to what people who understand Japanese, who live and breath Japan get. That’s why most modern translators and editors go for dynamic equivalence, too. And in doing that, we have to make cuts somewhere. We have to change lines. We have to change jokes. We have to change characters. We can’t provide a strictly “literal translation”.

We have to compromise the integrity of the original work to provide a comparable experience for an unintended audience.

And you might not like that. That’s fine. You might not like how TLs won’t translate おはよう as “Good morning!” every time. You might not like how a joke gets written. We deviate from the norm.

But when we do deviate, there’s often a very good reason for it. We’re not just giving you a broken, crumbled script, and telling you to fill the holes for yourself. We’re giving you our version of the story, and we try our damn hardest to make sure that that version is a complete experience.

And if you have a problem with it, you might as well just watch it raw. After all, you don’t need our help, do you?

Rola says:

Ain’t there like a spectrum within that though?

As in “Well none of my viewers will know what riceballs are, they’re unfamiliar… let’s go with ‘jelly donuts’ instead!” being one extreme.

And the other end being “I think my viewers can cope with a Japanese character addressing her brother as ‘brother’ and calling some of her friends by their surnames.”

Actar says:

First of all, let me thank you for your very civil reply. I do appreciate you taking your time to lay out your stance clearly and succinctly. It was certainly informative and enlightening. I do agree with you on some respects, however, I would also like to engage you on several of the points that you have brought up.

Firstly, while a translator’s job is indeed “to fill in the holes that you don’t understand”, I propose that this can be done in a multitude of ways. For instance, you strive to give the English-speaking audience “a similar experience to what people who understand Japanese, who live and breath Japan get”. And in doing so, take liberties.

However, personally, I am fully cognizant of the fact that I’m viewing the show from an outsider’s perspective (made more apparent by the Japanese dialogue) and I don’t see the need or necessity for the translator to cater to my perceived ignorance when it comes to names, terms, proper nouns, cultural references and practices etc… No matter how good the translations are, I will never be able to enjoy it the same way as speakers of the native language do. This is where I differentiate translating from localizing.

Sometimes, when watching localizations, I honestly feel that I’m being condescended to or even lied to, especially when there is an obvious disconnect and disjuncture that is created between the subtitles and the audio/video. Stuff like changing Famicom to NES, Naginata to Pole-arm or onigiri to doughnuts is just ridiculous, especially when the respective objects are on-screen. With cultural elements, where are you going to draw the line? As mentioned in Rola’s comment, won’t people find it weird that classmates address each other by their last names? What happens if the show makes reference to another anime?

This also happens with regard to jokes, puns, idioms, sayings and wordplay. While idioms and sayings usually have equivalents, more often than not, jokes, puns and wordplay get replaced by something the translator has written. I want to know what joke the character used and not one that the translator has come up with. Explaining a joke would ruin it, sure. But again, I realize that I’m watching it from a foreigner’s perspective and I’d rather understand the joke and be able to appreciate the humor in the original language. There are jokes that work phenomenally in both languages, coincidentally enough, but not all of them do.

People have given the argument that the lack of localization would make the show far more esoteric and harder for people to enjoy. Okay, fine. But anyone notice a double standard here? Take a look at British shows. Do they change ‘torch’ to ‘flashlight’ or ‘car park’ to ‘parking lot’ or ‘bangers and mash’ to ‘sausages and mashed potatoes’? Nope. Yes, you could say that it’s still English, but people outside the UK get stumped by the terms, jokes, colloquialisms and cultural references all the same. Wanna enjoy them to the fullest? Tough luck, you gotta get yourself immersed in the culture.

Yet, when it comes to other languages and cultures, we feel the need to spoon-feed the viewer by transforming everything into something familiar and relatable. Not to mention, the practice of liking the foreign language or culture gets you vilified and treated as if you were a race traitor.

I understand that not many people will share my opinions, but that’s okay. Though, hopefully you’ll be able to see where I’m coming from too.

– “Think of light novels. They’ve got like, four, five anime drawings per chapter. You can’t get the entire story from those drawings, though.”

Comparing anime to light novels or even manga is a little unfair due to the fact that with anime, aside from the pictures, you have the delivery of the voice actor, the body language of the character and the music to add to the universal audio/visual ques that the audience can pick up on. It’s amazing how much impact tone can have on words. If I say “you idiot” in a jovial manner, you know I’m most likely taking a jab at you. However, if I scream “you idiot!” at you with venom in my voice you know you’ve done something wrong.

– “And if you have a problem with it, you might as well just watch it raw. After all, you don’t need our help, do you?”

This is a false dichotomy that people love creating. You either understand Japanese or you don’t. The reality is somewhat different. When picking up the language or going through the tedious process of climbing up the ranks of JLPT, your language proficiency is stuck between the two extremes, being able to tell that something’s not right, but not having the capability to tell what is right.

– “some level of consideration needs to go into working on the script.”

I do not disagree in the slightest. Varying degrees of politeness (casual, humble, honorific), accenting (kansai-ben), role language of character archetypes that don’t conform to “standard” Japanese (special pronouns, sentence-ending particles), word choice, etc…

Xythar says:

>Stuff like changing Famicom to NES, Naginata to Pole-arm or onigiri to doughnuts is just ridiculous

These three are not remotely similar, because a naginata is a kind of polearm and a Famicom and a NES are the same thing. That’s not remotely like changing onigiri to doughnuts.

