It’s been about five years now since I got really seriously into visual novels, and it’s amazing how much change I’ve seen in the fanbase surrounding them in such a short time. Back then they seemed so incredibly niche, with a fairly limited amount available in English, many of which were unofficial fan translations that could be hard to track down and set up. Now, alongside a growing community of English-speaking developers, there’s also been an absolute explosion in the amount of official translations available, with visual novels gaining so much more mainstream recognition in English that I could have ever imagined was possible. But unfortunately, more people knowing what visual novels are also means more people who’ve barely read any turning up to voice their uninformed opinions on them, and it was one such incident that inspired me to make this post.
Some VN translators have been getting a lot of undeserved criticism lately from people who seem to think that translation is an exact science you can get “right” or “wrong,” and that translators who take creative liberties are somehow insulting or damaging the original work. And while it’s perfectly valid to have preferences about certain translation choices and styles, some of these critics don’t seem to understand that there’s never going to be any such thing as a “literal one-to-one translation” between completely different languages that come out of different cultures and histories. Any translation you read is inevitably going to be a different artist’s interpretation and adaptation of the original—and that’s something that I think people who enjoy reading translated literature should not only accept, but appreciate. So I wrote this post to give just a few of my favourite VN translators some of the credit they deserve for working so hard to bring great Japanese media to an English-speaking audience.
I just started reading my third Verdelish-translated VN, the recently released YOU and ME and HER: A Love Story (popularly known by the short form for its Japanese title, Totono), after also enjoying Sweet Pool and Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome in the past. In each of these works, I’ve been struck by what a good example they are of a translator’s ability to have just as distinct an individual voice as a writer. I’ve already come across some lines in Totono that just feel like “classic Verde”—often the ones that incorporate modern slang in amusing ways, which she seems to be especially good at. I’m really looking forward to another one of her upcoming projects, Fxxx Me Royally!!, from the same developers as Little Miss Lonesome. I always know that I can count on a Verdelish translation to feel natural and fun.
The only translation of Kevin Frane’s that I’ve had the pleasure of reading is 428 Shibuya Scramble, but it made such an impact on me that I’d jump at the chance to pre-order any other VN he works on in the future. When I first read one joke in it about a detective’s set of rules being called “dick dictums,” I was so amused and impressed that I immediately alt-tabbed out of the game to look him up and follow him on twitter. Humour is incredibly difficult to translate, with how frequently it relies on wordplay and cultural context, so any translator who manages to turn a Japanese joke into something similar that’s also funny in English is doing a great job in my books. Shibuya Scramble is also full of quirky little encyclopedia entries like the one in the screenshot above, and they’re a joy to read every time. Not to mention that I absolutely wouldn’t have been able to deal with that game’s complex and frustrating mechanics if they had existed alongside anything less than a smooth reading experience.
The Fruit of Grisaia was among the first translated VNs I read when I was starting to seriously get into the medium. I wasn’t yet accustomed to how many Japanese VNs can be very slow-paced, often taking a long time to establish the characters through a slice-of-life common route before anything really “happens,” and if I had learned that through a different experience I might have just gotten bored and stopped. But koestl’s translation meant that even though I wasn’t expecting so many consecutive scenes of daily life at Mihama Academy, I still enjoyed reading every single one of them. Other VNs may have climbed higher than Grisaia in my list of favourites over the years, but I still fondly remember a lot of funny bits like choosing from a list of nicknames including “Juicy Yuuji.” I’ve also heard great things about his work on other VNs, such as Gahkthun of the Golden Lightning, and reflecting on Grisaia in order to write this post has reminded me that I should read some of those sooner rather than later.
Makoto & Moogy
Saya no Uta (or The Song of Saya) is another classic that you definitely read if you were around in the older days of visual novels, and that wouldn’t have been possible without translation by Makoto and editing by Moogy. The two of them also stuck with Saya for a re-translated release over a decade later, with which Moogy became even more involved, and they’ve both also translated a long list of other projects throughout the years. Reading Saya was a really memorable experience back in the day—and the re-release is on steam now? What? That’s another thing that used to feel like it was impossible. While steam still has some problems that continue to make it difficult for some VN developers to get their work out there, the fact that so many have succeeded shows a massive shift in the public perception of the medium, and Moogy and Makoto have been there since the beginning. We couldn’t have come this far without translators like them.
And of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without crediting the translator of my absolute favourite visual novel, The House in Fata Morgana. While I don’t have the linguistic ability to do the comparison myself, I’ve heard that yukino is the primary person to thank for the way the somber tone of the English version evokes classic tragic literature of the past—in contrast to some more modern, casual dialogue in the original that led to mixed reactions from a Japanese audience. Fata in English absolutely wouldn’t be the same, and might not have earned the critical acclaim it has, without yukino. Also, as anyone who’s been on twitter over the past few days knows, she came up with some really creative lines for even the parts that were the most difficult to translate. And she’s multi-talented too, having worked as programmer on a wide variety of projects on top of the ones she’s translated. I’m really glad she’s a part of the visual novel community, and I’m looking forward to reading more of her work in the future.
When I first started reading VNs, it seemed very possible to me that a committed fan could totally run out of good stuff to read unless they had the time and dedication to learn Japanese. And as cool as that might be to do someday, it’s amazing to see that over the course of a few years, things have changed so much that such a daunting task no longer seems necessary. Not only are there all the great EVN developers that I often write about in my other posts, but there are incredible translators like all the ones named above, and so many more, who work tirelessly to create unique and memorable English versions of Japanese media. A lot of them don’t get enough credit or appreciation for the work that they do, so thank your favourite translator today.