The joys of translating for higher ups that really don’t know much about anime fanculture or probably anime in general. Or maybe even Japanese culture in general. Volume 4 of DanMachi introduces honorifics awkwardness. You won’t see a 14 y/o awkwardly call a 19 y/o “Mr.” as often as here. Usually, official translations that really just hate the Japanese honorifics culture and don’t want them in their products usually choose to just ignore them as much as they can. Sadly, volume 4 has a section that explicitely has Welf – a new member of Bell’s party – tell him to drop the honorifics. So now you have to make Bell use honorifics in some way to allow him to drop them later on.
That dilemma originates from Welf’s personality. He basically ignores all rules of “Japanese etiquette” and calls equals by their names alone. No honorifics. That’s especially well illustrated by the way he calls Lilly: Lil’ E. A really nice touch by the translator, since it reads “Lilly” – get it? Oh, by the way, I don’t blame the translator for any of this, he proved that he knows what he’s doing when he went and worked the cat-people’s “nya” skillfully into their dialogue, giving it the same feel like the original, only to seemingly been told to replace it with an awkward “meow” at the end of their sentences in volume 2. Ouch.
But back to Welf. He basically wants Bell to call him overly casually. Without having read the source material, I assume Bell’s adding a -san, which is polite, but not as stuck up as calling someone “Mr.” around our parts. So all he wants is for Bell to drop the “-san,” if we try and translate the degree of politeness Bell’s “-san” implies into English, it would just be “Welf” to “Welf.” The range of politeness that “-san” implies starts far lower than the range of politeness of “Mr.,” which makes it nigh impossible to translate. Basically, you can’t translate culture. It’s the “Onii-chan/Big Bro” dilemma all over again. What you’d have to do is introduce the reader to Japanese honorifics and simply stick with them. That means adding a one or two pages big glossary of common honorifics/phrases at the start of each volume. Apparently, publishers are super allergic to that. They simply translate all the stuffs, pat each other on the shoulder and be like, “We did it, fam! We forced the rectangle into the circlular hole!”
Funny enough, Lilly’s “Mr.” does work okay. The amount of politeness she wants to convey is actually covered by the amount of politeness a “Mr.” provides. Same goes for “Lady Hestia” and so on. By insisting on a honorifics translation, however, they’ve certainly driven themselves into a corner as far as the Bell/Welf relationship is concerned. That’s my opinion, at least. I really don’t get why companies keep trying to suck the last drop of culture out of source material. I mean, who’s their target group? I’d say 90% of the people buying this wouldn’t even need an introduction to Japanese honorifics, and even less need the translator to bend over backwards to get rid of them. It’s just such a silly effort.
What else do we have? Literal translations. Especially in the first third of the volume, there’s a bunch of translations that turned out too literal and sound awkward. No such issue in the latter two thirds, though. The same goes for sticking with the original formatting too much. Funny enough, this is where they’re stubborn. In the original, a character starts and ends a line, yet the next line is spoken by them again. That doesn’t happen in English literature or in English in general. In the translation, it looks like this:
“I really don’t wanna go…
“But it’s not like I have a choice.”
(Just an example, line not taken from the book.)
So basically they’re skipping on the closing quotes and open another line of dialogue, linebreak inclusive. Why don’t you just fuse those two lines? There’s literally nothing lost if you do that. This way, it just looks awkward.
“I really don’t wanna go… but it’s not like I have a choice.”
(no capital “B” ’cause the second part is a logical continuation of the first part. That’s how I roll.)
Much easier on the eyes, no?
Lastly, and that’s where I actually point at the translator, there’s a bunch of overly fancy phrasing in volume 4. Like, he clearly knows his stuff and flexes his English muscles there, but I’m not sure whether that was necessary in a whole bunch of cases. The job is to convey the same kind of feeling a Japanese person experiences from a line to an English-speaking person reading the translated line. If the English version sounds way fancier than the Japanese original did, then you overshot. Just saying that you shouldn’t break a fly on the wheel.
Also repetitive choices of words at the beginning of sentences. Lots of “the, he, she.” Sometimes even three sentences in a row starting with “the.” That’s poor phrasing. At least that’s what my teacher said back in the days.
Aside from that, it’s a great translation. Sounds silly after whining on and on about stuff, but DanMachi 4 isn’t bad, far from it, it’s good. Not as good as volume 1, but so far only the Spice and Wolf translation actually tops DanMachi. Although it really has its issues (see above), giving it a score below 7 would be ridiculous. If I had to put my finger on it, 70% of the translation are great and the other 30% really need to step it up. Only found one typo and one flatout wrong sentence in the whole volume, by the way. I also wanna point out it’s great that they have those big-ass foldout color illustrations in the translation! They could’ve just resized them on one page and be cheapskates, but they didn’t.
If you’re a DanMachi fan and had fun reading volumes 1 to 3, then you won’t regret buying volume 4.