How They Translated Bubsy into Japanese

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Several years back, a reader asked about how the Super NES version of Bubsy had been translated into Japanese. The game is filled with 90s American “attitude”, movie references, and bad cat puns – many of which are presented as voice clips. So how did the Japanese version handle all of these translation challenges?

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For the curious, the Japanese title translates to “Bubsy the Bobcat’s Great Adventure”.

Originally, I wanted to do a full, detailed comparison of the English and Japanese Bubsy games, including a look at the boxes and manuals. It turns out that the Japanese version is incredibly expensive, though – this photo from just a few weeks ago shows it going for approximately $430 USD:

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So, rather than do a full comparison, I thought I’d focus on Bubsy‘s chapter titles and voice clips instead.

First, if you’re unfamiliar with the game, you control a sarcastic bobcat named Bubsy who collects balls of yarn and fights evil enemies known as Woolies. The game is notoriously frustrating, and Bubsy himself shares his own comments of dissatisfaction at the start of each chapter.

Note: the voice clips in the game are very low-quality, which makes some phrases extremely hard to catch. If you notice any transcription mistakes, let me know.

Chapter 1

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The English title here sounds like it could be a reference to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, but I’ve never really known for sure and there isn’t much information about Bubsy stage names online.

The Japanese title is a little confusing for me as well. It could possibly translate as “The Spinning Wheels of Doom” or “The Hard-Working Cars of Fate”, just to name a few examples. It sounds like there’s probably a reference in it, but I don’t know what it is. At the very least, it doesn’t appear to be a Temple of Doom reference.

English Voice ClipJapanese Voice Clip
What could PAWsibly go wrong?dō tte koto nē yo
(It’s no big deal.)

The English voice clip for this stage consists of a cat pun that also serves as Bubsy’s catchphrase. The Japanese clip doesn’t seem to have a pun, but it does retain Bubsy’s attitude and personality.

Chapter 2

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The English title is a nod to the sci-fi movie Forbidden Planet.

The Japanese title of the same movie is Kindan no Wakusei. Instead of wakusei (“planet”), however, the stage title uses rakkasei. The rakka part means “plummet”, so the full Japanese stage title is something like “The Forbidden Planet ‘Plummet'”. In this way, the Japanese version retains the same movie reference as the English game, but in a different way.

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English Voice ClipJapanese Voice Clip
Did I mention I don’t like heights?yana yokan
(I have a bad feeling about this.)

As far as I can tell, this English voice clip isn’t in reference to anything. The Japanese voice clip doesn’t seem to be one either – I thought it might be a Star Wars reference but the wording isn’t the same. It appears both voice clips are meant as straightforward thoughts from Bubsy himself.

Chapter 3

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This English title is a reference to the movie A Bridge Too Far combined with a cat-themed pun.

The Japanese title of the same movie is Tōsugita Hashi, so we can see how the Japanese stage title references the movie too. The parody title still translates pretty close to “a bridge too far”, but this “too far” is in the sense of “over-the-top excessiveness” or “now that’s just going too far”. So, while the Japanese title doesn’t include a cat pun, it does add a joke in line with Bubsy’s constant complaints.

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English Voice ClipJapanese Voice Clip
More like a “bridge too short”.makasetoke tte
(Just leave it to me.)

The English voice clip is a response to Bubsy seeing the stage’s title. It seems to be a straightforward, smart-alecky comment.

The Japanese voice clip doesn’t seem to be a response to anything, nor does it seem to be a clear reference to anything. It comes across as a straightforward comment of Bubsy’s self-confidence. Alternate translations include “I got this.” and “You can count on me.”

Chapter 4

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The English title is a play on the term “air conditioning”, but because the stage takes place in a carnival-like location, “air” has been replaced with “fair”.

The Japanese title literally translates as “Carnival of Screams”. I’m not sure if it’s a reference to anything, but my instinct says it’s meant as a straightforward title.

English Voice ClipJapanese Voice Clip
Hey, whatever blows your hair back.bibiru na yo
(Don’t wimp out now!)

I’m not sure if the English voice clip is a reference to anything in particular – I always just assumed it was another silly phrase along the lines of “whatever floats your boat”. It’s also likely in response to the “air conditioning” joke in the title.

The Japanese voice clip strikes me as a simple, straightforward comment to the player.

Chapter 5

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I assume the English title is reference the movie Night of the Living Dead or at least old B-movies like Night of the Lepus that have a similar title.

The Japanese title translates as “Night of the Living Cat”, which is clearly a reference to Night of the Living Dead.

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English Voice ClipJapanese Voice Clip
Hey, I thought I saw Elvis back there.rettsu getto redi
(Let’s get ready.)

