Viral and Memorable Mistranslations of Japanese Game News

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Lots of game news, announcements, and details come out of Japan on a daily basis, but the language barrier means that only a portion of it ever leaves Japan. So whenever an interesting tidbit of information does get translated, it can spread very quickly online – regardless of translation quality or accuracy.

This viral mistranslation phenomenon has been around for as long as I can remember, but there have been a few big game-related examples during the past month or two. So I thought it’d be helpful to list these instances, along with some other, simpler examples of overeager fan mistranslations from the past 20 years.

1. Astral Chain as a Trilogy

In June 2019, IGN Benelux interviewed Takahisa Taura, the director for Astral Chain. A mistranslation in the interview made it sound like Taura had announced plans for Astral Chain to be the first part of a full trilogy. This mistake was then re-reported word-for-word by other gaming news sites and on social media:

The misinformation got so bad that the director made a direct statement denying the announcement. He also expressed his frustration with the translation “telephone game”:

After this, news sites had to un-report the announcement:

2. Tifa’s Breast Reduction

In June 2019, Tetsuya Nomura, the director for the Final Fantasy VII remake, discussed Tifa’s new design in a Famitsu interview. While on the topic of her new costume, he commented about Tifa’s chest using the word 締める (shimeru), which a fan mistranslated as “restrict”. Tweets and news articles about this misinterpretation spread like wildfire:

In actuality, the quote was still referring to Tifa’s clothing specifically, and the word used, shimeru, means to “squeeze” or “to hold tight”. In other words, Nomura was talking about how Tifa’s new clothing is designed to keep her breasts firmly in place while she fights, much like a sports bra.

More articles went up after a professional translator explained the mistakes in the original translation:

On a weird, unrelated side note, the original Japanese quote being passed around online includes a typo: 絞める instead of 締める. Both are pronounced shimeru and convey similar ideas, but the former means “squeeze” or “hold tight” specifically in the “strangle or choke someone” sense.

3. Iwata the Storyteller

In July 2019, a Japanese game developer showed off some interesting concept art for a GameCube MOTHER/EarthBound game. The developer also detailed his experience pitching the game idea to Shigesato Itoi, the series’ creator. A fan translated these Japanese tweets into English, and the news spread quickly.

While the main parts of this story are clear – the concept art and the proposal for the game itself – the original tweet translation was full of mistakes and misunderstandings. The biggest mistake in the translation was this part:

Then Itoi-san said, ‘In any case, perhaps Iwata-kun should come up with the story?’ Everyone in the room gasped. Iwata looked shocked.

In actuality, the original Japanese translates into something more like:

Then Mr. Itoi said, “This whole thing was your idea, wasn’t it, Iwata?”. Everyone in the room was speechless. Mr. Iwata had an “oops, you got me” look on his face.

In addition to the main scoop, some sites also reported on Iwata being offered to write the game’s story, based on the original viral mistranslation. Luckily, other outlets took their time and consulted qualified translators that got the details correct.

Of course, this incorrect Iwata detail isn’t a huge deal or anything – I’ve mostly included it here because it fits the bill of a viral news mistranslation. Plus, EarthBound fans have already had to deal with twenty years of bad info, bad rumors, and shattered hopes as it is.

4. Super Smash Bros., Persona, and the Disability Slur

In April 2019, a Kotaku UK article declared that “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s Persona 5 DLC appears to include a disability slur”.

The article’s claim was that the Persona 5 song used the word “retarded”. The article was shared widely online, but it also met with lots of doubt. Nintendo and Atlus later confirmed that it does not say “retarded”.

I know very little about the situation or the Persona series, but fan consensus seems to be that the lyric was simply “retort it” and that it was sung by a non-native English speaker.

5. The “Unmissable” Ace Attorney Event

In early September 2018, the Japanese Capcom site announced that it’d be holding a Gyakuten Saiban/Ace Attorney panel at the Tokyo Game Show:

The key in this announcement is the word 見逃せない (minogasenai), which means something like “can’t miss seeing”. It’s a pretty simple word, so it seemed reasonable when fans translated this as “unmissable”.

