Discussion on Muv-Luv and its Kickstarter for Western localisation

When The King of Braves GaoGaiGar was licensed and localised by Media Blasters, it came out of nowhere. It was one of those things that you didn’t expect to happen due to highly niche audience in the West. It was almost suicidal attempt in terms of business, and ultimately after the first half was released the releases were put on hold. The series didn’t sell well, and when the second half was released, they dropped the English track.

Unlike how the far too many people seem to think, English dubbing and localisation is not about destroying the sanctity of the original product. It is not about disrespect. It is the very opposite. Local language dub, especially English dub in Americas, has two things to go for it. One is that it open the product to a far larger series than previously. For GaoGaiGar, if the series had been released in the late 90’s or early 00’s on TV with dub, it could’ve been relative hit. It is a children’s cartoon, and including a localised language serves this as most kids can’t read subtitles and it often takes then until second grade to be able to read fast enough to follow subtitles. It is also a cultural thing, where the language of the local is preferred. Japanese a funny language in many ways, but more importantly a foreign one that is just as impenetrable as a gray stone wall. The syntax, the vocalisations and everything is so different from English that it would take some learning to get into it.

Second thing is that an English language localisation means the product is deemed valuable enough to have one. The original 1956 and its original English release are good examples where the original product was taken, and then stepped up for the American release. It wasn’t a matter of thinking the product needed tampering or changing. It was because the product was seen as such a good movie that everybody should be able to get into it. Dubbing a new voiceover is incredibly expensive, and not to be done lightly. With low budget voice acting and tight schedule, you will get only bad results and even that takes money. Time is money, literally in this case. Renting a recording studio is very expensive and often a dub can fall short because there simply isn’t any money left to take new takes on the lines.

The American Godzilla is an excellent showcase for an adaptation that adds scenes only to emphasize a new viewpoint character for the new audience and takes nothing away from the core of the movie. The same can’t be said of Robotech, but at its core we are able to see the same thing happening. While purists will see both original American Godzilla and Robotech as butchered pieces, both of these products opened a whole new world to an audience who would absolutely love these. Robotect was a hit with children, and while the current animation fandom seems to hate it due to Harmony Gold’s Macross blocking, the older generation that was there then has the best view how much impact it had. The exact same applies to American Godzilla. It is easy to look at hindsight at these and laugh off them as half-assed attempts at bringing some product to the lowest level to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

This, of course, is bullshit. At its core it’s about language and accessibility, two things that can make or kill a product.

With Muv-Luv and Muv-Luv Alternative getting a Kickstarter in order to aim for official English language release, language becomes something that needs to be balanced carefully. The question whether or not translation team should listen to the fans on what words they like the best is something that should be avoided, the question is how well the they are able to translate and localise the terms and names so that Muv-Luv can become something even more wider audience can enjoy. Luckily, âge has official English translations on most of their more incomprehensible terms. Senjutsuhokousentouki or Senjutsuki is Tactical Surface Fighter. For Eishi we have Surface Pilot, and variants around that. There are numerous other terms and names, and you can check those from Integral Works and other materials for overall Alternative universe for further reference, but as of now Integral Works has one of the better Glossaries on subjects and terms in the series.

Another example of IW giving a direct translation for a term, this time for Senjutsuhokousentouki
Example of Muv-Luv Alternative Integral Works giving a direct translation for a term, here for Senjutsuhokousentouki

What use it would be to release these just for the fans?, some have asked. They do have a point. With the unofficial patch, more people have been enjoying the story in its English form and that release has set certain bars to the fandom and established certain terminology. However, now with official release looming about, things can be done, arguably, correctly to the letter.

Let’s use the Surface Pilot as an example. There are two options; stick with Eishi, and to stick with form of the letter and call it Surface Pilot.

