Kaitlyn sent in a question about Shenmue II a while back:
In the English dub of Shenmue II, there’s a part where Ryo is approached by a child I believe working for Master Li Shao Tao. She asks Ryo if she wants tea she just made, because he’s working on moving books out into the open to air them out, and he accepts.
A bit after that, Ryo tells her that she looks like the cat from Shenmue I, the one the player could raise near Ryo’s house. She takes some pretty hard offense to this, and “blah!”s at Ryo in defiance.
I was wondering if there was some part of this that was lost in the translation. As far as I can tell, westerners, at least Americans anyway, don’t take offense to being compared to cats, and most people view it as a compliment.
Shenmue II is a Japanese developed game taking place in China, more specifically Hong Kong (for the first half anyway), translated first into English subtitles for the European Dreamcast release, and then dubbed into English for the Xbox port. I believe there are some minor differences in the sub version vs the dub version, but the only difference I can note is that she screeches at him instead of saying “blah!” in the sub version.
And here is a look at the scene in question, both subtitled and dubbed:
For reference, here’s a comparison of the scene’s text side-by-side:
|Japanese Version (basic translation)||Subtitle Translation||Dub Translation|
|Girl: Thanks for your hard work!||Girl: You must be tired!||Girl: You must be tired!|
|Ryo: Hmm?||Ryo: Huh?||Ryo: ?|
|Girl: How about some tea?||Girl: How about some tea?||Girl: How about some tea?|
|Ryo: Thanks.||Ryo: Thanks.||Ryo: Thanks.|
|The girl pours tea, Ryo drinks it|
|Girl: How does it taste?||Girl: How do you like it?||Girl: How do you like it?|
|Ryo: It’s good.||Ryo: It’s good.||Ryo: It’s good.|
|Girl: I’m glad!||Girl: Good!||Girl: Good!|
|Girl: How about another cup?!||Girl: How about another cup?||Girl: How about another cup?|
|Ryo: No, thank you.||Ryo: No, it’s okay. Thank you.||Ryo: No, it’s okay. Thank you.|
|The girl seems upset|
|Ryo: Well… just one more, then.||Ryo: Well… just one more.||Ryo: Well… just one more.|
|Girl: Okay!||Girl: Sure!||Girl: Sure!|
|The girl pours tea, Ryo drinks it|
|Girl: Huh? Wh-what is it?||Girl: I-Is something wrong?||Girl: I-Is something wrong?|
|Ryo: Oh, I just thought you looked like…||Ryo: No. I thought you looked a lot like…||Ryo: No. I thought you looked a lot like…|
|Girl: Oh? I look like someone?||Girl: I look like someone?||Girl: I look like someone?|
|Girl: Who?||Girl: Who?||Girl: Who?|
|Ryo: … A cat.||Ryo: … A cat.||Ryo: A cat.|
|Girl: …A cat?||Girl: A… cat…||Girl: A… cat…|
|Ryo: A cat that used to live in my neighborhood.||Ryo: There was this cat near my house…||Ryo: There was a cat near my house…|
|Girl: That’s horrible! I’m not a cat, you know!||Girl: You! You’re saying that I look like a cat!||Girl: You! You’re saying that I look like a cat!|
|Ryo: No, I mean, just your eyes look a little similar…||Ryo: Well, no… just your eyes…||Ryo: Well, no… just your eyes…|
|Girl: Same thing! Whatever!||Girl: Same thing. Thanks a lot!||Girl: Same thing. Thanks a lot!|
|Ryo: H-hey…!||Ryo: H-Hey…||Ryo: H-Hey…|
|The girl walks away and sticks out her tongue|
|Girl: Blehhhh to you!||Blahhhh!||Blahhhh!|
So as we can see, the text is pretty much the same as it is in Japanese – she doesn’t get upset in Japanese for a different reason; the dialogue didn’t get changed in localization. The question then, is: why does she get so upset when Ryo compares her to a cat?
I haven’t played the Shenmue games (although I’ve seen many bits and pieces) so I don’t know the full context here. My first instinct is that maybe the girl was fond of Ryo, but gets upset when he only sees her as a cat. It seems logical to me, but again, I don’t know enough about the game to say much.
Another wild guess might be that maybe being called a cat in China is insulting, but I have no expertise when it comes to that. Regardless, comparing someone to an animal probably isn’t the most tactful thing to do, so maybe that’s what has the girl upset. As Kaitlyn mentioned, being compared to a cat isn’t necessarily a bad thing in Western culture, but maybe it is here in China. I don’t know – your guess is probably as good as mine at this point!
If anyone has any insight or more context, please share in the comments! I’m hoping someone might be able to shed more light on this!