Also, while shows in British English aren’t dubbed over or subbed in American English for obvious reasons, American versions are frequently created of British shows to make them more palatable to the American audience.

>When picking up the language or going through the tedious process of climbing up the ranks of JLPT, your language proficiency is stuck between the two extremes, being able to tell that something’s not right, but not having the capability to tell what is right.

That as may be, you’re not gonna get better at the language solely by watching translations. You need to get in there and try to understand the original Japanese, even if it’s difficult. It’s not the job of a translator to teach you the language.

Kiraly says:

What about the viewers who are unfamiliar with “polearm”? I knew what a naginata was from various anime, but I had to google polearm.

>It’s not the job of a translator to teach you the language.
In my case, I don’t watch anime to learn Japanese, that’s just a side-effect of being exposed to a language for so many years. It’s the same for anyone with the slightest inclination towards foreign languages.

puddi says:

if you think you’ve learned japanese just from watching anime, you probably haven’t learned japanese.

Kiraly says:

I don’t. I know just enough to get by watching raws for most shows (including most of Monogatari), but I still use subtitles because I don’t get the more difficult dialogue.

Basically, close to what Actar was talking about.

It’s really not that rare. Where I live a lot of people know Spanish because they watched telenovela, and even more more people learned English from cartoons as children. Cartoon Network taught me enough English to read regular books.

…of course, it doesn’t help that Japanese uses kana, and I’m too lazy to learn them to start reading books and actually get decent at it.

Bospp says:

Using ‘polearm’ for ‘naginata’ is like using ‘food’ for ‘onigiri’.

774 says:

lol, UTW’s Watamote.

Xythar says:

More like translating “tsukudani onigiri” as “rice balls”.

fnord says:

Nothing wrong with using ‘halberd’.

adlh says:

Apart from that it looks nothing like a halberd, and would be like translating ‘katana’ as ‘axe’.

You could go with ‘glaive’.

FalseDawn says:

That’s silly. That’s like saying you’re not allowed to say “a sword” for a scimitar. It’s still a sword, it just happens to be a specific type – and I doubt you’d stop to identify the type of sword if someone was barreling towards you, waving it around their head. And what about guns? People don’t shout “He’s got a glock!”, they shout “he’s got a gun!”

The only time it wouldn’t work is if they were going into specific detail about the weapon, in which case you’d use naginata itself, but substituting it for polearm in other situations is fine.

adlh says:

>That’s like saying you’re not allowed to say “a sword” for a scimitar. It’s still a sword, it just happens to be a specific type – and I doubt you’d stop to identify the type of sword if someone was barreling towards you, waving it around their head. And what about guns? People don’t shout “He’s got a glock!”, they shout “he’s got a gun!”

I don’t see how any of that applies if a character actually does say a weapon is a naginata or a scimitar, regardless of the situation.

adlh says:

Also, on the Glock thing – that’s a false equivalence. It’s really the difference between “Drop the gun!” and “Drop the pistol!” (or “Drop the rifle!” or whichever).

Since Glock is a make of gun, then the equivalent would be “Drop that Houki no Kami Hirotaka!”

FalseDawn says:

Does it make a difference really? I mean, do the police shout “Drop the pistol!” or “Drop the 9mm!” – no they don’t, they say “drop the gun”.

And of course it wouldn’t match every scene, as I stated, but suggesting that it’s a bad translation when we do similar things to weapons in English is shortsighted at best.

qwerty says:

Or “longsword” for “katana”.

*cough* Underwater’s Sidonia *cough*

Xythar says:

Which is completely fine and may even be more correct depending on the circumstances, because the word “katana” is actually more specific in English than it is in Japanese.

I would have just used “sword” in that context because being any more specific is weird for the “drop the Glock” reason FalseDawn already mentioned, but it works either way.

qwerty says:

I’d agree with “sword”, but as far as I know, what they were holding was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a “longsword”.

I’m fairly certain that longswords are western weapons with a two-sided straight blade. Am I mistaken?

FalseDawn says:

Yeah, longsword would be a bad translation because it is a type of sword in itself (like longbow is a type of bow), not a category.

Though, katana is well-known to the outside world as a type of sword (in much the same way rapier and scimitar are) so you could leave that unlocalised. Naginata is not as well-known as a weapon, though, so that’s when you get into localisation territory.

It’s like with food. Ramen you can leave unlocalised because Japanese food has emigrated to the Western world, but tonkotsu ramen means nothing to anyone but a gourmet, whereas pork bone ramen is something that can tell the composition of the dish without an unwieldy TL note.

PP says:

Someone watched too much Chaika.

Dark_Sage says:

Everyone who watched an episode of Chaika has watched too much Chaika.

Hairy says:

You, Chaika, no like?

Dark_Sage says:

Chaika isn’t a bad character. Everyone else is though.

Anon says:

If a Japanese person did this, does this qualify as a “liberal” translation? Wouldn’t this be more of a “bad” translation by someone who doesn’t necessarily have the best grasp of English?

Anon says:

Just FYI: Viz (on their Sailor Moon twitter) mentioned that “the translations were provided by the Licensor.” I’d assume that means Toei themselves are doing the Crystal translations for NicoNico/CrunchyRoll/etc. When you compare it to Viz’s own translations for the original Sailor Moon on Hulu/Neon Alley, you’ll see that’s the case. This makes me wonder how Japanese to other languages are faring on NicoNico, etc…

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