Lost in Translation #16 – Magical Circle Guru Guru


Hey guys, time for another Lost in Translation! Truth is, this entry is mostly about reference spotting, but it goes without saying that a big chunk of the enjoyment on this series banks on the viewer’s understanding of the Dragon Quest franchise. That’s not to say that you can’t appreciate it without having first-hand experience of the game; rather, a lot of the jokes can be missed otherwise. So hopefully, these little entries can help enrich your viewing experience if you’re one of those people who hasn’t played Dragon Quest back in the 80’s.

Because the truth is, the video gaming culture in the 80’s and early 90’s pitted two franchises as main rivals as far as RPGs were concerned: Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy. For many Japanese friends I’ve met, they say that it was Dragon Quest that was far more popular than Final Fantasy, and it wasn’t until the Super Famicom (Super Nintendo Entertainment System for those in the West) that the Final Fantasy series really started to take off. Likewise, it isn’t that common to find hardcore Dragon Quest fans in the west given how well-exposed Final Fantasy is.

But putting that into perspective, that explains why a large chunk of the parodies in Magical Circle Guru Guru focuses on Dragon Quest, in general. Of course, I’m not claiming to have noticed all of the references in this pilot episode alone, so if you’ve noticed anything, do feel free to share it in the comments below! So sit back as we run down some interesting tidbits from episode 1 of Magical Circle Guru Guru!



The word guru-guru literally means “around-and-around”, and can be used as a verb to indicate confusion (i.e. my mind is spinning), or more specifically can be used to refer to doodles on the ground. You probably might have seen this as a sort of character trope to indicate self-pity when a character crouches and starts drawing spirals on the ground. It’s from this wording that Kukuri’s power is based on, given she draws doodles on the ground in order to summon all sorts of magic.


The HERO is here!


If you’ve ever played a Dragon Quest game, you probably already know that the main character is usually referred to as simply “hero”. Nike’s apprehension at becoming the “hero” is an interesting jab at the arbitrary nature of assigning the term to the protagonist of a story without even having done any heroic deeds to begin with. Simply being the protagonist makes him the hero, which is the same sort of inane setup that most classic RPGs always have.

In the scene above, we see Nike dressed up in an outfit that looks eerily similar to Edrick’s — the main hero from Dragon Quest III:


And if you’ve watched enough anime, you’ve probably already noticed that the character designer for the entire Dragon Quest series is none other than Akira Toriyama, the creative mind behind Dragon Ball Z and Chrono Trigger. This brings us to the second little reference in the sketch above, where the 勇 symbol (lit. “brave” — first character “yû” in the word “yûshâ”, meaning “hero”) in the circle is a reference to Son Goku, who wears clothing with a similar embellishment (in Goku’s case, it’s 亀, meaning “turtle”). This is a small little tribute to Akira Toriyama and his influence in the Dragon Quest brand.


Navigational Shenanigans


There are a bunch of silly jokes that revolve around location names in video games. The obvious one is “North Town”, which is only named that in reference to a location relative to the player. Of course, this makes no sense in the greater scheme of things, but it’s something that’s present in video games to orient the player, nonetheless. Magical Circle Guru Guru takes this a bit further by adding a pun to its name. “North Town” in Japanese is said as kita machi (北町), which can also be interpreted as 来た町 (literally “HERE town”). This gag is further pushed when the name is repeated as kita kita machi (キタキタ町), which gives it the nuance of IT’S OVER HERE town. In other words, there’s no way you can miss this town, which is partly a jab towards the obvious linearity of old-school RPGs.

Other places in the over world have similarly messed up names, which were conveyed quite creatively in the official translation. Boering town comes from Jimina Mura (ジミナ村, lit. “boring town”), and Ainshent Castle comes from Kôdai Jô (コーダイ城, a deliberate misspelling of “kodai” meaning “ancient”).

Lastly, a small joke about distances is made where Kukuri mentions they arrived at the castle rather quickly:


Nike’s response is translated slightly off, though. His original line goes 近いからいいの!(chikai kara, ii no!, lit. “It’s close, so who cares!?”), which references the fact that towns in the over world are “closer than they appear”. Of course, limitations in graphical software for video games at the time meant that the world map could only be so big, and to make up for the short distances, random battles were added to increase the amount of time spent traveling between locations.


Things are not to scale


Another joke on 8-bit gaming sensibilities is Kukuri’s joke on the king being a giant. In this case, it has something to do with how character sprites (the graphical representation of a character in the video game) can look just as big as an entire town when viewing the over world. Just look at the world map screen shot above and you’ll notice that both Kukuri and Nike are as big as the entire castle.


Pun with words (and sounds)


Puns can go all sorts of ways, and in this short sequence where Geil pulls out three placards with symbols for rock, paper, scissors on it, it’s easy to understand how such a pun can go above one’s head. In this case, the pun includes the sound effect just after Geil announces “come forth!” — Jaan!! (the Japanese equivalent of “tadaah!”). This is followed by Geil shouting “sword”, which is said as ken (剣) in Japanese; and lastly another sound effect of a hand drum, pon! (the Japanese equivalent of “toink!”). Put these together, and you get Jan, ken, pon, which literally translates to “rock, paper, scissors”.


How many DQ games have YOU played?


As if referencing Dragon Quest wasn’t enough, here we see Nike being spun around an umbrella whilst changing costumes with every single frame. Each costume is actually a reference to the appearance of the Hero from Dragon Quest titles I to VI and VIII.


That’s all you can say!


Merchants and NPCs having nothing but one-liners is typical in 8-bit RPGs given the limitations of character counts and the memory allocation needed, so Nike’s frustration in their incessant “welcome’s” is pretty much warranted.


How convenient


Weapon and armor shops that also freely buy off anything in your inventory? How very useful indeed — something that should exist outside of the RPG world, perhaps?


Useless NPCs


There’s always that sequence where you have to save a non-playable character (NPC), which makes you wonder why the hell they just stay on the side doing nothing whilst you fight. Nike has the right idea in wishing he didn’t get dragged into this mess in the first place.


And there you have it, some interesting tidbits from a similarly interesting (and crazy) show. Anything else you saw in Magical Circle Guru Guru that you want to point out? Feel free to share it in the comments below; I really wanna know if there’s anything I missed! So until next time, ciao!

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