Tuesday 26 March 2013

Handlin' yo baggage!

Don’t you just hate baggage limits?  They are, however, a necessary evil.  Can you imagine a world without baggage limits?  Elephant trafficking would increase exponentially.  EXPONENTIALLY! Elephant populations would double overnight in developed nations.  OVERNIGHT!  And they would keep doubling every night and subsequent nights thereafter!  THIS IS WHAT EXPONENTIALLY MEANS!  Are you aware of the problems that would cause the already strained social security systems?  Oh, you are.  Sorry, I thought you were an idiot.

If weight limits were a bit less restrictive, I would have taken my beloved PS2 to Japan with me.  I could be playing all my fave games in the very land where they were conceived.  Happy happy joy joy!  At the time, I couldn’t even consider parting with my PS2, especially since I had just boosted my game collection with some smart Ebay purchases.  Sadly though, I had to say a teary farewell to ピーちゃん because apparently these things called “clothes” are actually “necessary” and we’re “expected” to “wear” them in “public places”.  I bought a ton of games for apparently no reason whatsoever.

So the story goes that I left my true love behind.  We were separated for some time before a chance summer encounter rekindled our scandalous affair.  After patiently waiting over two years, I finally got the chance to actually play some of the games I had bought.  I was understandably excited.  In amongst some of the more unusual and rare games (Koudelka, anyone?) I managed to get my grubby paws on was Persona 3 FES.  You may or may not be aware of this game.  If not this particular game, then maybe you’ve heard of the long-running Shin Megami Tensei series, of which Persona 3 is a part.  No, you say?  Well then, let me continue.

Persona 3 has a lot of interesting features that set it apart from almost all other RPGs I’ve played.  I don’t want to give a review of the game, as that’s not the purpose of my existence, but I do need to give a bit of description of the basic setting because it’s relevant to the localization point that I want to discuss.  To cut to the gristle, the game is split between the “real world” of Japan (this is a real place) and a dungeon world of randomly generated floors in a tower called Tartarus (this is not a real place).

The real world setting is what makes the game a bit peculiar.  What you do is go to school, go to lessons, hang out with friends, make new friends, go to the game arcade, do you homework, play online games, go to sleep, go the massive scary tower where the monsters live that only appears at midnight… and so on.  Sound familiar?  Only a certain amount of activities can be packed into a day and everything you do affects your characters’ stats in the dungeon and how well you get on with certain summon monsters.

I’m gonna jump to the side a bit here and tell you a little about Japanese club activities in schools.  Certainly there were clubs at my school; Science Club, Chess Club, Art Club, Maths Club, sports teams and the like.   I was in the Go Home As Soon As Possible Club.   And the Games Workshop club.  Attendance at a club wasn’t compulsory, but in Japan, pupils are kind of expected to join a club at high school, particularly if they go to a good school, and even more particularly if they want to go to a good university.  Some pupils may even choose to become members of several clubs at once.  So is the case in Persona 3.  You actually join clubs and have to balance your time between them.  This is more fun than it sounds.

Now, Japan is a society particularly fond of ranks and levels, levels within ranks and ranks within those levels.  There are certain words that people will use, specific to clubs and work, which refer to where another member sits in the hierarchy relative to someone else.  The words are 先輩, senpai,  and 後輩, kouhai and will probably be familiar to anyone who has studied some Japanese.   They generally refer to those who have been a member of said club or department for longer and shorter than you respectively.  You revere you sempais because they have been learning about club activities, or the job, for longer than you, have more knowledge and can teach and show you things, and they’re likely older than you as well.

To give you an example, I was listening to a music podcast (ラジカントロプス2.0), where the presenters chat with various Japanese music industry types, when I heard something interesting.  I was listening to episode 256, an interview with former YMO affiliate, Kunihiko Murai (村井邦彦).  The interviewer and Murai are chatting away when it comes out that Murai had a radio show when he was at university.  The interviewer then refers to Murai as senpai, I assume because Murai’s radio experience dates back to before that of the interviewer.

In terms of translating senpai and kouhai you could just say senior and junior, and these words are alright for describing the relative positions although they don’t really capture the essence of the Japanese words.  Nevertheless, there can be problems with senior and junior in terms of usage.  For example, a kouhai will often call their senpai simply “senpai”, or the person’s name with senpai attached to it, like san.  Plus, in English we just wouldn’t say these words when talking about our club members; we’d probably just use the person’s name, use Mr. or Mrs., or describe how amazing they are with a sentence or two.

Which brings me round to my point.  In Persona 3, the localization staff decided to leave the word senpai just as it is.  No translation.  No trying to force the Japanese into English.  The reason for this could be one of two:
1.       The localization team are a lazy bunch of slags who don’t know what they’re doing (note: this is not the real reason)
2.       They left it like that on purpose

If the word was purposefully left unchanged, how are English-speaking players supposed to know what’s going on?

Woah there, Sonny Jim!  Don’t shoot you load before you’ve filled your barrel!  That question isn’t really relevant.  Instead, we should take a look at what kind of person buys JPop-infused anime-style JRPGs set primarily in a Japanese JSchool where the main JCharacters shoot themselves in their JFaces with handguns before JSummoning a JMonster.


Yes.  Hang on, wait, the correct answer is people who like all of the things I mentioned above, except with less face shooting (maybe less).  So, yeah, losers.

The game is set in a Japanese school where people do Japanese school stuff.  You might expect there to be some characteristic schooly-type language knocking about.  Look at the main foreign market and you might assume players probably get a kick out of finding out about things typical to a country they are interested in.  I can’t speak for everyone here, but personally, I enjoy learning about things I’m interested in.

To conclude, and without having done any research whatsoever, the localization team kept the word senpai to aid in immersing players in the routines of a foreign high school.  Things particular to one culture don’t always have to be changed for people from another culture to appreciate them.  Sometimes we don’t want to be forced into relating to something just because not changing it would make it “foreign”, and therefore unbearable.  Sometimes pleasure can come from actually experiencing those characteristic foreign ideas and we can enhance our own understanding of our place in the world relative to others.  Not always, though, because some foreign ideas are really fucking stupid!


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