Q&A: Is This Character in Pokémon X/Y Transgender?

Michael M. asked an interesting question that involves Pokémon and a possibly transgender character:

In pokemon x/y, there’s a character in the random battle place who is apparently transgender, and I was wondering if you could confirm the translations posted here and maybe confirm what’s going on on this fanart page (NSFW!)?

I thought it was a translation mistake at first, but apparently not!

Thanks!

From the tumblr post, it sounds like this is a hot topic among Pokémon fans, so let’s take a look! First, here’s a look at the line in both versions of the game:

And here’s all the text side-by-side:

Japanese scriptBasic English translationOfficial English translation
はんとしまえは カラテおう だったのに いがくの ちから って スゲーよね!I was a Karate King just half a year ago; the power of medical science is awesome, wouldn’t you say?!Yes, a mere half year ago I was a Black Belt! Quite the transformation, wouldn’t you say?

Just from a quick look, we see the English localization definitely leaves out the mention of medicine/medical science, which doesn’t seem like a big change at first glance.

But the real confusion and questions seem to stem from the fact that the Japanese phrase translates to “Karate King”, which would make you think it’s referring to a male. Still, it’s important to note that this Japanese word (王/おう/ou) can sometimes refer to someone in power without any specific implied gender, similar to our word “ruler”. I’ve encountered this sort of unusual usage many times in my career, so it’s important to dig a little deeper than that.

So, doing a quick search, it turns out that the phrase “Karate King” is what these guys are called in the Japanese games:

Because of this, it sounds like the NPC in question is basically saying, “I was one of those generic karate guys a half year ago; I’m not anymore thanks to medical science!”

Still, just to be safe, I wondered if maybe there was a female version of Karate King. I might be wrong, but there doesn’t seem to be one – the only female equivalent I could find was this type of enemy, called “Battle Girl”:

In the official English translation, the NPC in question uses the term “Black Belt” instead of “Karate King”… and it indeed looks like that enemy was renamed to “Black Belt” in the English versions of the game. So that bit of consistency makes sense – in fact, if you read between the lines of the English localization and piece things together yourself, it’s still clear that a gender reassignment happened! It’s an interesting case of not fully removing something but making things a little fuzzier instead, much like how the Pokémon and marriage stuff was handled.

TL;DR

It appears this female Pokémon NPC was indeed a male who underwent a gender reassignment via medical science. This was purposely made a little less clear in the English release, but it wasn’t written out of the script entirely.

Again, like most of my Pokémon posts, I’ve likely overlooked or missed some extra details, so if you can offer any more suggestions or info, let me know in the comments or on Twitter!

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50 comments

  1. Read about this on 4chan earlier today, and yeah, you got everything right. :P

    The Karate King/Black Belt class is indeed male-only, with a female equivalent called Battle Girl, so the implications are indeed what they appear to be.

    Reply
  2. I’m not a big fan of even minor censorship like this, since nuance is hard to convey. Putting even a little barrier of vagueness in the way is sure to make it go over people’s heads. Which is unfortunate, in my opinion.

    Also, if I were translating it, I think the latter half would sound good as “…it’s amazing what surgery can do nowadays, don’t you agree?!”

    I think it captures the spirit of the line (mentioning the actual gender transformation) as well as keeps the speaker’s fishing for a compliment about her new look.

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    1. Making things so completely blatant is likely to get you a “Mild Suggestive Themes” or even “Suggestive Themes” from the American ESRB. I think it’s good they keep in jokes of a debateably crude and sexual nature more subtle.

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      1. A transgender character mentioning their post-op doesn’t really seem like a crude or sexual joke though? But I can definitely understand why they sadly chose to censor it to avoid controversy.

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      2. You know, I did used to think that the “Nintendo won’t release Mother 3 because of the Magypsies” theory was pretty silly, but with all the articles I’ve written/am writing about Nintendo localizations and sex/gender issues, I’m starting to think the Magypsies might indeed pose a problem for an official localization. Of course, there’s way more to it than just that one issue, but it seems more credible to me than before.

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        1. I have never doubted it. Though I think the bigger issue is that the game is far too mature in theme for the cutesy GBA RPG crowd, especially given how weirdly late it came out.

          And than disturbing scene in the hot spring didn’t help. You know the one I’m talking about.

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        2. Knowing that Nintendo has issues localizing transgender people in their games, I think the translators did a good job with handling this character. To kids, it would look like she once practiced karate but stopped, while astute adults would figure out that she was transgender based on the wording and the fact that Black Belts are always male. It’s pretty neat that they kept it in instead of writing completely different dialogue. It reminds me of the clever ways translators got around words like “kill” and “death” in the G-rated Nintendo days.

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  3. I haven’t played Pokemon X and Y in a while, so correct me if I’m wrong but those later two screenshots are from Pokemon Black and White, not Pokemon X and Y. Are there any Karate Kings or Battle Girls in X and Y? Because if not then using screenshots from different games like that is okay for this page. Just a heads up.