Excitement for this “unmissable event” traveled through the fan community and even onto video game news sites:

The event ended in disappointment, though. The only things announced were a port of an existing game and an assortment of series merchandise. So what happened to it being unmissable?

Basically, the translator wasn’t familiar with Japanese promotional language. There are a bunch of stock phrases in Japanese entertainment promotion that don’t actually mean much, and don’t literally mean what they say – that’s how advertisements work, after all. But inexperienced translators sometimes do translate these phrases literally. And minogasenai is one of those generic promotional phrases.

Anyway, with this in mind, the actual Japanese announcement feels more like: “If you’re a fan, be sure to check it out! We’ll be sharing the very latest Gyakuten Saiban news!”. It’s a very plain and basic invitation, in other words.

Now that I think about it, this whole incident offers another example of how “literal” translations can sometimes break down and lead to unintended interpretations.

6. Ness is Dropped from Super Smash Bros.

In January 2007, Nintendo’s official “Smash Bros. Dojo” site revealed that Lucas from MOTHER 3 would be added as a playable character in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. The announcement also included a reference to Ness, the main character from MOTHER 2/EarthBound.

The official English translation of the announcement stated that “[Ness] has appeared in the Smash Bros. series up until now”:

Fans misinterpreted this “up until now” as news that Ness wouldn’t be playable in this new game. I even recall seeing lots of dark humor fan art about Ness getting axed from the roster.

Eventually, Ness was revealed to be in the game. Looking back, the confusion stemmed from the poor choice of “up until now” in the official translation. The original Japanese wording comes across more like “so far” or “previously”.

Incidentally, the Super Smash Bros. community runs into mistranslated news so often that one site, Source Gaming, has an entire section dedicated to setting the record straight. It’s aptly named “Sakurai Didn’t Say That”.

7. Tri Force Heroes Details

In September 2015, the official Japanese Zelda Twitter account shared some details about the upcoming Tri Force Heroes game:

English information was sparse at the time, so an eager fan translated these tweets and summarized them for Zelda Dungeon, a major Zelda series fan site and news resource:

Basically, almost everything is wrong in these translations. “Curl King” is called “Carl King”. But Carl King is somehow no longer the king – he’s now the buff army guy instead. Somehow Link also has dialogue in these tweets, even though he doesn’t really. And Link’s allegiance to the king (who isn’t Carl King) is supposedly even greater than that of Carl King (who isn’t the king). What a mess.

This particular news translation didn’t really get picked up by anyone else or go viral, but it’s an example of the same phenomenon on a much smaller scale. These next examples follow that same pattern.

8. Pokémon Black 2 / White 2 Release Date

In this smaller example, overeager fans without Japanese language ability mistranslated the release announcement for Pokémon Black 2 and Pokémon White 2. This led to the belief that the games were planned for release on June 2, 2012:

As we can see, other fans stepped in to explain that the translation was wrong and why. I don’t know how widespread this mistranslation got, but this post was actually what inspired me to research this topic in the first place. Incidentally, the Japanese games were actually released on June 23.

9. MOTHER 3’s Tagline

In February 2006, the Japanese tagline for MOTHER 3 was revealed:

This came right off the heels of the game’s first official announcement, so fans were incredibly excited at the time. One fan immediately jumped at the opportunity to translate this into English for everyone:

"It's both strange and interesting, PLUS it won't even cut you! Welcome to the world of Mother 3"

How did this even happen? It’s simple: the word せつない (setsunai, "sad and painful, heartrending sorrow") can also be written as 切ない. To someone who knows only very basic Japanese, 切ない looks like the negative form of 切る (kiru), which means “to cut”.

This mistranslation remained a funny quote in the community for a while. It even generated silly MS Paint drawings:

Spoiler alert: someone does get cut

Anyway, a more proper translation of this slogan is something like “Strange, Funny, and Heartrending”.

