Jump to content

re:Edit

  • entries
    37
  • comments
    308
  • views
    10,922

About this blog

Witlessness and wisdom from an amateur visual novel editor

Entries in this blog

Darbury

2JS5rt2.jpg

Another quick project plug: Luna Translations just released their v1.0 English patch for the Majo Koi Nikki (a.k.a. Witch's Love Diary) demo. And guess what? You should totally go get it. I've been helping out with their proofreading, and I can tell you they've done a bang-up job so far.

Best part? It's super easy to obtain. Qoobrand offers the trial, which covers the game's prologue, as a free download on their site. (You'll want to grab the first one, not Trial 2.) Just download it, patch it up, and Robert's your mother's brother. Just so you know, he gets a little grabby after two or three scotches.

It should also be said that Qoobrand jammed a bunch of H-scenes into the early hours of MajoKoi. Consider that fair warning... or the clang of a dinner bell, if you're hungry for that sort of thing. Unlike a lot of VNs, however, those sections are there for a reason.* MajoKoi is set up as an intricate puzzle, and the oddly early placement of the H is all part of the larger mystery.

So go on — pull up a chair, order yourself a Dragon Burger (medium rare), and settle in for a small taste of what Majo Koi Nikki has to offer.

Trial download: http://qoo.amuse-c.jp/01_mazyokoi/download.html
English patch download: https://lunatranslationstestsite.wordpress.com/downloads/

* Not a good reason. But a better reason than most, at least.

Darbury

9tGiOS0.jpg

It's sad but true: we've finally come to the end of our tour of Japanese punctuation for VN editors. But before we bid adieu, there are a few more types we have yet to cover. None merit full blog posts, however, so I offer them up here in a bit of a punctuation grab bag. Reach in if you dare.

The placeholder: 
The  is typically used to censor offensive language by replacing one of the characters in a word. It's the equivalent of writing "f*ck" or "sh-t" or in English. Everyone knows what's being said, but we can all pretend we didn't say it. Kumbaya, amirite? Cursing really isn't a thing in Japanese, of course, so these marks get used either for our naughtiest bits — think "cock" and "dick," or "pussy" and "cunt" or certain other socially offensive terms. You might be surprised to see censoring in the middle of an H-scene that, in all other respects, has spared no detail or volume of liquid, but there you go. Just think of them as pixel mosaics for written text.

As for editing these bad boys, you should almost always just go with uncensored English. Fuck yeah. The one situation where you might want to consider doing otherwise is when a VN also bleeps these words in the VO. In that case, you'd also be justified in using the censored English equivalent with either *, -, or _ replacing vowels as needed. Pick only one wildcard and be consistent in its use.

Another use for these characters in Japanese is to mask portions of real-life names or places e.g., Buer King. This is done both out of a sense of propriety and to avoid the wrath of real-life lawyers. You'll conceivably see the names of celebrities, bands, games, movies, etc. all masked in this fashion. Thankfully, there's a long tradition of this in Western literature as well, most notably in the Victorian era "I sent my butler out to the renowned psychic, Madame G, to seek her advice on the matter." Our best course of action during editing is to mimic the Japanese, but do so in the English tradition, replacing the omitted portion with an em-dash  two if the excised text is particularly long.

Sometimes, rather than use  for masking, a VN writer will choose to come up with soundalike parody names for the person, place, or thing being referenced. And so you'll end up with people talking about anime like Wagonball Z and Tailor Moon. If the VN chooses this option, then so should you. Do your best to come up with witty replacements in English.

More rarely, you'll see a double 〇〇 all by its lonesome. This just stands for "word goes here." It's a literal placeholder. If you encounter it in narration, you can usually replace it with a few underscores, like _________. If it appears in voiced dialogue, possible options include "blahblah," "yada yada," "blankity-blank," or whatever else you can think up.

Parentheses: ( )
In VNs, these typically indicate a line should be read as internal monologue, or in some cases, a stage whisper.

Quote

Joe: Sorry for coming home late, Mom! I was out... um... helping homeless llamas. Good night!
Joe: (I can't believe she fell for that.)

The meaning is clear in both languages, so best to keep these as they are. Unless, of course, your text engine is one of those rare snowflakes that can output English italics. In that case, use those.

Bedazzlers: ★☆♪♫❤❆❀✿❁
Okay, they're not actually called "bedazzlers," but it's a good a name as any. You know what I'm talking about, right? That big ol' box of typographical Lucky Charms that gets dumped right onto VN text to provide some wacky flavor to the proceedings. Hearts, stars, flowers, snowflakes, music notes, Zodiac signs, etc. 

Some common uses include:
- A music note at the end of a line to show it's being sung. ("Fly me to the moon♪")
- A heart somewhere in a line to indicate puppy love at its most disgusting. ("He's so dreeeamy❤")
- A name or term being bracketed by stars to show that it's extrasupervery OMGmagical. ("Aha! I've transformed into ☆Magical Girl Bertha☆")
- A tiny gun so we can commit suicide after enduring all the above.

These little pretties are self-explanatory enough that I tend to leave them as is. Japan's gotta Japan, right? But use your best judgement; if you feel like they're getting in the way of the of the English narrative, go ahead and prune them back — or omit them entirely.

Full stop.
Not the punctuation; the whole series of punctuation articles. We're done. If I think of any more oddball Japanese punctuation marks worth discussing, I'll add them to the end of this post. But otherwise: happy fcking editing!

Darbury

08835hK.jpg

Another day, another deep dive into the esoterica of visual novel punctuation. Next on our chopping block: the wave dash ( ), which looks an awful lot like the Western tilde (~) but functions nothing like it. Our refrain here is a familiar one: the wave dash has no place in well-localized English VNs and should be removed or replaced wherever possible. No ifs, no ands, but one very small but.

How  functions in Japanese
The wave dash has several fairly pedestrian functions in written Japanese, including separating ranges of values, which is handled by the en-dash () in English; denoting geographic origins; and separating title from subtitle, which is handled by the colon in English (e.g., Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo). These are all fairly boring, however, and if you’re an editor, your translator should already have converted such wave dashes to their Western equivalents.

Where things get interesting, and by “interesting” I mean “annoying,” is when we start looking at some more colloquial uses that pop up in translated VNs with alarming frequency.

  • The wave dash can be used to elongate and modulate a vowel sound, much like the long vowel mark (ー) in katakana. You’ll sometimes find  applied to the end of a word, and it’s implied that this longer sound is audibly “brighter.” Terms like “uptalk,” “vibrato/tremolo,” “kawaii” and “girlish” get thrown around a lot. (Think of the stereotypically perky “Ohayooooo” morning greeting you often hear in VNs or anime.) It’s usually a deliberate choice by the character, done to sound cute, funny, etc..
  • The wave dash can also be added to the end of a sentence to suggest the entire line should be read with that same brighter inflection – a happy sing-song of sorts. Or sometimes, it can signify literal musicality, as in the line should actually be sung. “Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day
  • Less frequently, and usually in the context of digital communications, the wave dash can be used to suggest that a word or sentence should be read as being ironic/sarcastic. “Oh great. What a beautiful morning

As you can see, there are a bunch of possible readings of any given wave dash, and the correct interpretation depends largely on textual and cultural context. Add in the fact that is non-standard English punctuation that your average non-otaku isn't familiar with (never mind its various nuances), and it seems like a no-brainer to dump it and convey the intended meaning in clean, clear English instead.

But no. For some fecking reason, VNs are littered with these fecking squigglers. They’re fecking everywhere, like that scene in The Lost Boys where one of the Coreys, I don’t know which goddamn one, starts eating a takeout container of lo mein but Kiefer Sutherland or some other vampire guy gets all vampirey and is like, “Nuh-uh, Corey” and that selfsame Corey suddenly looks down and his delicious noodles have turned into thousands of these wriggling, white maggots and he can’t vom fast enough.

It’s literally like that. Literally.

The answer? Get rid of them.
Do your readers a kindness and remove wave dashes wherever you encounter them. If your translator has done their job right, you’ll have all the context you need to turn those dashes into well-formed English that anyone can understand. That doesn’t always mean stretching out the last letters preceding the wave dash, mind you. That ways lies disasteeeeeer. All you need to do is ask yourself one simple question: How would it sound natural if a native English-speaker rephrased this line? That’s it!

Let’s look at some examples. The easiest is where the English usage matches the Japanese, such as stretching out a vowel. So imagine a character walks into a dark and spooky house, then calls out to see if anyone’s home.

Quote

JP: Hello
EN: Helloooooo!

What about cute inflections? Well, English is a rich language; there are plenty of ways to make a sentence sound perkier:

Quote

JP: This maggot rice is delicious
EN: This maggot rice is dee-lish!

JP: I like that shirt on you~
EN: That shirt is so cute on you!

JP: Good morning, sleepyhead 
EN: Rise and shine, sleepyhead!

There’s no magic formula, and it's not rocket science. It's just sitting down and rewriting. And if you’re doing your job as an editor, you should pretty much be rewriting every single line anyway, so it’s no added hardship.

The one, small exception
If you remember, I mentioned digital communications a little earlier. This is the one place where I’d recommend you let a sleeping wave dash lie. Typographical oddities (such as emoticons) are part and parcel of the electronic vernacular, so it feels much more natural to let them stay in a text or an IM that’s being quoted verbatim. You want your reader to feel like they’re seeing exactly what the character has on their screen. Just make sure you’ve edited these lines so the English meaning will still be clear if the wave dashes were removed.

After all, there’s a world of difference between “Great advice, Darbury ” and “Great advice, Darbury

Darbury

y3vgQ3z.jpg

I’m on vacation, which as a dad, is usually more exhausting for me than not being on vacation. That means no rants about the evils of third-person direct address in VN translations this week — sorry! I just don’t have it in me.

Instead, I thought I’d give a long overdue plug to a project I helped out on last year: ff80c38’s 2x Ren’Py port of True Remembrance. And by “helped out on,” I mean ff80c38 did everything; I simply pitched in with a little Photoshopping and typesetting at the very end. This was a total passion project on his part, and it shows.

If you’re not familiar with it, True Remembrance is a short kinetic novel released by Shiba Satomi in 2003, then gussied up and re-released in 2006. (insani subsequently published a wonderful English-language translation of it two years later in 2008.) I’ve always had a soft spot for this VN, in part because it’s not afraid to be quiet and contemplative. It underplays its emotions rather than underlining them and, as a result, feels more like a found storybook than a modern trope fest. There’s a plot, of course — there are guns and spies and dystopian futures and unexpected twists — but to TR’s credit, it’s never about those. The visual novel’s gaze stays fixed on its characters, exploring their empty spaces and pondering how they might be filled, if ever.

True Remembrance is not a perfect VN, not by any means. The art is on the simpler side, which some might consider a plus, and the game’s writing often stumbles when it comes to comic relief — pretty much any scene in the café, for instance. Still, its measured tone is a rare find, and for that, I treasure it.

The original freeware release of True Remembrance only ran on Windows; this Ren’Py port adds Mac and Linux to the roster. It also supports higher resolutions, hence the 2X identifier. And let me just say that, across the board, ff80c38 approached this port with utmost respect for the source material. Not a letter of the script was changed, and great care was taken in resizing (or in some cases, recreating) graphics for the new resolutions.

Finally, I can’t stress to you enough that this version is entirely unofficial, released late last year in hopes it might help a few more people find True Remembrance. So listen: if you’re not running Mac or Linux and/or don’t really care about higher-res assets, I urge you to pick up the original English release at insani’s site instead. It’ll do ya good. But if that's not feasible, for whatever reason, please think of ff80c38’s project as another snowy back alley into Shiba Satomi’s world.

Download: Windows / macOS / Linux

Postscript: Why-oh-why isn’t Mimei of the Transmission Tower, the author’s other VN, translated yet? Seriously. I know insani was considering working on it at one point, but that was years ago. This has long been one of my white whales, and I’d love to be able to read it in English before the world ends sometime in late November.

Darbury
1EfVFXy.png
 
Next up in our parade of visual novel punctuation: the interrobang. That’s right, I said the interrobang. Can you believe it?!
 
Huh?! What the hell's an interrobang?!
"Interrobang" is the term we'll borrow to describe that little dogpile of punctuation, usually represented as ?! or !?, that sits at the end of nearly every question in a visual novel. It's meant to convey incredulity, combining elements of both a question and an exclamation. And, since the typical VN's stock-in-trade is exaggerated emotion, you'll end up seeing it a lot. Because why have your characters simply ask a question when they can GODDAMN SCREAM IT at Samuel L. Jackson levels.
 
I mentioned we're borrowing the term. The actual interrobang (‽, a ? combined with a !) is a bizarro punctuation mark crowdsourced by an ad agency back in 1962, along with the term “interrobang” itself. (If Wikipedia is to be believed, other suggested names included “QuizDing," “exclamaquest," and “exclarotive.”) It fell out of fashion after the 1960s, though, so you'll rarely see it in the wild. Still, it lurks in the Unicode of a few fonts here and there, lingering on like some creepy conjoined twins left chained to a steam pipe in the dark basement of the English language.
 
In the meantime, we'll appropriate it here to describe its unpacked counterparts, !? and ?!.
 
So is it “!?” or the other way around?!
Now that we know what our faux interrobang does, our next concern is how it should be edited. Do we (!?) shoot first and ask questions later or (?!) vice versa? There’s little agreement among language mavens as to which is correct, and most VN scripts I’ve seen switch between the two on a whim — sometimes in the very same line. Thus, it falls to the editor and/or translator to impose some order on the situation.
 
The simple answer: Pick one and stick with it; I don't really care which. Consistency is our primary concern here. The standard emoji character set uses !?, so you'd be entirely justified in rolling with that. Some argue that !? is also more typographically appealing, and I'd tend to agree. However...
 
The advanced answer: My own preference is to switch between the two on a case-by-case basis, with ?! winning out 95% of the time. That's because I tend to think in terms of nested levels of punctuation, rather than a monolithic model. Which is to say, the sentence
 
Quote

Did you just lick David Hasselhoff?!

should be read structurally as:

Quote

(Did you just lick David Hasselhoff?)!

with the ! modifying a base question and turning it into an exclamation. Since that’s what the interrobang typically does, I end up using ?! in almost all instances. But there are exceptions. Imagine some friends who find out they've won a contest to meet David Hasselhoff. Mid-celebration, it occurs to them they didn't actually enter, so there's no way they should have won.

Quote

We did it! We did it! We did it!?

Here, a base exclamatory statement is being modified into a question: (We did it!)? so !? would be the more appropriate choice. This kind of usage requires an editor or translator to make lots of judgement calls, however. If you don’t feel comfortable getting that deep into the contextual weeds, there’s absolutely no shame in going the simple route and using one option across the board.

What about interrogangbangs?!?!?
Last but not least, we have the situation where a character goes into full freakout mode and says things like:
 
Quote

YOU LICKED WHAAAAT?!???!?!?!?!

In these cases, make sure the first piece of punctuation aligns with the intent of original sentence — is it an exclamation or a question? — then keep the rest of the punctuation exactly as it appears. Or, if you’re opting for the simple method, don’t change a thing. Just stick with the punctuation as provided and keep on walking. It’s what The Hoff would want.

Darbury

kvxGXwp.jpg

After some great discussion regarding v1 of this working definition, I brought it back to the shop for some tweaks and tinkering. The results are posted below as v2 of the definition. And I'm sure I'll repeat this cycle many, many more times.

So, without further ado...

A 5-point test for visual novels

1. It must be read/played on an electronic device that outputs to a screen.
Fairly self-explanatory. Computers, game consoles, handhelds, phones — hell, even a smart watch would qualify. A printed VN would be considered a graphic novel (or a choose-your-own-adventure book). An audio file of a VN would be an audiobook.

2. It must convey an authored narrative.
By narrative, we mean an organized account of true or fictional events, actions, thoughts, etc. In other words, the visual novel has to tell a “story.” The entirety of the Detroit phone book displayed in Ren’py is not a VN, even if it’s accompanied by a whole chorus line of catgirls.

By authored, we mean the narrative must be an act of transformative intent by its author. A VN cannot rely upon sandboxes, emergent gameplay, or similar mechanisms to generate its narrative arc (though they may be used to flavor it). Such experiences, while highly interesting, result in something other than a visual novel.

