If your translation doesn’t make any sense, then you’re (probably) doing it wrong

For some reason, I was watching Coalgirls’s release of Bakemonogatari. It was the second episode, and the scene was when Hitagi, in her own unique tsundere (read naked) fashion, was hitting on Koyomi, even though he’s too stupid to realize it. Incidentally, this part was what got me into the show two years back because the jokes and Hitagi’s all-around verbal abuse here is fantastic. Coalgirls’s translation up to this point can be best described as “understandable” despite the translator’s poor sense of style. Or at least until it got to the punchline of my favorite joke in the scene.

Wait, what? Here’s the entire mini-dialogue in context.

Hitagi: It’s exactly why you will forever be a virgin.
Koyomi: Forever?! Did you come from the future?!
Hitagi: Please refrain from spitting. I’ll be infected by your virginity.
Koyomi: Like a man’s virginity could spread to a woman! Hold up… Come to think of it… The topic is proceeding on the assumption that I am a virgin.
Hitagi: It’s true that my words are biased.
Koyomi: I am glad you realize that.
Hitagi: Just don’t spit. Your amateurish virginity will infect me.

“Amateurish virginity?” What the hell does that even mean? Let’s ignore the Japanese here for now and judge this based solely on the English translation, which is what I would assume most people who watch subs (and don’t know Japanese) would do. Interestingly, the translator didn’t even provide a translation note to preach to the viewer about the finer details of Japanese slang.

I was curious, so to see what some of the other translators were up to, I found Thora’s release which uses qIIq’s translation. Thora has a general reputation for providing quality releases.

Hitagi: That kind of thing is going to keep you a virgin for the rest of your life.
Koyomi: The rest of my life?! Are you some sort of time traveler from the future?!
Hitagi: Can you not spit on me? Your virginity is contagious.
Koyomi: Girls can’t catch virginity! Wait a second, your premise about me being a virgin is getting in the way of our chat!
Hitagi: Certainly, I’ve been prejudiced.
Koyomi: It’s good that you realize.
Hitagi: Don’t spit on me. I’ll catch your prostitute-only virginity.

Holy blueberry fuck muffins, qIIq, bless his gracious heart, cannot possibly be a native English speaker. Not even getting to the last line, how in the world did “…your premise about me being a virgin is getting in the way of our chat” pass the rest of the people who were working on this? Assuming that the rest of them were also non-native speakers, why do an English release when none of your team members can speak English? Assuming there was at least one native speaker who looked at this before release, did he pass third grade English class? Also, “prostitute-only virginity” makes no sense either. So much for the good reputation. Does Thora not read the subs he uses?

For the sake of completeness, here it is again, this time translated by gg. gg has a reputation for crappy and troll releases.

Hitagi: This is why you’re going to be a virgin for the rest of your life.
Koyomi: For the rest of my life? What are you, a time traveler?
Hitagi: Could you not spit while you talk. Virginity is contagious.
Koyomi: How could male virginity be transmitted to a female?! Wait a second. This topic is based on the assumption that I’m a virgin.
Hitagi: It’s true I’m being biased.
Koyomi: Good to know.
Hitagi: Could you not spit while you talk? STDs from hookers are contagious.

Wow, what a difference! The translation is tight, straight, actually sounds like something a native speaker might say, and what’s more, it makes sense! The punchline is perfect. The only gripe I have is instead of the use of “this topic,” I would have written “this conversation,” which in this case, makes more sense. I would probably also add in an “actually” in “I’m a virgin” too. I guess reputation means squat?

Let’s take a look at the Japanese. Below each line, is a literal (without being ungrammatical, per se) translation of each line.

1. Hitagi: そんなことだから、あなたは一生童貞なんのよ。(sonna koto da kara, anata wa isshou doutei nan no yo.)
1. Hitagi: Because of those kinds of things, you will be a virgin for your entire life.
2. Koyomi: 一生!お前、未来から来た人なのか!(isshou! omae, mirai kara kita hito nano ka!)
2. Koyomi: Entire life! Are you a person that came from the future?
3. Hitagi: 唾を飛ばさないでくれる?童貞が移るわ。(tsuba o tobasanai de kureru? doutei ga utsuru wa.)
3. Hitagi: May you please not hurl saliva? Virginity will transfer.
4. Koyomi: 女に童貞移るか!っていうか、ちょっと待って。僕が童貞であることを前提に話進んでいるぞ。(onna ni doutei utsuru ka! tte yu ka, chotto matte. boku ga doutei de aru koto o zentei ni hanashi susunde iru zo.)
4. Koyomi: Will virginity transfer to girls? Or rather, wait a moment. The conversation is advancing on the premise that I am a virgin.
5. Hitagi: うん。確かに偏見でものを言ったわね。(un. tashika ni henken de mono o itta wa ne.)
5. Hitagi: Yes. Certainly, I spoke with prejudice.
6. Koyomi: 分かってくれればいいんだ。(wakatte kurereba ii n da.)
6. Koyomi: Provided you understand, it’s good.
7. Hitagi: 唾を飛ばさないで、シロウト童貞が移るわ。 (tsuba o tobasanai de, shirouto doutei ga utsuru wa.)
7. Hitagi: Please do not hurl saliva, amateur virginity will transfer.