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    1. “is okay for this page”? I assume you mean the opposite, but just wanted to make sure.

      I haven’t played X or Y, but on a quick search I see that Battle Girls at least exist in Japanese X/Y – link. I don’t have time at the moment to look for a Karate King but I’d honestly be shocked if they didn’t exist in X/Y too.

      Reply
        1. Trainer classes are always capitalized like that in all dialogue involving them, even if it’s written manually.
          That said, maybe it is pulling it out of an internal dictionary for text compression and consistency purposes, but still would be the same meaning.

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  4. I’m pretty sure in this context it should be sex, not gender (which is a property of words, he/she, ぼく/あたし, senator/senatrix). The two aren’t actually synonyms, but people don’t realize it because they are desperate to avoid the similarity to.

    On the other hand, Pokemon (and NoA in general actually) itself makes this mistake all the damn time, so you could say it is accurate with the subject.

    Also: I went and checked. She does indeed say it with the same wording the “technology is incredible” guy does . http://i.imgur.com/crCVUBj.png

    Reply
    1. Nice, thanks for the info and the screenshot!

      Actually, with the recent increase of gender/sex-related topics on this site I’m always worried about messing up how I phrase things, so thanks for that added clarification. If you (or anyone else) have any helpful links on how to approach and phrase these kinds of topics, I’d really appreciate it!

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    2. Nobody cares how a game is translated, this isn’t anime, where accurate translations should be the norm in foreign adaptations, because shit matters in that. In games, as long as I can read the instructions, that’s all that matters.

      Reply
      1. Shit matters in games too though? Not every game is a fighting game with no plot or character stories. A lot have those things alongside the gameplay, and some text-only games have nothing but that. And considering people have to pay for the official releases and fans like to discuss things, I should think at least some bit of care should go into a translation.

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          1. Oh thanks for telling me! I thought he might be, but I wasn’t sure so I went ahead and said something anyway, lol. I’ll be sure to just ignore people like him in the future!

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  5. I’ve encountered her before, but I guess I just assumed she was saying she used to have a different personality. Interesting what a little nuanced translation can do!

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  6. I hope this doesn’t sound too pedantic, but phrases like “sex change” and “originally a male” are probably not the best to use. Better terms would be “gender confirmation surgery” and “designated male at birth.” They might sound unnecessarily wordy, but it basically boils down to the fact that transgender people (myself included) generally don’t want to be referred to as having “been” a different gender in the past; the change isn’t in one’s personal concept of gender so much as in how one is perceived. Also, exactly what she’s referring to when she mentions “the power of science” is a bit ambiguous. She could be referring to genital surgery, but she could also be referring to top surgery or hormone therapy. Overall, I think you did a good job explaining things, though! Obviously, I tend to be pretty sensitive about how transgender topics are handled, and I think it’s especially important to use the right words when referring to people. Anyway, good luck writing about Vivian!

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    1. Not at all – like I mentioned above, I’d really like to learn more about the proper phrasing and etiquette for discussing matters like this, especially since I’m sure there’ll be plenty more gender/sex-related articles in the future. So if you have any links or materials to help educate me, send them my way either here or e-mail or whatever else!

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    2. It’s pretty neat to see more positive transgender portrayals recently. One shudders when thinking about certain other… well-known disastrous examples best not to bring up right now.

      Unfortunately, I haven’t played XY myself, so I can’t provide a contrast on how further localizations fold out. (These are often quite interesting, since many censorship changes actually do get reversed, and modified in different ways appropiate for the place. This is actually the case with Vivian!)

      I’m very excited for a future post on Vivian, since the way she was dealt with on the different versions actually says a lot about both transgender impact on different societies, and the impact of society on the localization process. (And you probably do have many things to say about the later topic.)

      Also I’m glad you’re taking your time on learning about proper etiquette on these things to avoid making mistakes. As pointed out, the title of this entry is somewhat offensive (and actually miseading! Since as you know, crossdressing characters, that identify as male, have been censored out in other games), so your consideration is a nice change of pace to how these problems usually end up.
      (That said, you might want to consider changing it to prevent unnecesary reactions from people stumbling upon it. Like to “Is this girl transgender?” or something.)

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      1. Whereas I think it’s more important to make your posts easy for people to understand who aren’t conversant with the latest doublespeak. But that’s just me, I guess.

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        1. But “used to be a man” is just plain factually false.
          So, really, there’s no way around it other than to use truthful terms.

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      2. Thanks for the comment – I actually didn’t think of the title in that way, but now I can see where you’re coming from. For me, I meant “originally” in the translation sense, as in “the game was originally this way in Japan”. I’ll definitely be more careful in the future when coming up with titles for such posts :X

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  7. FudgemintGuardian

    Hello! Been reading these for a couple months now and I gotta say I really love this site of yours.
    I feel like the line in the English release sounds more natural.

