As our time winds down, we thought it'd be neat to share some interesting translation anecdotes that occurred during ef development.
Tale of Genji saga
There are a few text blocks in ef - the first tale where Miyako is reading lines from The Tale of Genji, an 11th-century work of Japanese literature. The Japanese used in this work is very archaic and untranslatable using modern Japanese knowledge. It's like Shakespeare: without a fat chunk of annotations beside the text, most native English people cannot understand it. So for The Tale of Genji, if the average native Japanese person can't even understand it, we sure couldn't attempt to translate it ourselves. We weren't going to pretend to understand something that only a few scholars have tackled.
The most recent translation of The Tale of Genji in English was provided by Royall Tyler, who has a Ph.D. in Japanese literature. A day was spent in the Toronto Reference Library and after much browsing (The Tale of Genji is a LONG saga) we finally hit Miyako's lines. As Mr. Tyler's translation was better and more qualified than whatever we could come up with, we used it for our fansub release, and credited Mr. Tyler in the help file.
Once we became professional, it meant that we had to contact Penguin Books about using Mr. Tyler's translation. Unfortunately, they didn't offer a lifetime license for the lines, wanting a renewal every five years. This was unacceptable to MangaGamer, so they rejected it. In the end, the MangaGamer release had the lines reworded so that it was similar, but not verbatim, to Mr. Tyler's version.
When a proper translation is improper
No translation web site has talked about this situation before, so we'll bring it up now. For all the Japanese translators out there, try to translate this. These are thoughts from Shuuichi Kuze, the violinist.
"Open your eyes."
What did you get? In ef lite, our fansubbed release of ef, we had this:
"Open your eyes."
I turned the heroine of "Sabrina," Audrey Hepburn's whisper into an alarm.
That scene had good sense.
Was this a good translation? We had looked at Sabrina's script and couldn't find any line of the sort, so we simply shrugged it off. But as we reviewed the translation again for MangaGamer, we realized it was wrong. Completely wrong. It was wrong because the original Japanese was wrong. After some extensive research, we found out that Shuuichi was referencing the 2001 movie Vanilla Sky. Sure enough, Audrey Hepburn from Sabrina is seen for a few seconds on a television. But "open your eyes" was being said by Tom Cruise's alarm clock, and it was voiced by Penelope Cruz. In fact, you can see this exact scene on YouTube here.
So now we're in a peculiar situation. Do we leave the accurate translation in, knowing that the writers of ef goofed, or do we correct them and possibly face the wrath of holier-than-thou elitists from the Internet who think that being true to the source is the only way to translate, that the translator has no creative control at all? No Name Losers came up with this alternative:
"Open your eyes."
I turned the whispers of Sofia, played by Penelope Cruz, into an alarm.
That scene had good sense.
The original line didn't namecheck Vanilla Sky, so we didn't. If anyone wanted to know what movie this scene was from, they'd have to use the information to figure it out themselves. But now it's much easier to solve it than relying on an incorrect statement. We felt this update was an appropriate translation, even though it doesn't resemble the Japanese at all! A translator's goal is to preserve the spirit and original intent of the line, period. It just so happens that being accurate is the best way to do this most of the time, but not all of the time.
Reviewing the translation to this level of thoroughness was basically what burned No Name Losers Toronto out. We had had enough with ef and didn't want to slog through it again. We couldn't perform fast enough, and as our Chapter 4 review was never submitted in time to MangaGamer before our resignation, we don't know if our corrected translation is even in the final ef - the latter tale product. Guess we'll find out on December 20th!
This was covered in our very final post before minori contacted us. However, at that time, we barely covered it in a joking manner that sparked the ire of the peanut gallery. minori wanted the screenshots removed too; they thought we were making a mockery of their game. This time, we'll cover it in-depth, line-by-line, without all the ridicule. So as to prevent spoilers, all we'll say about this scene is that Yuuko is speaking to a child.
Okay, let's take a basic translation, the kind that most people would be satisfied with.
"Are you scared of receiving warmth, then losing it?"
Important people, people who gave warmth to her, had disappeared.