To put Rule 2 in more narratological terms: both the story and discourse of a VN must be deliberate acts.

3. It must use art & copy as the near-exclusive means for conveying that narrative.
Art: A visual novel must have visuals. Crazy talk, right? It doesn’t matter if those visuals are 1-bit pixel art, hand illustration, 3D renders, photography, or video. Ideally, these images will also be germane to the narrative.

Copy: At the heart of any VN is the act of reading — eyes looking at words and turning them into meaning. A VN should be structured around this. If significant portions of the story are delivered as voice-over/video without text, then title isn’t a visual novel. If the text can be turned off — e.g., captions, subtitles, etc. — then the title isn’t a visual novel.

4. Uninterrupted reading must comprise the near-entirety of one’s experience with the title.
For the purposes of our discussion, let’s assume a continuum that looks roughly like:

non-reading gameplay (0%) >>>> reading as gameplay (100%)

Past the 98% mark or so, we can usefully consider a title to be a straight-up  “visual novel.” From 50%-97%, we can usefully consider that title to be a VN-hybrid (a cross between a VN and another genre of game, such as an SRPG). Below that point, we don’t consider it to be a visual novel at all, but we can still discuss its VN-like elements (or lack thereof).

5. It must possess a defined “page” structure that’s generated in real time and is, to some extent, controllable by the reader.
Page structure: Unlike a novel seen in a word processor's window, a VN intentionally constrains what we may read and/or see at any given time. A VN-creator is almost like a film director in this respect, breaking a larger narrative into individual shots — in our case, screens or “pages” — for dramatic effect. Such narrative chunking is one trait that helps us distinguish visual novels from things like web novels or e-books. There are different conventions for such page display — ADV, NVL, diegetic, etc. — and each contains its own assumptions about how a story will be displayed. 

Real-time generation: Feel free to fight me on this, but a pre-rendered PDF is not a visual novel. A “Let’s Play” of a visual novel is not, itself, a visual novel. While it seems an arbitrary distinction to make, I’ll make it nonetheless. A VN must use a real-time engine of some sort to assemble art + copy for display.

Controllability: In most cases, this is achieved by turning to the next “page” of the VN with a click, tap, or button press, but any user input could suffice — speech or motion controls, for instance. If the option is available (e.g., via an “auto-play” setting) the reader may choose to waive this ability. But why have this requirement at all? (If you remember, I intentionally chose to omit it in v1 of my definition.) It's here now because, at their core, VNs are both literature and video games. Can you have a novel without mechanical interaction? Sure; I argued as much in v1. But can you have a video game that allows for no interaction or control? Not really; it'd be a machima at best, indistinguishable from a video. And yes, I know Mountain exists, and there's still some small level of control there, if not meaningful interaction.


A VN may also…
A VN may offer a non-linear/branching narrative… or it may not.
A VN may feature sound and music… or it may not.
A VN may feature a story and/or visuals rooted in the anime/manga tradition… or it may not.
A VN may be made by Japanese developers… or it may not.
A VN may feature erotic content… or it may not.
 

Extra credit
"This is stupid. I know a visual novel when I see one."
Well, what about the visual novel you haven’t yet seen?

"Can't a visual novel be just text and no images? Why are we privileging one form of content over another?"
You can create such a beast in a visual novel engine, sure — but it's not a visual novel. It's something like a visual novel, something I haven't yet seen an agreed-upon name for. I invite you to propose one here. Why do we make such a distinction? Genre lines are arbitrary, but we do have to draw them somewhere. Otherwise, anything could be considered a visual novel, which doesn't make for useful discussions. "This tree stump is telling me a visual story about its history, bro. And the tree is the author. And nature is its game engine. And I'm playing it right now." And Domino's stops delivering pizza to the dorm lounge at 2 a.m., so you better finish up wondering if we're all living in an exact simulation of the universe sometime soon. Bro.

"Can't a visual novel be just images and no text? Why are we privileging one form of content over another?"
See the above.

"But when you get right down to it, what’s a 'story' anyway? Or a 'narrative'? And is an 'author' even necessary? Or 'readers'?"
All good questions. They’ve been debated for hundreds of years, and they’ll continue to be debated for hundreds more. Suffice to say, we won’t solve them here. Go ask Stanley Fish or something.

That's right. Go Fish.

Darbury

72WaKST.jpg

Last time, we discussed how the casual ellipsis should almost always be considered punctuation non grata in VN translations. Today, we set our sights on a new target: Japanese-style quotation marks. Handling these couldn’t be simpler: If you see any in your text, replace them with English-style quotation marks immediately. No exceptions. No special cases. No mercy.

A quick primer on Japanese quotation marks
If you’ve spent any time looking at Japanese texts, you’ve likely seen 「 and its friend 」. These little guys are known as kagikakko (“hook brackets”) and function almost exactly like opening (“) and closing (”) quotations marks would in English. No surprise there; kagikakko were invented during the 19th Century to aid in translating Western texts into Japanese. Why use these instead the genuine article? Because a Western quote (“) looks an awful lot like a dakuten (゛), a common Japanese diacritical mark; it turns “ta” (た) into “da” (だ), for instance. The potential for confusion was enormous, so new punctuation was introduced.

Less frequently seen are 『 and 』, known as nijūkagikakko (“double hook brackets”). These operate much like opening (‘) and closing (’) single quotation marks would in English — which is to say, for quoting things within quotes. (“You can’t just scream ‘FIRE!’ in a crowded theater,” he scolded.) In Japanese, they also moonlight as italics for things like book titles. Times are tough and they need the extra cash.

The rules (You can quote me on these.)

Quote
  1. If you see 「 or 」, replace them with their Western counterparts (“ and ”). If your text engine can’t candle so-called “smart quotes,” use straight double quotes (") for both opening and closing marks instead.
  2. If you see 『 or 』 being used for nested quotes, replace them with them with their Western counterparts (‘ and ’). If your text engine can’t candle so-called “smart quotes,” use straight single quotes (') for both opening and closing marks instead.
  3. If you see 『 or 』 being used as italics, replace them with actual italics. If your text engine doesn’t support that, which is more than likely, follow the standard rules of quoting — double quotes if the emphasized term is standing alone, or single quotes if it’s already inside quotes.

But all my friends are doing it!
So here’s the rub: I see Japanese quotation marks everywhere. Fan translations, professional translations — everywhere. Why? Buggered if I know. I can only imagine it’s affectation that, over time, has become habit. Maybe TL teams think it’s more authentic? Maybe they’re convinced it makes the English text look more Japanese-y? Maybe it’s chemtrails? I just don’t know.

Regardless of the reason, this is one seriously annoying trend that needs to be pushed off a seriously tall cliff. Starting now.

UPDATE #1: As pointed out in the comments, I'm assuming the rules of U.S. punctuation here. I also eat my soft-boiled eggs little end up, just as The Lord God Almighty intended. If you live in the U.K. or one of its offshoots, however, feel free to reverse the order I've given — i.e., single quotes as your primary tool, double quotes for nested quotes and italics.

And to be honest, if you look at how Japanese quotation marks are constructed, it seems pretty clear they're based off the British style. Point for the Queen. But ultimately, your editing decisions should be based on whether you're using U.S. or U.K. English for your translation in general.

Darbury

7josMv2.jpg

A couple blog posts back, I argued that the story exploration game Gone Home can be considered a visual novel. After some great discussion there, it seemed only logical to tackle the much bigger question: “What is a visual novel?

Which is why I’m not going to. That’s a spike-filled, snake-infested pit of a question if I ever saw one — and I already had spikes and snakes for breakfast. Instead, we’re going to attempt to answer a more nuanced question: “What are the minimum requirements something must meet in order to be usefully discussed as a visual novel?”

That’s a slightly different but way more useful angle. Just about anything can be used as a chair, but not everything is a “chair.” As a society, we’ve agreed on a certain set of characteristics that chairs share in common. This lets us discuss chairs with one another and be pretty sure we won't be given a pineapple to sit on.

We’ll do the same here. But for the sake of brevity, we’ll shorthand that question back down to “What’s a visual novel?” It’ll be our little secret.

The VNDB standard

The most obvious place to start looking for answers would be The Visual Novel Database (VNDB), home to info on more than 18,000 VNs. Here’s their answer, found in the VNDB FAQ:

Quote

A visual novel can be seen as a combination of a novel and a computer game: they're computer games with a large text based storyline and only little interaction of the player. A typical visual novel consists of text over an anime-style background image and is accompanied by background music. Throughout the game, the player usually has to answer a few questions which will have an effect on the story, thus playing a visual novel a second time while giving other answers may result in an entirely different plot.

As a working definition, this leaves a lot to be desired. There are an awful lot of cans, mays, typicals, and usuallys. Worse yet, you could easily dream up a VN that meets almost none of the assumptions laid out here — perhaps an extremely short text-based story in which the words run around the outside of a woodcut illustration. There’s absolutely no background music and the player answers no questions, which results in the same plot every time she plays.

A somewhat more satisfying answer can be found in VNDB’s list of requirements that titles must meet before being added to their database. For something to qualify as a visual novel:

Quote

Choices are the only allowed (but optional) form of interactivity. There are no other gameplay elements (including stats-based gameplay in dating/raising sims). Mini-games and simple mechanics, such as map-movenent [sic], are only allowed when they play a very minimal role – at least 99% of the title should be made of pure reading.

The story is told employing one of the known Visual Novel presentation methods such as ADV, NVL and their variations.

Better, but still somewhat problematic. For one thing, it conflates the commonly accepted with the essential. What if someone wants to present a story in a manner other than ADV (text in box below image) or NVL (text overlaying image)? What if they thought of a more innovative configuration of text + art? Tough luck, Billy; go suck eggs in the corner. (They don't seem to strictly enforce this, by the way. Digital: A Love Story is on VNDB, even though it eschews both ADV and NVL for a diegetic presentation.) Moreover, these guidelines can’t seem to decide if no gameplay is allowed at all, as the first two sentences suggest, or if up to 1% simple gameplay is okay.

A title can also be added to the database if it’s a “visual novel/game” hybrid that meets the following requirements:

Quote

The game consistently uses the novel narrative for telling its story. Examples include describing visuals, events, character actions or thoughts. This point is ESSENTIAL - dialogues, no matter how extensive, are a characteristic of such game genres as RPGs, adventure games, dating simulations, etc., NOT of visual novels.

The story is told employing one of the known Visual Novel presentation methods such as ADV, NVL and their variations, consistently and for a significant length - at least 50% of the game should be made of pure, VN-style reading.

Again, problematic. The ADV/NVL issue is still there, of course, but now a new wrinkle’s been added: the privileging of narrative over dialogue. The assumption here is that a novel can’t consist entirely (or almost entirely) of dialogue, so a title that doesn’t “consistently” rely upon a formal narrator doesn’t qualify. In truth, there are any number of novels that take this form — The Awkward Age by Henry James, for one. Besides, if Key suddenly dropped a 50-hour all-dialogue school drama that looked and played exactly like Clannad, do you doubt for a second that we'd all consider it a VN? Or that FuwaReviews would give it one star?

But I don’t blame VNDB. They’re not looking to define the visual novel. They’re just trying to set up some semi-reasonable guidelines to help streamline their submission process. Without this, every staffer there would probably be eating gun-barrel sandwiches for lunch.

kvxGXwp.jpg

Fine. Let’s build something better.

I’ve sketched out the beginnings of a more general-purpose test for discussing something as a visual novel. I don’t consider this to be at all authoritative, and in fact, I invite you to critique it and build upon it in the comments below. It’s a starting point, nothing more.

A 7-point test for visual novels

1. It must be “read” on a digital device that outputs to a screen.
Fairly self-explanatory. Computers, consoles, handhelds, phones, e-readers — hell, even a smart watch would qualify. A printed VN would be considered a graphic novel (or a choose-your-own-adventure book). An audio file of a VN would be an audiobook.

2. It must convey a recognizable narrative.
Again, fairly self-explanatory. A VN must be a spoken or written account of connected events. In other words, it needs to tell a story, fictional or otherwise. The entirety of the Detroit phone book displayed in Ren’py is not a VN, even if it’s accompanied by a whole chorus line of catgirls.

3. It must use on-screen text as the primary avenue for conveying that narrative.
At the heart of any VN is the act of reading — eyes looking at words and turning them into meaning. If any significant portion of the story is delivered as voice-over or action without on-screen text, it isn’t a visual novel. Watching Game of Thrones on your laptop with subtitles doesn’t suddenly turn it into a VN.

4. It must have visuals paired with that narrative.
A visual novel must have visuals. Crazy talk, right? It doesn’t matter if those visuals are 8-bit pixel art, hand illustration, 3D renders, photography, or video. Ideally, these images would be germane to the narrative, but even that’s not technically necessary. Having unrelated images wouldn’t keep something from being a VN; it would just make it a *bad* VN.

5. It must be authored.
In other words, the story must be an act of creative intention by its author(s). A VN cannot rely upon sandboxes, emergent gameplay, or similar mechanisms to generate its narrative arc (though they may be used to flavor it). Such experiences, while highly interesting, result in something other than a novel.

6. Reading must comprise the majority of one’s experience with the title.
This one gets tricky, because it cuts deep to the heart of another unresolved question: “Is a visual novel a game?” For the purposes of this discussion, I’d suggest there’s a continuum that looks roughly like:

not a VN >> game w/ some VN qualities >> game/VN hybrid >> VN w/ some game qualities >> VN

Roughly past the halfway mark, we can usefully consider something to be a visual novel for terms of discussion. Below that, we can consider it a game but usefully discuss its VN-like elements (or lack thereof).

7. It must offer a deliberately framed reading experience.
This one’s a little tricky. Here’s the problem: a plain old Word doc containing a short story + embedded images could technically satisfy requirements #1 through #6, but we’d be hard-pressed to call that a visual novel. I’m still tweaking the language for #7, but the general idea is that just as a film director frames a shot, controlling what the audience can see and hear at any given moment, so too does the creator of a visual novel. This is unlike our hypothetical Word doc, in which you could widen the window to see more text than intended, skip around the story out of order, scroll the window so that you can read a passage without seeing its associated art, etc.

I briefly considered adding an eighth bullet point, but chose to leave it on the cutting room floor.

Quote

8. It must provide the reader agency to advance through the text.

In most cases, this is achieved by turning to the next “page” of the VN with a click, tap, or button press, but any user input could suffice — speech or motion controls, for instance. If the option is available (e.g., via an “auto-play” setting) the reader may choose to waive this ability.

Why did this get dropped? Well, I imagined a traditional novel that was rigged to turn its pages at pre-defined intervals. You can’t speed it up, you can’t slow it down; all you have is an on/off switch. Would that lack of agency suddenly keep this particular book from being a novel? I couldn’t think of a good reason why it would, so I removed the requirement. But I'm open to good arguments for bringing it back.

Closing thoughts, for now

You might note that I’ve avoided any mention of things like: story genre, branching narratives, art style, country of origin, sexual content, sound/music, etc. That’s by design. These things help inform what type of VN a title is, not whether it can be discussed as one.

You might also note that my 7-point test would disqualify Gone Home from being considered a visual novel, invalidating my earlier argument. That’s also by design. Kill your darlings, amirite?

Darbury

IEaiamB.png

Let’s not mince words here. The ellipsis is a blight upon English translations of visual novels. It must be uprooted and killed with fire.

Before the slaughter begins, however, let’s review some basics. As the name suggests, the ellipsis represents an elision — that is to say, omitted content. It functions as the “yadda yadda” of the English language. It is the “Step 2: ???” before the all-important “Step 3: Profit!” A writer deploys those three little dots to indicate either the intentional removal of something that once was there, or the pointed absence of something that should have been there.

That’s it. That’s what the ellipsis is supposed to do. You wouldn’t know this, however, by reading nearly any English translation of a Japanese visual novel. Ellipses are scattered across the text like so many rhinestones on the sweatshirt of a Midwestern mom. They’re at the beginning of sentences, the ends, stuck randomly in the middle — sometimes even chained end to end like a writhing Human Centipede of punctuation, each little dot in the chain crying, “Kill me now!” into the anus of the next.

It’s an absolute abattoir in there.

