I know, I know, we've already done Kingdom Hearts--but that was the TokyoPop version, and this is the Yen Press version, so we're counting them separately. Different publishers, different instructions, etc. Before, the idea was to just provide a bare bones translation and let the editors make it sparkle. Or something. Now, the idea was to take what TokyoPop had done and polish it up, then keep going where TokyoPop left off.
The assignment came as a total surprise. It hadn't been announced yet, for one thing, and for another, we had pretty much given up hope of license rescues. On top of that, we only translated one volume of Kingdom Hearts for TokyoPop, so we had no reason to believe that Yen Press would consider us at all even if we had foreseen that they would pick up the KH manga. In fact, if we had translated all of it, there's a possibility that would have worked against us in this age of "all previous manga translations are horribly adapted! they must all be completely redone!"
Fortunately, our boss at Yen Press knew that we're gigantic Disney fans, and that she could trust us to do our best on this assignment. Needless to say, we were ecstatic.
I think I talked about most of the Kingdom Hearts translation processes back when we were first allowed to talk about it, but that was a lot longer ago than it feels like, so I guess I'll talk about it again. The first challenge was re-adapting what TokyoPop had already published. We were specifically instructed not to go crazy with making changes, which is hard, because all translators think that surely their wording is so much better than whatever that hack did before. We had to restrain ourselves a lot, and even so, there's a good chance we changed more than our editor would have liked.
We even changed some of the lines that were taken straight out of the game, and not just because the manga context required some tweaking. In fact, no tweaking was required at all for either of those scenes. ...Okay, so there was a bit of context tweaking in the case of the story about the light and how people started fighting over it etc. etc., just because the manga had visuals and the game didn't (for that part), but we also changed it based on information that becomes clearer later in the game series.
As a side note related to lines taken straight from the game, we were sad to see that some lines had been changed from our own translation, probably by an editor. Most notable was the part where Sora runs into the cloaked figure in their secret place. The cloaked figure tells Sora something like, "You still know so little," which the English version of the game adapted to one of the lines we thought was most memorable: "One who knows nothing can understand nothing." Yeah, the translators were taking liberties there, but it didn't change the attitude of the cloaked figure (which is basically "blah blah Stupid Sora"), and since it was such a memorable line, we kept it as TokyoPop had it, which was exactly the way it was in the game. The final English version of the Yen Press manga had something that we felt sounded a little awkward, probably in the name of accurate translation.
Once we were translating the series from scratch, we had a whole new set of problems--we had to make sure the Disney characters were talking like themselves. ...Actually, that wasn't a new problem. We felt the TokyoPop translation was pretty bland in the character voice department (most notably Tigger--we don't know how it ended up, but we changed a TP "faaabulous" to a more Tiggerish "fabibulous"), so we had been dealing with that all along. I was especially worried about Captain Hook and the Cheshire Cat, because both of those characters were a little bit off, even in the games.
The problem with the Cheshire Cat is that he's a cryptic, mysterious character who knows stuff, and in translations of Japanese material involving the Cheshire Cat, there seems to be a tendency to make him talk all mysterious and formal. And while he does talk mysteriously in the Disney movie, the mystery comes from silliness, nonsense, and deliberate failure to answer a question in its entirety. So we tried to make him sound more casual, but still like himself...and he's just hard to get a grasp on. He's like a ripple.
The Genie was a similar challenge, but from a different angle. Almost everything the Genie says is a joke, so it was very important that we make all his lines (or at least almost all of them) funny. And of course, we couldn't just use what they used in the game, because things happened differently in the manga. We couldn't just translate the Japanese jokes, because of wordplay. So we tried to maintain the spirit of the Japanese jokes, and still make them funny in English. There was one line of his that we came up with, and it made us giggle every time for some reason, but we weren't sure if it would come across and were afraid it would get edited out (especially since it was a liberty). In 358/2 Days, there's a giant sandstorm, and when the Genie gets hit by it, he comments on all the sand. We had him say, "Who ordered the desert to-go?" (as in "for here or to go?") We're happy to report that the line remained intact (minus a hyphen). Check it out in Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days volume 2! On sale now!
Then there was the Xigbar challenge. He's an original Kingdom Hearts character, but he was a challenge in regard to character voice anyway, because! we always hated the way he was translated in the game. We suspect it comes from his habit of ending almost every sentence with "tte hanashi," which they would have wanted a fixed English equivalent to put in whenever he said it. It basically means "it's like," or "so the story goes," or something along those lines. After comparing so much of Xigbar's Japanese and English dialogue, we're pretty sure the term the game translators came up with for it was, "As if." Despite the fact that "as if" is pretty much the opposite of what "tte hanashi" means ("tte hanashi" is an affirmation, "as if" is a denial). We think one of the main translators involved in the KH games likes to translate things to opposites whenever he can get away with it.
Anyway, that being the case, to go with his "as if"s, the game localization team decided to make Xigbar a surfer dude, which, in our mind, does not go with his look AT ALL, but I don't know, maybe the team knows some old surfers. I personally think Demyx fits the surfer dude image much better (he even uses water-based attacks!), but what do I know?
And what that all boils down to is a conflict between wanting to maintain consistency for the fans' sake, and wanting to change Xigbar's speech pattern for our own piece of mind. We did the professional thing and opted for the former, and even managed to work "as if" into the dialogue a few times. (The thing about translating into opposites is that you have to get creative about how to make it work.) We even had Xigbar make a comment about a sand castle. (In Days, he makes a comment about beach volleyball in the English version. We found out about it and there was eye rolling.)
Uh, right, so...I think that covers all the challenges with Kingdom Hearts translation...well, except for the fact that characters like Donald and Goofy tend to use slightly older slang than what we're used to, so we had to be mindful of that. I did hear somebody use the word "fellas" on Burn Notice the other day, though, so maybe it's not a generational thing so much as a regional thing? Or maybe the writers of Burn Notice are Disney fans, too, as indicated by Michael's Irish undercover persona "Michael McBride" (Sean Connery's character in Darby O'Gill and the Little People, which makes it a Disney reference and James Bond reference. Very clever, Burn Notice writers).
Favorite character is...everyone. Pretty much everyone. There's just so much love for this series. Okay, so there are some members of Organization XIII that I don't care about as much. But Sora's the best for being so eager to help everyone, Riku's the best for realizing he made a mistake and doing whatever he can to make up for it, Kairi's the best for being awesome, Roxas is the best for trying so hard to do the right thing when he has absolutely no idea what that is, Axel is the best for being Axel, etc.
Translation difficulty: probably nine. Some volumes have lots of action and all original characters, so those are pretty easy, but the ones that aren't like that...watch out.
Today I'm thankful for our package coming before work today, having two shiny new games that we'll never have time to play (technically three, since one is the Final Fantasy X/X-2 combo pack), having a super cute Ace figurine to decorate our computer desk with, the caramel french toast we made last night turning out pretty well, and still having Girl Scout cookies to look forward to.