Friday, September 2, 2016

"This..." Unnatural Utterances at the Tomato Convenience Store

In the main, the English character lines in Shenmue sound reasonably natural - often with a deliberate touch of humor depending on the character. But it is interesting to spot the odd case that comes across as a bit awkward (or even puzzling). More often than not, this is due to having been translated a little too directly from the original Japanese.

To show what I mean, let's consider a couple of English lines from Shenmue that sound slightly "off", and compare them with the original Japanese that these translations come from to find out how they compare.

In this post we'll look at a first, simple example.

Ryo at the Tomato Convenience Store

Ryo outside Tomato Convenience Store
I will avenge my father's death... but I'm getting kind of hungry.

OK, here's the scene: the brightly-lit Tomato Convenience Store on the main street of Dobuita as dusk starts to settle in. Ryo Hazuki, pausing before the automatic door, realizes that he has not eaten anything in a long while. He resolves to briefly put aside the quest to avenge his father's death in order to buy a snack. He steps up to the store's doors which slide open and the chirpy Tomato Mart theme greets him as he strolls inside.

Scenario: Ryo Makes a Purchase 

Ryo spies the shelf with boxes labelled "Shenmue Caramels". A single box conveniently sits apart from the rest at the front, so he chooses it and takes it to the clerk at the counter where the following exchange takes place.

Minako: Ryo. May I help you?
Ryo (placing the item on the counter): This...

Ryo is served by Minako
Um...would it be OK if I just hang out
and listen to the Tomato Store theme for a while?

A Brief Analysis

A lot can be explained by comparing what Ryo says in the Japanese version of the game. Predictably, "This" is also exactly what Ryo says there - so it's a seemingly straight-forward one-for-one translation.

However, in the Japanese language a single word or two will often suffice where the rest of the sentence is implied - much more so than when speaking in English. This is particularly common in a situation where the speaker doesn't feel the need to be overly polite, such as being a customer, or talking with someone like a friend. It's more of a male speech pattern than female.

So for the case above, in Japanese it is sufficient for Ryo to make this simple utterance when buying something. But with the English version, it sounds a bit... not rude exactly, but abrupt, or incomplete.

I think that adding an extra word or two to the English version - "This, please." or "I'll take this." - would sound smoother to an English-speaker's ears.

Caramel box on the counter
Though even a single word is quite talkative for Ryo.

A Further Example

This was just a small example but I hope it gives a little insight into how translation between languages can bring subtle challenges.

In a future post, I want to stay with the convenience store scenario to cover one of the most well-remembered phrases encountered in the game (hint: it concerns losing a raffle and "merchandise").

What are your favorite "slightly awkward" English phrases or quotes from Shenmue (either game)? Share them in the comments!

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  1. Ryo: 'No prize'
    Shopkeeper: 'Especially since you bought merchandise'
    Me: Huh?

    1. It's a classic exchange, isn't it. Although it makes perfect sense in the original Japanese!

  2. Did the same thing occurred when getting no prize with the tomato store in the harbour? been a while so i don't remember if the same was said.

    1. Good point, I checked and at the harbor store Ryo says "I'll take this" when handing over the item to buy, and the response to his losing ticket is "Try again another time".

  3. I just chuckle so much whenever I rewatch Shenmue: The Movie and listen to Ryo and Nozomi's conversation that they have in front of the flower shop...
    Nozomi asks Ryo a question concerning his emotional status after his father's death....
    Ryo just says: "Yeah." Like, just "YEAH". MULTIPLE times in the conversation. It's freakin awkward as heck and just comes off as rude. Like, could you show a BIT more emotion, Ryo? Lol I don't even know.... But we all still love you, awkward weirdo, you. ^_^

    1. Haha, he's the original ice statue! But perhaps Shenhua be able to thaw him out in Shenmue III?