The English voice clip references Elvis, but I’m not really sure why or what kind of humor the line was going for. When I first played the game in English decades ago, it seemed like a “chosen by an out-of-touch game company executive trying to be hip and funny” line. Is the joke simply that Elvis is dead?

The Japanese voice clip took me forever to figure out – at first I thought it was the voice actor saying “let’s kiss a lady” in English while a fellow translator felt it was closer to “this is a lady”. I’m fairly certain now that it’s the actor saying “let’s get ready”, but with heavy katakana English intonation.

Chapter 6

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The English title is a fur-related pun on the phrase “our fearless leader”. I don’t believe it’s a reference to anything in particular, however.

The Japanese title is a play on the phrase osore o shiranai (“doesn’t know fear”), but the osore (“fear”) part was replaced with otoire (“bathroom, toilet”). Thus the Japanese stage title becomes something like “The Man Who’s Never Heard of Bathrooms Before”.

English Voice ClipJapanese Voice Clip
Shouldn’t that be fearless? Uh oh.osore deshō?
(Don’t you mean “fear”?)

Both voice clips involve Bubsy reacting to the stage title in basically the same way.

Chapter 7

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The English title is a play on the famous Clint Eastwood spaghetti western, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

The Japanese stage title translates as “Woolies of the Wasteland” and refers to a different film from the same trilogy: A Fistful of Dollars, known in Japan as Kōya no Yōjinbō (“Bodyguard of the Wasteland”). I’m not completely sure why a different movie was referenced, but I believe it was either due to text length limitations or one movie title sounding more iconic in Japanese than the other.

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English Voice ClipJapanese Voice Clip
Well, it worked for Clint.bakyūn
(Kapow!)

The English voice clip stays with the spaghetti western theme by refering to Clint Eastwood, although I never quite understood what the line was supposed to mean in the first place. What worked for Clint?

The Japanese voice clip is the sound effect word for a gun shooting. The audio quality is poor, so it almost sounds like “f— you” if you’re not familiar with Japanese onomatopoeia.

Chapter 8

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The English title is a reference to another Clint Eastwood spaghetti western movie, A Fistful of Dollars.

The Japanese title translates as “A One-Dollar Yarn Ball in the Wasteland”, and refers to a completely different, non-Clint Eastwood spaghetti western: Blood for a Silver Dollar, which was known as Kōya no Ichi Doru Ginka (“A Silver Dollar Piece in the Wasteland”) in Japan.

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English Voice ClipJapanese Voice Clip
Go ahead, make my day.kega suru ze ore wa
(Someone’s gonna get hurt! Me.)

The English voice clip is Clint Eastwood’s famous line from the Dirty Harry movie, Sudden Impact:

I’m not sure if the Japanese voice clip is a reference to anything or just a funny little joke of its own. Just to be sure, I checked the same scene in a Japanese dubbed version of Sudden Impact, but the line was completely different. Hollywood movies often get multiple, re-translated subtitle and dub releases in Japan, so it’s possible a different translation of the movie has something closer to what Bubsy says here.

Chapter 9

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The English title is a clear reference to the award-winning film, Dances with Wolves. Because the reference is so clear and simple, the Japanese localizers were able to keep the reference intact with little effort.

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English Voice ClipJapanese Voice Clip
My contract does not mention pain.kītenai yo
(No one told me about this!)

The English voice clip has Bubsy complaining and breaking the fourth wall. Although the Japanese voice clip is a little different and doesn’t mention pain, it follows the tone of the original line very well.

Chapter 10

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The English title doesn’t seem to be a clear reference to anything. Instead, it’s simply a pun on the phrase “be very careful”.

The Japanese title translates into something like “A Day in the Life of Beaver-chan”. If it seems strange that I left the “-chan” in there, it’s because the old American TV show Leave it to Beaver was commonly known as Beaver-chan in Japan. So rather than use a basic pun, the Japanese title actually goes one step further and adds an American pop culture reference of its own.

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English Voice ClipJapanese Voice Clip
Hey, I didn’t write this stuff.shinario ga chigau yo
(This isn’t in my script!)

The English voice clip features Bubsy’s iconic combination of annoyance, sarcasm, and self-awareness. The Japanese clip stays quite close to those ideas while saying something entirely different.

Chapter 11

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The English title is a crocodile-themed reference to the classic American rock-and-roll song, Rock Around the Clock:

The Japanese title goes in a completely different direction and takes a bit of explanation. First, there’s a famous tongue-twister in Japan that everyone knows:

ni-wa-ni-wa-ni-wa-ni-wa-tori ga iru

The phrase is not only hard to say fast over and over, it also has 90+ different meanings depending on how you look at it. The most common meaning is “there are two chickens in the garden” and relies on ni-wa being the key to each section of the sentence.