This particular road to hell is paved with good intentions, however. You see, all those ellipses are also present in the original Japanese and, in an attempt at faithful translation, the TL teams have left them all sitting there for you to enjoy. The original writer had a reason for putting them in, the reasoning goes, and it’s our job to offer the purest translation of his/her vision possible.

This, of course, is bollocks. Punctuation operates differently in different languages. Japanese ellipses are used much more liberally than their Western forbearers, particularly in popular culture (e.g., manga. light novels, etc.) Want to indicate a pause? Ellipsis. Silence? Ellipsis. Passage of time? Ellipsis. Need to fill some empty space? Ellipsis. Is it Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday? Ellipsis, ellipsis, ellipsis. When ported over to English, most of these usages look less like carefully crafted sentences and more like a transcript of a particularly drunken Snapchat session.

Put simply, what works in one language doesn’t always work in another. When I’m translating a Line of Text from German, for Example, I don’t capitalize all the Nouns because that’s how it was in the Original. I normalize it for English. The same needs to be done in any VN translation.

My current rule of thumb while editing — I’ll bold it for you in red here — is as follows: Remove/replace all ellipses in a line of Japanese text unless doing so irreparably breaks the sentence or significantly changes its meaning.

Luckily for us, English has a toolbox full of punctuation to get the job done. Commas, semicolons, periods, dashes — they’re all your friends. So let’s discuss some common situations in VNs and how we might handle them.

Et2nEiR.jpg

The trailing ellipsis
You’ll see lots of these littering the ends of sentences and lines, mostly to little effect. More often than not, they indicate a thought closing on anything other than a 100% full and decisive stop. Since they don’t hold the place of omitted text, we can almost always replace these ellipses with periods.

Quote

Original: He walked down the street, a song in his heart...
Revised: He walked down the street, a song in his heart.

Original: There’s nothing better than a cold beer on a hot day...
Revised: There’s nothing better than a cold beer on a hot day.

There are a handful of situations, however, where keeping a trailing ellipsis makes sense. These include:

The Pregnant Pause: 
When something’s strongly implied at the end of a sentence/line, but left unsaid for dramatic effect.

Quote

JOE: I really shouldn’t have seconds, but... (Implied: I’m going to anyway.)

The ellipsis fills the place of the implied content, so it gets to stay. (Fun bonus fact: pauses are the only things that can get pregnant in VNs.)

The “And So On”:
When a statement is implied to continue for an unspecified length beyond the end of the sentence/line.

Quote

JOE: My favorite beers are Bud, Bud Light, Coors, Michelob...
BOB: Dude, don’t you drink anything good?

The ellipsis here indicates there may have been a few more beers after Michelob, but the writer has decided to spare us and jump straight to Bob’s objection. Had this been more interruptive in nature, with Bob cutting Joe off immediately after “Michelob,” the ellipses would have replaced with an em-dash (—).

The Trail-Off: 
Similar to the “And So On,” but with the character choosing to let a statement taper off into nothingness, rather than the author.

Quote

JOE: The ghosts in Pac-Man were Inky, Blinky, Pinky... There’s a fourth, right? Stinky?

The opening ellipsis
You’ll see these slightly less often, but they’re by no means infrequent. Typically, they indicate some slight hesitation at the beginning of a line of dialogue. But again, the nuance ends up being so slight and the impact so watered down through overuse that you’re almost always better off removing these ungainly beasts. An exception can be made for:

The Reverse Pregnant Pause: 
Just like the original Pregnant Pause, but it appears at the beginning of a sentence. Often holds the place of something a character doesn’t want to say.

Quote

BOB: You don’t think I’m a bad guy, right?
JOE: ... Well, you have good taste in porn.

Rather than just pausing in passing, Joe is actively not admitting he thinks Joe is a jackass. That makes this line a strong candidate for an ellipsis.

The mid-sentence ellipsis
So, so many of these. You’ll close your eyes at night and they’ll haunt you. They’re almost always meant to indicate a slight pause in speech or thought, but trying to the read the resulting text is an exercise in frustration. There are... just so... many unnecessary... gaps. (Full disclosure: When writing scripts for TV, I’ll use ellipses like this a lot. But that’s for a very specific purpose: helping to communicate the particular rhythm of a line to the actor(s). I always avoid this in audience-facing text.)

In almost all cases, unless there’s a marked pivot in thought, a comma will suffice.

Quote

Original: There I was, walking down the street... when I saw a Trader Joe’s.
Revised: There I was, walking down the street, when I saw a Trader Joe’s.

If the ellipsis is holding together two complete yet interwoven thoughts, a semicolon will do nicely.

Quote

Original: You don’t understand... I’m allergic to wombats.
Revised: You don’t understand; I’m allergic to wombats.

If the ellipsis is holding together two complete and independent thoughts, a period should be used.

Quote

Original: Look how late it’s gotten... Do you think the poutine shop is still open?
Revised: Look how late it’s gotten. Do you think the poutine shop is still open?

If ellipses are used to indicate an interruptive thought, one that breaks the main flow of the sentence, em-dashes can be used.

Quote

Original: There’s something about cobras ... any kind of snake, really... that give me the creeps
Revised: There’s something about cobras — any kind of snake, really — that give me the creeps.

Again, there are a couple situations where these mid-sentence ellipses can remain:

The Ta-Da:
When a pause is used for obvious dramatic effect, the ellipsis should be kept.

Quote

WENDY'S: It’s our great pleasure to introduce... the Triple Baconator!
JOE: Triple Baconator, I don’t know how to say this, but I think I... love you.

The Shatner:
When halting or stilted speech is intended for dramatic/comedic effect, ellipses may be retained.

Quote

I... am... a... robot. Beep. Boop.

6myLChH.jpg

The empty line ellipsis
You’ll see a lot of these. Holdovers from manga and light novels, they are explicit indicators of silence, being at a loss for words, holding one’s tongue, etc.

Quote

JOE: Triple Baconator, I don’t know how to say this, but I think I love you.
TRIPLE BACONATOR: ...
JOE: Please, Baconator! Say you love me too!
TRIPLE BACONATOR: ...

In English prose, these silences would normally be held with narration — e.g., “Baconator just sat there, dripping ketchup.” You’d never see a sentence such as: ‘Harry Potter said, “...” and continued looking out the window.’ That’s because, unlike most VNs, traditional novels don’t have the crutch of character sprites and name cards appearing alongside dialogue. Due to such VN conventions, along with the technical limitations of translation — it’s frequently impossible to replace character dialogue with unvoiced narration — you should almost always leave these ellipses in place. Based on your best judgement, you can also choose to leave such variants as the questioning silence ("...?") and the excited/alarmed silence ("...!").

It should be noted that such empty line ellipses can also be used outside of dialogue. Often, these will just indicate time passing. There’s also a long tradition in Japanese art of the “pillow” — a held moment of contemplative emptiness. It’s the bit of formal textual throat-clearing at the start of a poem. It’s the 10-second cutaway to a babbling brook that connects two scenes in a movie. In a VN, this pillow can evidence itself as a single line of narration, empty save for an ellipsis. There’s no good English alternative for this, so it should be kept wherever you encounter it.

Extra credit: The multi-line ellipsis
I saved this one for last, because it’s a bit of a special case. Against all my better instincts, it involves adding ellipses in places where the original text has none. It’s painful but it’s for a good cause.

Sometimes, when editing or translating a VN, you’ll run across sentences that spill over onto two or more lines.

Quote

Joe and Bob couldn’t believe their good fortune. Not only had they been featured in a blog post by Darbury Laine,
they’d also killed the porcupine that had been vexing them all year. Life was good.

Unlike in poetry, which uses line breaks to very deliberate effect, these multi-line monsters are almost always the result of the VN writer just running out of highway and choosing to keep on driving. Whenever possible, you should attempt to restructure such sentences so they don’t break across lines. Often, splitting an overly long sentence into two smaller ones will do the trick. If it resists your best efforts, however, maintain the break and indicate it with ellipses — one at the end of the first line, the other at the beginning of the second.

Quote

Joe and Bob couldn’t believe their good fortune. Not only had they been featured in a blog post by Darbury Laine...
... they’d also killed the porcupine that had been vexing them all year. Life was good.

How many dots? ALL THE DOTS!
Another peculiarity of ellipses in Japanese VNs is that they don’t always have three dots. Depending on context and the arbitrary whims of the writer, you’ll typically see anywhere from two to six dots at a time. I’ve even seen 27 in a row once. I think it was a sex scene. Or a fight scene. Maybe both.

Don’t let this worry you. If you’ve been following my advice, you’ve already purged most of the ellipses from the text. Of those that remain, almost all can be reduced down to familiar three-dot English ellipses. But as always, there’s at least one exception.

Content-bearing pauses: In most cases, it’s of little concern to us whether an ellipsis consists of three, four, five, or even six dots. They’re all slight variations on the standard pause, but since English punctuation doesn’t make any such distinction, neither will we. An exception comes when the length of a pause not only adds flavor, but provides content. Consider the case of an ever-lengthening silence:

Quote

JOE: ...
BOB: ......
JOE: .........
BOB: Yup. That porcupine is definitely dead.

The lengthening of the line suggests the passing of increasing amounts of time; the scene isn’t the same without it. Or consider an explosive outburst after a deafening silence:

Quote

JOE: Hey, are you still mad because I slept with your mom last night?
BOB: ....................................... YES! OF COURSE I AM!

If you opt to stretch out an ellipsis like this, only do so in increments of three. If you’re musically inclined, think of three dots as a quarter note, six dots as a half note, etc., each one holding the silence just a bit longer than the last. Following the rule of threes keeps the text visually streamlined and helps if you ever need to convert a bunch of soft ellipses ( “...”) to hard ellipses (“…”) late in the translation process.

A quick note about spacing
I opt to keep things simple. If an ellipsis is at the start of a sentence or line, put one space between it and the first word. If it’s anywhere else, use no space before the ellipsis and one space after. If it’s a string of ellipses, it should be an uninterrupted series of dots with no spaces in between.

Quote

JOE: ... And that’s why they call me Lefty.
JOE: I could go on and on and on...
BOB: ............ Shut up.
JOE: That's so... so... mean!

There are also differing schools of thought as to whether an ellipsis at the end of a sentence should also be followed by a period, resulting in four dots total. Again, I opt for simplicity here and advise three dots in all cases.

The mark of the beast
It’s easy to tell professional translations from fan projects, it’s said; just count the number of dots. While not always true – plenty of slapdash commercial releases exist in the wild — there’s definitely something to this. More often than not, fewer ellipses are a sign that someone has taken the time to not just translate a text word for word, but thoughtfully localize it.

Seriously, just dump the dots, folks. Your readers will thank you for it.

Darbury

lM9nDJq.jpg

This past weekend marked the unofficial start of summer here in the States, and to celebrate, dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster threw down the gauntlet in a major way. The hot dog, it declared, is a sandwich. It consists of bread (the bun) holding some filling (a plump, juicy hot dog). It meets the textbook definition of a sandwich. Therefore, it’s a sandwich.

The reaction from Team Hot Dog was swift. “Nooo! That’s not true!” they Luke Skywalkered across the Twiterverse. “Hot dogs are hot dogs! Shuttuuuuuhp!” Whereas Team Sandwich raised nary a peep. “Cool,” they said. “We like sandwiches. Welcome to the club.”

And why was that? Maybe a look at similar sort of statement can help us try to figure it out:

Gone Home is a visual novel.

WTrc7zo.jpg

Nooo! That’s not true! Gone Home isn’t a VN! Shuttuuuuhp!

Very light spoilers to follow.

If you don’t know, Gone Home is a game that came out in 2013, created by a handful of former BioShock devs. In it, you assume the role of an American college student who comes home from a year abroad only to find her parents’ house deserted, a cryptic note from her sister taped to the front door. The rest of the game is spent finding out just what happened.

Except it’s not a “game” as such. And you don’t really “play.” You simply wander the house using FPS controls, going from room to room and reading/hearing scattered bits of documentary evidence – letters, journal entries, crumpled-up notes, etc. – that help you unravel the mystery. That’s it. Some gamers have dismissively called it a “walking simulator,” but there’s clearly more to it than that. Gone Home is a digital experience that exists primarily to convey an authored text, one that shares structural similarities with traditional novels/short stories. That text is then given strong support by on-screen visual elements to form a cohesive whole.

While there’s no hard and fast definition of “visual novel” that I’m aware of, the above seems to do the job pretty well. And by that definition, Gone Home is a visual novel.

Nooo! It’s not a VN! It doesn’t take the form of a written novel!

Sure it does – an epistolary novel, to be specific. Here, I’ll even save you the trip to Wikipedia:

Quote

An epistolary novel is a novel written as a series of documents. The usual form is letters, although diary entries, newspaper clippings and other documents are sometimes used. Recently, electronic documents such as radio, blogs, and e-mail have also come into use.

Some well-known entries in this genre include Frankenstein, Dracula, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and World War Z. In Gone Home’s case, the main narrative thread is told via your sister’s journal entries, which are penned as letters in absentia to you. Additional plot is introduced via other letters, newspaper clippings, and historical documents. Sound familiar? Yup. In fact, if you printed the collected documents of Gone Home in paperback, it would hold up extremely well as an example of the epistolary form.

Gone Home is a visual novel. Deal with it.

dDm5BkO.jpg

Nooo! It’s not a VN! You walk around in a 3D environment!

So what? Macbeth is a play; we can all agree on that. Sleep No More is a highly regarded re-contextualizing of that play as performance spaces meant to be walked through and experienced. The fact that you sit on your ass through one and physically traverse the other doesn’t change the fact that both are plays. They both have actors, scenes, and staging.

And besides, several other VN titles use the exploration of 3D environments to frame their textual elements – Corpse Party: Book of Shadows, Danganronpa, etc.

Gone Home is a visual novel. Deal with it.

Nooo! It’s not a VN! It’s a game that just happens to have text!

There’s almost zero “gameplay” in Gone Home. Seriously. Most of one’s time in so-called “narrative-driven” games like BioShock or Final Fantasy [n] or Persona is spent doing non-narrative things – fighting, more often than not. In Gone Home, if you’re not reading/listening to documents, you’re usually (a) walking, (b) turning on lamps, or (c) opening cupboards and looking at cans of soup. The “game,” such as it is, exists solely to deliver the narrative.

Baldr Sky, Aselia, the Rance VNs – all have far more gameplay than Gone Home could ever dream of.

Gone Home is a visual novel. Deal with it.

DVDagm0.jpg

Nooo! It’s not a VN! You can finish the game without reading most of it!

While Gone Home definitely gives you a great deal of leeway in what you choose to read, and in what order, there are still certain key documents that act as plot gateways. These help ensure there’s a beginning, a middle, and an end with an identifiable narrative arc in between.

Anyway, I can also “finish” a more traditional VN without reading most of it. Maybe I get an early bad ending. Or I can read one route to completion and decide to stop, missing most of the content.

Gone Home is a visual novel. Deal with it.

Nooo! It’s not a VN! If it is, then any game can claim the same!

Nope. Slippery slope denied. Just because Gone Home can be considered a VN, that doesn’t mean Tetris or Call of Duty: Jackalope can; it’s still a fairly high bar. Take The Walking Dead series by Telltale, for example. A number of people have argued that these games could (and should) be considered VNs, but I’d disagree. That could be a whole blog post by itself, but suffice to say their narrative form is much closer to that of a TV script than a novel or story.

All kings are men, but not all men are kings. Just because VNs prioritize narrative doesn’t mean all games that prioritize narrative are VNs.

knpCW3u.jpg

Nooo! It’s not a VN! It doesn’t have sprites against a background!

So what? Go tell that to Narcissu.

Nooo! It’s not a VN! It doesn’t have hand-drawn art!

So what? Go tell that to any recent VN using 3D character models/backdrops.

Nooo! It’s not a VN! It doesn’t have routes! And heroines!

Are we seriously having this conversation?

Nooo! It’s not a VN! Its creators don’t even call it that!

So what? Authorial intent means nothing. All the audience can judge is what’s on the page/screen. And what’s there is a visual novel. (For the record, the devs call it a "story exploration" game.)

Okay, class. What have we learned?

Our Gone Home experiment, interestingly enough, is the reverse of the hot dog situation. Visual novel fans (a.k.a., Team Sandwich) tend to be the ones arguing against Gone Home (a.k.a., Team Hot Dog) being considered part of the genre, rather than the other way around. Larger resists smaller, rather than smaller resisting larger. And why is that?

