Totally Batty

COMICS REVIEW / Translation bat-mangled in ‘Bat-Manga!’

This review is pretty damning of the new book Bat-Manga!: The Secret History of Batman in Japan. Translation was either totally botched or intentionally rendered as bad English. The original manga artist’s name is basically nowhere to be found on the cover.

I was watching some Mahha Go Go Go last year on Japanese cable and realized that at least half the reason this particular anime struck me as so “strange” as a kid was the fault of the American localizers, who stuffed very reasonable and almost Zen scenes of no dialogue with mile-a-minute narration and unnatural speech patterns. Seems like something similar is going on with the Batman book: the Orientalization of Japanese culture requires everyone to pitch in. The source material may be slightly “off” by Western standards, but it’s the foreign localizers who really amp up the eccentricity in the material. They are like the enablers of “crazy Japan.”

(Hat tip to Matt Alt for sending the article my way.)

W. David MARX
January 17, 2009

15 Responses

  1. M-Bone Says:

    “We are certainly not trying to make fun of the Japanese grasp of English, but at the same time, here and there we wanted to preserve its undeniable charm.”

    Intentionally rendered.

    There was a Speed Racer parody on “The Family Guy” (I think) where they had the characters speaking at breakneck speed and saying AH HA! after each line. It certainly wasn’t just you that thought it was odd.

    Anyway, thanks for drawing attention to this Batmanga farce – unfortunately, it has already become the highest profile NA Japanese pop culture book release that I have ever seen.

  2. W. David MARX Says:

    The baseball example seems like serious sloppy translation though.

  3. M-Bone Says:

    Yeah, the baseball thing seems really off.

    There have been some classic “crazy Japan” video game dubs come to think of it – Bushido Blade II comes to mind.

    BTW, did you rip on “Lost in Translation” at any point?

  4. W. David MARX Says:

    I watched Lost in Translation very late in the game and very drunk and all I remember that it was boring and not really “about Japan.”

  5. DB Says:

    See, this is why I like your sites – you are the only ones I can think of who don’t reflexively gush praise over any and everything Japanese. Check Cory ‘steampunk’ Doctrow’s review of same book – http://boingboing.net/2008/10/29/batmanga-the-lost-ja.html

    ‘Rarely have I held a book so fondle-able’ – I hate that guy.

  6. W. David MARX Says:

    We are a lot grumpier than BoingBoing. That means less readers but perhaps higher accuracy.

  7. MattAlt Says:

    Confused to hell by the English-dubbed theatrical release of “Akira” in the very early ’90s, I was shocked to discover years later (when I was finally able to understand it in the original Japanese) that it wasn’t particularly indecipherable at all.

    The really interesting thing about the concept of wanting “to preserve the undeniable charm” of the “Japanese grasp of English” is that the source material they’re referencing (which isn’t named but I assume includes Speed Racer, Godzilla movies, Ultraman, etc.) was never produced in English. In fact, most of it wasn’t intended for foreign audiences at all. I love those unhinged, hyperactive dubs from the Sixties and Seventies as much as the next guy, but they’re purely the creation of foreign distributors.

  8. M-Bone Says:

    In Godzilla, Shimura Takashi gives a simlar performance to the one that he gives in Ikiru (tone, obviously not content). That gets turned into “OH NO GOJILLA!”

    I couldn’t understand what the hell happened at the end of Akira when I was 10…. I think that the English dub of the original “Ghost in the Shell” also omits the insightful bits of the long, long dialectic near the end of the film and it just ends up sounding like bull. Those are just poor dubs, though.

    Do you think that the old hyperactive dubs were supposed to be “goofy Asian”, or were they just campy? Both?

    As I recall, Matt, didn’t you translate a Ninja (Gaiden) game? They didn’t ask you to make the scrip all like, dark and Asian sounding and stuff, did they? (Have not played it, those are a bit hardcore for my fading skills).

  9. MattAlt Says:

    “Do you think that the old hyperactive dubs were supposed to be “goofy Asian”, or were they just campy? Both?”

    Having produced a few dubbing sessions myself (albeit in the game industry) I like to think it was unintentional, at least at first– a function of budget (i.e., not much of one = rushed recording sessions with inexperienced directors/actors) combined with little to no time spent on ADR (the art of rewriting a translated script to match the lip-flaps of the actors onscreen).

    “They didn’t ask you to make the scrip all like, dark and Asian sounding and stuff, did they?”

    Not as such. We actually did try to capture a sense of what we half-jokingly called “ninjy,” or “would a ninja say this?” as we worked on the script for Ninja Gaiden II. I can’t deny that pop culture colored our decisions there, but our references tended to reflect the original rather than the English versions of the various Japanese comics/shows/films we had in mind. If you’re interested, you can read a bit more about the process here:

    http://kotaku.com/5024530/the-meaning-of-ninjy

  10. M-Bone Says:

    “We actually did try to capture a sense of what we half-jokingly called “ninjy” ”

    I think that “ninjy” is entirely fair game there – Ninja Gaiden games certainly have a cheese factor in Japan as well…

    Thanks for the link.

  11. M-Bone Says:

    Re: Beat Takeshi – why closed comments?

    Since the Osaka gov is a former talent, I can’t discount the possibility that the “real” Beat Takeshi was given some kind of honorary position… but more likely the NYT just totally screwed the pooch with that link – do you know which is it? If they screwed up that badly, it is certainly an auspicious nod to Matt’s new one on the front page….

  12. W. David MARX Says:

    I freaked out for some reason and closed comments.

    I think it’s just a guy with the same name. Takeshi Kitano isn’t that uncommon.

  13. M-Bone Says:

    Given the NYT track record on this type of thing, I think that we can safely assume a screw-up…

  14. Matt Says:

    Did anyone else watch the BBC’s dub of “Saiyūki” as a kid? Now that was some intentionally bad localization.

    Also, let me be the one to say it: it’s hard to believe that the stories in Kuwata’s original “Bat-Manga” could possibly have been more ludicrous than actual US Batman comics of the Silver Age.

  15. Adamu Says:

    Reading that Ninja Gaiden article makes me SO JEALOUS.

    ““The first rule of localization,” says Andrew, “is to integrate localization into the development process.” ”

    ““It turned out exactly the way we wanted,” says Andrew. ”

    Screw you and your fancy “dream job” and “understanding clients”!