Final Thoughts

You might not consciously think about it, but translation is all about trust: the translator essentially says “this is what this foreign stuff says, you can believe me” while the reader responds with “I can’t speak that language so I’ll have to believe you”. But, as we’ve seen in the gaming examples above, that trust can easily be broken by amateurs and professionals alike.

I guess the key thing to take away from all of this is to consider who you’re putting your trust in when you read a translation. If something feels off about a translation, it’s okay to put a mental asterisk above it that says “this might not be accurate”.

Anyway, we’ve looked at a handful of examples of gaming news mistranslations in this article, but I’m sure there have been many more over the years. If you know of any other noteworthy examples, let me know – I’d like to add more to this list over time!


If you liked this article and want to learn more about translation, translation theory, and stuff like that, check out these articles too. Or if you just want to see a bunch of funny translation stuff, see here!

30 Comments
  1. This is minor, but the second tweet of Taura Takahisa is kinda poorly translated
    「中々真意は伝わりにくいものですね」is translated to “the real intention is the one that is hard to transmit inside” (along with a few random “it”).
    I’m gonna assume that the one who translated the tweet thought 中々 meant “inside”, when it should have been something like “quite” or “rather”. Which to me indicates that they are not very familiar with the language.
    Anyhow, it, in a way, kinda proves your point of how translations should always be taken with a grain of salt.
    Great post. I really enjoy reading about these findings. Keep it up ^^b!

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  2. The instant I saw the headline of this article, I knew *EXACTLY* what had inspired it. 😛 At least I had the good sense to ask you about the translation on the same day. ^_^ Thanks for another entertaining article.

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    1. Although, I should add, I will be hesitant to ever use NintendoSoup’s translations for one of our articles again.

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  3. I’m not sure the persona bit belongs here. It has nothing to do with transltion; a guy simply misheard some lyrics.

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    1. It belongs here inasmuch as it was a media reaction based on a language-based misunderstanding.

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  4. Here’s a mistranslation (or biased translation?) assumed to be accurate for years, spawning a meme in the DK Vine fandom. The director of Donkey Kong Jungle Beat allegedly claiming “all the characters outside of Donkey Kong and the banana” “weren’t fresh enough” to be put in the game.

    https://www.dkvine.com/?p=news_body&post=5945

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  5. I’m not personally familiar with this one, but wouldn’t the whole “nakama” debacle fit very much under here? My understanding is that one translation group started pushing the narrative that it was a word with no translation that was somehow distinctive to One Piece, where it’s actually a common word that can be translated as “comrade” or “companion” or something like that. Nonetheless, “nakama” ends up getting a special meaning in the One Piece fandom as a result.

    Another interesting thing is that we’re very aware of translation, at least nowadays. So you get issues where people who have no ability to understand the original are trying to evaluate the translation based on the translation alone. This is especially hard when the writing is bad to start with or doesn’t make any sense, because that makes it seem like the translators don’t know what they’re talking about if they retain those qualities; the issue has even been known to come up when translating Donald Trump.

    https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jun/06/trump-translation-interpreters

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    1. Well, that’s not “game news”, but it sounds like it could be an interesting thing to look at if Mato’s into it.

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    2. I wish that One Piece translation team had never opened their mouth holes about their deluded interpretation of a word that has always had a clear meaning. Idiots. Thanks to them, the subs only dimwit crowd insist nakama is a “special word that cannot be defined”.

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  6. WaywardChronicler

    Insightful as always, Mato!
    I’ve got a question about point #5 though: when do you determine the buzz word would be taken too seriously?
    Marketing phrases always tend to over exaggerate; is it not a bit too presumptuous to change one just because it is more common as an exaggeration in one culture?

    I know this sounds like shady business/helping the evil corp, but would we not also feel shortchanged if our promotional tagline got changed into something that sounds weaker?
    (I understand your concerns regarding the misinterpretation, but I am more inclined toward the belief that people should always take anything commercial with a grain of salt…I’m blaming the victims here, aren’t I? dammit)

    I’m asking this as someone who had translated similar phrases literally while knowing it is a form of marketing lingo…may be I’ll default these into stuff like “Don’t miss it!” in the future, just to keep it in the middle.

