The Colossus Crawls West

The acquisition of knowledge is not progression from point A to point B. There in fact, is no point B. The Colossus crawls ever westward, overlapping its own footprints, making new impressions in the Earth.

The Media Translator Grudge Match Fallacy


When we discuss translation, the question often arises concerning differences in dialect; there is often a tendency for things to get lost in translation. The issue then is whether to translate word for word, in order to maintain the purity of the piece, or alter the translation for the target audience and maintain the feel and ideas set forth over the actual words used. Growing up, as I did, as a nerd on the internet (I’m talking dail-up and geocities) what springs immediately to mind is anime and manga (japanese comics). For manga that wasn’t published in the US, there were groups who would obtain scans of the individual chapters as they were released (weekly, bi-weekly, etc), clean them up, and translate them, effectively producing a clean English version for download and consumption. This was also done for certain series which actually were currently being run in the English speaking world because frankly, the official translations were often terrible. Instead of word-for-word translations, companies would often choose the approach of changing the dialogue. The issue was that they did not understand the audience, the material, or any kind of context. Things were cut and edited badly, and characters and entire plot lines were changed. Because of this, fan translations (which were often word-for word and included footnotes for terms readers might not be familiar with) became the preferred method of consumption for fans of the genre. The irony of this is that by refusing to support translations they ensured that the trend died off completely and that their favorite series never saw the light of the western sun. This also meant that when there was indeed a good translation, people were reluctant to give it a chance. Although word-for-word translations were preferred, they often read as confusing, disjointed, awkward, or any combination thereof. The fact is, when you’re translating a work, it’s difficult to enjoy something you can’t immerse yourself in. For instance, in the series Yu Yu Hakusho, the main character is killed by the antagonist Sensui. He then returns to life and greets the villain in a snarky tone by saying, in Japanese “Sensui, sorry to keep you waiting.” Now while I’m sure this sounds super clever in Japanese, in English it falls a bit flat. Yusuke is a high school delinquent who at this point has died twice and killed a demon who knocked down skyscrapers for fun. The English translation instead uses the line “I’m sorry I got delayed. Traffic was a bitch.” The latter delivers the attitude much better to English audiences, although purists would never admit it.

Often word alteration helps maintain rhyme scheme, and helps the hold stories and character personalities steady across regions. If a character is rude, then he must seem rude to whichever culture he is presented to. Something that is rude to say in Japan may not be rude to say in the US, and vice versa. The main idea is to keep the character trait “rude” constant.


There’s a famous case of things being lost in translation concerning a fan translation of an episode of the anime series Fate/ Stay Night in which the main character states that “People die if they are killed” This is in reference to a japanese phrase used to refer to a tough guy who “won’t die even if you kill him”, and fits well into japanese culture, but translated word for word for word without any context, the entire meaning of this scene is forever lost on a western audience. When consuming a translated text, it is arguably more important to maintain the gist of what is being said.


When we teach translated text, we can fill in the cultural context in full by teaching both the word-for-word and the slightly altered. Although I may personally prefer one over the other, enjoyment is not the be all end all when it comes to teaching. Only when you understand the words and the intentions can you even begin to form an opinion about which is better. I wouldn’t know I liked the English translation better if I’d never read the meaning in Japanese; you must learn both sides before you can pick one.

Hohoemi no Bakudan/ Smile Bomb (Yu Yu Hakusho opening)

Japanese (translated word for word)

In a crowded city, as I bump shoulders, I’m all alone

On an endless prairie, as the wind whistles by, I’m all alone

Which one is it that makes me want to cry more, I wonder?

Marking it with twin circles, I feel a bit more grown up

It must be, that when I run into these terribly difficult walls, 

And unexpectedly, for whatever reason,

The courage and power to break through rises up from within

All because of how, when I run into these terribly difficult people, 

They show me kindness I bet

Thank you very much


Going in the crowd, in a faceless town, I need to feel the touch of a friend

In the countryside, I wander far and wide, the isolation gets me again

I don’t know where to go, when I feel like crying, oh my

It’s time to open myself, do something new, I want to stop

And grow up a bit

Then suddenly, my power and confidence start swelling up, magically erupt

And its all because of kindness that I feel from people I don’t even know

Then suddenly, my intuition and my wisdom grow, and then I know

But most of all I sense compassion’s real

Thanks to strangers wherever I go

Thank you for waking me up


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This entry was posted on March 30, 2013 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , .

Jamel Colvin
Language, Literature, and Writing Major at Eastern Michigan University.
Student of literary theory, psychology, and culture. Strong beer, strong coffee, and 4 gigs of research.


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