For Team Hot Dog, the object of its affection is more than a tube-shaped piece of meat on a bun. It’s the whole emotional experience surrounding the idea of “hot dog” – the childhood ballgames, the smell of charcoal in the backyard grill. There’s a good reason I can watch the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest on TV next month, but not the Boar’s Head Ham and Cheese on Rye Eating Contest. To admit that a hot dog is just a sandwich is to risk making it less special somehow, to blur the lines of its magic.

And for members of Team VN, a “visual novel” is more than just any old game that combines textual narrative with computer graphics. It’s also the emotional experience of all the VNs they’ve played until now – experiences that are often colored by very specific art styles and narrative conceits. To admit that a “game” like Gone Home can be a visual novel is to risk making the genre seem less special somehow, to blur the lines of its magic.

In both cases, the emotional experience of a thing proves to be just as true and just as powerful as the dictionary definition of that thing. And unless your name happens to be Merriam or Webster, there’s very little to be done about the latter. But the former is a matter of personal interpretation; personal interpretation remains a hill that one can choose to defend and, indeed, die upon.

In other words, it’s possible for the statements “Gone Home is a visual novel,” and “I don’t consider Gone Home to be a visual novel,” to both be true simultaneously. But if you put ketchup on your hot dog sandwich, you’re just a bloody idiot.

Update #1: Now watch as I argue that Gone Home really isn't a visual novel. Proof you can have your cake and piss on it too.

Darbury

5iJOdic.jpg

Here in the United States, we’ll be spending Thursday the way The Lord God intended: eating our weight in meat, potatoes, and gravy, then farting ourselves to sleep on our uncles’ living room couches. Those of you from other countries have good reason to be jealous; there’s no slumber quite as deep or blissful as the post-Thanksgiving coma. But guess what, my forlorn foreign friends? This year, you’re in luck. That’s right — I’ve decided to write another image editing post. With any luck, this’ll put you to sleep faster than the second season of The Walking Dead.

I know. Those are lofty claims, but I’m ready to deliver a Thanksgiving miracle. You’re welcome.

Insomniacs of the World, Good Night.

So at the tail end of image editing on a yet-to-be-released otome translation, I got a care package from the TL team with an additional set of graphics that needed retouching. Most of it was straightforward stuff — modal UI elements, chapter title screens, etc. — but one folder in particular seemed to emanate waves of pure evil. You know that feeling you get when your phone rings at 7 o’clock on a Sunday morning? And you can see it’s your boss calling? And every hung-over bone in your body screams at you not to answer, but you know you have to? Yeah, kind of like that.

So I opened it.

Kfl06sK.png

Inside were 13 different full-screen maps, all very similar to the one above, showing the in-game route from one castle to another. I could already see it was going to be a relatively painful retouching job — lots of smallish text set against an intricately illustrated and heavily weathered map. Complicating matters was the fact that the same map was then repeated 12 more times with slight variations, each image representing the path traveled by the characters over the course of a particular chapter.

Ouch.

Image editing is all about measuring twice and cutting once. The more you mess with an image, the more room there is for errors and inconsistencies to creep in — and the more time you waste. So in this case, my first job was to see how much each map actually differed from the next. With any luck, I could create a base map template that contained 90% of the heavy retouching — those elements that were common to all maps — then paste the individual elements for all the other maps on top of that. In Photoshop, the easiest way to do this is layering one image over another, then applying the Difference blending mode. (For you programmers out there, you can think of this as running a diff command on two text files.) The result looks something like this:

wj8LjWx.jpg

The black pixels represent areas where the two images are identical; the non-black pixels show where they differ. In this case, after doing this with all the images, I could see there were two main points of difference between the maps. First, the inset box on the lower right, which shows the characters’ origin, destination, and the direction of travel, along with thumbnail pictures of each location. Second, the path indicator along the road, with a highlighted road marker showing the characters’ final destination. With this info in hand, I could now start tackling the retouching itself, while setting the Photoshop file up for maximum efficiency and flexibility.

The first step in building a map template was to remove the Japanese text from the image:

ARjlXKK.jpg

Tedious stuff, but fairly standard. You might notice that I only removed the text from one of the orange road marker “capsules.” There were a couple reasons for that. For one, there weren’t a lot of similar patches of texture to pull from for cloning, so retouching them all would be a pain in the ass and produce uneven results. Moreover, it would be inefficient, since other than the weathering, they all look more or less identical. So in this case, I drew a selection path around the one retouched capsule, turned it into a smart object, then duped it about 20 times for all the other markers along the road:

mdUkGqr.png

Better, but not quite there yet. It’s painfully obvious that all the capsules are identical, and they stick out like sore thumbs; they’re crisp and clean while the rest of the map looks beat up and worn. So my next step was to blend them into the map and add an element of irregularity by duplicating the original map image, floating it up to the top, then applying the Lighter Color blending mode. This mode compares the two images pixel by pixel, and whichever pixel is lighter gets displayed in the final image. Since the capsules were comparatively dark, this effectively lets me pick up the weathered areas of the map where the lighter parchment shows through and apply it only to the capsules.

pCG01vf.png

Much better. They look baked into the map now. As a final touch, I also added the slightest bit of canvas texture as an FX layer set to Color Burn to bring back some level of darker noise to the capsules. Not too much, though; since we have to be able to read 4-9 small English letters as opposed to a couple large kanji characters, we need to allow for some increased contrast.

G61jjiz.png

Done and done. I was finally in a position where I could start adding the translated text to the map. And that’s where I decided to break one of my cardinal rules: never set English type in vertical stacks. Every rule has its exception, though, and this was one right here. The lettering in older, hand-drawn maps was often a loosey-goosey affair, with cartographers squeezing in type wherever they could, however they could. Horizontal, vertical, curved — whatever it took to cram words into the space available. English vertical type would have been right at home on a document like this. Since most of the place names on this map were short, and the space available to me was largely vertical blocks, I decided to go for it. I picked a Western font I thought captured the feel of the original map lettering, then re-set all the type.

BdCJnV7.jpg

With the base map template finished, I could quickly set about outputting those other 12 map variants. This basically involved creating a dozen layer group overlays for the inset box in the lower right, each one holding updated text and location images copy/pasted from the original maps, along with UI indicators as needed — the blue swirl indicating current location, and the hand-drawn arrow indicating direction of travel. Then I created another set of overlays for the red path line drawn over the map itself. Since the capsules were all smart objects, I could easily highlight individual ones as needed by selectively applying a light orange Color Overlay FX with a Soft Light blending mode.

snLBhD2.jpg

Think that bright red line and arrow on the road looks shockingly bad? Me too, especially considering how well art directed the rest of the VN is. It’s almost like the devs had an intern add it in Windows Paint at the last second or something. Oy vey.

Anyway, everything else came together quickly after that. In short order, all the maps were exported and the new files were back in the hands of the team.

Asleep yet?

All told, the project took about 90 minutes for 13 images, with the first half an hour or so spent reviewing the maps and coming up with a plan of attack. Had I not “wasted” that time up front, I could have easily spent 2-3X longer trying to get things done in less efficient ways — if not more.

So what have we learned today?

  1. When it comes to image editing, always measure twice and cut once. Plan ahead, especially on more complex projects.
  2. Always be willing to break, or at least bend, your own rules if a situation demands it.
  3. I will be made up of approximately 93% pumpkin pie by this time tomorrow.
  4. #3 is a very conservative estimate.
Darbury

XTx9qhm.jpg

I just had an extra big breakfast, so I thought I'd pull up a chair and solve one of the most hotly debated issues facing the English-speaking VN community today. No, no need for thanks. Just name a stadium or sandwich after me at some point. Or both.

Ready? Here we go. Honorifics or no honorifics? Should translated visual novels maintain the traditional Japanese cavalcade of name suffixes — san, kun, chan, sama, and so forth? Or should they adopt a more familiar Western approach, dropping honorifics entirely and/or replacing them with English titles — Mr., Mrs., Sir, etc. — only where situationally appropriate?

San? Or sans san?

I've thought long and hard on the matter and I think I've finally figured it out. Here's the answer you've all been waiting for.

ARE YOU FUCKING INSANE?

Haven't you been reading this blog? Did you really think a self-professed amateur VN editor would suddenly crack the code wide open and save the day? I’m quite literally an idiot. My wife will back me up on that one. And besides, this isn't some question with an obvious answer, like "Should I put ketchup on my steak?" (Answer: No. And if you do, you're an awful person who probably pushes elderly nuns in front of buses when you think no one's looking, then steals their mangled nun panties.)

In fact, that question doesn't even have an answer, per se; it has a decision tree. Imagine your friend asks you, "Should I get a tattoo?" There are a lot of considerations to run through before you can give an answer. What kind of job do they have? Bankers and bartenders each have different leeway when it comes to full-sleeve tats. What's the context of their question? Is your friend asking you this over coffee? Or looking up at you from a vomit-filled toilet bowl in a way off-Strip Vegas casino? And what's the tattoo of? If it's Tweety Bird, then it's off to prison with them, along with all the steak-on-ketchup panty sniffers.

Same for honorifics. There's no one-size-fits-all answer — only questions and considerations. And the first big branch of that decision tree: Who are your readers and why do they read VNs?

The Battle Lines Are Drawn
By and large, we can break VN readers down into two camps: story-seekers and culture-seekers. It’s an overgeneralization, of course — there’s some drift and overlap between these two groups — but it will give us a useful starting point for our discussion.

Story-seekers tend to read visual novels for the plot, for the romance, for the giant mechs, for the faps, and for THE FEELS, MAN, THE FEELS. The fact that these stories are Japanese in origin is kinda cool, but secondary to the overall experience. As a group, they value readability over verisimilitude. They don’t get their stolen nun panties in a bunch because Ixrec’s translation of Rewrite doesn’t capture every last nuance of the Japanese, or even gets a few lines wrong at times. They just sit back and enjoy the ride. And for them, honorifics are often just weeaboo speedbumps that interfere with said ride.

Culture-seekers, on the other hand, tend to read VNs not only for the story, but to indulge their passion for Japanese culture. They might speak Japanese, or they might be in the process of learning to do so. Visual novels are often a means to an end: they read VNs in part to practice their Japanese. (And they practice Japanese to read VNs. Loopity-loopity-loop.) Culture-seekers enjoy the inherent Japanese-ness of the medium — seeing the subtle social interplay of honorifics at work, for example — so for them, stripping away “san” to please some Naruto-watching noobs is like throwing away part of the story.

As a translator or editor, you will inevitably piss off one of these camps. Sorry, that’s just how it is. You’re dealing with two groups of people who have inherently different motivations for reading the same work. And you can only translate/edit one way. Sucks, right? To extend my steak metaphor, it’s like owning a restaurant that, for logistical reasons, can only cook its steaks to one temperature — rare or well-done. And it’s up to you to pick which. If you go with rare, all the well-done lovers will give your little bistro one-star reviews on Yelp. And if you choose well-done, the folks who like their steaks blue and bloody will come at you with knives drawn.

BErH2gs.jpg

In a way, this becomes sort of liberating. No matter what you do, you will annoy a good chunk of your audience. This is fait accompli. So you’re now free to do what you actually think is right for the work, knowing it won’t really affect the outcome much.

Of course, you’re also probably in one of those two camps yourself. (I know I am.) As such, you probably have an clear bias toward a particular approach — san or sans san. And you know what? That’s fine. Recognize your bias. Embrace it. Make friends with the fact that you prefer to translate/edit one way or the other. Then remember the advice I gave a few blog entries back: You are not your audience. Your close friends are not your audience. The message boards you follow are not your audience.

Your audience is your audience; its needs may differ from yours. And the novel is the novel; its needs may also differ from yours.

So here’s what I propose: Rather than take a one-size-fits-all approach to every VN, just accept that, all things being equal, you will probably prefer one approach to editing/translation over the other. And then leave yourself open to the possibility of changing that approach based on the specific needs of the VN and the audience for that VN. Handle it the same way you would that friend asking about the tattoo. Is getting inked right for them right now? And is including honorifics right for the audience and right for the novel?

Let’s walk through some questions you might ask yourself while making that decision:

Who’s the primary audience for the VN?
Are your readers primarily story-seekers or culture-seekers? Is your VN some niche title that appeals only to otakus, or is it a game with broad crossover appeal? A stronger case could be made for honorifics in the former situation; less so in the latter

What's the setting of the visual novel?
If your characters are all alien catgirls on a spaceship 23,000,000 light years from Earth, it's harder to justify keeping in honorifics than if you’ve got a cast of high school students in modern-day Japan.

Are the honorifics plot-relevant?
Is there any good story-related reason for all the sans and kuns to be there? Is the central conflict of the VN about whether the protagonist and his best girl are ready to go first name-only? If so, you have a better case for keeping honorifics than if they're just there as subtle social shading.

Is the visual novel voiced?
This one's common sense. You’ll have an easier time not including honorifics if the reader isn’t hearing them in VO. And vice versa.

How annoying are the honorifics?
This one is totally subjective, but it needs to be asked. Some writers tend to favor narration over dialogue, so their scripts will have fewer honorifics to deal with. Other writers love the rhythms of slice-of-life dialogue, so their prose might be a minefield of sans and chans. Read the script aloud. How jarring is it to the ear?

Is this an OELVN?
Stop it. Just stop it already. You don’t need honorifics. You’re writing a novel in English for an English-speaking audience, for crissakes. Don’t make me come back there.

Run down the decision tree. Be honest with yourself. Is there enough evidence to make you reconsider your approach to this novel? Are you an anti-honorific type editing a VN set in feudal Japan, where one missing “sama” could mean the difference between life or death for the characters? Consider keeping them in. Are you a pro-honorific person translating a VN about competitive bread baking in Paris? Consider ditching them.

Full Disclosure
I’m a story-seeker. Given my druthers, I will choose to omit honorifics from a VN for the sake of more readable English prose. I’m fairly certain that if it’s possible to translate Murakami and Kurosawa into English without honorifics, it should be more than possible to do the same for some random high school moege.

I admit you might be losing a certain amount content by omitting those honorifics — clues about the social standing of various characters in relation to one another, not to mention their personalities — but as far as I'm concerned, it’s content that can either be (a) baked into the script via other contextual clues, or (b) written off as redundant — that is to say, most of what those honorifics are communicating will already be apparent through the rest of the dialogue and on-screen action.

I also admit that my sans-san approach won’t be the right one in every situation. Same goes for the opposite approach. Every work and every audience demands its own solution. Your job is to stop for a moment and ask yourself what that solution is.

And then be willing to listen to the answer.

Darbury

8gROtfn.jpg

If you’re the image editor for a VN translation, you’ll probably spend at least half your time setting English type. Lots of it. (The other half will be spent laboriously retouching out all the Japanese text you’re about to replace.) Sounds simple on the surface, right? Any pixel monkey can copy/paste from a translation document.

But there’s a lot more to good typesetting than just clicking with text tool and banging away on the keyboard. Just like good prose, there’s a certain rhythm to good type. A practiced designer will make numerous small adjustments along the way that allow the to reader glide effortlessly through whatever’s being said. Reading good type should be like driving on a well-paved road.

And the one thing all good display type has in common: someone took the time to kern it.

The Basics of Kerning
I won’t go into a detailed discussion of kerning here — the terminology, the history, the fact that it sounds like something you’d have to pay an escort extra for. If you’re interested in that sort of thing, there are lots of sites out there for you to read. Better yet, buy yourself The Elements of Typographic Style, the best book about type you could ever hope to own. Call it an early Christmas present to yourself. For our purposes, it’s enough to say that kerning means to adjust the empty space between any two adjacent characters, either bringing them closer together or pushing them father apart.

And why would you want to do that? Otherwise, you’ll have gaps and crashes in your type that’ll make things feel ever so slightly off.

To illustrate, I browsed over to a free font site and downloaded a typeface at random. (There’s a very good reason I did this, rather than using some industry-standard font like Helvetica or Times Roman. I’ll get to that in a minute.) Downloading, downloading … done! Okay, let’s set some type.

xUfPCK9.png

Here we have a few words set in Font X — name redacted to protect the innocent. At first glance, everything seems fine. But then you look closer and start noticing little things. Like what are these weird gaps between the first two letters of some words? Some are almost as wide as the full space between words.

zi1ksTA.png

And hey, what about these letters over here that are more or less crashing into each other? That can’t be good, right?

