bambooXZX's personal blog, mostly dedicated to song lyrics translation from Japanese to English.

[2014-08-14] Caching

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Well, I’m still having trouble crystallizing thoughts into text. I’ve made some progress on the bigger posts I had planned, but I’m kind of at a standstill, so I think I may as well start things off on a side road.

This will be the first of a few posts covering some experiences I’ve had while translating. They are partly intended as advice, partly as explanation… I don’t know, I’m not sure if I’ve even been through enough for my writing to be of any help, but I’ve personally found it useful at times to read other people’s accounts of things, so who knows. Guess I’ll toss my thoughts into the world and see what happens.

Appropriately, that’s how today’s tale begins: with someone else’s blogpost.

One day in 2012, I got a message from AzureDark of AnimeLyrics, saying that he’d translated “Katen” from the eroge Kurai Mirai 3; he thought it might interest me, since I’d previously translated the opening themes for 1 and 2. I checked it out and saw a pretty interesting comment in the release notes:

The stickler point was the first verse, “from whose viewpoint is this spoken from?” The 3rd line from the 1st stanza mentions “trivial things”, which would mean the first two lines are actually unmarked direct quotes. Occasionally they throw off the translator because without the quotation marks, the focus would not shift to a different subject and make its meaning confusing.

At the time, I’d had the short version of the song transliterated (I couldn’t find an official lyrics source for the full version), with preliminary translation for a few lines. I thought the comment over for a moment, and I realized that I probably wouldn’t have understood that. To be honest, when I first attempted to play those games, my Japanese was definitely not good enough to fully understand, and there were times when I used the skip button more than I should have, so of course I wouldn’t have picked up on that theme.

Satisfied that my own attempt on the song was no longer necessary, I shelved the file. Still, the idea of unmarked direct quotes was of great interest. While I knew that I’d definitely encountered them before at the time, I’d never considered it thoroughly as a concept. Naturally, I asked myself – where have I seen this before?

By now, I don’t remember exactly how soon it happened – it might have been immediate, or it might have taken a good while to register – but at some point, I remembered a certain song – “Alchemy” from Angel Beats!.


無限に生きたい 無限に生きられたら 全て叶う
生きる残り時間 夢の座標 行方

Original TL – April 22, 2010:

I want to live forever. If I could live forever, everything would come true,
But various things drive me into a corner.
The time I have left to live, the coordinates of my dream, the place where I am –
They’re all important things.
All right, let’s stay here for a little and eat something sweet.
Just pausing my thinking like that became my pride.

Edited soon after – April 24, 2010:

All right, let’s stay here for a little and eat something sweet.
When I just stopped thinking like that, I became proud.

Both of those versions are pretty iffy. They don’t really make sense as something that Iwasawa might sing; I failed to consider the big picture. I did notice that the last line of that verse was referencing the previous line as a phrase, but I probably didn’t understand it.

In actuality, the fundamental problem was not difficulty with unmarked quotes – it was that I didn’t grasp the usage of 得意 (tokui), further complicated by confusion with 思考停止 (shikou teishi), which is evident in the second version.


They’re all important things, but still…
All right, let’s stay here for a little and eat something sweet.
I only got good at turning off my brain like that.

There, much better. After repeated listening and turning the verse over in my head, I eventually saw the big picture – the mental trap of taking the easier road, and the wish to turn her creations into gold. Accordingly, I made edits to that problematic line and the two preceding it. I added in “but still…” to reflect なのに, which I’d omitted in the first few versions; the phrase is often problematic for English flow, so I believe dropping it is sometimes the right decision, but this time I added it in to clarify that the mental stoppage of the latter half of the verse is in direct opposition to the important things in the first half. I added quotation marks to the second-to-last line to make things even clearer, and finally I fixed that last line for correct handling of 得意 (whose usage I’d learned from just listening to spoken Japanese in anime/games) and 思考停止 (now recognizable as a single concept due to better understanding of the song as a whole).

It’s been revised a few times since I made the realization, but basically, the first version I had that interpreted the line in that way was edited in on June 5, 2013 – half a year after Azu’s post. Even now, two years after the fact, I still remember that it happened and that I noticed it because Azu’s post about a completely unrelated song triggered my memory. Looking back, it’s a pretty embarrassing mistake; while I could maybe make a weak justification for how the original renderings are not that bad, the fact is that I didn’t know word details that I know now, and ‘proud’ for that usage of 得意 is something that just makes me sad now. (Then again, turns out that at least two other translators made very similar mistakes, so maybe I’m just understating the difficulty of the song? Possible, considering it’s Jun Maeda. Or maybe we all just didn’t know enough…)

So, things I learned about lyrics translation from this:
Keep tabs on what other people are doing. You never know where you’ll find things that teach you things you never knew you never knew. Even confirming that you did something right is helpful; finding something that lets you fix a mistake is even better.
Be thoroughly familiar with what you’ve worked on. Remember things that you’ve struggled with so that you can solidify understanding over time when reminders appear.
Consider the big picture.
Complacency is the enemy.

One thought on “[2014-08-14] Caching

  1. Pingback: [2015-04-12] Spring 2015: Reflection on TV-size Translations, Week 1 | ...VOICE

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