Project “Kaguya”

I have a little secret to share: I have this bad habit of giving away the pieces that I most want to translate during an al|together. Not only that, but I always end up giving those pieces away to the same guy, more or less. In 2005, I ceded this lovely piece to AstCd2, and translated this instead; parallel-dimension lesbians everywhere rejoiced. In 2006, I ceded this atypical piece to ... wait for it ... AstCd2, and ended up presiding over this, this, this, this, and (perhaps most memorably) this instead; banchos everywhere rejoiced (Kennedy died of starvation, SUCKAH!). And now, in 2008, I finally thought I'd shaken the habit — but no, here we are, at release day, and I've found that somehow, somewhere along the way, I ceded the right to translate this gorgeous piece to ... well ... you guessed it: AstCd2.

If you haven't figured it out by now, I have great faith in this man's ability to translate and in his dedication to executing down the stretch.

As was the case with previous al|togethers, AstCd2 was the first to check in with me with a completed translation. It was a pleasant enough translation, with the mannerisms and turns of phrase that have become so familiar to me over the years. At the time that he turned in his draft for peer review, it was feature-complete with fully translated graphics and text, but had the following problems:

    Systems Issues

  • Text spacing and pagebreaks were inconsistent, leading to text window overruns and text corruption in certain areas.
  • Music, voice, and sound effect volume manipulation were all decisively broken, leading to general hilarity whenever you played with the in-game mute functions.
  • Background music — all of which was designed for seamless looping — usually did not loop at all; when it did loop, it was hardly seamless.
  • The save/load system had horribly wacky functionality, with screenshots not showing and the wrong music playing (or not playing) sometimes upon loading a file.
  • Attempting to CTRL skip through the credits caused wacky text speedups, completely throwing off the timing of the epilogue component.
  • The musical note animation that is supposed to trigger in soundtrack mode did not display at all.
  • Various amusing topcrashes.

    Translation Issues

  • Myriad typographical errors.
  • Multiple lines were awkwardly translated.
  • Occasional lines were incorrectly translated.
  • Extremely rarely, a line was completely incorrectly translated.
  • The author incorrectly used medical terminology (not AstCd2's fault, but still).
  • Lyrics that were not translated as lyrics.
  • Japanese pronouns and honorifics (e.g. Onii, Oniisan, -chan, et cetera) were left as-is.

That's a large list, but let me stop at this point and make it perfectly clear that this was, for most part, a very competent translation by someone who is clearly a very competent translator. At no point in time did I find this exercise a waste of time, and at no point in time did AstCd2 give me anything to indicate that my faith in him was misplaced. I'm not going to proceed to discuss every single comment I made to him and every single change he implemented — clearly, that is beyond the scope of this document. However, I'd like to bring up some of the more interesting things that happened during my peer review of his excellent translation.

Systems Issues

But before we do that, let's get all the system issues out of the way. I'm not going to go through the bugfixes I made to ONScripter-EN in order to get all those system issues fixed; to do that would be to write a document the size of Moonshine's considerably lengthy script. So briefly:

  • I completely rewrote the volume control system to match the intended behavior of NScripter: namely, you should be able to control the volumes of independent channels independently, and those volumes need to be persistent (if you set the volume of a channel to, say, 40, then the next time a sound loads, the volume of that sound ought to be 40; mainline ONScripter-EN sets the volume back to 128, the default).
  • I also reimplemented the bgm command to its intended behavior: an invocation of this command should seamlessly loop the specified music file in the BGM sound channel.
  • I rewrote large parts of Moonshine's save/load/menu system scripting; as it turns out, the lsp/vsp/csp functionality in ONScripter-EN does not perform the way it should, and I didn't have the time or patience to dig through and definitively fix those bugs.
  • I introduced special custom commands that completely disabled CTRL or click input for the purposes of the credit scroll and the epilogue.

At the end of all of this, I had a customized build of ONScripter-EN that ran Moonshine the way it was meant to run. Was this a waste of time? Certainly not, as this is the way that al|together reference builds of ONScripter are born. I ended up putting every bugfix I made in ONScripter here to good use in every single NScripter-based festival project. I am careful here to say "festival project", as this build of ONScripter cannot be reasonably expected to work with any other piece; the changes in functionality I made tend to be specific per-piece, and may (in fact, most likely do) cause breakage in others that I did not target. The real lesson to be reinforced here is that the translator needs to participate early, often, and extensively in scripting system bugfixing. Had I not had intimate familiarity with ONScripter's codebase (as I once maintained what has now become ONSscripter-EN), and had AstCd2 not alerted me to these issues early and often, there wouldn't have been the slightest chance that we'd be presenting this piece to you today. Too many translators have the attitude that they just need to translate the text, and that's it — in actuality, translating the text is the least of your responsibilities. As the translator, you are also responsible for the ultimate fit and finish of the resultant application — since you are the only one who really knows what the proper functionality should be. If you refuse to get your hands dirty and test out your translation and its effects early and often, you are not going to create a product worthy of the original piece. And does anyone start a translation with the hopes of making something inferior? I should hope not.