1qlVzMe.png

Nope. These are problems. They need to be fixed.

Kerning Pairs
The reason I picked a free font is because most professional typefaces (aka, “ones you pay a lot of money for”) are designed to avoid the majority of such issues. Once a typographer has crafted all the characters for a font, he or she will then spend countless hours specifying “kerning pairs” for it — basically, instructions on how close each letter should sit next to every other letter. (Here’s how close A should be to B, here’s how close A should be to b, etc.) While some letter pairings may look good at default spacing, others will need to pull tighter or push father out to look right. Professional fonts will often contain hundreds of these kerning pairs. It’s mind-numbing work that takes far more time than most amateur typographers are willing to put into a freebie font project.

That work still needs to get done, however, but now it’s on your shoulders instead. And, since most fan translation projects use free fonts for budgetary reasons, odds are you’ll have a whole lot of mess to clean up. Congratulations! Thankfully, once you’ve learned how, it’s pretty easy stuff.

I work in Photoshop, so I’ll be showing its kerning interface here. If you use another program, it likely has something similar. Here’s Photoshop’s character palette, with the kerning field highlighted:

iefiaLT.png

The "0" you see there means there’s no kerning currently being applied to the characters on either side of your text cursor. Make this number negative, and the two letters will start pulling closer together. Make it positive, and they’ll start pushing farther apart. (Photoshop measures this in units 1/1000 ems, but that’s bar trivia you don’t really need to remember. Just know that in most cases, you’ll be entering numbers in the range of -100 to +100.) You can see the results of some sample values below.

4gKu2gZ.png

In Photoshop, you also have the option of “Metrics” (apply whatever kerning pairs the typographer included in the font, if any) or “Optical” (let Photoshop guess what looks good, basically). Play around to get a feel for things, then advance your cursor through your type, letter pair by letter pair, and adjust this value until the two letters are the right distance apart. Rinse and repeat. And what’s the “right” distance? The one that looks right, of course. It’s a subjective thing, and this is where practice and design experience come into play. 

Like The Sands Through The Hourglass
One of the first art directors I worked under offered me this analogy, which I’ve always rather liked: Imagine the negative space between letters as vases lined up in a row. They’re all different shapes, these vases, but you want each to be able to hold an equal amount of sand (or M&Ms or whatever). Kern until your vases all look like they could all hold the same amount. This is an imprecise rule, of course, and you’ll often want to make your “vases” bigger or smaller for visual effect, but it gives a beginner a good baseline approach.

So let’s take that approach here. Let’s go through, fix all the obvious gaps and crashes we noted earlier, then make smaller adjustments to even out the text overall. (We call this giving the type an even “color.”) After some quick fiddling, we end up with something like this before and after:

OCWOLyy.png
E570GpH.png

It’s subtle, but the "after" type just feels nicer overall. And if your text is a UI element that some poor reader will spend countless hours staring at, you want to make sure it’s as nice as you can manage. Because the longer you spend with something, the more obvious and annoying its flaws become. (Said every roommate ever.)

The good news is you don’t need to do this everywhere. It’d be insanity to kern entire sentences or paragraphs of text, especially since the effect is barely perceptible at those point sizes. You only really need to worry about kerning display type — things like buttons, headlines, title screens, etc. If your type is over 16pt, it probably needs to be kerned. The good news is, as you learn the keyboard shortcuts for your particular application/platform, you’ll be able to breeze through a piece of type in a matter of seconds. In fact, a lot of designers find sitting down and kerning type to be mindlessly relaxing, like knitting or playing Minesweeper or making fun of the animations in Fallout 4.

Mind Your Gaps
So that’s kerning in a nutshell kernel. It’s the absolute easiest way to step up your type game, and it’s quick enough that there’s no reason not to do it. As a bonus, there’s a fun little online game out there to let you practice your kerning skills in hypothetical situations and compare them to a professional designer’s solution. It’s a fun way to kill some time at work while you boost your skills.

Darbury

11urNKr.png

This blog is all about owning my mistakes and putting them on public display, so let’s do this. And yeah, I knew this one was going to come back and bite me in the ass. This was my albatross. This was my giant ass-biting albatross.

The great “tricky” debacle of 2015
So there’s this word that shows up in the English translation of Koisuru Natsu no Last Resort. If you’ve read it, you might have noticed it once or twice.

“Tricky.”

Umi, the main heroine, falls back on this word a lot to describe the protagonist. She uses it when he’s being nice. And when he’s being a jerk. And when he’s chewing food. And any other opportunity she can think of. Basically, I think she gets paid 100 yen every time she manages to work that word into a sentence. And let me tell you: girl is pulling down bank.

Of course, this is a translation, so she’s not actually saying “tricky.” She’s saying something similar in Japanese. And therein lies a tale of woe and sorrow.

The backstory
But let’s rewind a bit first.

When I came aboard the KoiRizo team, it was to edit a single route: Nagisa’s. Makes sense — I was a first-time VN editor, and Nagisa’s route was the shortest in the game. Moreover, it was an unlockable, which meant that comparatively few people would end up reading it. Other editors were already hacking away at most of the remaining routes anyway, so that was all fine by me.

As I worked my way through Nagisa’s scripts, I saw the word “tricky” pop up once or twice in Umi’s dialogue as a personal insult and it just seemed ... odd to me. Tough math problems are tricky. Opening a stubborn jar of peanut butter is tricky. People? Less so. I’m an editor, though, not a translator, so I did what I was supposed to do: flagged it for TLC review, left a comment with my concerns, edited the line as best I could, then moved along. The translator on the project had made it clear he wouldn’t be reviewing any edits until all the routes were finished being edited, so that’s about all I could do at the time.

When I finished cleaning up Nagisa’s route, I was asked if I wouldn’t mind tackling Shiori’s scripts as well, which no other editor had gotten around to yet. “Sure,” I said, and set about tidying that up as well. The word “tricky” popped up a couple more times, so I did the same thing: flagged it, reiterated my concerns, then kept on editing.

I finished Shiori, and was asked if I’d pick up the common route and Umi’s route; the editing on both of these had apparently stalled. Okay, what had started out as a quickie project for me was slowly turning into something much more time-consuming. I could see that. But I was still having fun, so I agreed. I started with the common route, where Umi has more screen time, which meant I started seeing the word “tricky” a little more often.

And I started to worry.

I flagged it, left a comment along the lines of “See my earlier notes on tricky,” and kept editing. I was determined not to get hung up on one silly word. It was becoming clear that this was sort of a catchphrase word for Umi, and I didn’t want to change the translation in my scripts if all the other editors’ scripts were keeping it as is. It’d be like if a screenwriter on The Simpsons decided that “D’oh!” sounded dumb, so Homer should say “Ooops!” instead — but only on the episodes he/she worked on.

Anyway, I finished the common route and moved onto Umi’s. And lo, I gazed into a bottomless abyss of trickiness.

11urNKr.png

You sly dumbass, you.
Now let’s talk about the actual word. In Japanese, it’s “ずるい” — “zurui.” And, true to its definition, zurui’s a tricky word to pin down.

It’s often translated as “unfair.” (Or so I’ve been told. Again, I’m an editor, not a translator. I took a Japanese class or two a few years back, so I have a basic familiarity with the rudiments of grammar and vocabulary. I’m good for: “Hello, I only speak a little Japanese. Sorry! What time is it? Where is the train? I am a very cute peach.” And that’s about it.) But there’s a little more nuance to it than that. Getting cancer is unfair. Having your advisor take credit for your thesis is unfair. “Zurui” implies a level of deviousness, impishness, slyness, craftiness, and yes, even trickiness. Someone who’s being “zurui” knows they’re getting away with something — and they’re okay with that.

Moreover, it has a secondary meaning of being miserly, which is something that definitely applies to Soutarou, the protagonist of KoiRizo. I have to imagine that wordplay was not lost on the writers ... or the characters.

There’s no one good English word to capture all those layers of meaning. When Umi uses this word to describe the protagonist in KoiRizo, it’s clear from context that her emotional shading varies from line to line. Sometimes she’s straight-up pissed at him and is telling him off: “You jackass.” Other times, she’s more of a late-game tsundere and says it playfully, even affectionately: “You sly dog you.” But she uses the same Japanese word every single time. Sometimes she’ll even say it six or seven times in a row without taking a breath.

“Zurui. Zurui. Zurui. Zurui. Zurui. ZURUI!”

It was her catchphrase. And in pretty much every instance, it had been translated as “tricky.”

If the word only appeared once or twice in KoiRizo, I could have swapped in the contextually appropriate English replacements and been done with it. (I actually did this in a handful of places throughout the VN, usually when it was clear she was at one extreme of the word or the other.) But given how often it showed up, I felt somehow obligated to honor authorial intent. This was Umi’s pet phrase for this guy she’d fallen in love with. At one point, I think she even uses it as all the parts of speech in a single sentence. If I started changing “zurui” to different words every time, she’d lose a fairly important character quirk.

After looking at all the options, the translator’s choice of “tricky” started seeming like it wasn’t a half-bad compromise after all. It got across that Umi thought the protag was dealing from the bottom of the emotional deck, but it also had a playful, teasing quality. It was never the best word in any particular instance, but it seemed like it might be flexible enough to be just sorta kinda okay in all instances.

That argument makes sense, right? I thought so at the time, anyway. And so I left “tricky” as it was.

Boy, was I wrong.

11urNKr.png

Mea culpa
I overthought it, plain and simple. I forgot my personal rule of writing and editing: Make the journey as frictionless for the readers as possible. Don’t let them get snagged on odd phrasings or slightly off words. Keep them immersed in the story.

I’d forgotten how jarring that “tricky” word seemed those first few times I saw it in translation. As the months passed, some sort of editing Stockholm Syndrome set in and I actually started thinking it might be an acceptable option.

In short, I messed up.

When I read Umineko for the first time, Battler’s use (and abuse) of the word “useless” seemed so ill-fitting to me in English prose that I almost gave up reading the VN right then and there. But now, I sort of understand how the Witch Hunt team might have, over time, come to see this ungainly adjective as the best compromise for their main character’s catchphrase. It doesn’t make me like it much more, but I can see how they ended up there. (But don’t get me started on “turn the chessboard over” vs. “turn the chessboard around.” The latter works; the former leaves you with a bunch of chess pieces on the ground.)

So here's the deal: It doesn’t matter that I had to make literally hundreds of judgment calls like this over the course of editing KoiRizo — what to do with Yuuhi’s numerous nicknames for the protagonist, as just one example — and 99% of them turned out okay (I hope).

What matters is there’s a big lump of tricky sitting in the middle of the visual novel. And it doesn't work.

I signed off on it. And I take full responsibility for that.

So what to do? Not much, to be honest. It’s one of those things I’d love to revisit if given the chance, but a 2.0 KoiRizo patch seems unlikely at this time. MDZ keeps his own counsel, but he seems to have moved onto other pursuits.

SPOILER: Professional lumberjack sports. I’m still totally serious. Look for him on ESPN 8: The Ocho.

And that, as they say, is that.

Postscript
As I mentioned, the original intent of this blog was to put a spotlight on my many missteps as a first-time VN editor. That hasn’t changed. I might also try to throw in some helpful life advice from time to time, but I’m mainly happy to let my blunders serve as good object lessons for other aspiring editors.

That means you should feel free to discuss any boneheaded decisions you think I might have made. Odds are I’ll own up to them. I've got a very thick skin, after all. I just ask two things:

1. This blog is about editing. If you have issues with someone’s translation choices, I kindly ask that you take it elsewhere. I hear Fuwa has really nice forums for that sort of thing, y'know? But if you have issues with how I edited someone's translation, then bring it on.

2. Please don’t be a giant pixelated dick about it. No one likes a pixel pick.

11urNKr.png

Darbury

AuZxDBr.jpg

How do you eat an entire whale? One bite at a time. Preferably with Cholula.

How do you edit/translate/whatever a visual novel? One line at a time. Preferably with bourbon.

Whether you’re a fan of the final product or not, one of the things that impresses me most about MDZ’s fan translation of Koisuru Natsu no Last Resort is that it got released, period. As in, if you were so inclined, you could download the installer right now, patch the original Japanese game, and go play the thing on your new-fangled Windows Pee-Cee. No demos, no one-route partial patches. The whole damned VN in English, finished on schedule and out there in the world.

The project didn’t stall. It didn’t wind up in no-updates-in-six-months-but-we-think-they’re-still-working-on-it hell. It didn’t climb into that white panel van with Little Busters EX, never to be heard from again. The nice man was lying to you, Little Busters EX — there were no cute little puppies in the back. What were you thinking?!

The KoiRizo team did nothing particularly special to make this happen. We just ate the whale one bite at a time.

The rhythm method

By his own account, MDZ worked very methodically on the project, spending an average of 30 minutes every day translating scripts into English. Not when he felt like it. Not when inspiration struck. Not when enough people harassed him with all-caps emails asking why the HELL hadn’t there been any progress updates on the KoiRizo tracker lately. He made it an expected part of his routine, like brushing his teeth or eating dinner. He scheduled regular translation sessions between classes or before heading out in the morning.

He did a little bit. Every. Single. Day.

There’s a word for that: consistency. That’s what gets things done in the real world, not 48-hour marathons every random.randint(1,6) weekends fueled by Red Bull, Hot Pockets, and intense self-loathing. Consistency keeps you from getting burned out. Consistency lets you make reasonable schedules and estimates, then stick to them. Consistency is like goddamned black magic.

Over the course of the project, MDZ had consistency in spades. If he can maintain that approach to life, I have a feeling he’ll be successful at whatever he puts his mind to after college.

SPOILER: Professional lumberjack sports. You heard it here first. Act surprised when he tells you.

When I came on board as an editor, I kept a somewhat similar schedule. I resolved to set aside my commuting time each workday for editing. And so for 40 minutes in the morning and 40 minutes in the evening, Monday through Friday, I’d park my butt in a train seat, break out my laptop, and just edit.

Weekdays were reserved for my family. If you’re married with kids, you know there is no such thing as free time on weekends. If you’re not married and don’t have kids, please tell me what the outside world is like. I hear they came out with a PlayStation 2? That’s gotta be pretty awesome.

Anyway, that’s what I ended up doing. Edit every single workday. For six months. Until it was done.

(Six months? That long to edit a medium-length visual novel? Yeah, that long. KoiRizo weighs in at 36,000+ lines. Over six months, that works out to about 1,400 lines a week, or 210 lines per hour. That’s an edited line every 17 seconds or so, with most of the lines needing substantial polishing/rewriting. I have no idea what pace other VN editors work at, but I felt like this was one I could maintain over the long haul. Call it the distance runner’s lope.)

6m8zL2n.jpg

Special topics in calamity physics

So why all this rambling about whales and consistency? Because I just got back from vacation a few days ago and I’ve been surprised at how long it’s taken me to get my head back into the various projects I’ve been working on (or even writing this blog). And then I got to wondering how often something small like that snowballs into a stalled or even failed project. A missed day turns into a skipped week turns into a skipped month turns into a dead translation.

Which then got me thinking about the coefficient of friction.

It’s basic physics, which I excelled at (failing repeatedly). In layman’s terms, it’s a ratio (μ) that gives you a sense how much force two surfaces exert on each other and, therefore, how much force you need to exert to get something moving from a dead stop. Wooden block on ice? Low coefficient of friction. Wooden block on shag carpet? High coefficient of friction ... and a senseless crime against tasteful décor. Once you overcome that initial friction, it takes comparatively little force to keep an object in motion.

I can easily imagine there’s a coefficient of friction between us and our work, some quantifiable level of resistance that needs be overcome before we get our asses in gear and be productive. And unlike the one in Physics 101, which is constant for any two materials, this one is different every single day. It depends on a bunch of different factors: how interested we are in our projects, how appreciated we feel, what other projects we’ve got going on at the same time, how much sleep we’ve gotten, what else is going on in our lives, whether or not the Mets are currently in the World Series, etc.

Let’s call it the coefficient of slackitude.

Once we get started on a project and make it part of our everyday routine, we can largely ignore this number. We’ve overcome the initial slackitude and, with moderate effort, can keep things rolling along fairly smoothly. But each time we let things coast to a stop, even for a few days, we’ve got to overcome the slackitude all over again. And since that value is variable, it might be much harder the second time around. In fact, it probably will be.

