A good while back I received an e-mail from an unnamed reader asking about a really bizarre scene in a .hack game’s translation:
The .hack series of games, for the PS2, are pretty infamous for their shoddy localization work (for instance, the only Japanese city that got swapped with an American equivalent was Kujukuri to “Malibu”, creating a bunch of strange implications about a character living overseas). While replaying the games recently, I encountered Nuke Usagimaru’s completely incomprehensible introduction scene. The context of the scene is that he’s invited a bunch of random players to come see his comedy routine. When you get there, this happens:
I think he’s supposed to be telling bad jokes that are scaring off the audience, but the “jokes” are so bizarre that I wouldn’t even realize they were supposed to be jokes if I didn’t know in advance that he was a comedian. Did something get lost in translation here?
I’ve only played a bit into the first .hack game about 10 years ago, so I don’t remember much about it. I do recall it had a lot of material that needed localizing though, so I’m glad to finally take another look at it!
In this case, the above scene indeed feels strange, so I hunted down the same scene in the Japanese release. Let’s take a look at the three weird lines:
|kusa wa kusai kara kusatteru……
|The grass is rotten because it stinks……
|Why is the grass green?
For the first joke, even if you don’t know Japanese you can see some wordplay involved around “kusa”. The Japanese line is basically a lame pun about grass. The English line is… something else about grass. I wouldn’t even classify it as a joke. If anything, it feels almost like a philosophical question or one of those “sound of one hand clapping” things.
After this comedian says his line, some other characters leave because the joke is just so unbearable. It makes sense that a bad pun would be drive audience members away, but the strange localization choice for the English line makes their vanishing seem confusing.
|shiro wa shiroi kara shiro ii……
|The castle is a good castle because it’s white……
|Why is the sky blue?
Again, it’s easy to see the wordplay in the Japanese line. It’s another bad pun on the word “shiro”, which can mean “castle” and “white”. In contrast, the English line still doesn’t seem like a joke at all. And, as before, more characters vanish after hearing this line. Their reaction is a logical response to the bad joke, but seems random and strange in response to the English question.
|boushi o nakushite hatto naru……
|Losing a hat is startling……
|And why is water wet?
In this final line, the pun isn’t as obvious if you don’t know Japanese, but “boushi” means “hat” or “cap”, and “hatto” can mean “hat” or “startling”. It’s another really dumb pun that causes more people to leave. The English line is just another random question to hear from a comedian.
Of course, it’s possible the localizers were trying to go for jokes so bad that they don’t even seem like jokes anymore. Or it’s possible that the localizers decided to go with philosophical questions that’ll blow your mind if you think too hard about them. But given the fact that he’s supposed to be making funny statements, both seem unlikely. Even more so considering the game’s general translation quality and voice direction. My personal opinion is that the localizers dropped the ball with this scene, which is demonstrated by players’ confusion.
Honestly, any dumb ol’ English puns would’ve fit the spirit and intent of the original scene perfectly. Some groan-worthy examples might be:
- The archaeologist’s career ended in ruins.
- Broken pencils are pointless.
- Glass windows are a real pane.
- I used to be a banker, but I lost interest.
All this said, it’s entirely possible that I’m missing something about this character’s background or other such information. If I’m overlooking something, let me know in the comments. And if you have any bad puns of your own that you’d like to share, post them in the comments too!