In that case, not receiving it in the first place -- that was probably the fleeting thought of X.
Here's the problem. In English, the word "warmth" in this sense is emotional warmth, a descriptive term used in written literature. But nobody ever says the word "warmth" out loud in this manner. Yuuko was purposely fashioned to have a peculiar speech pattern, but we didn't want her to say alien English. What people say in English is "being close" to someone. No Name Losers adheres to the translation style of dynamic equivalence, so the basic translation is unacceptable for us. Let's improve this translation.
"Are you afraid of getting close to people, then losing them?"
The people important to her, those who were involved in her life, were gone.
Not accepting anyone else afterwards was perhaps her way of dealing with it.
Zing! And that's how you get around using the word "warmth" as an emotional term while maintaining the spirit of the original lines. Problem, solved, right? Nope! It only leads into the most difficult line to translate in the entire game.
The basic translation is:
X: "Let go, Yuuko..."
Yuuko: "Don't be scared."
Yuuko: "I want to hug you, X. Because you are a warm (human) being."
Yuuko: "Don't cry."
Let's look at that third line again. With kindergarten editing skills you'll get something like "I want to hug you, X, because you are warm." No Name Losers doesn't only translate. We understand the material as much as possible before translating. Sean, being a Yuuko fanboy, insisted that this problem line should be deleted entirely. The basic translation ruins the emotion of the scene and portrays Yuuko as some sort of stalker. At the very least, you'd raise your eyebrow and smirk at the silliness of the line. This wasn't what we wanted at all. Deleting this line would have no impact on the immediate scene, and so this line was removed for ef lite. It also appeared in a flashback later in the game, so we decided to delete that line in the flashback, too.
Later, we approached professional non-anime translators with this section and all they could offer was something along the lines of "feeling your warmth". And that still sounds as though Yuuko is high on drugs. If, at gunpoint, we were forced to leave this in, we'd probably put in something like this:
"I want to hug you, X. You need someone close to you."
Hey, that's good! It leads into the next bit where X says she doesn't want to be alone. What's wrong with that line, and why didn't we use it? This line is voiced. A voiced line with a translation like that would come under fire from people who think they know ef better than us. It's a simple task to listen to the Japanese, then call us out on our "poor" translation. From our 11 years of experience, we've learned it's easier to avoid criticism when you are changing unvoiced lines (such as the previous Vanilla Sky example) than voiced lines. It's also easier to edit unvoiced lines because you can shift text without the constraints of working around the Japanese's subject-object-verb order, or worrying about whether a translation is too short or long.
MangaGamer had requested to restore all deleted text blocks for the updated translation. Virtually every single deleted text block was a result of merging two text blocks for pacing purposes, so there was little to actually restore. But this particular text block is the most significant. We don't know what they did to it, but if they restored it, our forced suggestion would probably be the best possible solution. And if anyone would have an issue with it, they could just read this lengthy explanation. Though it's more accurate to the Japanese, using "I want to hug you, X, because you are warm" would be a grave disappointment.
By the time we began work on ef, the anime was finished and completely fansubbed. Were we going to use a fansubber's translation to keep things consistent? How about using the official English translation of Chihiro's story in ef - a tale of memories? Our answer to both of those was no. As minori fanboys, we believed we understood the material better and thus could provide a superior localization, just like how Royall Tyler understands The Tale of Genji better than everyone else. This issue was brought up once again during the MangaGamer review, as Sentai Filmworks had released the ef anime to the western audience by this time. Do we keep everything consistent, or do we use our own translation? We were actually thinking of using Sentai Filmworks' translation for lines that were unchanged in the anime... until we saw them.
We could provide many random examples, but single-line cherrypicking is unfair to dynamic equivalance translations that may not exactly match the Japanese. Instead, a whole section comparison allows lines to be analyzed in context. Here's a good one. At the end of ef - the latter tale, Yuuko says some words of encouragement. Don't worry, it's not much of a spoiler, though it does sum up the overall message of ef. A modified version is also said at the very end of ef - a tale of melodies, but after removing the anime-only lines, we can compare them side by side!