For Eishi it would make sense for a Japanese character to use that term, but not for an American or French. In-universe it has intricate value to it and stands slightly separate from the overall meaning of Surface Pilot. Eishi means more or less a bodyguard, and we can argue that this term stands for all the Japanese pilots that guard the humanity. Thus, it would be logical for the Japanese characters in the franchise to use that term in their speech.

However, that’s where sticking with Surface pilot comes in. As the VNs are not dubbed into English, something that would be absolutely awesome, the translation text is that; a translation of the language. Thus, while the character may be speaking of Eishi, the translation for that particular word, in and out of universe, is Surface Pilot. Surface Pilot is also far more sensible use, as after seeing what a Tactical Surface Fighter is we can immediately see the connection between fighter pilots and surface pilots in terms of profession.

The full title of the Fortified Suit is also Surface Pilot Fortified Suit
The full title of the Fortified Suit is also Surface Pilot Fortified Suit. Notice that the Japanese text describes Eishi as a pilot of a Tactifal Surface Fighter, further giving an indication to the meaning of the Japanes word. There is also a mention of the 8 minutes of death.  Taken from Integral Works p.331

On another hand, that is an issue for a person who is aware of these issues. A personal going straight into the story has no clue of the underlying meanings of the names and terms used. Perhaps the best translation here would be idiomatic, something that conveys the core meaning of Eishi combined with the Surface Pilot. Of course, we can argue that after the term is established in the story, then there’s no problems with it. This doesn’t apply to promotional materials or such, where the term has no weight or carries no meaning without further research.

There is another dimension that the fandom brings with it; the pre-established terminology. I have seen the term pilot used far more than any other. It seems like I among few other people tend to use Surface Pilot, but as a whole simple pilot has become a standard when speaking in context. When a separation between what sort of machine is being used, then we see some using TSF pilot, Surface pilot and so forth. Thus, in English, we can say that pilot is enough in context, and when further accuracy is needed, the prefix TSF or Surface is added. In similar manner in real life we have pilots, a person who flies, pilots or controls a (flying) craft.

It should be noted that âge themselves have also established the terminology in English to a large extent. It’s another issue whether or not fans are aware of these, as most of them are found in Japanese language source books.

What I use is not indicative of what should be used. Neither is it the job of the fans to say how things should be done, thou it has to be said that at this moment 50.4% of the voters have said that they’d prefer using the term Eishi, whole the rest would use an English term or anything that works. It’s down in the middle, and I would argue that the results don’t give too strong result what to use. Yes, the half of the voters would like to use Eishi as the term, but the other half would rather see something else. We’re not going to discuss about who is the best girl or best TSF, because we all know that those are subjective matters.

While the providers are there to provide the consumers, the fans are not only the ones. Muv-Luv has possibility to be a larger hit than just with the fans it already has. However, in the West it are multiple elements that will hold it back.

One is that it is very Japanese and that alone is something that will keep people away from it. A proper, easy to approach translation and localisation drops the bar quite well, as discussed above. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it is a Visual Novel. Visual Novels are a form of entertainment and software that are not really games, but aren’t really books or plays either. They usually need a considerable investment of time, and suffer from the stigmata of being nothing but vessels for porn. The latter isn’t really wrong either, as VNs historically were born from the need to show graphics with as little animation as possible while holding high amount of detail and quality on NEC’s PC line. At some point I read that in the 80’s people who owned PC-88 at their home were seen as dirty people who do nothing but play those porno games on their computers. As such, it understandable for anyone to want to release the All-Ages versions of the VNs. I would do that myself as well in order to maximise the possible customer base.

There’s also the issue of âge’s Engrish. I won’t hold back on any of this and directly say that all of it has to go. All of it. From the opening narration in Alternative, where they find HUMAN BRAINS to the patches saying Valkylies. While I recognize that this is an issue they can’t help to some extent, the fact is that these points just don’t fly when doing a proper translation and localisation. âge is able to modify these to the extent in fixing these, and making the changes should not be too hard or time consuming. However, they are a detail that everyone and their mothers will notice and it needs to be taken into account. The fans will laugh and take them as a nice joke and so forth, but the larger consumer group will only see these bits as large flaws that could have been corrected.