I think noticeable here is line 4 where the literal translation (“The conversation is advancing on the premise that I am a virgin”) sounds pretty good already and it just needs a few small tweaks. Coalgirls and gg seems to agree. It’s beyond me how qIIq got from this to the monstrosity he put in his release. I can say more about the other lines, but this post is already too long, so let’s move on to punch line. As it turns out, Hitagi does actually say “amateur virginity,” so Coalgirls’s translation would be correct in the same way that circling the “x” in all the math questions that ask you to find “x” would be correct. So what the hell does “shirouto doutei” actually mean?

Lo and behold, Wikipedia has a page on it.

Skipping straight to the definition, “性風俗店で働いていない女性との性経験がない男性に対して蔑んで用いる言葉で、1980年代末ごろより定着した用語と見られている,” which translates to “A derogatory term used to refer to men who have had no sexual experiences outside of ones with sex workers. The term has been established in general use since the end of the 1980s.”

In other words, it’s talking about a guy who’s only had sex with prostitutes. Or rather, in Hitagi’s context, she’s talking about getting infected with Koyomi’s “rotten prostitute sexuality” or something along those lines. Now, we can see that qIIq’s translation (“prostitute-only virginity”) actually does sort of make sense, except not really.

We can now also see the genius of gg’s translator. There are several requirements for an ideal translation here:

1. The translation has to be grammatical.
2. The translation must sound natural to the native speaker.
3. The line needs to be sufficiently derogatory, according to the connotation of the original term.
4. The line needs to talk contagions or infections, paralleling the line before it.
5. The line needs to get across the supposed fact that Koyomi has sex with prostitutes.
6. The line needs to demean Koyomi’s sexuality (this may or may not be included in 5).
7. The line needs to be funny.

Note that there’s no need to specifically refer to “virginity,” because the Japanese term isn’t talking about “virgins” in the English sense of the word at all.

So how many of these does gg’s translation cover? Check, check, check, and double, triple fucking check. This kind of translation is non-obvious and circuitous in a certain way, and probably took some time and thinking to get out, but the result saves the entire scene.

I think there are some take away messages here.

1. Coalgirls cannot bother to do a little research and thinking.
2. qIIq should start subbing in his own native tongue.
3. Thora should be more careful about choosing subs.
4. gg is actually pretty good.
5. People don’t actually give a shit about the quality of subs. Following from that, people don’t seem to give a shit about what the characters are saying on screen. Otherwise, there’s no way in hell Coalgirls and qIIq could get away with their subs. This isn’t even about translation “accuracy,” it’s about using half-decent English.

And just in case anyone actually reads this post…

Q: They do it for free! They’re amatuers!
A: This does not change the fact that they’re bad or make them immune to criticism.

Q: If you’re so great, why don’t you fansub?
A: The same reason why Roger Ebert doesn’t make movies.

Q: Their subs are closer to the Japanese original.
A: If by “closer to the Japanese original” you mean using terrible Engrish, then yes, I can sort of see where you’re coming from…

Q: I enjoy their subs.
A: I cannot stop people from enjoying Twilight either.


16 Responses to “If your translation doesn’t make any sense, then you’re (probably) doing it wrong”

  1. I was just watching (again) Bakemonogatari but in HD with the coalgirls version.
    The (10) first time(s) I watched this show was with french subs, my native language and the dialogue was spot on. I got the Coalgirls version to watch Bakemonogatari with good image quality and… wow !

    This really IS a shitty translation!

    Bad enough for me to google about it and find your blog sir. And that show is ALL about the dialogue, it’s just a crime.
    Thank you for pointing out that a good translation does matter.

