As someone who was born in Australia in a family where Tagalog is the first language I’ve picked up on both English and Tagalog growing up. During Primary School I’ve also picked up Japanese as well. Japanese media was a huge part of my life since it makes up a huge portion of not only my childhood but my current interests and hobbies as well. Ranging from building Gundams to playing the next big JRPG a year before it’s English release.
Growing up with a family that speaks Tagalog at home, friends that speak English and studying Japanese in my own free time. I’ve been exposed to a wide spectrum of perspectives regarding Asia and the west. One of my most fond memories of my childhood was watching Cartoon network shows such as Foster’s home for Imaginary friends and The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy. The writing behind the two series is amazing and all the jokes have impeccable timing.
Since I know more than one language, I figured it’d be interesting to see how those two made the transition from English to Japanese. But on top of this, I’ve translated it back into English to see how it compares to the original English script.
Part of the idea came from putting 少年 (shounen/boy in Japanese) into Google translate, reversing the translation from JP > EN to make it JP > EN then switching the 2nd language to a different one. This could be done to a point where the word has changed completely. It’s kind of like Chinese whispers but for Google actually now that I actually think about it.
During this digital artifact I’ve come across a few epiphanies regarding translation from one language to another. The biggest one that came from this project is that a 1-to-1 translation is never recommended, at least for English to Japanese or vice versa. Literal translations never come out well.
Translation is all about having something make sense for a foreign audience while retaining the original message behind the medium. It’s absolutely key to retain the original experience the original audience had and let a foreign audience experience it the same way. Despite this being the key point of translation however, fan subtitles can fall into this trap. Duwang translations of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure being among one of the most infamous.
Even though, fan translations are generally of lower quality, they’re quite popular for Japanese video games (Lee, HK 2011). One of the best examples of a fan translation is the one for Phantasy Star Online 2. I mention this one specifically because while it is a fan translation, it’s a fan translation of an MMO. MMOs generally take 4 – 5 years to create. Part of this large process is due to the script for NPCs, story and quest text. PSO2 has yet to be released in English however the fan translation team has translated 99% of it and are keeping up with the game’s constant story/quest updates.
Another thing I learned from this Digital artifact is that, adding subtitles to something is more time consuming than expected. Going in I thought adding text to a video was simple. I mean it was, but aligning the timing of the words with the subtitles is was took the most effort, especially for longer sentences. Getting the timing down for subtitles to stay on screen long enough for the audience to read but not have it too slow was something I had to keep in mind.
One final thing that I took away from this project is that it’s difficult to make Japanese seem have a lot of flair in comparison to English. At least in regards to the cartoons I’ve translated. This is the dialogue in the cartoon network shows are very direct and lack a lot of the nuance that made them so fun to watch years later. While it may seem small, this difference in language vocabulary and structure is what leads to what works in each language. Slapstick comedy shows such as Gaki no Tsukai are more popular than ever in Japan, but stand up comedians such as Louis CK is what’s popular in the west. Slapstick comedy is straightforward and requires no build up while stand up comedy is quite the opposite, relying on how it’s set and built up.
To end this project, take a look at the results: (I used vid.me because youtube takes too long to upload)
Ellis, C, Adams, TE, & Bochner, AP 2011, ‘Autoethnography: an overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol. 12, no. 1, viewed 15 October 2017, <http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095>
Lee, HK 2011, ‘Participatory media fandom: A case study of anime fansubbing’, Media, Culture & Society, vol. 33, no. 8, pp. 1131-1147.