When the Japanese animated TV series Samurai Champloo (26 episodes, May 20, 2004 to March 19, 2005) first appeared, most anime fans, both in America and in Japan, said, “That’s an obvious misspelling. They mean ‘Samurai Shampoo’, whatever that’s about.”
Nope. It was quickly explained by producer Mangrove that “champloo” is an Okinawan popular local stir-fry dish consisting of whatever ingredients are available to be thrown into it. Samuri Champloo, a gonzo samurai adventure-comedy set in 17th century Japan with a hip-hop music score and such anachronisms as a six-shooter, American-style baseball, and Japanese bandits acting like Chicago gangsters, clearly threw “everything” into the stories. (Samurai Champloo was not the first TV anime to do this, but it was the first to do it in a “serious” rather than a slapstick format. See Charles Brubaker’s comments about the 1967 Pyun Pyun Maru in his April 16th column.)
So that translation was accurate – rather, it did not need one. But what about other translations and transliterations? There have been some weird ones over the years.
One of the most popular of the early bootleg video tapes was Tokyo Movie Shinsha’s 1978 Lupin III animated feature. It was feature-length with theatrical-quality animation, and fandom got a tape of an English dub made for Japan Air Lines’ in-flight movies, so the fans did not need to guess at untranslated dialogue. The main villain was the Frenchman Mamo, and his henchman was the hulking Flinch. To distinguish it from episodes of the Lupin III TV series, the C/FO’s Mark Merlino referred to it as Lupin III: The Mystery of Mamo.
This went on for over ten years. Articles and reviews were written in anime fandom about the Lupin III TV series and Lupin III: The Mystery of Mamo. (Also Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro, but that was clearly the Japanese title of the second movie.) In 1991, when I went to work at Streamline Pictures and I was asked for some fan-favorite anime that Streamline might license to release to the public, Lupin III: The Mystery of Mamo was among my first recommendations. TMS agreed, but for copyright reasons their American dub was not available. Streamline would have to redub it.
No problem, but when we got TMS’ translation of the script, Mamo’s name was spelled “Mamoux”, and his henchman was Frenchy, not Flinch. Well, they were Frenchmen in gay Paree. The question was, should we keep the inaccurate American fannish spellings in our credits, or use the correct spellings and “tell the fans that they had been wrong for over ten years”? We opted to go with the established American spellings, partly because Streamline was already getting enough complaints from the fans about “inaccurate” translations – we knew that there would be screams that Streamline was changing the names of the characters. (When Streamline’s license expired, TMS resold it as Lupin III: The Secret of Mamo. So the “Mamo” spelling has been kept.)
Actually, translating the title of the second Lupin III feature was not so straightforward. The Japanese title is Lupin III: Cagliostro no Shiro, which is literally Lupin III: Cagliostro of Castle. So which would be better in English; Cagliostro Castle, Cagliostro’s Castle, or The Castle of Cagliostro? It was my argument that The Castle of Cagliostro sounded the most sinister. Cagliostro Castle is just a castle’s name, like Windsor Castle, but the Castle of Cagliostro emphasizes that it is the evil Count’s lair!
I have said before, but I don’t think here, that one of my jobs at Streamline Pictures was to check the pidgin-English translation that the Japanese licensees sent us when we acquired a new title, and correct it if necessary. This was usually straightforward enough, but once in 1992 I got into a big argument with Carl Macek, Streamline’s boss, which I lost. We had just licensed an arty OAV titled Manie-Manie that consisted of three stories: a horror-fantasy directed by Taro Rin about a little girl and her cat being invited to a creepy circus; a futuristic super-fast racing-car drama directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri ; and a sardonic comedy directed by Katsuhiro Otomo about a Japanese salaryman who is sent to a South American jungle site where an army of robotic construction workers are building a new city, with instructions to stop production. Manie-Manie was meaningless, so we retitled it Neo-Tokyo. The first and third of the tryptich were “Labyrinth” and “The Order to Stop Construction”, which were fine, but the Japanese notes said that the middle segment was “The Running Man”. I argued that the correct title was “The Racing Man”, since it was about a racing-car driver. But Carl overruled me and said that the difference was so minor that we should stick with what we had been told.
