by Elly, May 22nd, 2014
Earlier this week, Viz Media shocked the Sailor Moon fandom. Not only did Viz announce rights to this summer’s upcoming “Sailor Moon Crystal”. But then Viz announced that they are re-releasing the original “Sailor Moon” animated series. I was shocked when I heard the news. I couldn’t believe it.
After Anime News Network released an exclusive interview with Viz Media, I started looking for details about the new translation. Would they include Japanese honorifics? Would they include the old censorship? What were they going to name the characters? So many thoughts began rushing through my mind. There was so much potential for greatness. I thought to myself, “Elly, don’t get your hopes up.” After all, the last handful of companies to get the rights to Sailor Moon have done a rather shoddy job of translating the series.
Then the tweets started coming in: “Meet Usagi and Mamoru”. “Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune will no longer be cousins”. No more censorship, and a return to the original Japanese names? My hopes continued to rise against my better judgement.
Last night I began watching Viz Media’s new translation of the original Sailor Moon animated series. I ended up marathoning all four episodes in one sitting. I’m no master of video encoding, so I’ll leave it to others to comment on improvements made in that deparment. I will say that I think Viz did a great job of improving the video quality, and that I’m looking forward to buying the DVD/Blu-Ray combo packs.
I’m a Japanese to English translator by profession. And I’ve dedicated the last five years of my spare time to translating Sailor Moon in all its various forms. I’ve translated the entire manga series, all of the live action series, many musicals, and even stage events. I like to consider myself a “hardcore” Sailor Moon fan. But, as a professional translator I am also interested in the technical aspects of producing a faithful English language version of Sailor Moon. Keeping that in mind, here is what I think of Viz Media’s translation of Sailor Moon:
Good Riddance Honorifics!
I’ve written before about my strong distaste for leaving Japanese honorifics intact in professional translations. When I sat down to watch Viz Media’s translation of Sailor Moon, I fully expected to see -chan and -sensei littered throughout the subtitles. I was pleasantly surprised to see that there were no suffixes. There is no lazy, sloppy mess of Japanese honorifics to be found in Viz Media’s translation of Sailor Moon. What a relief!
I was even happier to see that the translator had taken care to make the heirarchal differences and levels of familiarity between the characters apparent by skillful vocabulary choice. This is pretty tricky to do, and it takes a lot of effort to pull it off well. I am happy to report that Viz Media has thus far managed this well. I approve of the choice of language used throughout the subtitles. The translations are intuitive and easy to understand. Furthermore, the translations accurately reflect the character’s tone in Japanese. Usagi’s language is colloquial and relaxed. Ami is a little more formal. Viz Media has done a fine job of capturing the essence of what is being said in Japanese, and delivering it to an English speaking audience.
One instance of Japanese honorifics removal I particularly enjoyed was the change of “Motoki-oniisan” (Big Bro Motoki) to just “Motoki”. Often times suffixes like sempai and oniisan are tricky to deal with in English, and they almost always come out sounding awkward to native-speaking audiences. I prefer to see those kinds of terms removed altogether. And Viz did just that. A+, way to go!
Return to Japanese Names
I’m probably one of the few people who liked the name choices of the original Sailor Moon dub from the 1990s. But, I’m not part of the We Want Serena crowd. I’m pretty open when it comes to re-naming characters.
I like that Viz Media’s translation of Sailor Moon uses the original Japanese character names. Sailor Moon is Japanese, after all, and it’s nice to see that the names haven’t been Anglicized. There are sometimes inconsistencies between what is said, and what is subtitled. For example, in episode 3 Miss Haruna says “Tsukino-san”, but the name “Usagi” appears in the subs. But I don’t think this is a big deal, and perhaps using the character’s first name helps the audience identify her more easily.
What I’ll be keeping an eye on in future episodes is how Viz will translate the names of the monster of the day. So far the monster names haven’t been too tricky to Anglicize. Viz’s translations of the MotD names are different than what ADV’s, and it’s arguable whether or not they are more accurate. Viz’s naming convention seems to be romanization of the names, rather than any attempt at localization. The monster names are pretty made-up and kind of random to begin with. As the series progresses, the name etymology becomes murky and it’ll be more difficult. I am especially looking forward to seeing how Viz Media will translate Sailor Moon’s monsters of the day in the S series and beyond. So far, without exception, every company that has touched the Sailor Moon franchise in America has done a piss-poor job of translating the names of the Monsters of the Day. I’m hoping Viz Media will reverse this trend.
Localization and Adaptation
Nothing makes an anime fan angrier faster than hearing Japanese cultural references have been lost in translation. Sailor Moon is an iconic series, so fans are especially touchy about making sure none of the show’s “Japanese-ness” is lost. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to create a 100% faithful translation that won’t require the audience to have substantial knowledge of Japanese culture and language. Sacrifices must be made. It’s a delicate balancing act. Your audience can’t be expected to know a lot about Japan, but you have to create an accurate translation without mentioning all that pesky Japanese culture that’s in the original. What is a translator to do?
