One thing that I find fascinating is the concept of what is the “official” Sailor Moon translation. In North America alone, both the anime and manga have had a whopping three different officially licensed adaptations since hitting this side of the Pacific.1
This, of course, doesn’t even take into account all of the subtitled versions, scanlations, and other fan-established terminology.
So what’s the right answer, and why is it so hard for all these qualified translators to “get it right”?
Today we’re going to take a look at some of the more challenging names to translate in Sailor Moon, and about some of the strategies used to get around them. Be sure to take notes — there might be a test at the end!2
Longtime readers are probably aware of the fact that I’ve already touched on a similar issue before regarding what are some of the difficulties faced when translating Sailor Moon. But while that focused more on some of the issues facing translators in general and how they reared their ugly heads with respect to Sailor Moon, this time I’d like to take a look at some very specific examples that the fandom — and official translations! — have flip-flopped on over the series’ many adaptations.
With that out of the way, let’s get this party started!
A Very Forward Foreword (and Other Wordplay)
While I’d like to avoid getting into a debate here on the merits between translation vs. localization (and where that blurry line is located), one of the greatest travesties to me is just how many of the fun word plays are completely lost in translation. The biggest example of this would be the anime’s many monsters of the day — be they youma, cardians, droids, daimon, lemures, or phages.
Though their names pretty much run the gamut of “awesome puns” to “groan-inducing dad jokes,” I liken the issue to the one faced by Pokemon: the point in the Japanese name was precisely the fact that it was a play on words, not the actual name itself.
Though non-Japanese fans aren’t exactly missing out on a huge amount of information here, Boxy the boxing bokushi (牧師; priest)5 is such a clever pun that I’m always saddened to see it lost.
Personally speaking, I think it would be best to just rename these (mostly) inconsequential characters in dubs and keep their names in subtitles, but I imagine my opinion isn’t exactly the majority here.
The Mystical Legendary Mythical Illusory Silver Crystal
If you want to make a translator cry and/or get a stiff drink right in the middle of her workday, throw the word 幻 (maboroshi)6 into a proper noun. Trust me, it won’t end well.
Except for “Imperium,” none of these translations are really wrong. In fact, they’re all correct in one manner or another, and pick up on a different nuance that the other options lack. Alas, none of the names fully capture the nuance of the Japanese word here.
So what do I think the solution to this problem is?
Well, as many observant readers may have already picked up on, by and large I gloss over the word entirely in most articles on the blog. It’s not (entirely) that I’m lazy, but rather that I find it unnecessarily cumbersome to include the adjective. It’s also a case where, even for a pedant like myself, I feel that it doesn’t really add anything meaningful to the word.
You see, what’s important about the Silver Crystal is that it is silver (representative of the Moon) and is, well, a crystal. And an expensive one at that. It stands in contrast with the Pink Crystal and the Golden Crystal. So while it may be maboroshi, the word doesn’t strike me as all that important.
I’m not saying that this is the right approach, of course. However, I think this is a situation where we can just accept that all translations will be flawed in one way or another, and just agree to settle on the least-flawed one we can find.
Considering how many non-Japanese words Sailor Moon uses, it’s pretty much a given that some of these words would not be English in origin. There are quite a few of these, in fact.
However, none of them are quite as… contentious among fans than Sailor Mercury’s first attack: ****** Spray.
The Japanese word シャボン (shabon)8 means “soap,” and is probably most familiar to young Japanese viewers in the word シャボン玉 (shabondama; soap bubble). What makes this word unique compared to all of the other attack names Ms. Takeuchi used is that while it’s a word that was borrowed into Japanese, it originates not from some common English word, but from the Portuguese “sabão.”
So what’s an English translator to do?
Well, you could:
- keep it as-is in Japanese (Shabon Spray);
- be faithful to the origins of the word (Sabão Spray); or
- translate it into English (Soap Spray)
While I’m generally against leaving words untranslated (see above), I think this is a rare case where I’d argue it’s the best choice. After all, none of the other Sailor Soldiers’ attack names are rewritten (though, granted, they’re already English), so it seems odd to me to treat Sailor Mercury’s differently.
Interestingly enough, none of the anime’s English adaptations have chosen either of these three options. DiC, ADV, and Viz have all gone with “Bubble.”9
I can see what the translators were doing here. After all, Sailor Mercury is depicted shooting bubbles during the attack animation. However, I think it’s one of the worst choices here in terms of accuracy.
You see, “soap” and “bubble” are different words with different meanings. “Bubble” is an incorrect translation for “soap.” If we’re concerned about being more authentic to the actual image on screen, then we should also translate Sailor Jupiter’s attack as “Supreme Lightning,” since she’s not actually shooting thunder.
Okay, I guess I’m back to being pedantic.
Is there anything I missed that you think should be added to this list? Perhaps the Amazones Quartetto vs. Amazoness Quartet debate? Sailor Saturn’s Death Reborn/Ribbon Revolution debacle? Something else I haven’t even thought of??
Let me know what you think about this and other issues about Sailor Moon in translation down below, I’d love to hear what other people’s opinions on this. I’m especially interested in how some of these issues were addressed in other languages!
- Yes, I’m counting the DiC translation as an “official” adaptation. While it may have taken liberties, it was official at that time. ↩
- There is no test at the end. But there is a monster at the end of this book; see Monster at the End of This Book, The (Sesame Street) ↩
- Read alternatively as 不思議だね (“strange, isn’t it”) or 不思議種 (“mysterious seed”) ↩
- Incidentally, Bulbasaur is absolutely the best Pokemon ever. I will not entertain any arguments against this. ↩
- See 牧師 (Jisho.org) ↩
- See 幻 (Jisho.org) ↩
- See https://wikimoon.org/index.php/Silver_Crystal ↩
- See シャボン (Jisho.org) ↩
- DiC: Mercury Bubble Blast; ADV/Viz: Bubble Spray ↩