by Elly, May 28th, 2014
This past Monday, Viz Media released Episode 5 妖魔の香り! シャネーラは愛を盗む (Viz translation – Scent of a Monster: Chanela Will Steal Your Love) and and Episode 6 守れ恋の曲! うさぎはキューピッド (Viz’s translation: Protect the Melody of Love! Usagi Plays Cupid!) of Sailor Moon on Neon Alley, as well as the Viz website. Some fans are reporting that the playback quality is better on Viz’s website than on Neon Alley, and that the subtitles timing does not lag as badly. I watched via Viz’s website this week, and did not notice any errors in terms of timing. If you experienced any issues on Hulu’s Neon Alley, please report below! With that out of the way, let’s get down to business!
Name Diminuitives and Hypocorisms
If I have already lost you with this funky section title, I apologize. Please, don’t navigate away! I know this section sounds like it’s going to be technical and boring, but I promise you: you already know what diminutives and hypocorisms are. You probably use them every day.
What is a diminuitive?
When it comes to grammar, a diminuitive makes a regular word smaller and cuter. For example, calling someone who is “hot” a “hottie” is an English language diminuitive. Calling a pregnant woman “preggers” is also a diminuitive. in Japanese, diminutives are typically expressed through honorific suffixes, such as -chan, -bou, or -ko. Translating these suffixes into English is tricky, and sometimes it has really awkward sounding results. (Anybody remember Little Washu from Tenchi Muyo? :D)
Last time I wrote about how pleased I was that Viz Media removed Japanese honorifics in their translations. Dealing with honorifics like -san is relatively easy in English. Swap out -san for Mr., Ms., or Mrs. as appropriate and bam, you’re done. Japanese diminuitive honorifics are a trickier beast, because the smallness/cuteness is removed if you don’t make that level of familiarity apparent by other means.
By episode 5 of Sailor Moon, the plot has developed enough that characters begin addressing each other with diminuitive honorifics. So far, Viz has done a fine job of reflecting the right levels of casual speech and relationships between characters. Although you can hear the suffixes being spoken, the English subs do not reflect them.
Sometimes you’ll hear characters being referred to by their first name, even though a Japanese word is being used in its place. This is similar to how you might refer to a close family friend who is older than you as “Auntie”. Japanese does this frequently, with all kinds of family relationship titles. Uncle, big brother, little sister, granny, etc. It is better to just address the character by their first name, rather than expect the audience to understand that these characters are being referred to by a diminuitive pet name. This happens frequently throughout Viz’s translation of episode 6 for the character “Yusuke Amada”. More on that later.
What is a hypocorism?
Hypocorisms are related to diminuitives. This fancy, boring-sounding word is an elaborate way of saying “nickname”. Hypocorisms are rampant in English. You might call your friend Katherine “Katie”. Although there is no official pattern for hypocorisms in Japanese, they are deeply ingrained in every day speech. In most cases, hypocorisms of Japanese names are made by shortening the full name to the first two syllables. For example, the hypocorism of the name “Ayumi” would be “Ayu”.
Japanese hypocorisms are also used in conjunction with diminuitive honorific suffixes. We do this in English too. You might call your friend Tom “Tommy”. Throughout Sailor Moon, you’ll see Mamoru referred to as “Mamo-chan”, and Usagi referred to as “Usako”. These are diminuitive hypocorisms, and they reflect a certain level of familiarity and intimacy between the characters who use them.
Unfortunately, Japanese diminuitive hypocorisms are exceedingly difficult to “translate” into English. Referring to Usako as “Usallie” would confuse readers, even though it would keep the diminuitive pattern of English nicknaming intact. In most cases, it’s better to just chuck the Japanese hypocorisms and diminuitives altogether. The translator should make the familiarity levels between people apparent by means of careful vocabulary choice. This is what Viz did, and I give them my stamp of approval for doing so!
Intuitive Speech > Literal Translation
Last week several fans wrote to tell me that sometimes Viz sacrifices translation accuracy in favor of readability. As a reference they cited the “Messenger of Love” translation. I decided I would keep this in mind as I watched through episodes 5 and 6, and I noticed that there are indeed a few instances of this:
Yappari hottekenai wa is translated as “I have to make a move now”, instead of a literal translation (“I still won’t turn my back on her!”)
