Today on the blog, we have an editor’s corner from Amber!
Hello hello! I’m Amber, localization editor for Hashihime of the Old Book Town, and I’m here today to tell you a little bit about how we approached the culture and vocabulary in this game—what you could call the guts of the story (…too soon?).
When I was first asked to work on Hashihime, I was told it was a “shorter” visual novel and that it likely wouldn’t take very long to finish. Under the impression that this was going to be an easy job, I opened our documents and the game and got started.
And that was the end of my normal life. I am not joking when I say that I now have a noticeable white streak in my hair!
If you ask translators and editors what they find most difficult in their jobs, you’ll most likely get more than a few who tell you, in no particular order:
- Cultural references that aren’t easily explained or adapted to the target language.
- Patterns of speech that don’t carry over to the target language. These are often personal pronouns.
When I got started on Hashihime I found, to my dismay, that this game not only hit each of those, but it did it in spades, and in a way that couldn’t get a tidy style guide for how to adapt certain aspects.
Taking place in 1920s Japan, after the huge Westernization push of the Meiji era, Hashihime still maintains its rich Japanese culture, and in a way that isn’t easily glossed over for localization. As we worked, we quickly realized that trying to substitute English terms in for some cultural phrases just wasn’t going to work—for example, some of the characters attend the prestigious Tokyo Imperial University, the students of which are colloquially called “teidaisei” (short for Teikoku Daigakusei).
Think of it almost like calling someone who goes to Harvard a “Harvardian.” In English, we immediately understand the prestige that the term holds. Unfortunately, however, teidaisei holds no meaning to a Western reader who isn’t familiar with Japanese history and/or language. And while it might be okay to change the term to “that student from the Imperial University” once or twice, Hashihime uses it enough that people bringing up “that student from the Imperial University” so often got really old, really quick. It lacked the snap of the original.
Limiting us further was the fact that this visual novel is voiced. While the reader is free to advance the text as they’d like, it’s awkward to have a translated line be much longer than the spoken Japanese line. It’s why VNs you play (most likely) don’t translate “Itadakimasu!” to “I humbly receive the food I am about to eat!” With a sort of time/space constraint, we couldn’t throw in quick in-line explanations. That was right out.
Real literature and film from the time period (and before) also play a huge part in Hashihime. Some of the titles aren’t available in English, and others are actual Japanese translations and adaptations of English stories—which have been “localized” into Japanese, with character name changes and everything (and you thought only Western companies did it!). This isn’t an uncommon occurrence, and looking through old movies, books, and TV shows that you watched as a kid, you may be surprised to find that they have completely different titles in other countries. The easiest one I can think of is CardCaptors, the English version of Cardcaptor Sakura, although there are many, many others.
So when the characters in Hashihime mention the Japanese name for H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine—The World Eight Hundred Thousand Years Later—we were left with another problem. English speakers may be familiar with the source story, but to simply change the title to The Time Machine would remove an important nod that Hashihime’s writer put in: at one point, a character directly refers to the book in a way that would lose obvious reference to the original work if we simply called it by its original English title.
What could we do? We didn’t want to just provide a supplemental PDF and make the player look away from the game to look up references. Hashihime’s story is truly immersive, and pulling someone out of that world would be doing them and the game a huge disservice. We wanted players to have quick and ready access to concepts they weren’t familiar with so they wouldn’t have to break step with the plot.
The solution we finally arrived at was integrating “pop-up notes.” Programmer Yukino integrated a system into the game that highlights choice words or phrases. If the player wants to know more about them, they simply click on the word for the definition. After their mini-lesson, clicking “X” sends them on their merry way (Is that a term I should even use for this game…?).
But wait! What if you like your words unhighlighted? What if you’re playing Hashihime and you have master’s degrees in film, literature, Japanese culture, psychology, medicine, and Japanese language?
(WARNING: Playing Hashihime may actually make you feel like you’ve earned master’s degrees in all of the above disciplines. Please do not attempt to use said imaginary degrees on job applications.)
Have no fear! There’s even the option to toggle how often you see pop-up notes in the game. If you have an attention span as bad as mine, you can choose to keep the words clickable throughout the entire game; if you’ve got a memory like Minakami’s (GAME REFERENCE), you can set it to highlight only the first time the new term is introduced. And for those masters of all disciplines, you can choose to turn them off entirely.
This doesn’t mean that we didn’t localize anything—far from it! There are terms that we found had English equivalents that got the point across just as well without sacrificing meaning (for instance, Tamamori’s love of puns was carried over into English—something I lost many hours of thought over that I will never get back. Damn you, Tamamori!).
We lovingly went through each word, phrase, title, you name it—and weighed the impact a straight adaptation would have on the game as a whole. Concepts that lost too much in translation got the pop-up treatment, and we hope that what we came up with will enrich your overall gaming experience.
After all, Hashihime is a very thought-provoking game, and we wanted to give you as many things to ponder as we did! We hope you end up loving it just as obsessively as we do.