Sentai Filmworks (pro)
No Name Losers
||The wind blows through the streets.
||The wind blows through the town.
||Winds blow throughout the city.
||The wind is cold, and there are times when we want to stop.
||The wind is cold and may stop you in your tracks, but...
||They are cold, and at times you may want to stop in your tracks.
||At times like that, I want you to move forward, even if it's just at a slow pace.
||When it does, just keep moving forward, one step at a time.
||During those moments, you must keep going no matter how much time it takes.
|[VN] いつかたどり着けるから。 必ず――たどり着けるから。
|Because someday, you'll be able to get there.
||You will reach your destination one day.
||Because you will succeed. One day, you will surely prevail.
||Even if something sad happens, it's all right.
||Even if you're sad, you'll be okay.
||Do not worry about grief along the way;
||If you extend your hand, someone will be there.
||If you reach out your hand...
||Somebody will be there for you if you reach out.
||And you'll be able to share the warmth with them.
||Someone will be there to share their warmth with you.
||You will be able to share the warmth of being together.
||Even if it's tough to journey on your own, if you don't let go of the hand you hold, you'll surely be able to pull through.
||A difficult path can be crossed, as long as you hold on to that hand.
||Though the path is difficult alone, you shall overcome the journey as long as you do not let go.
||And someday, I want you to realize
||And I hope you will realize one day...
||In addition, one day I want you to realize.
||that there were numerous shards of happiness on the road you just walked.
||That there were many happinesses along the way.
||There were many moments of happiness as you walked your path.
||Please don't forget
||Don't forget that you are not alone.
||that you are not alone.
||(merged with above)
||You are not alone.
||Even if you don't have wings, you'll definitely be able to get there.
||You can go there, even if you don't have wings...
||Though we are wingless, we can surely make it.
||To the place that you once dreamed of. To the tomorrow that gleams with light--
||To the brilliant tomorrow of our dreams.
||To the bright, shining tomorrow we envisioned...
The Menclave fansub easily has the clunkiest translation. The two words "even if" are used four times, which is a sign of the editors falling asleep at the wheel. The last bit is probably the ugliest part. The second-last text block uses the term "without wings" as a metaphor to indicate that each relationship in ef wasn't smooth flying. Each one of them had struggles, so the path towards the future had to be walked on instead of flying over it. But both people in each relationship had to make it work, not just one side. So Menclave's translation misses that distinction.
Sentai Filmworks' translation is simplified and seems as though the translator was going through the motions, not caring about the source material at all. Next time you think professional translators are good, take a look at the table above and realize how much you're missing compared to a translation done with care. Sentai Filmworks also misses the subtlety of the last two lines.
As for us? We thought long and hard about how to effectively deliver each line and keep minority spirit. Menclave and Sentai Filmworks had presented disjointed translations, so we really wanted these final words of encouragement to flow. The translation you see above is the final one we sent to MangaGamer, and there were only two changes from ef lite, meaning that we almost had an ideal result on the first attempt! Here were the stinkers we had in ef lite:
During those moments, I want you to keep going no matter how much time you take.
Though we have no wings, we will still move... // Towards the bright future we saw in our dreams.
The first change simply made the line less wordy. "I want you to..." is the literal translation, but we felt "you must" in this situation was correct, especially when paired with the following line. The second change is stronger and more accurate than what we had originally. The Japanese is a sentence fragment, so we wanted to keep that. In addition, it fits more smoothly with how Otowa recovered from the great disaster. The citizens envisioned a future from the ash and rubble caused by the earthquake and fires, so we thought the improved line was perfect.
Many people believe we didn't translate well when we were a fansubbing group. But as you can see with the above situations, that was absolutely untrue. We valued retaining the original spirit of the translation, so we went through the extra effort to make sure this was achieved. The text blocks we garishly changed for fun contradicted this, but they were so obvious that we figured people could laugh them off. Humor is always good where appropriate, and we only broke the fourth wall in obvious comedic situations.
Unfortunately, some people took those text blocks as an indicator of how "terrible" the rest of the translation was. Nobody's perfect, but we always gave our best effort by placing ourselves into the story and determining the nuances for each situation.