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Friday, October 28, 2011

Titles: To Translate Or Not To Translate?

On the left: Rurouni Kenshin: Tsuiokuhen.
On the right: Samurai X - Trust & Betrayal.
The difference? None.
These are just one of the things I think about when I think about how I can find media titled Fushigi Yuuji in stores but not media titled Natsume Yuujinchou. This post is for anyone who has ever gotten into an Internet argument with a fellow otaku over the fact that Bandai 'refuses' to sell your favorite series under the title Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu (or, even more obnoxiously, 宮ハルヒの憂鬱).

You are an average consumer with an interest in anime, walking through the aisles of your local DVD store looking for some series to pick up and give a try. Which titles are more likely to peak your interest - Seto no Hanayome or My Bride Is A Mermaid? Mahou Shoujo Tai Arusu or Tweeny Witches? Rurouni Kenshin: Tsuiokuhen or Samurai X: Trust And Betrayal? This is a problem that confronts companies like Funimation and Media Blasters on a regular basis, as well as manga companies like Viz Media and Vertical, and it all boils down to one question: do you translate the title or not?

In most cases, it's all about marketing. If you are an anime company, you probably aren't trying to sell exclusively for the niche market or the hardcore fans who probably watched the series via fansubs and are used to the original Japanese title. No, you would be selling to reach a much broader audience, which means selling media with titles that are much more reachable to a modern audience of casual fans, as casual fans seem to make up such a good percentage of buyers these days.

Which explains why titles like My Bride Is A Mermaid and Samurai X for the most part are chosen over their Japanese counterparts; they're easier to pronounce and are more telling of the series' content. (although in Samurai X's case, the series was marketed with both titles - Samurai X and Rurouni Kenshin - making it a rare exception). Samurai X? It's about a samurai - and he has an X-shaped scar on his cheek. Tweeny Witches? It's a series about young girls who use magic. My Bride Is A Mermaid? Oh come on, take a good guess.

Yes, a lot of them are ridiculous. Especially Tweeny Witches. But they get to the point and give people browsing at the DVD section of their local Best Buy a little more to work on than Mahou Shoujo Tai Arusu, which doesn't tell you squat unless you know Japanese or enough to know it's a magical girl show, although even that doesn't tell you much - hell, Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica anyone? Certainly not your typical magical girl program.

But there are occasions when companies will keep the original title and not bother translating it. Fushigi Yuugi, for one, although it is usually accompanied by the byline/translation of Mysterious Game. Ikki Tousen is another (despite Tokyopop's best efforts to have it better known as Battle Vixens). Puella Magi/Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica and Gakuen Alice are two more notable examples, as well as any OVA that ends in 'Gaiden'.

What makes them different? They tend to either be niche titles better known by their Japanese or titles so popular that they don't need translation to get noticed. This is especially right for Fushigi Yuugi, which is one of those titles even casual otaku just know, probably because the series was one of my more formative fantasy shoujo series to be released in the United States in the past twenty or so years. TAMAHOME! MIAKA! TAMAHOOOMEEEEEE! Err, I think we get it.

So: are there any titles you think should have been translated or left alone - but weren't? Any title translations that blow your mind from how mind numbingly weird they are? One thing is for sure: I will never take Samurai X seriously as a title for an early nineties anime series. Really. It sounds like it should have been airing opposite Voltron and Astro Boy on Saturday morning. But that's just me.