Robert sent in a question about the Grand Theft Auto series:
I’ve been playing a lot of Grand Theft Auto 5 lately (as has everyone, right?). It got me thinking about the Japanese version of the series. I know the series has been released in Japan (at least, 3 and onward has, not sure about the first two), distributed by Capcom of all companies.
I kind of wonder how it’s been translated, because the Grand Theft Auto series is quintessentially American. There are dialects and customs at work that probably don’t translate well to…well anything outside North America, really. Especially when you get a character like Little Jacob in Grand Theft Auto 4 who speaks entirely in a weird pidgin English that even the developers can’t properly understand, or characters like CJ (in San Andreas) and Franklin (in GTA5) who speak almost entirely in slang, sound to Japanese audiences.
I’ll be honest – I’ve tried getting into the GTA series several times but it has yet to click with me, so I know very, very little about the games. So I asked Robert for some specific scenes… let’s take a look!
First up is a scene in GTA4 that involves a character named Little Jacob who speaks a very distinct style of English. For easy reference, here are the English and Japanese versions side-by-side:
Immediately it’s clear that the Japanese version of the game doesn’t seem to have a dub – instead it relies on subtitles. I suppose there could be a dub option in the game – does anyone know for sure? There’s so much voice acting in GTA games that I’d be shocked if this game had a dub, though.
Anyway, so how does the Japanese text compare with what’s being said in English? Here’s a peek!
|English Version||Japanese Subtitles (basic translation)|
|Jacob: Ah bang ya in ya bloodclot Ya have fe come satta, me nah pusshole.||Jacob: You bitch! How many times do I gotta tell you? It wasn’t me!|
|Elizabeta: Yeah? Fuck you, fucking reggae idiot bitch.||Elizabeta: Oh, yeah? You idiot reggae asshole!|
|Jacob: Wha’ ya wan’ do? Ya wan’ bloodclot?! Coz ya nah even bambaclot read, ya know?!||Jacob: You wanna fight? You wanna see blood? I’ll show you who’s boss, damn bitch!|
|Elizabeta: Stop speaking that gibberish.||Elizabeta: Quit talking weird!|
|Jacob: Fat bumbaclot pussyhole gal, you know this?||Jacob: You stubborn fatty!|
|Shot ya in ya bumbaclot…||I oughta shoot you in the ass!|
|Elizabeta: Fuck you!||Elizabeta: Shut up!|
|Jacob: ‘ey yo! Don’t touch this!||Jacob: Hey, don’t touch me!|
|Niko: Hey, hey, hey. What’s wrong? What’s wrong?||Niko: Hey, hey, hey! What happened?|
|Elizabeta: Jacob here… you know Jacob?||Elizabeta: Jacob here… Do you know him?|
|Niko: Yes.||Niko: Yeah.|
|Elizabeta: Jacob tells me it wasn’t him. But some people he introduced me to have ripped me off big time.||Elizabeta: Jacob says he didn’t do it. But some guys he introduced me to backstabbed me…|
|And put the heat on me. I know they did. Or someone did.||…and narked on me. It was definitely them. That, or…|
|Niko: Alright, alright, alright.|
|Jacob: Ah not my fault, ya know, rasta?||Jacob: It wasn’t me!|
|Ah not my bloodclot fault.||It wasn’t my fault!|
|Elizabeta: Well, not your fault…||Elizabeta: It WAS your fault!|
|Jacob: ya nah come in’na me face!||Jacob: Get away from me!|
|Elizabeta: Alright!||Elizabeta: Fine!|
|You better hope Niko can make this right for you then.||Elizabeta: Then let’s have Niko handle this.|
|Jacob: Or what?||Jacob: And if he can’t?|
|Elizabeta: Or we’ve got a big fucking problem, rasta.||Elizabeta: If he can’t then we’re in big trouble, rasta.|
|Niko, go do this fools job for him.||Niko. Clean up this guy’s mess.|
|Niko: Yeah, I got it.||Niko: Got it.|
|Jacob: Watch me and her.||Jacob: Judge for us.|
|Niko: See you later.||Niko: See you later.|
The biggest thing of note is that the Japanese subtitles don’t have Little Jacob speaking in something nigh-unintelligible – it’s all perfectly-understandable stuff. The closest hint given that he’s speaking really strangely is Elizabeta’s line to stop speaking weirdly. Man, it’s actually a really strange feeling being able to understand the Japanese version more than the version written in my native language!
The Japanese version also leaves out the part where she was “ripped off big time”, although I’m guessing that fact is probably clear and assumed without needing to be said.
To be honest, I’m not really sure what Jacob’s last line means in either version of the game. Maybe it’s clear if you’ve already played the game or something, though.
It’s pretty normal for Japanese subtitles to not reflect different dialects and accents. I haven’t covered it much on this site, but I did briefly touch on the topic in this article about Metal Gear Rising and Guyanese English. It’s also common for Japanese subtitles to not subtitle things, which we looked at in the the Jill Sandwich comparison. That’s likely why one of Niko’s lines is unsubbed in the Japanese version of this scene.
On an unrelated side note, I’m actually kind of surprised at some of the odd punctuation and mistakes in these official English subtitles!
Anyway, next up is this scene from the start of GTA 5!
And here’s the text side-by-side:
|English Version||Japanese Subtitles (basic translation)|
|Lamar: Wassup, can a loo come up in your crib?||Lamar: So, you’re gonna let me crash here, right?|
|Franklin: Man, fuck you. I’ll see you at work.||Franklin: Fuck that. I’ll see you later at work.|
|Lamar: Ah, nigga, don’t hate me ’cause I’m beautiful, nigga.||Lamar: Hey, now, don’t be jealous of my charm.|
|Maybe if you got rid of that old yee-yee ass haircut you got you’d get some bitches on your dick.||Maybe you could be a little more popular if you did something about that old and lame haircut of yours.|
|Oh, better yet, maybe Tanisha’ll call your dog-ass if she ever stop fuckin’ with that brain surgeon or lawyer she fucking with.||No, better yet, you should get Tanisha to hook up with you. If she’s ever through with those brain surgeons and lawyers she’s fucking, that is.|
|Franklin: What?||Franklin: Say what!?|
So it looks like “yee-yee ass haircut” became “old and lame hair cut” in the translation!
To be honest, the sort of English in this scene IS probably tough to fully convey in Japanese due to cultural differences, but the Japanese localizers did a pretty good job, I feel.
Still, just from this quick look we can see where things are lost in the translation and where other things are changed around a bit – this is actually how it is when Japanese games are translated into English too! Many things are lost in translation and changed in localization, so it’s always fun to take a look at those differences and see how gamers experience the same things slightly differently – that’s why this entire site exists, in fact
Anyway, thanks for the great question, Robert! And if anyone can provide more details about these scenes, please let me know in the comments or on Twitter!
Also, if I could never really get into GTA3 or GTA4, will I like GTA5? I want to give the series a good try sometime, I feel like I’m really missing out. Let me know!