Saturday, October 8, 2016

"Especially Since You Bought Merchandise." (Unnatural Utterances at the Tomato Convenience Store - Part 2)

Today we'll dive into the real meaning behind a phrase from Shenmue I that has been quoted with affection by fans throughout the years. Like the "This..." case examined previously, it's one that can come up when Ryo shops at the Tomato Convenience Store.

"Especially since you bought merchandise."
Caution! This phrase may bring your conversation to a stop
if used without adequate supervision.

The Scenario:


This time, Ryo selects a packet of potato chips to buy from the well-stocked shelves of the Tomato Convenience store.
Shenmue Potato Chips
Shenmue 'Potechi' Potato Chips from SEGA.
"Crispy & delicious. 94% potato. Flavor: gradually grows salty."

After Ryo has paid for the item, the shop assistant invites him to draw a raffle ticket. Ryo plucks one out from the box and unfolds it eagerly.


Ryo draws a ticket
"Triangle Raffle: Big Prizes! Speedy!"


Minako: Draw a ticket, please.

Ryo rummages around in the raffle box and draws a ticket, unfolding it to find...

Ryo (disappointedly): "No prize..."
Minako (brightly): "Especially since you bought merchandise."

The Tomato Mart theme tune skids to a sudden halt. Sound of crickets chirping etc.


Analysis:


The phrase "Especially since you bought merchandise" is somewhat puzzling when first encountered, even though the individual words may give a vague sense of meaning. For a start, the sentence seems to be incomplete - "since you bought merchandise"... then what? What exactly is it supposed to mean?

In fact, in its original Japanese form this sentence sounds entirely natural, but the meaning has been muddied through an English translation that is a little too literal, failing to communicate the true sense of the Japanese idiom.

Introducing "Sekkaku"


To understand how the English translation came about, we need to look at the Japanese word sekkaku. It can be used as an adverb or an adjective, and means something along the lines of "going to all the trouble of doing something (with an unfortunate result)".

This word is fairly common in Japanese, whereas in English there's not really any single word that is capable of capturing the full sense.

It's quite straight-forward to use though. Here are a few examples to illustrate, placing it in an English sentence for simplicity.

Example 1: I sekkaku took a day off work, only for it to rain all day long.
Example 2: Thank you so much for your sekkaku invitation, but I've got other plans tonight.

It can also be used in cases where sentence is not finished, and the outcome is implied. So if you didn't wish to give a precise reason for turning someone's invitation down you might just say:

Example 3: Thank you so much for your sekkaku invitation, but...

The inviter will get the message that you aren't able to make it, without pressing for a reason.

The Original Japanese

Now let's go back to look at what Minako says in the original Japanese, translating fairly directly:

Minako: "Sorry about that. Even though you sekkaku made a purchase from us... "

The original Japanese lines
The same scenario in Japanese reveals the intended meaning.

The first point of interest is that in Japanese Minako expresses her sympathy, but this line was dropped from the English caption. Presumably this was due to on-screen space constraints for the written words, since English tends to take up more room than Japanese, but unfortunately it also removes a meaningful part of the conversation.

This is followed by the phrase in question. It can be seen by the ellipses ("...") at the end of the sentence that in the Japanese the rest of the sentence (such as "you weren't lucky this time") is not stated directly but implied, in a similar way as with Example 3 above.

So now the full meaning and context is clear: Minako is sympathetic that Ryo didn't win a prize, despite the fact he went to the trouble of qualifying for the raffle by buying something at the shop.

The official translation uses the word "especially" to try to express this, but this just isn't sufficiently accurate to do justice to the meaning.

It's interesting to note that the word "merchandise" is not actually even used in the Japanese sentence, and it's inclusion probably doesn't do anything to help make the sentence sound any smoother or more natural in English.

So What's a Better Translation?


This is a good question. It's not an easy task to try to stay close to the original Japanese words in English without sounding a bit stilted, since it doesn't have quite the same cultural fit.

My thought is that it would be best to rework it slightly while keeping the spirit of the original words, within the two-line caption limitation that the original translator had to work with. Something simple like this would have been fine:

Minako: "Oh, too bad. Better luck next time."

The voice acting is also worth a note. The delivery as it stands is a little too upbeat for the situation - this is understandable, as the voice actress probably had difficulty guessing the meaning of the sentence. A slightly more sympathetic tone, as in the Japanese version, would be more appropriate here.
Ryo outside the Tomato Convenience Store
Ryo contemplates buying more merchandise.

I hope you enjoyed the analysis (over-analysis) of this phrase. Do you agree? How would you translate it into natural-sounding English? Leave your thoughts below. Any comment from native Japanese speakers also welcome!


4 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, it deserved to be laid to rest after all this time. :)

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  2. English is my second language and Japanese my third.

    Looking back, when I first played Shenmue, I was quite young and my English level was still very limited. That sentence might have sounded a bit off but I totally understood the meaning back then.

    Looking at the Japanese version of the sentence, Minako starts with a simple "Sorry" and "ne" to make it softer and also because the information is shared between Minako and Ryo.

    Now this is where it gets really hard to translate it properly.
    You explained pretty well the meaning of せっかく (sekkaku) but then, Minako says 買ってくれたのに (katte kureta no ni).

    Sekkaku is adding a sense of pitty and "no ni" adds to that because it has a meaning of contrast. That means, if you didn't go to all the trouble of buying something, the situation wouldn't be as bad. The problem is that I don't know how you can give that idea of contrast in English without saying the whole sentence.

    If it was me translating that, I'd probably say:
    Minako: That's a pitty, especially since you bought something.

    I love these articles, they really make me think about things I didn't pay attention to back then...

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for your thoughts and additional analysis. I think your suggested translation captures the meaning nicely. It's also interesting to hear how your experience with the game has changed over the years as a non-native speaker of both English & Japanese.

      Shenmue really has many facets that continue to be rewarding to contemplate and explore even now - the closer you look, the more you can find.

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