IW p.225; All members of the Valkylies group in as seen in Alternative. The whole L and R thing is known in Japanese and should be corrected in the CGs as well
IW p.225; All members of the Valkylies group in as seen in Alternative. The whole L and R thing is known in Japanese and should be corrected in the CGs as well

With that we come to the point where the fans really need to sit back and watch. Whenever something like this with a strong cult following may have its chance, the community may be a detrimental value. Or rather, the communities. For Muv-Luv there doesn’t exist one large wholesome family of fans, but separate sects. 4chan is a microcosm example of this, with the /m/echa, /a/nime and /jp/ boards having widely different nature of discussion and points of view. When you jump to different site altogether, you get completely different views on what should be and should not be.

With Japanese language we of course have the argument whether or not honorifics should be used. At the baseline, a good translation will not use them, and adding nonsensical words in English makes little to no sense. A person with no knowledge on Japanese will have no idea why the hell people are called senpais or kuns, and there are proper guidelines how to translate these. Some creativity needs to be used to convey the more exotic pet honorifics, but that’s not the largest challenge when it comes to translation.

When Mega Man X8 was being made, CAPCOM wanted the fans to be involved with its development. There were polls, discussion and questions what should and shouldn’t be. I never saw any results in any of it in the final product, but I need to question the validity in there. With Legends 3 a whole new level of transparency was added to the development, but in the end the game was never made and can’t say how much the fans would’ve had to say about the end product outside selected enemy designs and polls for character designs.

There are other examples where things have been less than successful when a provider has directly asked What you want. Tomato sauce Ragu and Pepsi are another examples of this. It is always better to observe and see what the consumer really wants, and more importantly, what they need.

Lastly, the issue of Kickstarter and Steam. Long time readers know my stance on Steam and on Valve’s practices. However, I fully recognize that digital release is the only proper way to get any of âge’s products localised nowadays. GOG version has been said to be on the to-do list, a thing that is greatly welcomed. However, all this discussion may be for nothing if the Kickstarter fails, and Kickstarter is a thing a lot of people simply hate. Some fans have already mentioned how this will be their first Kickstarter. They are willing to support the product, and I find that very heart warming. However, depending on how much money they require for the localisation and release is something that may ultimately doom this. Muv-Luv and Alternative, after all, are products many has already enjoyed and may not be willing to give money for an actual release. Then again, with Kickstarter there is a possibility to offer physical copies of the Visual Novels to those who have funded certain tier. I will be honest with you; if such tier exist, I will be putting money down for it.

This post reflects more or less how I feel about the possibility of getting Muv-Luv release here in the West as an observer and as a fan. There is validity to all sides of arguments I’ve tried to cover here, and I’ve most likely missed a whole lot more. I may spin this off into a separate series of its own and use a new page for future âge related stuff to categorise things better. For some time I’ve been having a feeling for a need to separate fan content from the actual content of the blog, despite the two overlapping each other to a large degree.

I don’t know what the future holds. It’s apparent that âge has recognized the Western, non-Japanese fandom in a way they never have before, and that’s a new page on the history of the franchise. Kimi ga Nozomu Eien was a story that had no growth possibilities, but it still stands their best story. Muv-Luv Alternative on the other hand is all about pontetial growth and expansion. Let’s hope it’ll expand to the West and support that as much as possible.

 As a sidenote, this was supposed to be Music of the Month post, but it got way too long for to be one. We’ll get back to that later on.


One thought on “Discussion on Muv-Luv and its Kickstarter for Western localisation

  1. i don’t mind they using eishi for the original trilogy since the setting is in japan. When the american forces use the word, i just assume it was the suits translator that translated it into the japanese variation for surface fighter. Once they start translating the other countries story though, they should consider switching to surface fighter.

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