American localisation is global

With the recent hubbub NISA’s staff making statements about localisation in a stream and then giving respond statement, maybe it’d be time to open an issue about translation again. NISA doesn’t have a clean track record with their game releases, not by far. From game breaking bugs because of newly inserted text to removed audio all the way to completely inaccurate translations and renaming characters for the sake of memes and jokes, NISA’s translations are pretty much the Funimation of game world. Despite the translators mentioning that they need to localise the jokes to make sense in the culture they are translating them into, they seem to miss the point that NISA’s published games have very much targeted audience and a certain niche that isn’t culturally ignorant. These people don’t consider one bit that the English translation they’re doing will be used globally, not just in the US.

Of course they don’t consider this an issue. No English translator I’ve seen to date outside some small independent fan-translators do. NISA’s staff thinking that they need to localise the work they’re given to translate to be along the lines of the culture the game is being published in is laughable not only because that means they’re taking the original work and modifying its meaning and intention, but also that this culturalisation in the end means end-users have to think the games’ text from the point of view of American culture as these people see it. What passes fitting in the US or has cultural significance most often makes jack shit sense in the rest of the world. The British may speak the same language, but the culture is very much a different beast, and it only grows the more different a language goes. It’s distrusting the audience and considering them low-intelligence if you think you have to take special measures to make game’s localisation culturally fitting. If you’re going to that length, you might as well start calling rice balls jelly doughnuts.

Pokémon cartoon is an example where things were taken the whole way through and not half-assing it. Localising everything about a cartoon isn’t exactly uncommon, especially considering the target audience is children. Further down the line, other countries used the English translation as the basis for their translation, some opting to change English names to local ones. The 4KIDS version of the show was censored for sure, removing instances of violence, profanities removed, Japanese text removed and replaced (something the Japanese show runners became aware down the line and begun using in-world script) as well as banned episodes. 4KIDS localisations can be understood as their shows were for children, and children get special treatment in what they should consume. Certainly this went overboard in some cases, but again, children. Unlike with the games NISA is localising, which are aimed towards a more adult audience, despite some titles having lower age rating.

The audience that consumers games that NISA localises and publishes wants as close and accurate translations as possible without losing well scripted and idiomatic English. The same applies of Visual Novel fans, where the translation is even more important. Some video game fans seemingly take low-tier translations willy nilly, like how Bandai Namco’s Asian English translations begun with absolutely terrible quality, and how most translated Japanese mobile games use terminology that makes no sense.  Games as a standard have always had terrible translations, and NISA isn’t helping any with their takes.

However, understanding English doesn’t mean you understand the culture or its stances. In some cases, Americanisation, ends up being offensive to other cultures that end up having that same translation. Are these countries expected to understand this because the translators decided the Japanese original wasn’t fitting their culture? Should these countries then take the translation and make a new one to fit their own nation’s culture? That happens rather often, if we’re completely fair, but it doesn’t fix the underlying issue with the English translation still. This is surprisingly evident in Quiz games or games with quiz minigames that don’t get re-localised from their US translation. Too many times you come across quizzes that are very America-centric and pick up cultural motifs from there, disregarding most of the world. Mega Man Legends 2‘s quiz minigame is surprisingly good example of properly localised minigame, as it recognised the global release and has more questions about global history than anything specific to the Americas.

The Pokte Village Quiz is fun to do without any cheats because it isn’t stuck to cultural notions. Some questions may be a bit genre specific (like the ones about music), but overall it is surprisingly timeless. Also, the girl on the left was used for Yai(to) in the Battle Network series

This might not be a major issue in the end, but something I can’t see any American translator thinking about. When talking about localising text culturally, nobody has raised this global issue. We don’t have global culture. Even on the Internet, despite the unspoken etiquette there tends to be, it’s site-by-site what sort of culture of action there is. Other websites allow whatever to go free, while others require strict rules of behaviour and action. Even such small things as discussion groups via Skype or Discord have their own cultures, but none of these have one, all-encompassing culture.

With this, it could be argued that leaving the text to be more culturally related to Japan in tone, be it more sexualised for example, would be optimal way to go. It would sidestep most of criticism NISA and other similarly translating companies get, but also would trust that the main audience, which in NISA’s case are people who are already relatively well acquainted with Japanese culture via other forms of media, but also would offer cultural enrichment for the rest of the mainstream consumers who might end up buying their games by happenstance. There should be nothing wrong in being exposed to other cultures and how they function and what their values are. Text might offend, but it doesn’t hurt. It makes business sense to localise and lessen any chances of people being offended, that makes more sales. It rarely hoes hand-in-hand with whatever artistic merit one might want to coin to translations. It’s not like translations should be treated as objective texts to translate rather than a platform to rewrite and insert translator’s own thoughts and ideas over the original author, but that’s exactly what localisation ends up doing. Translators often stand next to a slippery slope, looking down and wonder how small step it takes to become Funimation.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.