I thought I’d start a new segment featuring short tidbits on things I’ve seen being “lost in translation”. Now take note, there’s a reason why simulcasts tend to have translational inaccuracies. The most common is due to the timing of release in that streaming services usually rely on professional translators that are not directly members of the Japanese production team. In some cases, there can be multiple translators, and even multiple translation groups commissioned on a single airing show depending on how the agreement is set up between the home (Japan) broadcast company and the online streamer. This is the reason why official translations on DVDs/BluRays are far more polished, because the transcripts are actually worked on from the ground up with cooperation between the publishing company/distributor and the home office.
Another reason is partly due to the language itself. There are many nuances in Japanese that don’t filter through as succinctly as they should given the format of subtitles. So that being the case, I figured I’d share some of those nuances with you in these posts.
To kick things off, let’s start with a show from last season, Sound! Euphonium.
The original Japanese title of the show is Hibike! Euphonium (響け！ユーフォニアム), wherein the word “hibike” is the imperative form of the verb “resound”. The reason why the official translation went with “sound” has something to do with the function of the words “resound” and “sound” in English as a verb. Strictly speaking, “sound” has an active component to it, which allows it to take an imperative tone consistent with the Japanese original. By imperative, we refer to the verb being interpreted as a spoken “command” of sorts. So in this case, it’s a command for the Euphonium to make a “sound”.
“Resound” on the other hand lacks an imperative tone in English because it’s a passive event. You don’t necessarily make something resound — it’s a quality that is evoked by factors either inherent to something (i.e. an instrument has qualities that allow it to resonate a certain way) or other (i.e. the qualities of an auditorium versus an open space, for example). So commanding a Euphonium to “resound” seems a little awkward given it’s something inherent to its design — it will resound, regardless.
So that explains the lexical nuance that justifies its English translation. But what about the Japanese? What’s so important about the word “Hibike”?
From a narrative perspective, the Euphonium obviously represents Kumiko, and the imperative for her to “resound” reflects her growth as a character and the means by which she learns to express herself more honestly in the things she does. It also ties in to the general nature of the Euphonium, which is often depicted as a “background” instrument — a “lesser character” that isn’t even considered an orchestral standard.
But the Japanese word “Hibike” also means “to resonate”, as in resonating with an idea or concept. It can also mean “to have an impression”, meaning something has an impact or exhibits an effect (on someone or something). So the greater message, here is how the imperative actually not just literally requests the underdog Euphonium to be heard or to resound, but also to resonate and make an impact. It’s a call to make oneself heard and create a ripple effect that moves others; it stirs them into action.
And this is given even more emphasis with the use of an exclamation point. It’s an imperative, it’s a command — to a certain extent, it’s practically a plea.
So there you have it! I hope you enjoyed this little segue from the typical weekly thoughts. I hope to bring out posts like this every time I come across something in the currently airing shows that might be worth clarification, ultimately elevating your viewing experience to a certain extent. If there are any particular clips from shows that you think might be “lost in translation”, feel free to let me know and I’ll be more than happy to share with you my thoughts on it.