    P.S. Would it have been better if the [見逃せない] were incorporated in the form of [Can’t miss this one!] or something similar? As in, does choosing the less serious form of [unmissable] resolve the issue also?

    Reply
    1. Yeah, I definitely wouldn’t suggest changing a tagline or anything, that’s certainly a different topic altogether. But when it comes to generic promo/announcement text, context is important as always. The quickest explanation is to think of things like 見逃せない as promotional idioms. You *can* translate them literally, but they don’t always literally mean what they say, and doing so can cause misunderstandings as seen here.

      Actually, “don’t miss it” is indeed an acceptable, proper way to translate it and I wouldn’t call it a middle ground at all. It’s precisely the idea being conveyed and fits the tone being conveyed. But more literal choices like “you can’t afford to miss it” and “unmissable” give it a very different tone than what was intended. Hopefully that makes sense?

      Similarly, you’ve probably already encountered things like 絶賛発売中, which functionally doesn’t actually mean much more than “on sale now!”. It’s just a standard way of hyping things up, but if you translate it literally, you risk giving the translation audience the wrong, unintended impression. (I’ve actually seen this happen with this very phrase more than once)

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      1. WaywardChronicler

        Thanks for the reply, sensei-sama! (sorry, it’s a thing from a book recounting a Japanese teacher’s experience teaching foreigners)

        Now that you mentioned 絶賛発売中, you just exposed my hypocritical mind; I usually glance at 好評発売中 and be like “Yeah…that 好評’s just gonna clutter up the finisher and make it less energetic, no can do!”

        I supposed was just a bit petty/paranoid when you used “be sure to” as an example. Looking back, I might have been fine if “must” were used instead, and that is only because I place “be sure to check it out” lover than “must check it out”, and “must” interchangeable with “don’t miss it” in my mind.

        And, absolutely, “unmissable” is like adding an extra ‘afford to’ to the gentler “Can’t miss it!” sales pitch; the tonal gradient is much clearer now with your examples plus your opinion on “Don’t miss it”!
        (Sure hope I’ve never actually used unmissable when I tried to stick to my personal code; surely it looks too non-casual and I opted for “Can’t miss” and the like…)

        I also admittedly think many English localization still take too many liberties and often make decisions that seem presumptuous (if not arrogant) to me.
        I AM outside the demographic since I’m Thai. There’s also the fact that the media I’m being fussy over is meant for entertainment, so, at the end of the day, whatever more entertaining to the major audiences wins. (But that is also why I wanna push fans more toward the middle ground so bad…)
        Lastly, I’m just a freelancer who struggle to work faster, and the people I criticize are the professional shouldering a gigantic project, likely with way more experience in the art, too.

        Apologies for regressing into griping; should have use the time working on my goals instead, eh?

        Really, thank you, for everything!

        Reply
  7. “You might not consciously think about it, but translation is all about trust: the translator essentially says “this is what this foreign stuff says, you can believe me” while the reader responds with “I can’t speak that language so I’ll have to believe you”. But, as we’ve seen in the gaming examples above, that trust can easily be broken by amateurs and professionals alike.”

    I’ve been noticing this sort of thing on this site a lot over the years. Back in the early days of fan translations, “The Japanese Version” was this big, mysterious thing we knew so precious little about, so it was easy to believe any sort of rumors that malevolent localization teams cut all manner of things from games (not helping matters was the fact that on rare occasions, this *did happen*; see the removal of the Snow Queen quest from the English version of the first Persona), and censored the games like crazy (which would’ve been more on NoA than the localization team, but details).

    The result was that a lot of people were completely ready to believe that fan translations/re-translations were *the* definitive version of the game; how they were actually *supposed* to be, and “what *they* didn’t want us to see”, when as Mato has shown us time and again, this… absolutely was not the case. That recent Tales of Phantasia article, the comparisons with Sky Render’s FF6 “retranslation” and J2e’s FF4 “translation”… It still surprises me how much those missed the mark. Have I mentioned before how much I love this site? 😛

    (And then there was the polar opposite, in which some fan translations saw *no* “localization” whatsoever, being *completely* literal translations, and were, as such, extremely dry and stilted… but that’s a subject for another day.)