You can hear a variation of this tongue-twister on YouTube here.

This Bubsy stage title messes things up, though – it starts with ni-wa just fine, but then accidentally slips into using wa-ni instead. The word wani means “alligator” or “crocodile”.

At this point in the title, Bubsy (or maybe the game writer) gets freaked out about alligators being in the garden, so the rest of the sentence falls apart into fearful ramblings.

Add up all of this, and the Japanese title might directly translate into something like “There are alligators in the garden, yikes!”

English Voice ClipJapanese Voice Clip
Next time I get a stunt cat.sutanto neko o tsukatte
(Use a stunt cat.)

The English clip features more of Bubsy’s self-aware complaining. The Japanese clips is a faithful, straightforward translation.

Chapter 12

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The English title is possibly a reference to the old American movie, Cause for Alarm, but I’m not entirely sure. It’s possible it’s just a simple pun on the “cause for alarm” phrase.

The Japanese title translates into something like “Claw Marks of Terror”. Just like with the English title, I’m not sure if this is a reference to anything or not. Perhaps the curse of Bubsy is to not fully understand Bubsy.

English Voice ClipJapanese Voice Clip
Is there a veterinarian in the audience?dokutā sutoppu
(My doctor told me I can’t do this.)

The English voice clip is a joke on the common stock phrase “is there a doctor in the house?” that abounded in old plays, movies, TV shows, and more. It’s a stale line that’s not quite as common in modern entertainment. The joke is that Bubsy says “veterinarian” instead of “doctor” because he’s an animal.

The Japanese voice clip is actually the Japanese pronunciation of “doctor stop” in English. The term “doctor stop” is an example of an English phrase created in Japan, and refers to when a doctor tells you to stop doing something for health reasons, like smoking, drinking, eating junk food, working too hard, etc. In effect, Bubsy is saying here that he can’t play this stage because of his doctor’s orders.

Interestingly, while the original English line ditches the word “doctor” to make its joke, the Japanese line includes “doctor” to achieve the same effect.

Chapter 13

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The English title is a play on the famous American song, Eye of the Tiger.

The Japanese title translates as “Eye of the Stray Cat” and is a reference to the same song. Note that Bubsy isn’t referred to as a stray cat anywhere else in the Japanese game, just here. He’s normally called a bobcat, even in the game’s title.

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English Voice ClipJapanese Voice Clip
That’s it, I’m outta here, you can’t make me.yaterarenai yo
(I can’t do this anymore.)

The English clip and the Japanese clip are very close in meaning and tone. Both clips appear to be reference-free as well.

Chapter 14

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The English title doesn’t seem to be a reference to anything. Instead, it appears to be a pun revolving around “pause” and “paws”.

The Japanese title goes further with its wordplay, but it takes a little bit of explanation.

First, there’s a common Japanese idiom for when you’re really busy and desperate for help: “I’d even borrow a cat’s hand.” This Japanese stage title plays with that a bit, but changes it to “Lend me a cat hand.” Basically, rather than wishing for help from a cat, the stage title is directly asking for help from a cat.

English Voice ClipJapanese Voice Clip
What, and give up show business?shō ga nē na
(I guess it can’t be helped.)

The English voice clip demonstrates self-awareness, but I have trouble seeing what it’s in response to or how it’s supposed to be amusing.

The Japanese voice clip is a variation of the phrase shikata ga nai, a common saying that many translators dread. There’s probably a million different ways to translate the phrase, but in this case it’s basically a casual way of throwing up your arms and saying, “Whatever.”

I’m of course over-simplifying the shikata ga nai phrase here – there are hundreds of long articles online that go into much greater depth. You could probably even write an entire book on the subject!

Chapter 15

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The English title is a reference to the famous American movie, Lethal Weapon.

The Japanese title includes the same reference in the exact same way, which is always a rare thing to see when localizing between Japan and English. And yet it’s happened more than once in this Bubsy localization!

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English Voice ClipJapanese Voice Clip
Somebody dial 911.kyūkyūsha yonde
(Call an ambulance.)

The English voice clip is referring to the emergency phone number used throughout most of the United States and Canada.

Emergency phone numbers aren’t the same everywhere in the world, though, so the number was dropped in the Japanese release and replaced with “ambulance”. So although the sentence was changed, the joke remains intact. In fact, the localization makes the joke universal – it would make sense in any country.

Chapter 16

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The English title is a reference to the classic movie, A Farewell to Arms.

The Japanese title translates as “Farewell, Woolies” and is a reference to the same film, which is known in Japan as Buki yo Saraba (“Farewell, Weapons”).

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Alternatively, it’s possible these stage titles are a reference to Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms novel, but given the game’s movie theme, I don’t feel that’s the case.
English Voice ClipJapanese Voice Clip
Whoa, are you still playing this thing????

