I’ve had it. I can’t take anymore.
MangaGamer, as you may know, sprung onto the scene about a year and a half ago, offering a variety of poorly-translated hentai-style novel games. You may remember that I was less than impressed at the time, but I had hope that, with time and the support of fans like me, they would improve.
They got worse.
I should point out that I have continued to support MangaGamer with my money. After Da Capo (which I played the grand total of one-and-a-half playthroughs of), I purchased Kira☆Kira (which held my interest for several sessions of several hours before I started playing something else) and Shuffle! (I only got as far as this screen before closing it in disgust). If you’ve had a conversation with me in the past few months, you can probably tell where I’m going with this post.
One of MangaGamer’s translators updated their staff blog a month or two ago, responding to concerns about their translation quality. In their words:
…we are taking much more time in editing and proofreading than we did before. Because our resources are limited right now, we are putting more emphasis where it’s needed, but changes are steadily being made.
This is all well and good, you may think. They’re clearly making an effort. Why get so upset over the odd spelling mistake here or there? While the presence of spelling mistakes in media in this day and age of digital spell checkers warrants a blog post of its own, this isn’t why I hate MangaGamer’s translations.
In order to better explain this, let’s look at a counter-example; another visual novel lucky enough to be translated into English. Ever17: [The] Out of Infinity, now sadly out of print, is a seminal title that any fan of the medium should try.
Unfortunately, the English release suffers immensely from lack of quality control. Words are misspelled, dashes and other characters are replaced with question marks, some of the sentences have awkward phrasing, the English interface is inconsistent. There are parts of the script that one can tell were the victims of an overzealous find-and-replace job — it’s annoyingly obvious that the Kid was going to be called the Youth at some point in the translation process.
And yet the translation of Ever17 is far superior to any MangaGamer title.
Take another look at that screenshot. The player character, Takeshi Kuranari, is referred to by Sora as Takeshi. Not Kuranari-san. Not even just Kuranari. Takeshi. Because this is how we greet people in English. We use first names. The people translating this understood this fact. They understood that calling someone Lastname-san in this context is equivalent to calling someone by their first name in English. It’s familiarity. It’s simple. When he is called Mr. Kuranari in the script, it’s in the context that an English-speaker would refer to someone in that way. It’s natural. It never feels awkward.
MangaGamer doesn’t follow this school of thought. Instead, it leaves all of the Japanese honourifics intact. Characters are called by their last names with the suffix of -san, -kun, -chan or -whatever. Playful nicknames are left alone without explanation of why they’re playful. Characters with meaningful names are robbed of their meaning. But it’s not all doom and gloom; if ever you see a term that you don’t recognise, all that you need to do is shatter the verisimilitude and alt+tab over to the handy dandy translation notes, free with selected purchases!
It’s not just names. Occasionally, you’ll see words like, ooh, say, ‘mangaka’ (comics artist) inexplicably left to float without a life jacket in a sea of mostly English words. It’s bad enough that there are few translators out there who have the integrity to translate character names. In the context of MangaGamer, the Shuffle! translation notes have some really silly examples. ‘Sempai’. ‘Sensei’. ‘Nekomimi’. Sure, one could argue that the average Shuffle! player would already be familiar with these terms, but what’s really ridiculous about this is that some of these ‘translation notes’ just list the English word next to them. Example: “Otoh-sama: Father; Otoh-san: Dad”. See, what you’ve done there is explain that there are perfectly good English equivalents for the Japanese terms! Why didn’t you just use them? Your current method is pointless!
The defenders of this practice (yes, there are people out there who deem this to be acceptable) say that removing the honourifics also removes the mood/feel/emotion of the work, and that their inclusion helps the end user better understand the character’s relationships/motives/social standings. But it doesn’t. It really doesn’t. Here’s why.
To properly understand the significance of honourifics in the Japanese language, you have to be a Japanese person. You have to have been immersed in the language from a young age. You need experience. You need fluency. A sheet of translation notes isn’t going to help you truly understand the meaning behind these terms; you need to speak the language, meet the people, know the culture. Even if you’re a student of the Japanese language (or have watched enough subtitled anime episodes to convince yourself that you are), Japanese honourifics in an English work or an English translation are out of place. They have no context. Japanese is a highly context-sensitive language. By removing the context, you’re removing the point — the significance — of the honourifics. A visual novel isn’t a lesson in Japanese, nor (in the case of MangaGamer’s titles) should it be. Translations exist so that one doesn’t have to learn a foreign language to appreciate a work of art. Yes, there is no one correct way to translate. This, however, is an incorrect way.
Using Japanese honourifics in English translations doesn’t “make the experience more authentic” or “maintain the proper atmosphere of gameplay”. All that it shows is a lack of care, understanding and respect on the part of the translator.
In short: The problem is not the quality control (or lack thereof). It’s the translation policies that MangaGamer have put in place. No amount of proofreading can fix a broken script if you ignore the very reason that it’s broken.
But that’s not the worst part.
The worst part is that it’s not MangaGamer’s fault.
Back in 2008, a representative posted a forum poll on behalf of MangaGamer asking fans whether or not their releases should ignore Japanese honourifics.
The results were horrifying.
There aren’t that many things in this world that I care about. When it comes to politics, there’s not a lot that gets on my nerves. The results of this poll, however, make me truly angry. This poll implies that there are more people out there who would rather spend good money on an inferior product than those who favour quality, accuracy and appreciation for the work in question.
These misguided ‘fans’, desperate to protect their prized franchises from redaction, are instead pushing them towards an equally catastrophic opposite extreme.
Forget the parliamentary election. This is where we need radical change. ㋼