Many American fans turned out to be “more Japanese than the Japanese” regarding translation correctness. Anime fandom began in Japan at about the same time it began in America. Starting about 1978, Japanese publishers led by Tokuma Shoten (publisher of Animage, the first monthly serious magazine devoted to anime) began publishing books with extensive information on individual TV and theatrical anime productions. American fans bought imported copies that they couldn’t read, just for the illustrations. (I remember the manager of Books Nippan in downtown Los Angeles complaining to me that young Anglo anime fans had started buying all of their anime books and magazines, leaving none for their regular Japanese customers. We cheered when Books Nippan’s head office in Tokyo replaced him with a new L.A. manager who ordered increased quantities and additional anime titles.)
Due to the Japanese penchant for throwing English phrases into all the Japanese text, even if it was broken English, the American fans soon became familiar with two of them: Roman Album and Perfect Collection. The Roman Album volumes were all published by Tokuma. “Roman” had nothing to do with the historic civilization in Italy; it was taken from the widespread European word for “romance”, meaning fiction. The first Roman Album was on Space Battleship Yamato in 1978, and Tokuma is still publishing Roman Albums on current TV anime series today. Perfect Collection was a more generic phrase. Many publishers published Perfect Collections, and there were video collections of a series’ episodes as well as books. One of the most prolific was Keibunsha’s long-running series of pocket encyclopedias on animals, sports stars, airplanes — just about everything, with a new, updated edition every year throughout the 1980s. The Complete Animation Encyclopedia was volume 76 of Keibunsha’s Complete —– Encyclopedia series.
But the actual Japanese title was Zen —– Daihyakka; vol. 76 was Zen Anime Daihyakka. And if you look up a translation of “zen”, most dictionaries agree that it means “perfect; complete”. Obviously in this case, the Japanese publishers should have been using the second definition; these were Complete Collections, not Perfect Collections. But you couldn’t tell the American fans! Perfect Collection it clearly said in English, so Perfect Collections they are. Today after almost forty years, Roman Album and Perfect Collection are more widespread than ever; especially for new American productions. An American-produced 50th anniversary of Godzilla boxed set of all of the Godzilla movie music was a “soundtrack perfect collection”. When award-winning cartoonist Shaenon Garrity publicized a Kickstarter campaign in 2011 to raise $10,000 to publish her Internet comic strip in a printed collection, she announced it as Narbonic: The Perfect Collection. (She got $27,226.)
Ah, the notorious L and R confusion. Is the creator of Space Pirate Captain Harlock and Galaxy Express 999 Leiji Matsumoto or Reiji Matsumoto? His name can be transliterated either way, and it didn’t help that he thought it was funny to keep the American fans jumping by changing it back & forth. Finally one of his publishers told him to pick one or the other and stick with it, and he chose Leiji. But there are still arguments over whether the English spelling of his popular space pirate should be Harlock or Herlock. And I have already told about the four-way arguing among early anime fans over whether to spell his main enemy’s name Laflesia or Lafresia or Raflesia or Rafresia, until it was discovered that Matsumoto had named her after the giant flower Rafflesia.
There is equal confusion over B and V. American fans chuckled when the Japanese studio Jin Productions was commissioned in 1982 to create an animated copy of Gerry Anderson’s British “Supermarionation” TV series Thunderbirds. The result: TechnoVoyager, the Scientific Rescue Team. The Japanese had also tried for an allusion between Voyager and the mostly Boy team. It was good enough that after its Japanese TV run, it was dubbed into English by Thunderbirds’ producer and shown on British TV as Thunderbirds 2086.