  2. Oh god, I’m in the exact same state. I’d first watched this show streamed with ANIME-DS, which uses gg subs, and I’ve also read the novels in baka-tsuki. I dl’d the Coalgirls’ 720p version for archiving, and stumbled on the “amateurish virginity” line.

    My next step: Google with those words. Surely SOMEBODY other than me had noticed this!

    And hear you are.


  3. What a great article; Introduction, image, line by line comparisons, definition research AND a “shut up Q&A”. I shall refer to this in the future when talking about subs.
    Sorry if I’m over-impressed but it’s hard to find people who know what they’re writing (or know how TO write at all).
    I haven’t watched Bakemonogatari yet, but it’s on my list. So gg it is!

  4. <>

    impling coalgirls translate anything, they are merely timing + modifing scripts from other groups – for eps 1-12 it was gg (lolwat) + shitty typesetting from qiiq, and for 13-15 from someone named pem + typesetting to match previous eps…

    so you can’t say it was CGi subs… (i wonder if anyone from CGi knows japanese, they are only encoding shit + adding subs)

    [Their translation is completely different from gg’s and qiiq’s. If they really did “merely modify” gg’s scripts then they did a great job on completely fucking it in the ass. It’s basically a completely new interpretation. Also, it’d be hard to argue that they don’t at least know some Japanese, as is evident from the differences. Whatever the case, had they used gg’s subs, I would have been a happy camper. – rsy]

  5. coalgirls used Koharubi subs for bakemonogatari. There is a gg patch out there for the coalgirls bd files though.

  6. There is a simple solution to all of this…learn japanese and stop relying on others to translate for you. But wait, learning japanese is harder the researching Wikipedia and complaining. Burn.

  7. “We can now also see the genius of gg’s translator.”
    Let me stop you, right fucking there, to tell you you’re a retard. You probably don’t realize it, convincing you of it will be next to impossible, but it’s invariably true.

    “Hitagi: Could you not spit while you talk? STDs from hookers are contagious.”
    How is this even remotely fucking appropriate. She calls him effectively a “kissless virgin” and you’ll accept “Hooker spit” as the best replacement for that? Sure if you get caught up in the wikipedia page it might feel appropriate to throw in a reference to prostitutes, but then you’re entirely misreading the entire content. “Kissless virgin” or “inexperienced virgin” work far better, since the origin “Amateur virgin” matches up with this much better. Moreover, she would be immediately contradicting herself by calling him a virgin and then calling him someone who’s slept with prostitutes.

    I’m not sure what other sub groups used, but it can’t possibly be worse than this competition between the two sub groups that are easily the absolute worst in the entire realm of fansubbing.

    I hate to be resorting to personal attacks, but a quick look through your blog tells me you should just kill yourself and apologize to your parents for being a slimy shit in the suicide note. Thanks.

    Now here’s a prime example of reading comprehension, folks! Every time I read a post like this I just have to sit back and laugh. I mean, what else can I do? He or she obviously did not even bother to read my post before replying, and he or she probably didn’t even bother to think a good 10 seconds before typing what I can only call a travesty of human thought. Dearest, Anon, please stay in school and pay attention in English class, and after you graduate, come back and read what you wrote here. Maybe then you’ll realize where you went wrong in life. Also, 2/10, made me reply- rsy

  8. here it is explaned by a japanese that know english
    and yes being called an Amateur Virgin is worse than being a plain virgin

  9. qIIq did the typesetting most people use/modify nowadays. That was the main reason for waiting for them… well, “waiting” in the sense that you watch their release too after you’ve seen the episode from gg.

    At least so was my experience as a viewer who followed the anime as ongoing. Of course, nobody sane used Kohaburi. CGi are decidedly not sane, for the record.

  10. gg’s translation is flawed more because of tone than syntax. gg have a habit of pepping up the tone of dialogue regardless of who the speaker is. While often a rude character, Senjogahara is also rather prim in how she speaks. The line “STDs from hookers” ill-fits with her character, it’s gg not knowing how to get out of ‘edgy’ mode. So on style grounds I find fault with it.

    In terms of content, the line “prostitute-only virginity” makes clear sense to me. What else could it mean but someone who has only slept with prostitutes, especially within the context of the conversation as a whole? She calls him a virgin, he retorts, she modifies her insult with her last line. One can get picky over the tidiness of the English but it’s a more faithful translation. There is a degree of subjectivity involved here – translation is always an imperfect balance between tidy English (or whichever language it is) and faithfulness to the original text, and which tilt of the scales you favour is more a matter of taste than objective correctness.

    • I can’t believe people are still replying to this post.