    Reply
  8. I like the English line a bit better myself, ‘cuz it’s cheeky. :P The personality the Beauty trainer class tends to convey is often like that–a little fun, a little flirty, occasionally vain, and definitely enjoys “being a girl,” and the English line is definitely in line with that. She’s teasing a bit and having fun! (It sounds more natural, too, and less like “expositionese,” though maybe that sense isn’t there in Japanese.) After all, just ‘cuz someone’s trans doesn’t mean they’re deathly serious about it all the time. Well, OK, I did know one lady like that once. But I also once got literally introduced to a girl’s new breasts (as in, this was a separate introduction from meeting the lady herself) and we ended up singing a rousing chorus of various birthday songs, with “You” in each of their lyrics replaced with “Boobs.”

    Not to get too serious myself, but I sometimes wonder if knowing, intelligent comedy isn’t better for educating people and teaching them respect than the usual seriousness is. We treat a lot of delicate issues with “PSA Seriousness”, which I think tends to make people either goose-step around and/or avoid the issue, or rebel and deliberately act up against it because they feel they’re being forced to act a certain way. Humor makes a lot of things more approachable, especially people: Who are you more likely to strike up a conversation with, the guy who talks to you in curt terms and a slightly serious demeanor, or the one who cracks a bad pun or two while talking about his day and asking you how yours was? And I almost went on a tangent about a particular webcomic that dealt with the topic of depression in an extremely insightful and elucidating way in particular because it was so hilarious about it, but this is off-topic enough.

    In conclusion, man this game sure got in a lot of stuff that kind of pushed the envelope. From the descriptions of some of the beds in the Hotel Richissme (“drenched in perfume,” huh), Professor Sycamore being Professor Not-Sick-Of-Amore (all the ladies love the prof.), some curious innuendo involving electric Pokemon, heck, even the chick in the one cafe who says you should love food and fashion equally because you can be stylish no matter your size, one almost gets the impression that Nintendo was issuing a sort of “come at me, bro” challenge to complainy parents…

    Reply
    1. I think this was translated pretty well, I’m transsexual myself and while I don’t go around telling everyone about how I used to be this and that, it sometimes happens as a joke between friends or if someone politely asks, I’d probably say something playful along these lines, like how amazing modern medical science is! So “quite the transformation!” instead of “what has science done” is pretty good and doesn’t feel like censorship to me.

      Reply
  9. AnActualTransGirl

    While I realize that the title of this article is probably meant to be informative to a primarily cis audience, it can actually be pretty offensive to use the phrase “used to be a fill-in-the-blank” when referring to a trans person, since many trans folks feel that they have always been the gender they now present as, but were just forced into the closet about if for one reason or another. You could say, “Was this girl in Pokemin X/Y a Trans Woman?” It would be just as informative, but without the unfortunate implication that she’s “actually” a guy.

    Reply
    1. Yeah, as I mentioned in some previous comments that actually wasn’t what I intended, it was pretty poor wording on my part. Lots of commenters and folks on Twitter have given me links and info on the subject, so I’ll try hard to phrase things more tactfully in the future.

      Reply
  10. Mato, you should probably consider rewording a few things, especially the title. It comes off as horribly transphobic, even if you didn’t mean it to

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  11. If I had seen the English dialogue without this information, I would have just assumed that she decided to abandon her marshal arts training and become a housewife.

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    1. That’s why the joke is so delicious.
      It relies on knowledge that the “Female Martial Artist” class is Battle Girl.
      Saying that she used to be a Black Belt implies that she originally had a male body (minus the brain, of course :P) and that other people would therefore tag her as a Black Belt.

      Perhaps she’s a Beauty now in part due to transitioning hitting her muscle strength in a bad way, (think Attack IV going from 30 to 4, or something) and her not wanting to do kung-fu anymore?

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      1. And on a more depressing note – that’s probably the only good joke where transsexualism was the punchline that I’ve ever heard or read.

        Reply
    1. Gonna gender her on her (old?) penis rather than her brain?
      Many a neuroscientist would like to have a chat with you. Not to mention gender disphoria sufferers. Yeah, this is a pretty serious physical medical condition, you know. Inappropriate hormones for your brain being only one of the problems. Not that many “feminist trans allies” would make that clear.

      But props to Clyde for rewriting this article. Decent people do decent people things, and you’re one of them.

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      1. *but not many “feminist trans allies” make that clear – so it’s kind of forgiveable not to instantly know without serious research*

        Worded that bit a little badly. There’s the fix.

        Reply
  12. I don’t know if this has been noted, but on Page 4 of the “Iwata Asks” interview for Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver, Iwata comments that “the power of science is awesome!” is the first sentence one reads in the original Pokémon Red and Green. I don’t know if this is true, as in my recollection the first thing one reads in the localised version is something about this world being inhabited by Pokémon, but I immediately thought of this page on reading the interview.

    Reply

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