Viz has found a good balance. In episode 4, “Learn How to be Skinny From Usagi”, Usagi carries around a nikuman. Nikuman are Chinese in origin, but they are extremely popular in Japan as a snack food. Although it is traditional for nikuman to be filled with pork, you can put just about any kind of meat inside of them, and they come in a variety of flavors. You can buy them at virtually every Japanese convenience store, and they are also often available on street food carts. Previous translations of nikuman in Sailor Moon titled this food-item “dumpling”. But that’s not accurate, and it’s not easily identifiable by an English speaking audience. When I think of dumplings, I think of fluffy white dough balls inside of chicken noodle soup.
If you want native English speakers to think of Chinese-style buns, you’ve got to consider how those food items are named in the West. If you visit nearly any Asian grocery store in America and start looking for Chinese-style dumplings, you’ll find them as “pork buns”. Dumplings are traditionally boiled in the West, whereas buns are either steamed or baked. Viz was adept at noticing this difference in food naming convention, and so they subtitled nikuman as “pork bun” appropriately.
This may seem like an insignificant detail, but it requires care and attention to name a food item so that it is instantly recognizable by an English-speaking audience. There are other examples of this as well; from the “Fortune House”, to giving Japanese groans subtitles to make their meaning apparent in English.
Another detail I enjoyed was that Viz took care to “correct” some of the bad Engrish that appears in Sailor Moon’s Japanese version. Although it may be fine for Japanese people to say “Chance!” or “Lucky!” in some instances, it sounds awkward and clumsy in English. I appreciate that the translator made an effort to update the language to make it less stilted.
Odango Atama – Bun Head
For decades, Sailor Moon fans have feuded over how this phrase ought to be translated. Many older fans nostalgically remember Serena as being a “meatball head”. And you know, while it’s not totally accurate, that’s a pretty interesting approximation. The way “meatball head” was flung around in the DiC dub of Sailor Moon made it obvious that the nickname was sarcastic in nature. Audiences could easily identify that Serena and Darien’s relationship was antagonistic because of this translation. Odango are actually vegetarian, so the “meatball” translation is really poor, except in that references that Usagi’s buns have the same shape as a ball.
That said, Bun Head is a great translation of odango atama. In American English, a “bun” is a type of hair style. And in English “bun” is also a food item, just as odango are in Japan. The double-meaning is retained, the translation is accurate, and the joking-nature of the nickname stays intact too. Well done!
Tsuki ni Kawatte…Oshiokiyo – “In the name of the Moon, you’ll be punished!” Huh?
I don’t know if this was done because of a licensing conflict, or what, but this made me groan. For years, Sailor Moon’s iconic serifu (catch-phrase) has been translated into English as “In the name of the Moon, I’ll punish you!” And it was a fine translation. Why fix what wasn’t broken, Viz?
This bothered me, because the Japanese original does not use the passive, past-tense construction of “to punish”. Oshiokiyo is an active verb, and while a tense isn’t specified, grammatically it should default to present tense. It makes the most sense to translate this in English future tense, even though technically speaking Japanese doesn’t have a future tense.
I’m really puzzled as to why Viz changed Sailor Moon’s catch phrase, and I hope they’ll release some kind of explanation soon.
In episode two, titled “おしおきよ!占いハウスは妖魔の館”, oshiokiyo is translated as “Punishment Awaits”. That’s inconsistent with Viz’s previous translations of the exact same word. It might have been better if Viz had opted to translate the episode title as “I’ll Punish Them! The Fourtune Teller’s House is a Monster’s Mansion.” At least, that would have been more accurate, and it would have taken context into account. Since Usagi is the character reading the episode title, she should be the subject of the sentence. I’m willing to bet that the translator created the English title without taking this into account, so, meh. No big deal.
Senshi – Guardian
I’ve complained about this trend for years. If Naoko Takeuchi really wanted her characters to be referred to as “guardians”, why not use the Japanese word for that? Shugo would be the correct term for guardian, and it appears in other shoujo series like Shugo Chara! The creator of Sailor Moon, Naoko Takeuchi, does not speak English. So, let’s cut her some slack for getting this wrong. After all, these are her characters and she can title them however she pleases. Who am I to argue?
I will admit that the translation choice bothers me. But why gripe when this change was instated ten years ago, during the run of the live-action series, “Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon”? The franchise has been consistently using the word “guardian” in place of senshi. The translation is inaccurate, but it has become the standard. I’m not surprised that Viz chose to be consistent and use the word “guardian”.
Tsuki no Hikari wa Ai no Message – “The Moonlight is a Messenger of Love” No, not exactly.
This is another minor nitpick, but the translation isn’t quite right.
|月の光は愛のメッセージ||Tsuki no hikari wa ai no message||The Moonlight is a Message of Love|
I can understand why the translation was tweaked, though. It just doesn’t sound quite right in English, and I can’t place my finger on why. The phrase sounds more natural in Japanese than in English. The phrase just isn’t as catchy in English as it sounds in Japanese. In any case, Viz got the grammar wrong in English. There’s no “messenger” in the original Japanese dialogue, that would have been a different word entirely.
