A reader named John was curious about a key scene in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. It’s a short scene with some important information, so it should be interesting!
When you first meet Granin (a scientist who made the designs for the first metal gear), he talks about the origin of the name “metal gear”. The only problem is, his explanation doesn’t make sense. I was wondering if this was just a line that was lost in translation, or if the Japanese version also is stilted in his explanation. Thanks!
John was awesome and included links to the English and Japanese scenes on YouTube, which saved me a ton of time. Thanks!
After looking at the scene in question I can see why the English scene doesn’t explain it as well as the Japanese scene, but it’s really difficult to explain with words. So I put the two scenes together into one video and subtitled the Japanese scene:
Even with this, the differences are tough to pick up on. First, here’s the scene side-by-side:
|Japanese Version (basic translation)||English Version|
|Granin: A walking tank – a robot.||Granin: Yes, a walking tank – a robot!|
|Have you heard of the theory of an evolutionary “missing link” between apes and humans?||Are you familiar with the theory of the missing link between apes and humans?|
|Well, this technology will be a kind of “gear” that links foot soldiers and weaponry.||Well, this technology will be the missing link between infantry and artillery.|
|A gear literally made of metal.||A kind of metal gear, if you will.|
|A great gear of metal that will usher in an evolution in weaponry of revolutionary proportions!||And this magnificent metal gear will mark a revolutionary step forward in weapons development!|
|Snake: A metal gear…||Snake: Metal Gear…|
I feel the official translation handles the scene well, especially given the timing and lip flap constraints. It’s just that there are some language quirks at play that don’t translate into English, plus the Japanese explanation involves a bit of a logical stretch too. Here are the key points:
- Granin starts by talking about evolution and the idea of a “missing link”. He says that his invention will be a similar missing link, but in terms of warfare. In Japanese, he likens this missing link to a gear – you know, the actual things inside machines that turn and clank and such. His comparison is a little forced, but he uses the Japanese word for “metal” and the Japanese word for “gear” during the explanation.
- The theme of evolution runs throughout the Japanese scene. Granin’s first line is about evolution, his description is about evolution, and his closing comment is also about evolution – he says that this “gear of metal” will bring about a new evolution in weaponry. Basically, he sees his so-called “gear” as something that will drive the evolution of weapons forward.
The English scene is mostly about evolution too, but Granin’s closing comments aren’t as obviously tied to the theme at first glance – he mentions a “step forward” in “development” instead.
- Snake’s line at the very end is what ties Granin’s explanation in with the well-established “Metal Gear” name. In the Japanese scene, he actually says “metal gear” in English while the subtitles use a Japanese text trick to include both the Japanese and English terms at the same time.
In this way, the Japanese writers were able to take the Japanese words for “metal” and “gear” from Granin’s lines, turn them into English with Snake’s line, and ensure that Japanese players would get the connection between the two by combining them in the subtitles. As a bonus, it helps explain the English phrase for Japanese players with poor English skills. Naturally, these things wouldn’t be needed by an audience of native English speakers, so these language crutches and language tricks were lost in translation.
Even with all this, this retroactive explanation of the “Metal Gear” term seems a bit forced in Japanese, so it’s natural for the English version to feel the same way. As far as I know, this idea behind the name didn’t exist when the series was first created, so shoehorning any explanation in would’ve probably had the same effect. Still, it’s a neat idea and I’m glad I was able to revisit this scene in both versions of the game. I’d actually completely forgotten about this scene and this explanation, so hopefully this look into them has been enlightening and made the scene more memorable.
As always, it’s very possible I’m missing something or I’m wrong about something here. I’m not a Metal Gear expert, I’ve just played a lot of the games once or twice, so if I’ve messed up please let me know. And what was the meaning behind “Metal Gear” before this explanation anyway? Was it just a phrase that gave the image of a big suit of metal or something? I should look into that someday too.
To answer a common question, the Japanese word used, 歯車 (haguruma), only refers to a “gear” in the “cog” sense. It doesn’t refer to a suit that can be worn or equipped.