Translation is hard and inexact work, and something always gets lost in the process. I’m conscious of this every time I read Greek and Hebrew and have to try to render it in English with my lousy beginner skills, and so I have great respect for those who are fluent in other tongues and translate for a living. (Like the co-host of this blog!) Without them, our culture would be robbed of the treasures of other cultures and times–not the least, of course, being anime and manga from Japan.
Nevertheless, I loathe it when
American licensors turn beautiful original Japanese titles for shows into mush. (EDIT, 5:29 PM: I stand corrected on assuming Funimation wanted the title below. My aesthetic points, though, still stand.)
At least they throw a bone in the small text between the words.
My recent poster child for this is the show now known in the English-speaking world as Rumbling Hearts. Its original Japanese title, Kimi ga Nozumo Eien, is understandably difficult for non-Japanese to remember. But a more literal English translation of this–roughly, The Eternity You Wished For–is not only better sounding, if a tad vague and melodramatic (which befits the show anyway). It conveys the cautionary, living-with-the-consequences-of-your-actions theme that pervades the show.
Rumbling Hearts, by comparison, is aesthetically deficient–the word “rumbling” just doesn’t sound right to me, though it’s better than “trembling” or “quaking”–and, maybe more importantly, it’s even vaguer than the original title to the point of meaninglessness. A heart can “rumble” because it’s sad, or because it’s happy, or because it’s about to have a heart attack. And yes, the lives of the characters are certainly “shaken.” But the show, however, is decidedly about sadness, pain, and betrayal, and how “we may be through the past, but the past ain’t through with us” (Magnolia).
There are more prosaic but bad examples of title changing, too, like changing Rurouni Kenshin to Samurai X (though Kenshin isn’t ever a samurai) or Karin to Chibi Vampire (though Karin isn’t chibi). And even when they’re trying to translate something directly, a lack of aesthetic sensitivity gives rise to monstrosities like calling Mushi-shi Bugmaster at Sundance, giving the impression that it’s some B-monster movie rather then the contemplative show it is. I can understand striking “Laputa” out of Castle in the Sky in a country where many people speak Spanish, though. Japanese titles aren’t sacrosanct; they can be as silly and awful as anything (Kiddy Grade is no way to title an otherwise serious show, especially in the later parts). I’m mostly complaining about bowlderization, when the language is deliberately dumbed down.
Seminarian rant: If anything, it reminds me of a lot of modern translations of the Bible that “explain” the poetic metaphors by making them literal and rendering everything into 5th grade English. In art and good writing you can’t separate form and content so easily; part of what is conveyed is the way it is done. A responsible translation needs to balance understanding and sensitivity to the original tongue, of course, and adjustments made for different audiences. But when in doubt, I think it should err for accuracy. We enjoy the works of other cultures partly because they are different, and thus new and enlightening in that way. Turning things into homogeneous mush detracts from that joy. end rant
Anyways, I’ve said my piece. What do you think? How would you approach a difficult Japanese title (like, say, the recent Utawarerumono) and market it for the English speaking world? Are there any titles out there you think are egregiously bad, or ingenueously translated?