What’s in a Name
When you go pick out a book to read, a movie to watch, or a game to play, the first thing you’re going to focus on is the cover. Chances are there will be some kind of picture on this cover, but the actual information you need to glean from it is the title. Therefore… titles are really, really important. Let’s say I write a great story but give it an incredibly bad title. Chances are very few people would give the story a chance–and even if a friend recommended it, you would still have reservations about it.
When anime, manga, and the like are translated into English, a decision needs to be made regarding the title. Will it just stick with the Japanese title? Will it go with a direct English translation? Or will it be best to come up with something new entirely? I’m going to run through a bunch of examples and give my thoughts on each of them.
Keeping the Japanese Title
Though many (if not most) of us frequenting the aniblogsphere generally don’t mind using the original Japanese title of an anime or manga when discussing a specific work, I don’t think this is generally the best approach to take when it comes time to localize it. The average person buying an anime or manga in an English-speaking country probably won’t know how to pronounce the Japanese title, let alone know what it means. Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita and Shin Sekai Yori don’t mean anything to an audience that doesn’t speak Japanese, so it makes perfect sense to title these works Humanity Has Declined and From the New World instead.
Should every title be translated then? Perhaps there are times when it is best to stick with the Japanese title. Some examples: Tsuritama, Mushishi, Haibane Renmei, Shiki, and Toradora. These titles, you may notice, are generally just one word long, appeal to a more niche crowd than mainstream top-selling anime, and are probably difficult to translate in a way that sounds good in English. Fishing Ball sounds kind of dumb, right? Insect Master would probably give people a false impression of what the series entails. Charcoal Feather Federation is probably about as telling as the Japanese title. Corpse Demon I imagine sounded a little silly to test audiences, and so the more mysterious-sounding Japanese name proved more effective as a horror title. And I don’t know if anyone would want to watch an anime titled TigDrag.
Simple Translations and Partial Translations
As I mentioned before, it’s often best to just go with a basic translation of the title. There’s no reason you can’t change Natsume Yuujinchou into Natsume’s Book of Friends. Similarly, it’s simple to make Mirai Nikki be Future Diary and make Toaru Majutsu no Index be A Certain Magical Index. And though the title’s meaning remains nebulous to me, it doesn’t hurt to call Usagi Drop by its English name Bunny Drop.
Now, what to do when you’re handed over an anime titled Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai? … Well, fans of the show generally shortened it to AnoHana, but new potential English viewers probably won’t know what that means. I think what NIS America chose to do made sense: Keep AnoHana so that fans will be able to search for the show and find it easily, but also have an English title to go along with it (in this case The Flower We Saw That Day, which is displayed in larger text than the all-lower-cased anohana that comes before it). This title is easy to read and pronounce since it’s in English, and it gives an idea of what kind of atmosphere the story entails (ie it’s kind of poignant-sounding).
Another similar instance of this may be Sentai Filmwork’s title choice for Ikoku Meiro no Croisee, which became Croisee in a Foreign Labyrinth. The French word Croisee was kept for fans to recognize in their online searches (and to keep some of the French atmosphere in the title, perhaps), and the rest of the title is in English.
New Titles Entirely (to Varying Degrees)
I think this is where fans may get the most upset with some choices made for the titles of their favorite anime and manga. Sometimes it works out all right (Rurouni Kenshin to Samurai X seems reasonable, for example), but sometimes we get some really odd ones. The best example off the top of my head may be Hatenkou Yuugi, an excellent shoujo fantasy adventure manga that would translate to Unprecedented Game… which I think sounds pretty neat! But Tokyopop titled it Dazzle instead. I still can’t figure out why… I guess all the outfits the characters wear… are dazzling? That’s not what the series is actually about, though. I’m glad I somehow checked out Dazzle in the end, but I can imagine many people never gave it a try because of the rather silly-sounding title.
Another title I don’t really care for is Crunchyroll’s translation of Nichijou as My Ordinary Life. First of all I think *everyone* calls it Nichijou, which is only one word long and is even written in English in the show (in Helvetica Standard, even!). But I feel that something like Everyday Life would have been a better English title. Saying “My” implies a single main character, which is definitely not the case for Nichijou. One of the defining characteristics of the show, in fact, is just how large and varied its crazy cast is. I also think that the English title will sound a little boring–which, of course, is kind of the joke in the first place, but still…
For a more recent example, perhaps we can also look at the translation given for Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun. This is literally The Monster Next Door (or perhaps even The Monster Next to Me), but instead we get a title that really makes me shudder… My Little Monster. [inaudible scream]
Let’s Take a Look at Light Novels
The world of licensed English light novels is not a particularly large one, and I find it interesting to see how titles and book covers have been handled from one publishing company to the next.
Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime was a title that immediately caught my attention while browsing a bookstore, so I’d have to say that this was a good decision for its translation. The original title is Bungaku Shoujo to Shinitagari no Pierrot, which perhaps more directly translates to A Literary Girl and a Clown Who Wished to Die. Personally I think it makes sense to title the series Book Girl rather than Literature Girl, as the average high school student probably doesn’t want to buy a book with the word literature in the title. But books are cool! (At least, you probably think books are cool if you’re going to a bookstore with the intention of buying a book…) At any rate, the full title for this light novel works because it is attention-grabbing and gives at least some idea of what the story entails. The inclusion of the bleak word suicidal amidst more lighthearted terms book girl and mime at least provided a juxtaposition that piqued my interest, and it got me to check out what is easily one of my favorite books I’ve ever read.
Now, how about the title of a light novel I most recently read and enjoyed: Boogiepop and Others. I have to admit that I held some doubts for this one, since the title just sounded… childish? But it’s actually a pretty engaging mystery horror with some intriguing supernatural elements. I wonder if this series would have gotten more readers if it went with a different title somehow. I mean, it would probably be bad to change the actual name of Boogiepop in the story, but the title itself perhaps could have taken another route that would still please fans.
Other light novels provide interesting titles that may or may not have been a good idea. In Japanese, there was a manga and light novel series titled Karin (named after the main character), but in English the series became Chibi Vampire. Was this a good idea? Well, the latter title certainly sounds silly… but this is a comedy, right? And if you throw in vampire in the title, it at least lets you know the story has something to do with vampires–which it does. I feel that chibi is a poor adjective to choose, though. For one, only anime fans “in the know” are going to understand what chibi means, and even then we’re going to argue if that actually even works when referring to Karin, especially when chibi typically refers to “super deformed” (or SD) artwork–AKA this stuff.
Sometimes Japanese titles were kept for light novel releases, which I find a bit baffling when some companies were trying to reach out to readers outside the most devoted of anime/manga fans. I mean, why would you replace this cover with this crappy one… and still call it Kino no Tabi? The new cover blends in rather well with English YA novels (since most YA novels have really terrible covers), but for whatever reason the title wasn’t translated to Kino’s Journey.
Particularly Strange Titles
Sometimes I wonder if a title really ought to have been changed. A couple examples quickly come to mind for me:
Gosick. I realize this is probably a sort of Japanese reading of the word Gothic… But it ends up having no meaning in English. Or at least, none that I’m aware of. I wonder if more people would have tried this series if it was called something that meant something more clear?
D. Gray-Man. Just… what… What does it mean???
Well, that brings an end to my various thoughts regarding the translation of all these titles. The main conclusion I’ve come to is that there needs to be a lot of thought and consideration taken into the process of localizing anime, manga, light novels, and the like. How well does the localized title represent the work? Will the target audience want to pick up a work with that sort of title? And will the title capture the attention of those who aren’t already die-hard fans of the series?