Eventually, we’ll fail to do so. And our project will die.

The takeaway

So other than the fact that I had no business being anywhere near a physics classroom, what can we take away from my incoherent ramblings? A couple things:

  1. The easiest way to make sure your project gets finished is to stick to a regular schedule. Eat the whale a little at a time — every day if you can. Minimize the gaps. Avoid having to face off against that nasty coefficient of slackitude more than once.
  2. The easiest way to make sure your project gets started at all is to pick a time when that coefficient of slackitude is low — when you’re excited by the prospect, when you’re well-rested, when you have relatively few competing interests. When you can focus. Use that time to build your momentum, so when your interest wanes or real life intrudes — it always does and it always will — the project is so embedded in your routine that you can just ride it out.

We need more finished translations in the world. So pull up a chair and eat your whale. Do it for your team. Do it for yourself. Do it for poor Little Busters EX, drugged and ball-gagged in a basement somewhere, forever wondering when it’ll finally get to see the puppies.

SPOILER: Never.

Darbury

hV1FT3b.jpg

If I could give you any two pieces of advice, gentle reader, they would be: don’t eat unopened mussels, and don’t proofread anything you’ve edited. Neither will end well for you.

I always scratch my head when I see a visual novel translation project with the same person listed as Editor and Proofreader. Or worse yet, Translator, Editor, and Proofreader. Or (and I know I’ve seen this at least once) Translator, TLC, Editor, and Proofreader. I’m all for DIY, but that's a disaster waiting to happen.

Here’s the rule: If you’ve touched a piece of copy in any one of these roles, it’s tainted for you in all others. Sorry, that’s just how it is. These jobs are meant to be a series of checks and balances to help ensure the quality and accuracy of the content. If a single person takes on two or more of these roles, you’ve got problems. If one or more of these positions goes completely unfilled, you’ve got problems.

It’s not that you wouldn’t be capable — many editors are amazing at proofreading, and tons of translators are wonderful at TLC — but once you’ve worked with the text in one capacity, your familiarity with it makes you far less effective in any other role.

Our stupid, stupid brains
Like so many things in life, it all comes down our stupid brains being more helpful than we want — kind of like an overeager toddler who just handed you your iPhone. In the shower. (Thank god for Applecare+.) Whenever our brains see a gap in content, they try to fill it whether we want them to or not. “Hi, I’m your brain. Hey, is there a word missing there? Can I make a fairly good guess as to what it is? Wheee! I’ll just pretend like it was there and we read it and nothing’s wrong. Now let’s go think about boobies some more! BOO-BEES! BOO-BEES!” And the more familiar your brain is with the work in question, the easier it is for it to fill in those gaps. It already knows what to expect, and it’s just waiting to jump in and save the day.

Our brains must be stopped before they kill again.

The easiest way to do this is, at each step of the creation and revision process, have someone ready look at the content with fresh eyes and no preconceptions. Simple as that. You wouldn't go get a second opinion from the doctor who just provided your first opinion, would you? So don’t do it here. Don't double-up on jobs, and don’t leave positions unfilled. The final product will be better for it.

Yeah, yeah, I know. Easier said than done. Finding good volunteers is tough and people flake out or have RL commitments all the time. So what then?

LZzuQpx.jpg

 

The nuclear option
When I got my first job in advertising, I was an idiot. Thankfully, my first creative director was not. A highly accomplished copywriter, she’d penned dozens of the brand slogans that had littered my youth. Suffice to say, she knew her stuff. (You’d probably know her stuff too, if you saw it.) And this was one of the first things she taught me: “Never, ever proofread your own work. But if you have to ...”

That’s right, she had a trick. A big red button on the wall of her brain that said, “PUSH ONLY IN CASE OF EMERGENCY.” You never want to proof your own work, but sometimes you don’t have a choice. Sometimes you’ve rewritten the copy deck five minutes before the big pitch and there’s no time to send it back for proofreading. That’s where the trick comes in.

Read it backwards.

Start at the very last word and read your way back until you hit the first. This strips away all meaning from the text — your brain isn’t leaping in with a guess as to what comes next — so you can focus on minutiae like spelling, punctuation, repeated words, etc.

This is a relatively laborious process, unfortunately, and it doesn’t scale well to an entire visual novel. But I mention it here in case you find yourself with a few lines or even a short script that needs a proofing pass and you’re the only one around to do it.

.it of habit a make don’t Just.

Full disclosure
By the way, I’ll be the first one to admit that v1.0 of the KoiRizo English patch has typos. In my role as editor, I tried to work as cleanly as possible, but over the course of 36,000+ lines — I figure that’s gotta be at least 250,000 words — a few foxes got into the henhouse. The team didn’t have any proofreaders, and the QC process wasn’t nearly as robust as had initially been hoped. (Zakamutt touches on that here.) But you know what? For all of that, I think the launch product came out comparatively clean. I still want to drink bleach and die every time I see a typo report, of course, but that comes with the territory.

And with any luck, there will be patch updates forthcoming that address some of these lingering issues. Which is good, since I’m running low on bleach. And lives.

Darbury

Ltc7hdz.jpg

As I was drinking my third cup of coffee this morning, it occurred to me that most non-otome or yaoi visual novels I can think of pass the Bechdel Test with flying colors. For those of you unfamiliar with it, the Bechdel Test requires that a work of fiction:

  1. have at least two women in it
  2. who talk to each other
  3. about something besides a man.

With obvious exceptions (Planetarian, etc.) most VNs have little trouble crossing this threshold — the casts are almost entirely female, and slice-of-life scenes are a staple of the genre. Meanwhile, nearly half of all American-made films don’t meet this same standard.

So to make things a little more interesting, I’d like to propose the Darbury Test™ (full name: “The Darbury Addendum to the Bechdel Test”). To get this particular merit badge, the VN in question must:

  1. have at least two women in it
  2. who talk to each other
  3. about something besides a man,
  4. neither of whom ends up having sex with the main character.

That’s right. If either one of them ends up with a red-hot ramrod crammed in one or more meat holes, crying out, “OH, YOU CAME SO MUCH!” — fail. Even if the action happens off-screen (e.g., in an all-ages version) — fail. Even if the woman in question is actually a demon/robot/vampire/catgirl/taco — fail.

Steins;Gate? Even that fails.

By the end of her route, Luka and Okabe have a child.

I can also think of a bunch of VNs that pass. Either way, it makes for an interesting thought experiment while you’re waiting for that next pot of coffee to finish brewing.

EDIT: Looks like the forum upgrade nuked all the styling of this post for a while. Sorry for the temporarily uncloaked spoilers.

Darbury

VVS6WGH.jpg

You know how you can translate Japanese far too literally and end up with stilted and nonsensical prose? It’s also possible reinterpret Japanese graphics far too literally and up with an illegible mess. Case in point: vertical type.

Japanese text is typically typeset one of two ways: the traditional tategaki style (characters arranged in vertical columns, read from right to left), or the more modern yokogaki style (characters arranged in horizontal rows, read left to right, as in English). When editing images for visual novels, you’ll usually be dealing with a lot of tategaki, but it’s possible you’ll encounter some yokogaki as well. Unless you just bought a pamphlet from that crazy guy hanging out beneath the subway stairs — Happy Birthday to Gravy! I’m Made of Bees! — you will literally never see English typeset this way. So how do you handle it when you do?

Typically, as long as you have the room, you’d set it the same as you would any other English text: horizontal, left to right, for maximum legibility. But what if you don’t have room? Particularly when dealing with UI elements, you might only have enough real estate for a single vertical column of characters. What then?

Grab it by the spine
Thankfully, generations of English-language typesetters have already solved this problem for us. Just walk over to your media shelf and look for yourself. See all those books, DVDs, video games you’ve got lined up there? Not only did you spend an obscene amount of money on those — seriously, how are you ever going to pay off your student loans this way? — but their spines all display titles the exact same way: horizontal type, rotated 90 degrees clockwise so that it reads from top to bottom. Any designer worth his or her salt will tell you that’s how it’s done.

So there’s your answer. Do that. You’re welcome.

But now you face a much bigger challenge: convincing non-designers that this is, in fact, the best approach.

The vertical smile frown
This came up once on a project where almost the entire UI was arranged in vertical lines of Japanese calligraphy. I’d painstakingly set hundreds of text elements in the correct bookspine-style, only to get a note back from the project lead asking that everything be re-typeset in the exact manner of the original Japanese, character stacked atop character.

Y
o
u

k
n
o
w
,

l
i
k
e

t
h
i
s
?

I’ve been a professional designer for enough years that, honestly, I forget not everyone gives much thought to why you don’t set type like this. So in that sense, the request didn’t annoy me; I understood the motivation behind it. But I did end up having to write a fairly lengthy defense of bookspine-style type as a result. Since I’m not the first person to face this problem, and I know I won’t be the last, I thought it might be useful to summarize a few of those points here.

If you’re an image editor, maybe it’ll give you ammunition to back up your case one day. If you’re working with an image editor, maybe it’ll provide some insight into the thought he or she puts into typesetting. If you’re my mom, maybe you’ll finally believe I learned something in college.

The End of the World as We Know It
Seeing is believing, so let’s try all the options and see for ourselves what works and what doesn’t. I’ve cropped in on a small slice from a hypothetical UI sprite sheet for our discussion. I’ve also simplified it, hiding all the various hover and active states, so all we’re dealing with is the vanilla text.

Here’s the original edited version:
tNtwCLb.png
For this project, we need a script/calligraphic type that will remain legible even at very small sizes. (I do all my VN reading on an 8” tablet, so I use that as my small-screen baseline.) We land on this font here, a clean Western script that still feels right at home among traditional Eastern design elements. And since you can see that some of the UI text runs very long — these are chapter titles, I imagine — compactness is also a consideration. This typeface handles that quite nicely.

Let’s see what happens if, rather than bookspine-style, we run these lines vertically:
HXTGA2w.png
What’s wrong here? More like, what isn’t?

It doesn’t fit: Unlike squarish Japanese characters, English letters tend to be taller than they are wide. This means if you stack them vertically, you’ll end up with something that eats up almost twice as much space as horizontal type. You’ll need to reduce the point size to make everything fit. Or worse yet, squish the letters vertically to compensate. Yuck.

It fights against the letterforms: This is a script face, so it slants rightward, one letter leading the eye into the next. Moreover, lowercase letters set in script often physically join to one another, as if written in a smooth, flowing hand. A vertical stack is antithetical to both of these: there is no “next” letter to lead the eye into, nor is there any adjoining character to connect to.

It looks like a gap-toothed palooka: Notice how some of the letter pairs almost overlap, while others have relatively large spaces between them. This is another reason English type wasn’t meant to stack vertically. Even though there’s exactly the same amount of space between the baseline of each letter, some have descenders (e.g., the “tails” of the letters y or q), some have ascenders (e.g., the “flagstaff” of the letters b or d), and some have neither (e.g., x or o). This gives the vertical type a drunken stagger-step of sorts, an ungainly visual gait that we’d like to avoid at all costs.

It doesn’t handle punctuation well: There’s no graceful way to handle periods, colons, and so forth in vertical type. You could center it below the last letter, as in the original Japanese, but that looks confusing in English. And how would you handle a possessive, like “Darbury’s cat”? Stacked vertically, it would look more like “Darbury, scat.” (Fine. See ya, ingrate.)

It’s borderline illegible: There’s been lots and lots of research into the science of how people read — how we recognize letters, words, and sentences. There’s a lot of pattern recognition going on in our brains and, for native speakers of Western languages, those patterns almost always work horizontally. Setting type vertically can literally slow down reading and comprehension speed by an order of magnitude.

So let’s be clear: this sucks. But there are a few things we can do to slightly minimize the suckage. First, let’s set everything in all caps. Like thise238y4W.png

That eliminates our gap-tooth problem; uppercase letters don’t have ascenders or descenders, so all the letters now appear evenly spaced. But we’ve had to reduce the point size even further to make everything fit. (We started out at 20pt. We’re now at 12pt.) Also, our calligraphic type still slants to the right, making each letter feel like a drunk who leans against a wall only to find it isn’t there. We want a handwritten feel to the type, however, so we try switching to an upright block letter font instead:
JclmwLp.png
This is pretty much as good as it’ll get ... and it’s still not great. It’s still hard to read, and we’ve had to sacrifice the elegance of a script typeface. But wait — it gets worse. Right now, these lines have lots of padding left and right, since I’ve hidden all the other elements on this sprite sheet. What happens when they sit closer together, as they probably will in-game. You get this:
R5olB3d.png
I don’t know about you, but my brain wants to start reading horizontally adjacent words as sentences: “It birds and eye listen” Huh? It’s like trying to drive an SUV where the steering is constantly pulling to the right. It’s not what we’re looking for in a car, and it’s not what we’re looking for in our typesetting.

In short, vertically set text is a god-awful mess. Don’t use it. (Obligatory waffling: Okay, maybe if there’s one or two vertical buttons in the whole game. And maybe if they were really, really short — you know, like “SAVE” and “QUIT”? Maybe then you could get away with it. But otherwise, nononono a thousand times no.)

Introducing my backup singers
I’m not the only one preaching this gospel. These fine folks agree:


"Roman letters are designed to sit side by side, not on top of one another. Stacks of lowercase letters are especially awkward because the ascenders and descenders make the vertical spacing appear uneven, and the varied width of the characters makes the stacks look precarious." (link)
 

 

 


"Truly the only appropriate way to comfortably and effectively set English typography in a vertical context is by rotating a left-to-right composition. And even though it may seem counterintuitive, having the sideways word(s) on a sign, or book cover, or whatever, will give the audience the best chance at reading those words easily, while simultaneously elevating the associated brand(s)." (link)
 

 

 

 


"Sodom and Gomorrah used vertical type. Just sayin." (link)
 

So the next time someone asks you to set vertical type, just say no. Then link to this blog post and tell ‘em Darbury told ya so.

 

Darbury

25ZFlEh.jpg

As any translator can probably tell you, Japanese jokes are a huge pain to capture in English. There are unfamiliar memes, cultural references, wordplay, riffs on kanji characters — none of which are particularly easy to convey to Western audiences. If you get lucky, a few nips and tucks in editing are all you need to make one of these unwieldy beasts work in English. If you get unlucky, however, you end up having to grab the rib spreader and do some major linguistic surgery.

Sometimes the patients pull through. Sometimes they die on the operating table. These are their stories.

Joke 1: Pearls before swine
In this scene from KoiRizo, Soutarou has just finished giving one of the girls a bit of helpful advice passed down to him by his grandfather. The raw translation is below:

Soutarou: “... That's the motto that they followed back then, I think. Well you know, according to my grandfather.”
Riho: “Your grandfather's ball bag?”
Soutarou: “A-Although I think that he got it from my grandmother...”
Riho: “Ha ...?!”
Soutarou: “...”
Riho: “I just said a really strange thing ―!”

Get it? Get it? No, of course you don’t. KoiRizo was intended as a literal translation, and read literally, this makes zero sense. At this point in my editing, the only choice I had was to go back to the original script, break out the Japanese > English dictionaries, and see if I could figure out what the hell was going on here.

As near as I could figure, Riho meant to use the word “chiebukuro” — literally, “sack of wisdom.” She intended to say something about Soutarou’s pop-pop being a pretty smart guy, chock full of good advice. Instead, she uses “tamafukuro” — literally, “ball sack.” You can understand Soutarou’s confusion when Riho starts talking about his grandfather’s wrinkly old nuts. Nice guy that he is, however, Souatrou tries to give her a graceful out, suggesting it was actually his grandmother who provided the advice. Riho realizes her error and is appropriately mortified.

Great. We’ve puzzled it out ... but at this point, the joke still doesn’t work in translation. “Sack of wisdom” isn’t a common English phrase, so the reader won’t catch the intended meaning behind Riho’s mistake. It just sounds like a plain old non sequitur right now. So our next task is to change her line to something that (1) works as a Freudian slip, (2) comes out of the blue, and (3) is sexually shocking enough to catch Soutarou off guard.