Translation Issues

With that out of the way, I started going through AstCd2's translation, line by line. Many of his translated lines made me stop and draw breath — they were beautiful, and faithful. However, there were also a fair share of issues. The vast majority were simple typographical errors that were simple enough to fix; no big deal there. Every so often, though, there was a really interesting issue that we can all learn something from. We detail some of these issues below.

First of all, the issue of honorifics and pronouns. I dislike them; they are a construct that do not exist in English literature, and I find that they have no place in literary translation. However, out of respect for AstCd2, and out of trust that he'd really thought this one through, I deferred to his judgment. For the record, I still think it was the wrong decision; there are ways that you can jettison all use of Japanese honorifics and pronouns and have a result that is arguably more faithful to the original work than simply having rampant -san's and -chan's popping up everywhere. A short discussion of this is found in my translator's notes for The Letter; I will not duplicate its contents here. Let's move on.

At one point, the narrator speaks of 自律神経失調症 — this is translated as "autonomic ataxia" or "dysautonomia", depending on which medical school you graduated from. The problem is, both "autonomic ataxia" and "dysautonomia" are impossibly vague terminologies; no medical doctor in his right mind would give this as a diagnosis to a patient. This would be equivalent to a computer technician looking at a customer's virus and spyware-laden computer, remarking that "this computer has a problem", and leaving it at that. As doctors, we're generally mandated to give as specific a diagnosis as we can justify giving — no more, no less. So in this particular case, 自律神経失調症 shouldn't have been used at all. This should have been something like 筋ジストロフィー, or "myotonic dystrophy" — a much more specific diagnosis. And yes, before you ask, I am a medical doctor. That's why I know this to be true.

There were rare occasions when AstCd2 chose to use a phrasing like "so saying, she suddenly drew up to my side" in order to represent original Japanese phrases like と言うやいなや僕のそばに近寄り. While this is "literally correct", it also happens to be wrong — the "so saying" construct is neither natural nor literarily elegant in English, whereas と言うやいなや is perfectly acceptable — and even elegant — in Japanese. If you choose to take an original Japanese phrase that happens to read elegantly to the Japanese reader and then substitute in an ugly, clunky phrase because it happens to "literally fit", then you're doing the original creator an awful disservice.

Many translators are fond of this "____ing x, I _____ed y" formulation; their argument is that this is very close to the grammatical structure of the original Japanese. And perhaps this is so — but consider this. Are you translating a literary piece, or are you transliterating a grammar book? There's a big difference between the two. For instance, take the line それもそうか、僕はクローゼットの方に向かい、お客さん用の毛布を引っ張りだす; this was translated as "heading to my closet, I pulled out the guest blanket". This also happens to be completely wrong. In the original Japanese, the phrasing of 僕はクローゼットの方に向かい is such that it explicitly points out a temporal relationship: thatクローゼットの方に向かう happens first, followed by お客さん用の毛布を引っ張りだす. When you say "heading to my closet, I pulled out the guest blanket" in English, the explicit (and implicit) meaning of the statement is quite clear: those two things are happening at the same time. This is one of the many cases where hewing to a supposedly "literal" translation will create a huge error; one thing happening followed by another thing happening is not equivalent to two things happening at the same time.

The short moral of these last two paragraphs: never use the "____ing x, I _____ed y" formulation, and always think twice before you talk about the superiority of "literal" translation.

Again, let it be known that AstCd2 did not make these errors often; I am only pointing them out because of their instructive potential for a wider audience.

The final thing I want to talk about is this: your translation needs to suit the specific purpose of the original piece. What this means is that when you translate lyrics, you should always strive to translate them as lyrics. Not only does your translation need to be as elegant or as inelegant as the original lyrics, they should — whenever possible — be singable, syllable-for-syllable, accent-for-accent drop-in replacements. This is not nearly as hard as it sounds; for instance, my translation of the opening and closing theme songs of True Remembrance were lyrics-as-lyrics translations, and they also happen to be two of the most faithful lyric translations I've ever done — from both a literal and a spiritual standpoint. That also brings me to point out something that most people just don't seem to get about Japanese song lyrics: for pop songs, they are almost always going to be extremely long drawn-out sentences, not single concept per line. So never start translating a line until you've considered how it interacts with the line above it, and the line below it, so on and so forth. You'll find that more than likely, you'll have to switch positions of multiple lines because the subject-object-verb grammatical algorithm of Japanese allows you to order words and sentences in a way that the subject-verb-object grammatical algorithm of English disallows, and vice versa. If you consider individual lines in isolation, you will always be incorrect in your "literal" translation — in both lyric translation and in prose translation.

In conclusion, I would like to thank AstCd2 for his confidence and his professional bearing during this festival season. I once again congratulate him for a beautiful translation, and I thank him for allowing me to use his translation to point out a few (hopefully) educational rubricks on the theory and practice of literary translation. If you're still here, reading this peer review all the way through, I thank you for reading, and I promise you that you will not have wasted your time.

Until we meet again.

30 November 2008
Seung Park
Festival Coordinator, al|together 2008