    Thankfully, we seem to be *mostly* past this, but as at least one infamous translation group proves, some fan translators still can’t help but try to make games “their own” via self-inserts, pop culture references, profanity/vulgarity, etc. Can’t win ’em all, I guess.

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    1. And then you even have official translations that are accurate to the point of dryness that miss the implications like the new Eva “I like you” one. There’s nothing wrong with the actual translation, but the implication is meant to be a bit vaguer.

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      1. WaywardChronicler

        Hey; pardon me for latching on to you, but I really want your opinion.

        Do you think “I adore you.” would have worked, as non-standard in the modern world setting as it is?

        I’ve been trying to come up with something, but this particular kind of vagueness just keep boiling down to “you just gotta risk sounding weaker or doubling down a tad too hard”…The fact that people know which one it is likely to be/prefer one over the other for this particular pair is also clouding the dilemma as well.

        Plus, the dilemma is particularly deadly in English; people in my country are more or less fine with “like” since we kinda accept the “you kids don’t actually know the weight of ‘love’ and should not dare speak of it/using ‘love’ will just sound cheesy or corny” ideology in these [suki] situations (and also that [daisuki]), though there are certainly times people decide to amp it up…Kaworu’s case might get the ‘like’ treatment here though, considering it’s not the usual climactic-confession-scene despite its actual impact.
        (I confess I’ve never watched any Evangelion directly and the representation in SRW games definitely lack other atmospheric elements.)

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    2. WaywardChronicler

      As for me, an outsider, there’s also the “Can’t win’em all” of people now almost zealously trust in the English localization.

      What you said is very much true, however, that we have just moved past the blind faith over fan-translations; I hope we get to the middle ground soon…as subjective as these matters are.

      Reply
  8. The n00b Avenger

    There was a case back in 2014 where the president of Nippon Ichi Software made a joke about how if Disgaea 5 doesn’t sell to expectations they would go out of business which got picked up as serious news and some websites started spelling doom and gloom.

    I remember looking up the original text and being like “Yeah, that’s definitely an obvious joke” but that was like 5 years ago so probably harder to find now. Kind of relevant since recent news has people spelling doom and gloom for them again because of their recent smartphone game failure.

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  9. If it makes any sense, I didn’t think that Persona think was much of a story *until* the response. Basically, some guy misheard a lyric, and Nintendo’s official response was “nuh-uh, Altus said so.”

    Feels like it would’ve been a perfect time to say, I dunno, “oh, here’s the actual lyric”, but I guess there’s a reason they didn’t?

    Reply
    1. From what I recall, that specific part of the song is ad-libbed every time it’s sung. So the official lyrics don’t include that part because there are no lyrics for it. I don’t remember Nintendo or Atlus ever formally confirming that was the case, which might have helped, although the ‘controversy’ was rather short-lived as it was.

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  10. This was way interesting, any chance it could become a regular feature akin to the Localization Round-ups? It’s cool seeing some of the nuance from real life that you don’t get in textbooks and the like, and I’m a sucker for semantic ambiguity in any form. I’d really love to see more of this.

    Apropos of nothing: do you transliterate your handle as 「トマト」 or the more American-sounding, less visually-appealing 「トメート」? Or do you even ever go by “Tomato” in any context in which it would be written in Japanese?

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    1. Do you mean articles that talk about mistranslations in game news? Or mistranslations in other stuff?

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      1. I meant game news specifically.

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  11. I never did quite get if the initial reports of Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes as a ‘indie game minigame collection’ was a result of mistranslation specifically, or just of Grasshopper/Suda being weird and evasive with their marketing/in interviews. Bit hard to track down to any specific article or tweet though.

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    1. I’ve heard that Suda can speak oddly in a way that makes him difficult to translate. If I recall, there was a live translated presentation where Travis Strikes Again was first confirmed, and the translator went silent during much of Suda’s portion, presumably because it was difficult to parse through.