The version I eventually settled on ran something like this:

Soutarou: “... That was the common advice back then, I think. Well, you know, according to my grandfather.”
Riho: “Your grandfather must have really liked giving you pearl necklaces, huh?”
Soutarou: “A-Actually, it might have been my grandmother who liked giving out pearls of wisdom ...”
Riho: “Ha ...?!”
Soutarou: “...”
Riho: “I can’t believe I just said that ―!”

Here, we’ve keep the same basic structure, but rather than “sack of wisdom,” Riho tries (and fails) to say “pearls of wisdom,” a much more common English idiom. And now, rather than Grandpa’s gnarly ballsack, we have the even more shocking image of the old guy giving his grandson pearl necklaces on a regular basis. Soutarou still gets to save the day by pivoting to his grandmother, and then the rest of the joke plays out pretty much as originally written.

Does it work? I hope so, but one could just as easily argue that I broke it. It’s a different gag; there’s no doubting that. But at the end of the day, I’d rather have a joke that works and maintains the original’s spirit than one that’s accurate to a fault.

50fwQBj.jpg

Joke 2: Deflowering the girls
Here’s a joke I know I broke during editing. Smashed it to the ground and danced on the pieces. In my defense, it was looking at me funny.

In the raw translation of this scene, resort manager Nagisa has just asked the staff to gather in their swimsuits for a big announcement:

Nagisa: “I have a reason for calling you all here like this today.”
Nagisa: “I'd like everyone to become the 'detergent' of the facilities.”
Sango: “Detergent? Us?”
Nagisa: “Oh, sorry. By detergent, I was referring more to advertising material.... In other words, I need you guys to photograph for an advertisement.”

Again, another joke that makes no sense when read literally. And the only TL note I had to go on said, “This translation won't work in English.” Agreed. So I hauled out the J>E dictionary again, but had much less luck this time. At best, I came away with a wisp of a shred of a guess. My hunch was that Nagisa was using one very specific meaning of the word “senzai”— the foremost part of a garden, the loveliest flowers intended to set the stage and entice visitors in deeper — and Sango interpreted it as another more common meaning of “senzai” — namely, detergent. Nagisa clarifies her meaning, everyone has a chuckle, and the scene continues.

I wasn’t sure if I was right — I’m an editor, not a translator — but lacking any better options, I decided to go with it. And I promptly flailed about like a clown being drowned in a bathtub. Right off the bat, I knew there weren’t any good English sound-alikes that would work here. So instead, I wrote about a dozen variations on garden and flower puns, but none of them managed to weave plausible misunderstanding with Nagisa’s actual meaning. Worse yet, they just weren’t funny.

Next, I tried a few bawdier versions, but quickly abandoned those as well. This scene is going to get more risqué in a minute, but throwing in a sex joke right now would be tipping our hand too soon. (In one draft, I had Nagisa say she wants the girls to be the hook that lures visitors to the island. Sango replies, “What?! You want us to hook for you?” — i.e., she thought her boss wanted to pimp them out as resort hookers.)

Having hit brick wall after brick wall, I decided to strip the joke down to its essence. What’s the basic structure here? Nagisa says she wants to use the girls to help sell the resort. Sango suffers a comic misunderstanding. Nagisa corrects her. The end. So that’s what I wrote:

Nagisa: “There’s a reason why I’ve called everyone here like this today.”
Nagisa: “I've decided to sell you.”
Sango: “Sell us? Is that even legal?”
Nagisa: “Oh, sorry. By ‘sell,’ I meant using you to help advertise the resort ... In layman’s terms, I need you guys to model for some publicity photos.”

We lose the poeticism of the original — that image of the girls as flowers drawing visitors in — but in exchange, we get something that actually works as wordplay in English while still delivering the necessary plot info (Nagisa’s marketing brainstorm). It’s still not a particularly hilarious gag, but then again, neither was the original.

In both examples, I ended up completely rewriting large chunks of each joke. And while I'm not entirely satisfied — I wish I could have kept more of the original language — I'm okay with the result. Editing is a balancing act. You want to remain as faithful to the original text as possible while maintaining the audience’s immersion in the work. If the reader suddenly comes across a joke that clearly doesn’t parse in English, that immersion is broken. They stop. They scroll back and re-read it a few times, trying to make sense of it. They wonder if they’re missing something, or if the TL team just messed it up. BAM. They’re now completely out of the world of the visual novel. The magic is broken.

Because magic is only magic until you notice the strings. Or that dead clown in the bathtub.

Darbury

Khj4dLU.jpg

There is a secret language spoken in the darkest corners of the visual novel world, a cant so ancient and intricate that none know its origins. To be initiated in its ways, one must drink from the Dread Chalice and be reborn in fire. Only then will the caul be drawn from your eyes.

You shall know onomatopoeia. And you shall know fear.

Sploosh 101: What is onomatopoeia?
Before we jump in with both feet — *splash!* — let’s do a quick primer on terminology. An onomatopoeia is a word that imitates, resembles, or suggests the source of the sound it describes — i.e, it sounds like what it is. Like clink, yip, kaboom, swish, meow, oink. (That’s the verbatim transcript of my bachelor party, in case anyone’s wondering.) This is different from a word that describes a sound or action, but doesn’t actually imitate it — e.g., sneeze vs. achoo, punch vs. kapow, close vs. slam. The latter are onomatopoeia; the former, I call ononotopoeia.

For the sake of brevity, let’s refer to these O and not-O.

The Japanese language is rich in O. There’s a sound effect for everything. There’s probably a sound effect for there being a sound effect for everything. (If there isn’t, I’d like to propose one now: darubu.) There are even sound effects for things that don’t actually make sound — e.g., “jii” for staring. While it’s woven into the fabric of the modern Japanese language, O is especially prevalent in manga and, to a somewhat lesser extent, anime. Since visual novels draw heavily from these two worlds, they too feature lots and lots of these words.

English is relatively impoverished in O by comparison, and therein lies the challenge for VN translators and editors. Do you leave these essentially untranslatable sound effects as they are? Or do you try to translate them, losing some of their immediacy and, for lack of a better word, oomph?

qdC3QiE.jpg

Across the great divide
The VN community seems to be fairly split on that question. In one camp, we have the purists. By and large, these are readers who are already comfortable with Japanese O through manga and anime. They consider it part and parcel of the VN experience. Learning and appreciating such terms is simply part of becoming an accomplished reader. It’d be like going to a fine dining restaurant and, instead of the chef presenting you with “the amuse-bouche,” he just came out and said, “Here’s this small appetizer thingy I made. Hope you like it.” The vocabulary is part of the experience.

In the other camp, we have the reformists. To them, leaving O untouched isn’t translation; it’s mere transliteration. It denies meaningful content to the uninitiated English reader — e.g., if you don’t know "munyu" means to grope someone, you’ll be clueless when the best girl hauls off and smacks the protagonist in the very next line. To extend the fine dining metaphor, it’d be like going to the same restaurant, being handed a menu that was all in French, and having the waitstaff snootily refuse to tell you what anything meant. Hope you like thymus glands, mon ami, because that’s what you just ordered.

When it came to KoiRizo, I was a reformist editor on a purist project. I joined the team after the translation had been completed and a lot of the big up-front decisions had already been made: Will this be a literal translation or liberal? (Literal.) Will we keep all the honorifics? (Yes.) Will we keep all the onomatopoeia? (Yes.) MDZ, the KoiRizo project lead, was very up-front about all this. And that was fine. The job of a VN editor is to facilitate and execute on the project lead’s vision. It’s great if you’re involved early enough to shape that vision, but it’s ultimately his/her show, not yours. (If you’re not okay with that, go start your own TL project.) So with that in mind, I did the best purist editing job I could.

But what if I had carte blanche in how I approached O? What would I do differently? As luck would have it, I’ve given that some thought.

Lz5Bfpv.jpg

Onomatopoeia in standard scripts
For the majority of scripts, it helps to separate O-words into two groups: content-light ad content-heavy. The content-light group tends to consist of interjections, exclamations, grunts, groans, laughs, etc. These are mostly self-explanatory terms, communicating very little other than the fact that they’re a familiar sound. Some examples include:

  • Ho
  • E
  • A
  • Heh
  • Uuu

At most, I’ll clean these up to make them friendlier to Western eyes — “A! A sea cucumber!” becomes “Ah! A sea cucumber!” (In this case, it’d be too easy to mistake the “A” sound for a stammering repetition of the indefinite article “a.”) Otherwise, I’m happy to leave them be.

On the other side, we have the content-heavy O-words. These are either (1) terms that have a very specific meaning you’d never be able to guess at without prior knowledge, or (2) common sounds that are rendered much differently in English than Japanese. These are the words that, if you ignore them, will result in meaningful content being lost in translation. Some examples include:

  • Kakkun = the “sound” of hitting someone in the back of the knees. Based on a kids’ game.
  • Su = the sound of something suddenly appearing (among other meanings)
  • Gusu = the sound of a whimpering sob
  • Hakushon = the sound of sneezing
  • Chikutaku = the sound a clock makes

Our first line of attack is to see if there’s any suitable English onomatopoeia we can swap in. It’s rare that it works out so neatly, but it does happen. So "hakushon" becomes “achoo,” "chikutaku" becomes “tick tock,” etc. If this doesn’t work, we fall back on another common approach: turning not-O English words into O by enclosing them in asterisks. So:

“Gusu. Why won’t you return any of my calls?"

becomes:

*whimper* “Why won’t you return any of my calls?”

As your final line of defense, you might consider abandoning O altogether, instead relying on some explanatory text to flesh out the intended meaning. So:

Su.
“Where do you think you’re going, jerk?”

becomes:

She appeared out of nowhere.
“Where do you think you’re going, jerk?”

I’d recommend turning to this as a last resort, however, since you can see a certain staccato elegance gets lost in translation.

As for where you can find out what all these untranslated O-words mean, there are all sorts of online resources to be had out there. I tend to use the Japanese > English SFX dictionary over at The JADED Network, but I’m sure there are plenty of others just as good.

j0wB3vV.jpg

Onomatopoeia in H-scenes
Sex scenes are something of a special case. You’ll find there are large blocks of text that are nothing but wall-to-wall O. (I see what you did there, you sly dog you ...) Here are some sample lines from KoiRizo:

Sango: “Nafufu. Fumu, Juru, Zuzuzu."
Sango: "Rero, Chu, Chuu ..."
Sango: "Hamu, Chuu, Chuu ... Rero, Juupu, Zuzu."
Sango: "Jupo, Gupo, Zu."
Sango: "Juzuzuzuzu."
Sango: "Fumu? Fua ..."

During editing, I liked to call these sections “word salad.” They’re an unholy mishmash of content-heavy O, content-light O, and nonsensical fuck-grunts. It’s a tangled mess of syllables that can make even the bravest editor or translator turn tail and run. In my earlier post on editing H-scenes, one of the commenters — smile for the camera, Ittaku! — suggested it might just be better to replace these sections with ellipses and let the VO do all the heavy lifting. It’s a tempting thought. But despite all appearances, there’s content to be had there — content the Japanese reader would have understood, and which the English reader will miss out on ... unless you take action.

Let’s see what happens if we (somewhat liberally) run it through the techniques we’ve discussed so far.

Sango: "Ummph. Umm." *slurp* *sluuurp*
Sango: “Mmm.” *suuuck*
Sango: *nibble* *suck* “Mmmm ...” *bob* *sluuurp*
Sango: *sucksuck* *slurp*
Sango: *slurpslurpslurpsluuurp*
Sango: "Mmmph? Ahhh ..."

Okay, it ain’t poetry, but at least we’ve transformed our tossed salad it into something with actual meaning. Even without having read the rest of the scene, you can guess that Sango is vigorously polishing the protagonist’s knob. Or is trapped in a vat of ramen and eating her way to freedom. It can be improved upon, of course; all those asterisks start getting visually distracting, so if the VN engine supports it, italics might be a better choice here. But I’d argue it’s much better than what we started with.

Feeling more confident? Good. Go forth and sploosh.

Darbury

kBUAhuH.png

There’s no getting around it. If you’re looking to edit visual novels, at some point you’re going to have roll up your sleeves, put on the rubber gloves, and get elbow-deep in some H. The good news is that if you come prepared, practice your technique, and set some clear boundaries, it can be a pleasurable experience for both you and the reader.

First, a disclaimer: I don’t like pineapple on my pizza, and I don’t like H-scenes in my VNs. It’s not a prudish thing; it’s a narrative thing. They’re rarely well crafted — you can feel all the hallmarks of the B-team being brought in to write them — and they almost never add plot/characterization that couldn’t have been handled better some other way. (I’ll pause here so you can mention Amane’s route from Grisaia, an exception that helps prove the rule.) Let’s be honest: they’re shoehorned in to help sell product. It’s built into the economics of the eroge genre. And honestly, that’s fine. I try to be sanguine about it and think of H-scenes as banner ads or TV commercials. They’re profit centers that help support the content I’m actually interested in. (I suspect more than a few developers feel the same way.)

Long story short, H-scenes ain’t going anywhere. So how do we deal with them? Go in with a game plan.

[Warning, there will be some NSFW language from this point forward. Sorry! It’s all part of seeing how the sausage is made.]

1. Do your research
In raw translation, sex scenes from a Japanese visual novel tend to be far from erotic. More often than not, they read like an obsessively detailed transcript of a gynecological exam. That’s not because the Japanese writing team suddenly forgot they were supposed to be penning a passionate sex scene. It’s just that what’s erotic in one culture isn’t always as erotic in another. It’s your job (along with the translator) to help bridge that cultural divide and come up with something that feels faithful to the original, yet still sexy in English.

Your first stop? Research. Read some English-language erotica so you can get a better sense of what works and what doesn’t. Sites like literotica.com even have stories broken out into fairly specific categories, so if you know you’ll be editing BDSM, threesome, and footjob scripts, you’ll have no problem finding what you need. (If you have all three in a single scene, you still might be in luck.) There’s also a category called “First Time,” which is more broadly useful, given how fixated many VNs are on virgins.

Read, read, and read some more. Pay attention to the verbs, the nouns, the pacing. Try to quickly form a model of what makes a sex scene successful, then look to carry those techniques over to your VN script.

2. Pack a box lunch
If you take nothing else away from this post, remember this: bring a big bag of dicks; you’ll need them. Better pack a few pussies while you’re at it.

By the time you’ve edited your third or fourth H-script, you’ll find you’ve run dry of good synonyms for the male and female genitalia. In KoiRizo, the raw script mostly used the word "thing" for the protag’s package, which ended up sounding childish and/or ambiguous in English. (I only kept it in a few instances where such a reaction might be appropriate — for example, when the route partner catches her very first glimpse of Lil’ Protag: “Is that your ... thing?”). The remainder of the original script was a mix of the clinical ("my mucous membrane”) and the hilarious (“my soiled meat stick”). As for ladyparts, the original script relied heavy on metaphor and indirect reference — lots of openings, entrances, gates, doors, depths, special places, overflowing pots of nectar, etc.

So what’s missing from the above? The common English erotica standbys: “dick” and “cock” for men, “pussy” for women. There’s a reason for that. KoiRizo complicated things by using the Japanese equivalents of these very sparingly, reserving them mainly for shock effect in dialogue — “e.g., OMG, she just said ‘cock!’ Things must be getting real.” Moreover, when these words were finally hauled out, the devs bleeped the VO and censored the text string (e.g., “p*ssy”). That meant it was very obvious when those words were being used and when they weren’t.

All of which presented quite a challenge to the team: if we were to preserve those “shocking” character moments, we couldn’t use the most common English terms 99% of the time. And so, I fell back on a shortlist of alternate references: pole, rod, erection, hard-on, manhood, etc. By the time I was done editing, however, this list felt far too limited; those words were overused pencils worn down to their nubs.

This is one of those areas where, in hindsight, I feel like I could have done a better job with KoiRizo. The takeaway: If I ever tackle a VN this H-heavy again — doubtful — I’ll come packing a much longer list of euphemisms.

nW5nHvE.jpg

3. Bring a raincoat
Compared to its English counterpart, Japanese erotica seems downright obsessed with fluids: saliva, vaginal secretions, semen, urine — you name it. The look, the sound, the feel, the taste, the smell, the volume. You’ll be describing a lot of liquids in a lot of ways, so get ready to break out the thesaurus. And an umbrella.

