A reader by the name of Dustin recently sent me this e-mail:
I’m not sure if you’re familiar or not with the Dangan Ronpa games (and the hype surrounding them in recent months), but it has piqued my curiosity as far as translation and localization go. There has been an Let’s Play of the game (that is essentially a translation of it) going on for a while now that fans have been following, but recently an English patch of the game by different fans has been released. This has stirred quite a conflict among fans because of the major differences between the two translations and which is “better”. People defending the fan translation say it’s closer to the original, while people defending the LP say it made localization changes that help things make more sense, sound less silly, etc. I’ve also heard the fan translation adds Western references. I find a lot of the people on both sides of the argument don’t really know what they’re talking about.
I can give you an example of the the kinds of problems people are having. Each character has a title. In the LP, the titles work like this: “Super High School Level [talent]”. In the fan translation, it’s “Super Duper High School [talent]”. In the original Japanese, it’s “超高校級の「talent」” . Opponents of the fan translation argue that “Super Duper High School” sounds, frankly, really stupid. Defenders of the fan translation argue it’s closer to the original Japanese and that the LP translator purposefully changed how it sounds because he didn’t want it to sound stupid. What is your take on the matter? Is “Super Duper” really a closer translation? Is it meant to sound childish? Would Japanese people find the original title silly and hard to take seriously? In general, is making a translation that sounds really stupid worth sticking closer to the source matter?
That’s a lot of questions, but this seemingly simple matter is more complex than I thought it’d be. I was hoping to see your opinion on this matter.
There’s so much I could write on this topic, it isn’t even funny. I very literally have had to deal with this sort of thing every day for the last ten+ years – for example, many of the shows I work on also have had fan translations – multiple fan translations, at that – and there’s always constant arguing about which fan translation is “correct”, whether or not my own translations are “correct”, or even whether the official manga translations are “correct”. And then there’s all sorts of weird bickering about really, really minor semantics. I should probably write an article about this someday, although I fear it’d take too long and I’d lose interest before it was finished 😛
I’ve also been in plenty of fan translation wars – whether by accident or due to my own naivety – so I really don’t want to get involved in this one. In fact, fan translation wars is another topic I should write about someday. Man, I should just write a series about this stuff someday!
Okay, so down to the questions. First off, I’ve learned that with this sort of thing, you need to step back and be an unattached observer. One of the first things to know is that there’s a weird psychological phenomenon with translations in which the first translation a person is exposed to tends to be the one that person will cling to – they’ll refuse to accept any others, even in the face of legitimate criticism of specific issues. There’s probably an actual scientific name for this, but I don’t know it. In any case, it’s important to keep that in mind and try to avoid falling into that trap. I think this is what gets most fans of anything in a frenzy when an alternate translation is released.
Next, nitpicky comparisons of individual terms is fine and all, but it’s not a way to compare full translations. This is the first (and often only) thing fans pick up on when comparing translations – and it’s pretty silly. Unless a term has a REALLY terrible translation (like the infamous “Ragnarok” to “Kangaroo” translation) then nitpicking terminology translations only scratches at the surface of a game’s translation quality. You gotta get into the meat of the text – in fact, that’s exactly why I started this site, to dig deeper into translations than most people tend to look.
So with all that said, I can’t really say which translation is better or more correct – I’d need to play both versions side-by-side with the original Japanese version for a significant amount of time. From what little I’ve seen of screenshots and stuff, they both seem like competent translations, but it sounds like it’s a really huge game, so that’s probably not enough to say anything.
As for the specific example provided here, 超高校級の is something like “super/hyper/mega/ultra highschool level/class”. The first part can be translated multiple ways, so I’m not surprised that different translators have translated it differently. I don’t know if “super-duper” is better or not – I mean, from what little I know about the game, it’s pretty wacky and quirky, so it could work. I should say, though, that to me, 超高校級の seems like a very average, par-for-the-course word in terms of Japanese entertainment. It’s the sort of thing I run into all the time and had I encountered it without any prior knowledge I’d probably just have gone with a straight translation too. But I wouldn’t have had any qualms if the licensor showed up and said it should be “super-duper”, either. Translation is about being flexible.
I should also mention that 級 in terms like this doesn’t always need to be translated as it’s often implied in the translation itself (examples: 70m級ジャンプ = 70 meter jump, B級映画 = B-movie). So “level” doesn’t NEED to be included, although it can be. Again, it’s just a matter of taste.
So the treatment of this term really comes down to:
- Different translators translate differently
- Different thoughts on the intended purpose
- Different tastes/opinions
Assuming equal Japanese comprehension skill and no mistranslations, you’re almost always going to get different translations with this sort of thing. That’s why terminology lists only scrape the surface of translation quality – you have to dig deeper into the actual text to get a better look. It’s harder to do, but if you want to compare translations and try to say one is better than the other, that’s the way to do it.
So, again, I don’t want to step into this translation war – it sounds like both translations have had a ton of hard work and love put into them, so it’s not my place to jump in, with no experience with the game whatsoever, and start saying this should be this or this should be that. I know very little about the game except that it’s in some sort of school with students locked in it and murder mysteries and that weird bear looking thing. And that FUNimation picked up the anime.
There’s a lot more I want to say on the subject of multiple, competing translations and how to approach them as a translator and as a player/observer, but I’ll save that for another day. Still, all this stuff DOES make me want to compare different fan translations for smaller, simpler games someday – I wonder if any such games fit that bill. It would make for a really interesting project, so if anyone has any suggestions, let me know!