Yurusenai is translated as “What?!”, instead of its actual meaning (“I won’t forgive you!!”)
Daijoubu janai wa! is translated as “I just fell on my butt, what do you think?!”, a very stylized version of this phrase’s sctual meaning (“I’m not okay!”)
Idol Caravan -> “Talent Show”. This isn’t a translation change, but an adaptation to make the activity being referred to more natural sounding to an English speaking audience. While it’s common for the Japanese to give talent shows wonky English titles, they don’t really make sense to native speakers. It is kind of a shame the cheesy title was chucked, though.
Comments on Stylization
I don’t think that Viz’s stylization of these translations is that big of a deal. Sure, their translations in these rare instances are not a 100% literal translation of what’s being said in Japanese. But none of the stylizations make one iota of difference in terms of being able to understand the plot of the show or the relationship between characters. I’m all for accuracy in translations, but there’s a big difference between a literal and a faithful translations.
You’ve succeeded as a translator if you can convey the meaning of a sentence in a way that is intuitive to native speakers. If you want to create a good translation, you must be a skilled interpreter. After all, all that’s needed to translate is a dictionary. But there’s more to translating than just churning out dictionary equivalents for words. In addition to knowing all the dictionary definitions of a word, you also need to be adept in understanding social and cultural cues associated with the term as well as its colloquial usage. Being able to appropriately interpret language is the key reason services like Google Translate and Babelfish have been unable to replace human translators. Translators without good interpretation skills are easy to spot; their translations are stilted and awkward-sounding.
Although Viz is “sacrificing” literal accuracy for a handful of lines, they’ve retained their meaning. In my opinion Viz’s changes make the reading experience more intuitive for native speakers of English. However, my study of Japanese has muddied my ability to distinguish what is more natural-sounding for folks who only speak English. It’s impossible for me to read a translation of a series I’ve worked on without being able to sympathize with a translator’s output. Readers: if you are a native English speaker and do not study Japanese, please weigh in on whether or not you think Viz’s translations are easy for you to understand!
Bless the Sailor Moon gods, Viz has correctly romanized the names of the youma (monsters of the day) in these episodes! Episode 5’s Iguara and episode 6’s Kyurene are given proper titles. (ADV had dubbed them “Iguana” and “Kurene”, respectively) I have to wonder if Viz will romanize the names of the Black Moon Family villains, rather than adapt them for localization. Time will tell!
Typos and Inconsistencies
These are relatively minor, and I’m willing to bet they’ll be corrected on the DVD release.
Typo: Shingo is mispelled as “Shigo”
Inconsistency: Oji-san is translated in various places as “man”, “adult”, “old man”, “sir”, “grown up”, etc. It would have been nice to see one translation for this word. But given the various contexts in which this word appears, I think some flexibility is warranted.
Once again, I am impressed with Viz’s work on Sailor Moon. Their translations are easy to understand. Best of all, they don’t require any prior knowledge of Japanese language or culture. This is exactly the way it should be when you’re reading a professional translation. Well done, Viz Media!
I am hoping to see that the inconsistencies and minor typos will be corrected on the official DVD and Blu-Ray releases. From what I understand, fans can contact @VizMedia, and Viz is actually taking fan input into consideration. I’m really glad to see that Viz is so fan interactive – they are with the times! :)
Check back next week for my review of Viz Media’s translation of Sailor Moon, episodes 7 and 8. Until then, have a great week!
I am the creator of Miss Dream, a Sailor Moon translation project. As a fan of anime and manga, I have been translating all things “Sailor Moon” in my spare time for the last five years. I work for a well-known Japanese Fortune 500 Japanese semiconductor firm as a technical translation specialist. I worked for a number of years as freelance translator of a variety of Japanese media. I also have experience working as a translator for academic publications, specifically in regards to Soka Gakkai Buddhism. I’m a die-hard enthusiast for Japanese language translation as it relates to Sailor Moon. I hope you’ll find my commentary insightful!