One translation that I am glad I didn’t have to worry about was Nippon Animation’s 1981-’82 Wanwan Sanjushi (literally Arf Arf Three Musketeers); an adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers with a funny-animal cast, mostly dogs. This was actually commissioned from Nippon Animation by BRB Internacional in Spain for broadcast on Spanish TV; it was shown in Japan just because it was available. The Spanish title was D’artacan y los Tres Mosqueperros; a Spanish pun combining the Spanish words for musketeers and dogs; mosqueteros and perros. How do you translate “mosqueperros” into English? This is not a theoretical question; the BBC licensed it for broadcast in Britain in 1985. How did the BBC translate the title? Literally, as Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds. It sounds awfully clunky in English, but I could not have done any better. It was so popular in Spain that BRB Internacional commissioned Nippon Animation to make another funny-animal adaptation of a French literary classic, Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days. In 1989 BRB commissioned an original sequel to The Three Musketeers, but from the Taiwanese animation studio Wang Film Production, not Nippon Animation. BRB claims that Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds has played in more than a hundred countries in more than thirty different languages, and that a Dogtanian 3-D CGI feature is coming in 2014.
One suspects that many obvious errors have been caused by Japanese mistransliterations of English words that the American video licensees that were not as careful as we were at Streamline Pictures didn’t catch. Some examples: Lain’s friend, “Arisu” (as in Wonderland) Mizuki, in Serial Experiments Lain. Arisu Fujisaki is also the name of a supporting character in Clamp’s Angelic Layer. However, it could be argued that both are cases of popular English names given to Japanese girls, who would pronounce them in the Japanese way. Character names in Sol Bianca: the Legacy like Mayo and Jun that are clearly based on the months of the calendar. Genesis of Aquarion episode 9, “The Path of Dreams”, is about children having their dreams stolen; the character Jun here should probably be Jung. In Galaxy Express 999, episode 7, “The Graveyard at the Bottom of Gravity, part 1”, the 999 sinks into the “Salgaso” (Sargasso) Sea of Space.
It should be noted that many of these anime titles’ American licenses have expired, and they have been relicensed and retranslated by the new licensees, who may have caught and corrected the errors. So these errors may not exist in all versions, just like the first Lupin III movie has been called both The Mystery of Mamo and The Secret of Mamo.
Kosuke Fujishima’s very popular manga Aa! Megami-sama has been published in English as Oh! My Goddess. The anime adaptation of it has been translated as Ah! My Goddess. (Fujishima says that Oh! is correct.) This has been going on since the 1980s.
One that nobody ever did figure out was in the Dirty Pair series; 26 TV episodes, July – December 1985 plus two OAVs, a theatrical feature, and a second TV series later in the 1980s. Kei and Yuri were two troubleshooters for the WWWA (World Welfare Works Association) in the 22nd century, working under Chief Gooley. This was a fan favorite right from the start, so by the time Streamline Pictures licensed the OAVs in 1992-’93, “everybody” knew the names of all the characters. One day we were talking with someone from Nippon Sunrise, the animation Studio that had produced Dirty Pair, and I asked why they had picked Gooley as the name of the DP’s boss? It was not a common family name in America or England. “Oh, but we named him after a famous American actor!” Huh? “Yes, he was the star in ‘The Music Man’!” Robert Goulet. When did he get the full name of “Andrew Francis Gooley” that’s on the Dirty Pair Wiki today?
One series that probably cannot be translated literally is Go Nagai’s horror-comedy Dororon Enma-kun, roughly equivalent to Harvey Comics’ Hot Stuff, about the adventures of a child demon, Li’l Enma (the Prince of Hell, actually; he’s Satan’s young nephew) in NYC or Tokyo or some generic human metropolis. I tried translating it as “Abracadabra! Enma-kun”, but Nagai said, “No. He doesn’t say a magic word when he casts a spell. ‘Dororon’ is the sound of the magic working.” Er – is there an English word for that? This 1973 Toei TV anime is unsold in America, and the American release of a later OAV sequel cops out by calling it Demon Prince Enma.
And so it goes. I would like to thank Gilles Poitras for reminding me of a few of these that I had forgotten. In GunBuster, the name on the side of Noriko’s father’s spaceship varies between “Luxion” and “Lukyushiyon”. There are lots of them!