4. Embrace the improbable
Let’s admit it: VN sex is over-the-top ridiculous. In a matter of seconds, sheepish virgins turn into seasoned pornstars, cramming 20 orgasms and 40 positions into a quickie broom closet hookup. (Oh so much cramming.) This is the nature of the genre, so don’t fight it; embrace it. Trying to force realism onto a typical H-scene would be like trying to force realism onto a Dragon Ball Z fight: everyone still looks constipated, but no one’s having any fun. If you’re that desperate to edit sadly mundane sex scenes, wait for the VN version of Michael Winterbottom’s 9 Songs to come out. Till then, work with what you have.

I remember a tiny dustup a while back when another TL team supposedly wrote lubricant into an H-scene because they felt the acts described would be difficult or painful without it. It’s a minor thing, but if the original writer left the lube out, I’m inclined to do so too. These portions of the script are wish fulfillment at their best/worst, so just leave them be.

Except ...

5. Reject the impossible
... Except when the improbable becomes the impossible. More often than not, this is either the result of a mistranslation or an error by the original writers. (As an example of the latter, KoiRizo was haunted by an entity we dubbed “phantom Riho.” A couple of times, the devs would forget they were writing another girl’s scene and use Riho’s name for a line or two instead. We fixed this in our version, but still ...)

Anyway, as editor, it’s your job to keep an eye out for the impossible. Is the protag’s penis simultaneously in someone’s vagina, anus, mouth, and ear? Did the heroine’s hymen suddenly regenerate? (Starfish Girl is mah waifu!) Did a corded vibrator suddenly become a battery-operated one? Ask to have the TL double-checked and, if that still doesn’t resolve the issue, use your best judgement to fix the error while causing minimal disruption to the surrounding lines.

6. Set your limits
This is important. Know what you’re comfortable with going into a project and make those boundaries abundantly clear. Some VNs can venture into very unpleasant territory — rape, abuse, gore, catgirls, etc. — and it’s best to ask yourself up front if you could, in good conscience, commit to editing that sort of content. Set your limits early on, then make sure your team’s fully aware of them.

7. Have a sense of humor
At the end of the day, VNs are entertainment. Unless you’re editing Saya no Uta 2: Vom Harder, it’s probably okay to approach your H-scripts with a subtle sense of play. A decent chunk of your audience will either be fast-forwarding through these scenes outright, or paying far more attention to the visuals than the script.

So think of these times as exhibition games in your script editing schedule. They’re opportunities to spread your wings a little bit, try a few stylistic experiments — maybe even slip in a sly joke or two. And even if everything doesn’t quite work, we’ll still respect you in the morning.

Darbury

And now a little something for all you image editors out there. (If you don't speak Photoshop, just keep walking; there's nothing for you here.)

Some visual novels make image edits simple — the UI is mostly flat colors, 90º angles, and 1-bit transparencies. Easy peasy. Meanwhile, some more recent VNs like to store all their UI elements as semi-transparent overlays with full 8-bit alpha channels. If you've ever tried editing these, you know what a pain they can be.

And so, I came to love a command I've never had to use before in all my years with Photoshop — namely because if there's a transparency on something, I'm usually the one who put it there in the first place.

Ready? Tattoo this on your arm: Layer > Layer Mask > From Transparency

Let's look at one possible scenario where it might come into play: Text on paper.

vsIEMgh.png

At first glance, doesn't seem like it would be too hard, right? Then you get it into Photoshop and realize it's a mix of transparent elements and fully opaque type.

cjB5cJN.jpg

If you just grabbed the rubber stamp tool and tried cloning out the text right now, you'd end up with something like this.

8CD8Ozi.jpg

That's because your cloning source is semi-transparent. The trick here is to separate out the 8-bit alpha channel from the source image so you have an entirely opaque image. So with the source layer selected, choose Layer > Layer Mask > From Transparency, temporarily disable the resulting layer mask, and you get something like this.

TkJQsC6.jpg

From there, it's just a standard retouching job. Once you clone out the type as best you can, you're ready to add new text from your TL team. (In this case, since the type and paper are at two different levels of transparency, you'd also need to do a quick cleanup on the layer mask. If you look closely at the mask thumbnail, you can see the type as pure white on a 60% gray. Just paint over that part of the mask with more 60% gray and you'll be good to go.)

EDgZ0AF.jpg

Enable the layer mask again, export as a file with 8-bit alpha support (a PNG, most likely) and you're done. This was a fairly straightforward example, of course, but the basics remain the same no matter how complex the retouching job.

Now rinse and repeat 500 more times with all the rest of the game files. Aren't you glad you decided to take up image editing?

Darbury

Pop quiz, hotshot.

There’s an untranslated (i.e, romaji) word sitting there in the script you're editing, staring right up at you. It’s been left like that because the TL team figured people ought to know what it means. But will they really? And what are the ramifications if they don’t? You’re running out of time, and patch release day is breathing down your neck. What do you do?

WHAT DO YOU DO?

In the case of KoiRizo, I ended up relying on a journalistic standard commonly called “the first reference rule.” Here’s how it works.

Visual novels for all!
Let’s say you’re a journalist writing an article about efforts to improve educational standards in underdeveloped nations. At some point, you might find yourself needing to refer to The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, aka UNESCO. But if just you dropped the acronym “UNESCO” in there, most people wouldn’t know what the bloody hell you were talking about. And if you went with “The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization” every time, your prose would be about as ungainly as me at my prom. So a compromise gets struck: you explain the term on your first reference to it, then use the shorter form thereafter.

An example first reference:
“The director-general of The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), pledged to make visual novels part of the global curriculum by 2025.”

Or:
“The director-general of UNESCO, the UN agency focused on international education efforts, pledged to make visual novels part of the global curriculum by 2025.”

At this point, you’d be free to use “UNESCO” in any future references, since you’ve already explained the term. Everyone wins: the reader understands what you’re talking about, and you only have to use one word instead of eight.

zdxSkAK.jpg

Ojousamas for all!
The same holds true for visual novels. Let’s say an untranslated term like “ojousama” shows up in your script. if the reader has consumed a fair number of anime/manga/VNs, they might know this describes a young woman of certain means and refinement. It’s a common VN archetype, after all. But a relative newcomer to these genres would have no way of knowing that. They’d be lost if you just started dropping O-bombs out of the blue.

So the first thing to do is determine context. Is this a one-off reference? If so, you can probably just fully translate the line and be done with it. (“She takes a limo to school? She must be an ojousama” becomes, “She takes a limo to school? She must come from money.”)

In the case of KoiRizo, however, the word “ojousama” is used several dozen times. In fact, a character’s ojousama-ness becomes the focal point of an entire route. It would be a fool’s errand to try and excise it, particularly when there’s no one English word to replace it. So we apply the first reference rule.

The initial mention in the translated KoiRizo script reads:
“Because she's an ojousama, it'd be a given that she wouldn't worry about matters like money.”

It hints at the meaning, but doesn't quite go far enough. So applying our rule, we update it to:
“She's a proper young lady of means — an ojousama — so you'd expect her not to worry about things like money.”

We’ve now defined the word “ojousama” in context and set the stage for its future use. This will make the rest of the VN flow much more smoothly for both new readers and purists who prefer their tropey terms untranslated. If several hours go by without us using the word again, it’s common courtesy to provide a reminder of its definition, but otherwise we should be good to go.

ejwf3dt.jpg

All for gruel!
You can even apply the rule in reverse. Here, two characters are about to spend 50 or so lines talking about a certain home-cooked dish. Original translation below:

A: “Okay ... What's in the pot?”
B: “Rice gruel with egg broth.”

We don’t want to spend the next 50 lines saying “Rice gruel with egg broth.” Nor do we want to just say “gruel,” which sounds like something ladled out in a Depression-era orphanage. In fact, this is a steaming bowl of Japanese comfort food deliciousness. So we apply the rule in reverse, and bring back the untranslated term from the original script:

A: “Okay ... What's in the pot?”
B: “Ojiya — rice end egg porridge.”

Now we can safely use the term “ojiya” for the next 50 lines. This ends up working better on several levels: it makes the dish sound more traditionally Japanese, it strikes the right emotional tone, and it helps us shave extra words from our lines.

P.S. - If anyone knows where I can get a really good bowl of ojiya in New York City, I’m all ears.

Darbury

G1wLqY4.jpg

I make a living in copywriting, but KoiRizo was my first attempt at editing a visual novel. Suffice to say, there were a few bumps along the way. So in the spirit of this blog, here are just a few of the many, many things I wish I had done differently.

1. I should have started out using a style guide.
From the very beginning, I should have picked one of the major styles guides and made it my bible. Instead, as I came across questions — Should this be hyphenated? Should that be capitalized? — I just googled the answer. As long as I had a browser open, I might as well have gone to Orbitz and bought myself a one-way ticket to Inconsistencyville. Population: this guy.

Thankfully, I quickly realized the error of my ways and was able to minimize the damage early on, but save yourself some pain and don’t repeat my mistake. Pick a style guide. Use it. My formal training is in journalism, so I’m partial to AP style, but most any style guide should do just fine: Chicago, MLA, MHRA, etc.

But if you don’t use the Oxford comma, you deserve to die alone.*

2. I should have (mostly) ignored the VO.
In hindsight, I spent a bit too much time worrying about how the English script would match up to the exact cadences of the voice over. As a result, I kept in far too many ellipses from the original Japanese. So … at times … the script reads … like this. And, as it turns out, most of those VO pauses weren’t even perceptible enough to warrant their inclusion in the English text. Feh.

Lesson learned. Next time, I’ll give priority to the written word. After all, it’s called a “visual novel,” not a “visual audio play.”

3. I should have established character voice cheat sheets early on.
This ranks pretty high on the list of things wish I had done differently when editing KoiRizo. The base translation was very literal, so, at least on the page, the characters’ speech patterns all read pretty much the same. The actual content of their dialogue gave them some level of characterization — oh Yuuhi, you so crazy — but still, I wish I’d been able to give everyone a more distinct voice ...

Next time out, I plan to make up an index card for each main character with notes on speech patterns, vocal tics, and catchphrases. And then, I’ll spend sufficient time with the translator agreeing on how each character should speak. (I'm just an editor. The nuances of untranslated Japanese speech are a bit beyond my pay grade.) Do they drop their “g”s when talkin’? Does one use painfully proper grammar when one speaks? This should go a long way toward making sure each character maintains a consistent voice, particularly if multiple translators and editors are involved.

4. I should have picked a visual novel I liked more.
I know, right? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with KoiRizo. It’s a perfectly fine moege. It’s light and fluffy and inconsequential. (Except for the dramatic bits, which are angsty and fluffy and inconsequential.) I guess that’s partly why I chose it; far easier to hone my craft on lighter titles like KoiRizo, then move onto more substantial fare.

But yeah, it never really clicked for me. (My VNDB rating for it has been hovering around a 6, if that tells you anything.) I tend toward VNs that take more narrative and metatextual risks, whereas KoiRizo is perfectly happy being an average, trope-heavy, cookie-cutter moege. Moreover, it had way too many H-scenes for my taste, often at the expense of plot. While it forced me to learn how to edit those types of scripts very quickly — more on that in a later blog post, I’m sure — it wasn’t something I always enjoyed.

But still, I never let any of this affect the quality of the output. I work in advertising, and we very rarely have the luxury of actually liking the brands we create campaigns for. You either learn to compartmentalize, or you get weeded out fast. All of which is to say, I always tried to honor both the original authorial intent and the lead TL’s vision for the project as best I could.

__________________

So there you go. Just a few of the many editing mistakes I have made, presented here for your approval. May you go forth and learn from my facepalms.

CleRhvA.gif
Because, as Goro says, forewarned is four-armed.

*Or surrounded by cats.

Darbury

A good editor is a good reader.

By that, I don’t mean that he or she is well-read (although that helps). And I don’t mean that he or she reads exceptionally fast (although I’m sure that helps, too).

An editor’s most important job is to serve, quite literally, as the reader’s proxy. If you want to edit anything — a magazine article, a TV script, a visual novel — it’s your job to approach the text not as yourself, but as someone you’ve never met, someone who doesn’t share your likes, your dislikes, your accumulated knowledge. And that doesn’t mean approaching the text as some imaginary “ideal reader” either. They, like unicorns and affordable housing in San Fran, simply don’t exist. Seriously, when you ask a content creator to describe their “ideal reader,” they invariably end up describing themselves. Instead, it’s your job to edit for the “average reader.”

And just who is that? And how do you edit for them? That’s going to vary from title to title. If you’re editing some hardcore and super-niche VN, your assumed reader will be very different than that of some light and frothy moege. (And if you’re editing a Sakura title, I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. Let me buy you a shot.) That said, I do have some basic ground rules I try to follow.

1. Anticipate that this could be the reader’s first VN.
I've decided to edit visual novels because I believe in them as an art form. I want to see their English releases improve in quality and become more widely accepted outside of certain closed cultural circles. That means I choose to invite new VN readers into a text and make them feel, if not at home, then at least like a welcomed guest.

Stop. Put down the pitchforks. I’m not talking about dumbing down VNs. This is simply Writing 101. Among the authors I know, a common credo is, “A good novel teaches the reader how to read it.” (Unless it’s trying very, very hard to be unreadable. *cough*) A text in translation needs to work doubly hard to achieve this. First, it needs to bridge the gaps in cultural knowledge between the original audience (Japanese VN fans) and the secondary audience (Western VN fans). Otherwise, the work becomes much harder to read and enjoy than the author ever intended.

As you edit, read with beginner’s mind. Where might someone new to the VN genre get hung up? Which cultural nuances might prove confusing? Ask yourself if there’s a way you can bring clarity to those aspects without diluting the original text. If you do your job right, they’ll seem organic enough part of the VN that the experienced reader will barely know they’re there.

TdeU0Dm.jpg

2. Choose to operate on the same timeline as the reader
As an editor, you have a luxury the reader does not: access to the full text. You probably go into the project already having read a large chunk of the VN several times over. Maybe you were even involved in the translation of it. Whatever the case, you run the risk of your brain filling in gaps that might leave the average reader confused.

Think of yourself as Bill Murray midway through Groundhog Day. Trapped in those endless 24 hours, he bull-rushes through his routine, responding not to what people are actually saying, but what he remembers them saying in past loops. He falls prey to over-familiarity and, as a result, alienates everyone he meets. It’s only when he learns to interact with people in their timeframe again, living and responding in the moment, that he finally gets what he wants. (The girl. It’s always the girl.)

Be late-movie Bill Murray. Edit mindfully.

When working on KoiRizo, I forced myself to do three separate editing passes. First, I tackled each script completely blind, going in with no more knowledge than any other reader. No cheating, no reading ahead. As I encountered lines that left me, the reader, feeling like I just missed something, I edited them as best I could but flagged them for later. Maybe the author intended that line to be cryptic. Maybe it was foreshadowing. Or maybe something got lost in translation. No way of knowing, so best to keep moving.

After reaching the end of a script, I’d start back at the beginning and do another full edit, this time focusing on the lines I’d flagged previously. VNs tend to be episodic, so if I hadn’t found the answer I needed inside that self-contained script, I elevated the flag and left a comment for the translator asking for clarification.

Finally, when I’d finished an entire route, I’d go back do a third, quick edit through the whole thing, top to bottom. I had all the facts from the scripts and all the notes from the translator, so if something still wasn’t working, it was likely all my fault. And that meant it was time to really hunker down and do some major surgery.

Technically, I also did a fourth edit pass once I’d finished the entire VN, since some of the routes had little in-jokes and references to other routes, but I consider that more of an enhanced read-through than anything, since I was only making tiny tweaks. Which brings me to my last point ...

3. Read, read, and read again
You might be done editing, but you’re not done reading. Find that beginner’s mind and read through everything again. And again. And again. Forget that you’re the one who rewrote the words on the page and just try to approach them anew. Be the reader. Each time, you’ll probably find something new — typos, grammatical errors, slight nuances you might have missed earlier that change the whole meaning of a line.

I read through KoiRizo a bunch of times and I know I still missed all sorts of things. Sorry! I've been kicking myself whenever I see the occasional typo report float through. (Editors are not proofreaders, by the way. Or vice versa. Fodder for a future blog post.) But at a certain point, a work just wants to get out in the world, warts and all.

And that’s another part of editing: learning to let go.

×