MangaGamer Revisited — Oral Stage

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.

Sora is the one on the right.

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

7 Responses to “MangaGamer Revisited — Oral Stage”

  • When a significant majority of their audience wants something, it makes sense to include it, money talks. This isn’t isolated.

    A significant percent of manga released in English by a variety of companies contains honorifics.

    Nearly a majority of recent anime released in English has honorifics in their subbed track (and some ever have them in the dub).

    The vast majority of unofficial fansubbed anime and manga include them, as do most fan translated visual novels

    Some English released games (Persona comes to mind) has them in their game dub.

    Even MangaGamer’s larger competitor, JastUSA, includes honorifics in the majority of their games, especially recently.

    You can complain about one company, but the truth is, for better or worse, is that this community wants honorifics, and so it makes perfect sense to include them. You may not agree, but with them selling products, it is in their best interest to sell what their customers want.

  • Honourific supporters are the vocal minority. To the general public, this is a major point of contention. I’ve yet to hear a convincing argument in favour of the practice. But consumers see this and assume that there’s no better way. By pandering to the vocal minority, potential mainstream users find themselves disillusioned. They’re shooting themselves in the feet, and, as this practice spreads, dooming the ‘community’, as you call it, into an even smaller niche.

    I think that other companies getting in on the action is even worse, but that’s beyond the scope of this article. I do not watch, play or support any Japanese-to-English media that makes use of honourifics and neither should you. As there is nothing else that I can do, this means that I cannot be a fan anymore.

  • There are those who want honorifics in (possibly a vocal minority), those who want them completely out (a smaller vocal minority, including yourself), and the vast majority of the public who doesn’t care either way.

    If there was a sizeable group who was angry about honorifics like yourself, then fansubs wouldn’t include them, anime and manga companies wouldn’t include them, and MangaGamer wouldn’t include them. However honestly, most of the public doesn’t really care one way or the other. If they did, more main stream companies like Funimation would not include them. MangaGamer is a small company, they are going along with the norm and basing their policies on what they think those buying the games want instead of experimenting. I am sure the much larger companies like Funimation and TokyoPop have done research on what makes the most sense business wise.

    Personally, I would prefer honorifics in the event that the script is voiced in Japanese and the setting is a school like environment. However I am not a fan of hearing them in dubs, but I usually watch subs so that doesn’t mean much to me.

  • Are you serious? You keep referring to a potential mainstream audience for visual novels. Even in Japan there is no main stream audience for them. How the heck do you expect one to pop up in the west? Most people who read visual novels are the type of people who understand that it is a translated work, and they don’t mind that. They don’t need its origin to be desperately hidden. The translated script should be kept as close as possible to the original’s meaning. When you just randomly change from calling someone by their last name to first you’re losing meaning. You’re effectively rewriting the work (though on a small scale) just to make it sound nicer.

  • “You’re effectively rewriting the work (though on a small scale) just to make it sound nicer.”

    Um, that’s what translation is. You’re making it sound like copy-editing is a bad thing.
    I agree that visual novels won’t reach the mainstream until, say, the BBC commission a Doctor Who-themed novel game. But, as mentioned before, this practice isn’t limited to visual novels. MangaGamer is, unfortunately, just one example of the bad translation practices of modern Anglo-Japanese subculture.
    I’m tempted to ask you if you’re kidding. Knowledge of honourifics does not equate to understanding.

  • Mainstream buyers of VNs? Hey, I like them as much as you do but let’s not kid ourselves, we’re not going to be seeing VNs sold at Wal-Mart any day soon. Companies like this know that they’re selling a niche product, so they cater to that niche as well as they can. It’s the same thing with a lot of niche anime, they have to cater to their audience, which is made up of people who for the most part don’t give a fuck about honorifics.

  • “Um, that’s what translation is. You’re making it sound like copy-editing is a bad thing.”

    no the reason we want these vns translated is because we like them it should be kept as close to the orignal as possible, if the majority readers didnt like honorifics they should be more vocal about it, they cant cater to your needs if you dont offer input

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