      First of all, how is talking about sleeping with prostitutes more “prim” than talking about STDs from said prostitutes? If you don’t like like “hookers,” (which I believe fits, because shirouto doutei is slang) just change it to “STDs from prostitutes.” Also, I’m assuming you don’t know Japanese and haven’t read Bakemono. While she can act it, I can tell you that Hitagi isn’t prim as you think she is and her random outbursts of non-primness like these are parts of what makes her so hilarious.

      No, “prostitute-only virginity” does not make sense. At least not in American English. It only makes sense because I spent 3 paragraphs explaining it. If you figured it out by yourself, give yourself a pat on the back and have a cookie. But for the rest of us, we need a little more than Engrish an ESL student came up with.

      This was just one example of how awful the other subs are. gg’s aren’t perfect by any means, and their might be better “translations” out there, but I’ve yet to see better subs.

      Lastly, I don’t believe a bit of that old crap about how translation is like women, if they’re beautiful they’re not faithful…. yadda yadda yadda. I was in the process of writing a post about it, but I got caught up in playing TERA.

      • First of all, it’s more prim because of the way it’s phrased. There is a plain difference between the phrase “STDs from hookers” which is an outright vulgarity, and a euphemistic insult that relies on implication, like “amateur virginity”. It’s the style, not the content. It doesn’t matter what she says in the book either – what she says here counts, and gg changed the tone of what she says here.

        Secondly, it makes perfect sense. I’m not the only one who thinks so either and I’m not even that smart. It only fails to make sense if you are completely incapable of inference through context and are also exceptionally prissy when it comes to tidy phrasing. It’s the kind of thing that crymore would whine about, but that the rest of us just don’t care about. You’d even hear such slightly untidy ad-hoc phrasing in real life conversations – and guess what, it’s a scene where two people are talking informally.

        Thirdly, I don’t believe a bit of that old crap about how “Oh, I didn’t have time to argue about it”. You’re not making an argument because a) you can’t think of one and b) it’s subjective in the first place so you know you can’t make one that’ll stick.

        • Hahaha… Oh jeez. I’m not sure what else to say here. Are you an ESL student? Or maybe you’re not from the States?

          You seem to have your mind set on Hitagi being someone she’s totally not. On the outside, she LOOKS like she’s the prim kind of character, when in fact, she’s NOT. Give my translation of the book a whirl. You can find a download link in my latest blog post. The first chapter is all about people’s perceptions of Hitagi (prim and proper) and the third chapter is all about how that perception is utterly destroyed. If she was “prim,” then yes, she wouldn’t talk about STDs with a guy she just met several hours ago, but she also would NOT be talking about his virginity and much less prostitutes. There is nothing euphemistic about “shirotou doutei.” It’s casual slang with a very definite meaning. It is not something to come out of a prim princess’s mouth. I’m sorry, kid, but you do NOT understand your waifu. (If you wish to understand her, then read my translation.)

          Again, neither “amateur virginity” nor “prostitute-only virginity” make any sort of sense in American English. Just stop it, kid, you’re going make your English/ESL teacher cry. Please try reading the exact contexts I wrote up in the post again. Neither make any sort of sense to the American English speaker. “Amateur virginity” is completely out, there is no way anyway can figure the original meaning of “shiroutei doutei.” “Prostitute-only virginity” at least has “prostitute” in it, but the first thing anyone is going to think is how the hell can one be a prostitute and a virgin at the same time? This isn’t meant to be a goddamn riddle. In Japanese, it was a cheap, vulgar joke, whose hilarity depended on a cute anime girl making it. A good translation would emulate exactly that, and gg did it quite well.

          And let me tell ya, dialogue is NOT supposed to emulate real life conversations! If it did, it’d be terrible. Have you even seen real transcripts of people talking? I’ve had to pour over them when I was doing a project for phonetics, and I’ve gotta say it’s not pretty. It’s not even readable. It’s amazing we understand each other at all! Anyways, how characters speak and how people in real life speak are two completely different things. You can even argue they’re two completely different languages.

          It only fails to make sense if you are completely incapable of inference through context and are also exceptionally prissy when it comes to tidy phrasing. It’s the kind of thing that crymore would whine about, but that the rest of us just don’t care about.

          If you don’t care, then why are you even here? And you’ve even spent to the time to write out two replies. I’m a fresh level 60 in TERA! I’ve got tons of dungeons to farm. I’ve got Nexus raids to do. Also, Grisaia no Rakuen just came out. Why the hell am I even still typing?


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