The English voice clip is a sarcastic comment to the player, almost as if Bubsy is aware how long, difficult, and tedious the game is.

The Japanese voice clip has had me stumped for years now. My first instinct was that it says yareba dekiru ka (“You can actually do it if you put your mind to it?”) but I’m not at all confident that that’s what he’s saying. I’ve asked Japanese-speaking colleagues for their thoughts, but there’s no clear consensus yet. I’m hoping that someone out there with sharper listening skills can help. I’m desperate enough to borrow a cat’s hand!

Ending

The English ending text says “I win! I win! Well I guess you helped.” The Japanese text says pretty much the same thing. The credits at the end of the Japanese game are unchanged from the English version.


So there we have it – all of Bubsy‘s text and voice clips in English and Japanese. I’m surprised the game was released in Japan at all, and even though there wasn’t much to translate, it’s clear that the localizers tried hard to retain the feeling of the original game. Whoever they are, I salute their pawsitively clawsome work.

Now I’m curious to know how Bubsy games might’ve been localized into other languages. Were there any other localizations? If you have any information, let me know!
If you enjoyed this post and know someone else who's a Bubsy fan, I hope you'll share it with them. Thanks!
24 Comments
  1. I’ve never played this game (though I want to, because I find Bubsy to be adorable), but Claws for Alarm might be also a reference to the 1954 Merrie Melodies short of the same name with Porky and Sylvester.

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    1. Steam has it and its sequel for pretty cheap, and the occasional sale or Humble deal make it even cheaper. I got the pair for around two bucks.

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  2. Sergio Ferraz Jr.

    Couldn’t the “Our Furless Leader” bit be a reference to the Fearless Leader character from the Rocky & Bullwinkle Show?

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  3. This was the most in-depth article on Bubsy stage name titles I’ve read in weeks, if not months.

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    1. Do you regularly read articles on Bubsy stage names?

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  4. From what I’ve read, Bubsy was actually a pretty big deal when he first launched. Sort of the first high-profile Sonic clone. Maybe this was true in Japan as well?

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    1. He was heavily HYPED, but I don’t think he was ever actually important to anyone but Accolade.

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  5. Man, even though the puns are awful, you gotta appreciate the lengths the translators went through to get things right.

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  6. Not sure if it’ll help, but I tried to slow down and clean up that last Japanese voice clip. Maybe it’ll be easier to understand.

    https://app.box.com/s/g9qcjk58whkqbpawcdqbwd8qkjnqv2k2

    Reply
    1. It’s a little clearer. The first consonant sounds like a D or B, but other than that I still can’t make anything out.

      Reply
  7. Great article! I never knew Bubsy got localized into Japanese, nor was I aware it had this many levels, haha. By the way, I think you left a word out of your translation of Chapter 8’s title. It should be “A One-dollar Yarn Ball in the Wasteland”. Also, if I had to take a stab at the voice clip for the final stage, I might go with “yareba dekiru jan”, which would be teasing the player a bit and acting like it wasn’t all that hard to get here (“See? You can do it if you put your mind to it.”)

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  8. I’ve always loved Bubsy. The one thing I hated about Sonic was the frantic pacing. He went too dang fast. Bubsy did not suffer from this problem.

    Anyway, Mato, you’d hyped this up as a terrible localization, but it seems to be pretty good and intact. I think those movies probably just weren’t popular with Japanese youth at the time so the references didn’t mean anything, which is why it got that reputation. Were you equally surprised by your research?

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  9. Turns out “Shikata Ga Nai” has its own Wikipedia page:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shikata_ga_nai

    Reply
  10. “What and give up show business” is surely just a reference to the old joke with that as the punchline.

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  11. Chapter Five’s “Night of the Bobcat” title instantly sounds closer to another zombie movie time “Night of the Comet” at least in my opinion. NotC isn’t nearly as famous as NotLD, but it definitely has a cult following, so I wouldn’t think it to be such an obscure reference that the designers couldn’t have been pointing to that instead.

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  12. Ugh, his Japanese dub voice is far more grating than I expected.

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  13. One additional layer in Chapter 2’s title translation is that らっかせい means “peanut” in Japanese, and “The Forbidden Peanut” sounds funny.

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  14. I distinctly hear ‘kitty cat’ in the voice clip for Chapter 14. Maybe heavily katakanised ‘farewell’ as well. ‘Farewell kitty cat’?

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  15. I’m sort of an apologist for the original game (NOT THE SEQUELS, UGH) so I really got a kick out of this. I’m guessing this game is pretty obscure in Japan but I hope some players out there enjoyed the work that went into the translation.

    Thanks as always!

    Reply

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