      Reply
  12. I don’t really see what’s so wrong with translating ファンなら見逃せない as something like “Fans, you can’t miss out on this!” or something along those words. Yeah, journalists writing headlines about how “marketers suggest fans should watch something” and acting like this is a big deal is dumb, but it’s not like this is some weird Japanese-ism you don’t find in other language that can’t be translated literally without readers getting the wrong idea.

    I’ve translated similar blurbs fairly literally tons of times, and I never got the impression anyone thought that just because a blurb says “we’re going to have not just one, but TWO D-list comedians you’ve never heard of commenting on some funny video clips with the hosts! You can’t miss Celebrities Comment On Funny Videos this week!” it means they’ll miss out on something special if they don’t watch. It’s just generic marketing speech of the kind you find in every language.

    Reply
    1. Right, so I hadn’t read the comment section yet and saw you had already replied to a similar comment.

      But yeah, I don’t think this is an issue of overly literal translation, or of 見逃せない being some sort of crazy untranslatable word, just of a translator with poor English whose weird wording resulted in readers not getting what he was trying to say. At the end of the day, the only difference between “This is unmissable” and “You can’t miss this” is that the former sounds really weird, as if it was written by a marketer with a poor grasp of English trying to recall how you worded a standard phrase in English. It has nothing to do with this particular phrase, just with a clumsily worded translation making people attach undue importance to some bog-standard marketing lingo.

      Because this entire debacle WAS ultimately about journalists and fans screaming “Oh my God Capcom are saying fans mustn’t miss their upcoming panel! It’s incredibly rare for marketers to make such claims, so this is definitely going to be huge”, and they should’ve probably taken a second to realize exactly what they were saying and come to the conclusion that maybe the translator just worded his translation a bit weirdly.

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      1. Agreed about the over-credulity of the readers, it’s a particular vulnerability of the young and hopeful. We all thought for *sure* there was some way to bring Aeris [sic] back to life, once upon a 1997, simply because someone somewhere decided to say it was so.

        While the phrasing in question here is marketspeak and the whole episode wasn’t reeeeeally that important or impactful (even the word “debacle” might be overselling it), it still speaks to the point that translation requires extreme care to avoid misunderstandings such as this.

        To my admittedly inexperienced eye, it reads like someone translating the written copy without paying enough attention to the intention of the communication. Missing the “content” forest for the “structure trees”, in a sense.

        As you said, this came down to weird word choice. The expression was intended to be idiomatic, but idioms rely on specific words and wording to signal the reader/listener that the language used is figurative. Compare “He purchased some rural real estate” with “he bought the farm”. Both sentences might have the same literal meaning, but only one of those dudes is dead. A non-native English speaker encountering this expression in a story might be forgiven for wondering why one character decided to disappear from the rest of the narrative in order to raise chickens.

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        1. I had never heard of this incident before reading this article, so I’m not really sure how much it got blown up, I’m just going off Mato’s screencaps of article headlines here.

          >To my admittedly inexperienced eye, it reads like someone translating the written copy without paying enough attention to the intention of the communication.
          If I were to guess, I’d say the translation was done by a native Japanese speaker that just wasn’t sure how this particular phrase was worded in English, thus going with the stilted and weird “unmissable panel” over the natural-sounding “panel you can’t miss”. It doesn’t sound like something an actual English speaker would write.

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          1. I did a search to try to find the source of “unmissable”, but everyone seems to poorly list their sources, so it’s hard to tell where it came from for sure, but this is as far as the trail seems to go: https://www.forums.court-records.net/viewtopic.php?f=31&t=32908 It looks like a couple weeks later someone else on the forum criticized the translation choice: https://forums.court-records.net/viewtopic.php?p=1427890

            While looking for the quote source, I searched for “gyakuten unmissible” and I was surprised at just how much buzz this misundertanding generated.

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            1. That OP post in the first thread there reads like the OP is just quoting a translation he found elsewhere, so yeah, I don’t think that’s the original source either.

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