Wednesday, December 11, 2019

"Kiss Off Twit!"- Insults in Shenmue | Translation Analysis

This topic was selected by the Phantom River Stone blog patrons via our monthly poll on Patreon and was available for early access.

One of the things the Shenmue games are particularly known for is the believable world they portray, with no detail too small to escape attention. It is also a world populated by hardened gang members and even delinquent schoolgirls who waste no time in cutting Ryo down to size if he attempts to interact with them, with a number of offensive retorts to Ryo's polite queries.

A smile will have sprung to the lips of many a player after seeing a tattooed biker grimace menacingly at Ryo before snarling: "Kiss off twit!" There is at times an apparent disjoint between the character's appearance and their choice of language. Is this something that was present even in the Japanese version of the lines?

To answer this, we will compare a selection of lines and examine their original Japanese translation.

Insults & Tough Talk: Japanese vs English

It is interesting to note that the Japanese language has a somewhat different approach compared to English when looking to insult someone or talk tough.

While in English there are certain words and phrases that distinguish polite from causal speech, the Japanese language has a much more regimented system to define humble, polite and respectful speech. Hence, simply not using polite language to address a stranger can represent insulting behavior in itself. (In the examples below, the characters use a very rough and slang-filled form of speech when replying to Ryo's mild enquiries).

Another pattern in Japanese slangy spoken speech is that adjectives ending in an "ai" or "oi" sound often change to "ee" (also written "e~"). This is also something that can be seen in the examples. For example, in Example 1, the biker pronounces the word "shitsukoi" (meaning persistent) as "shitsukee", emphasizing his tough-guy image.

Dobuita Bikers (Koji Yabe and Shingo Mochizuki)

These two biker gang members don't have much time for Ryo's questioning, and are quick to cut him down and send him on his way with a selection of choice phrases.

Let's see how some of their English lines compare the Japanese, translating the Japanese fairly directly.

Example 1

English: Kiss off twit!
Japanese: Shitsuke~n da yo. = You're bugging me!

In Japanese, Koji speaks in a rough / masculine manner, telling Ryo that he's being annoying with all his questioning. The English doesn't translate this directly, but instead tries to capture the intent. However, the family-friendly phrasing does somewhat take the edge off his words.

Example 2

English: Go on. Kiss off punk.
Japanese: Sa, gaki wa mukou ni ikina. =  Right, get out of here (lit. go over there), brat.

This time the English is a close match to the Japanese meaning, but with the English again employing a euphemism ("Kiss off") unlike the Japanese. The attitude of the speaker in this case is dismissive, as if a school kid like Ryo is not worth his time.

Example 3

English: Why you, ain't nothing but some punk ass schoolboy.
Japanese: Mada gaki no kuse ni, aokuse~ yatsu da ze. = You're so naive. Nothing but a kid.

The English line here, with the phrase "punk ass schoolboy, does a good job in capturing both the rough tone of the speaker as well as the meaning of the original words.

Delinquent Schoolgirls (Rena Isayama and Yumiko Minamino)

These two schoolgirls can often be found hanging out in Dobuita, and occasionally the harbor, and are portrayed as violent and aggressive, and this is reflected in their language.

They represent members of sukeban, violent girl gangs that numbered in the tens of thousands nationwide at the peak of their prominence in the 1970s. They wore long-skirted school uniforms which they used to conceal weapons. This article on an external site has additional information about the sukeban.

As we will see below, they have a rich variety of expressions they spring on poor Ryo as he attempts to question them about clues that might lead him closer to the location of his father's killer...

Example 4

English: Want me to kick your ass?
Japanese: Kenka uru ki? = You trying to pick a fight?

The English provides a good equivalent to the Japanese.

Example 5

English: Whatcha want twit?
Japanese: Nan da yo, teme~? = What do you want, asshole!

The Japanese here uses an insulting term for "you", which in English could be communicated through the use of an insult such as "asshole" or similar. The game's choice of "twit" loses a lot of the impact of the original line, however.

Example 6

English: You asking for it, jerk!
Japanese: Nani, gantsuketen da yo = What're you looking at!

Not an exact translation, but consistent with the feel of the Japanese.

Example 7

English: I'll slap you silly ya' pansy!
Japanese: Kiyasuku hanashikaken na yo = Don't speak to me so familiarly!

The English line has obviously taken some liberties here! The Japanese does not contain any specific insult, but achieves a similar tone by being abrupt and forceful.

Example 8

English: OK bastard!
Japanese: Uzatten da yo = You're getting on my nerves!

The English may have missed the mark a little in this case, neither resembling the original meaning nor providing a natural-sounding alternative.

While the word "bastard" in English is a fairly strong insult, there is nothing in the Japanese that suggests this line is particularly more emphatic than the earlier line which uses the far-tamer "twit".

Example 9

English: Jerk-off!
Japanese: Jama. = Get out of my way.

The is one of the more memorable English lines of the delinquent schoolgirls! There may be more than a few players who have felt somewhat puzzled about its intended meaning.

Something like "Get out of my space!" might have communicated this better.

Example 10

English: Kiss off!
Japanese: Dokka ikina. = Get lost! (lit. Go somewhere!)

Another example of the "Kiss off" euphemism that the was used by the bikers.

Example 11

English: Screw off asshole!
Japanese: Urusee. Hottoke yo. = Shut up and leave us alone!

I think the English translation is a good fit here for the attitude and uncouth language of delinquent schoolgirls.

Example 12

English: Kiss off!
Japanese: Uze~n da yo. = You're really bugging me!

Here we see another appearance of "Kiss off", although this perhaps misses an opportunity to add variation, given that the Japanese uses a unique line.

Example 13

English: Bastard!
Japanese: Temee! = You asshole!

The same Japanese insult appeared in Example 5 above, where we observed that the English translation of "twit" felt a little too tame in comparison. Here, however, there are no holds barred with their selection of "bastard"!

Example 14

English: I'm gonna kick your ass!
Japanese: Choushi bukkoiten jane~ yo = Don't get cocky!

The Japanese phrase used is deliberately vulgar, and while the English gives a slightly different meaning compared to the original words, it keeps a similar feeling.

Final Comment

Something that can be observed from these examples is that the English translations are often spiced up with bad language or insulting terms (such as bastard or pansy) whereas this is not prominent in the Japanese lines. This goes back to the note we made at the start, where Japanese can convey an insulting attitude simply by lowering the general politeness level of the speech. Even the word temee, which we noted can be translated into English as something like "asshole," is insulting not because of it's inherent meaning (which is simply "you") but because it represents a rough way of saying it.

Revisiting our original question at the start of this post, we wanted to investigate how phrases like "Kiss off twit!" spoken by intimidating characters are presented in the original Japanese.

Through examining several examples, we can conclude that the Japanese lines spoken by the characters are appropriately forceful and don't employ such euphemisms.

The English lines, on the other hand, display an inconsistent level of language. This came about no doubt as a result of multiple translation teams working on the huge Shenmue script, and as such is completely understandable.

As for Ryo, he doesn't mind either way. He's too busy looking for a man named Charlie.

More Quirky Lines

If you enjoy discussions on some of the quirky English lines in the early Shenmue games, here are some we have analyzed in the past:

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1 comment:

  1. note to anyone reading this comment: this does not reveal anything remotely important about the plot in shenmue 3, but if you're like me and want to read ZERO before finishing the game, skip the below.

    would love to see an explanation of the game "taking bailu by storm". there's cleeeearly something going on with the translation there - lol.