Maboroshi no Ginzuishou – Legendary Silver Crystal
This is another nitpick of mine. The word maboroshi does not mean legendary. I’ve written about why I believe this phrase should be translated as “Phantom Silver Crystal” before, and I’m sticking to my guns. Not only does the “Phantom Silver Crystal” translation sound more elegant, but it also ties into the minerological references that are made throughout the first season of Sailor Moon.
I’m going to assume that Viz went with the term “legendary”, because that’s how Kodansha Comics USA translated the phrase back during their release of the manga series from 2011-2013. Maybe this is another case of Naoko Takeuchi re-branding translations of key terms in her series. I’d love to hear from Viz why they went with the word “legendary”!
Songs Are Missing Translations
I’m really bummed that Viz didn’t translate the opening theme song “Moonlight Densetsu”, or the ending theme “Heart Moving”. These songs are iconic, and the lyrics are relevant to the plot of the series. ADV’s translations of both songs were lackluster, and I’m curious how Viz would have handled them. I hope they’ll decide to include song translations in the future. I mean, how can you watch Sailor Stars without any lyrics translations…? I’ve heard rumors that the songs will be translated on the DVD/Blu-Ray sets. Time will tell.
I won’t rant about this too much, because I am as guilty as anyone else when it comes to making typos. I’m terrible at editing and heavily rely on my staff to help me, and even then mistakes still get through. But, I am hoping that the following typos and inconsistencies will be corrected in Viz’s DVD release of Sailor Moon:
Standardize episode title translations.
- Episode 1’s title appears both as “The Crybaby: Usagi’s Beautiful Transformation” (I like this one) and “The Crybaby Usagi’s Beautiful Transformation”. Isn’t it surprising what a difference a colon makes?
- Episode 3’s title appears both as “The Mysterious Sleeping Sickness, Protect the Girls in Love” and “The Mysterious Sleeping Sickness: Protect the Girls in Love”. In this case I also prefer the colon version.
- In episode 2, Usagi’s self-introduction contains the following typo: “Boy, does that ever makes me nervous”. The same sentence appears in other episodes without the typo, so this is no biggie.
- Most of the consistency problems have to do with punctuation. (Some sentences have commas appear, and in later appearances of the same phrase the comma will not exist, etc. For example, see “Moon Prism Power, Make Up!”) An editor with strong attention to detail would be a tremendous help.
- The episode 5 title preview names the monster of the day “Chanella”, but then later references the monster as “Chanela”.
- In episode 2, Usagi’s whines, “mou”, which is normally translated as “Jeez” in this context. Given that Usagi’s speech is casual, I was surprised to read that Viz translated this as “Cripes”. It doesn’t really fit Usagi’s character. But this is more of a personal gripe rather than an error. I only bring it up because Viz should continue to make sure that the translations of the lines faithfully represent the character’s tone of speech.
How do I rate Viz overall?
So far, Viz Media’s translation of Sailor Moon far surpasses any official translation that has been made of the series in the English language. After many long years, I can finally watch an accurate translation of Sailor Moon. I honestly never thought this day would come.
But I’m glad to report that Viz has done such a great job. A few years ago I wrote that if the American anime and manga industry wants to improve, they should release good translations and make them available digitally for a low monthly cost. Viz Media has done all of this for Sailor Moon. And I’m so grateful.
I’m looking forward to the new Sailor Moon dub by Viz Media coming out later this summer. My 6 year old son and I love watching Sailor Moon together. I’m hoping that during our next re-watch of Sailor Moon, we’ll have some wonderful learning moments together. I want my son to grow up knowing that there is nothing wrong with homosexual couples, and that it is a shame that Uranus and Neptune were changed into “cousins”. I want my son to see that women can be powerful role models. And I want my son to see that gay men in Sailor Moon, like Fisheye and Zoicite, shouldn’t be changed into women just to make them “easier to understand”. I want my son to see that there is a full gamut of gender and sexual identities out there, and that no matter who you are or how you identify, you can still be strong, brave, and admirable.
What is so compelling and powerful about Sailor Moon is that it is wonderfully diverse. There are gay men, lesbian women, transsexuals, and cross-dressers right alongside your heterosexual couples. You’ve got women who fit traditional gender roles. You’ve got women who have relatively no interest in men. You’ve got characters who represent a very broad spectrum of humanity when it comes to sexuality and gender roles, and thatis a wonderful thing. Without veering too far off topic, I’m very excited to see an officially licensed uncut version of Sailor Moon. (I will admit, this is partially because our staff member MarioKnight will have more time to work on Miss Dream, since he won’t need to maintain Sailor Moon Uncensored anymore. :D)
I encourage all of my visitors to check out Viz’s release of Sailor Moon on Hulu’s Neon Alley.
I’ll be following Viz’s translation and writing about it every week, so be sure to follow our reports on it. Thanks for reading!