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Adventures In Textual Analysis

Fred the Barber



Sometimes, something lands on your plate that makes no sense. If you're lucky, it may be a single line that makes no sense as it is written, but you can figure it out and fix it from context. If you're unlucky, it might be a whole passage that doesn't fit together quite right, or something that just doesn't hang together to present a consistent plot. As the editor, it's your responsibility to turn that line or passage into something that makes sense. Sometimes you can manage it yourself with enough brainpower. Sometimes you should ask the original translator, another editor, another translator, or a TLC to help, if you simply cannot hit on an obviously-correct, logical interpretation. Ultimately, though, you are responsible for seeing it through. You have to land that joke. Nobody else is going to do it for you.

I present to you the following independent, unimportant passage from the raw To Heart 2 translation. This is one of the night scenes, which are mostly short throwaway gags featuring the protagonist, at home alone, being silly. Full context for this scene: the protagonist can't sleep and has picked a 'difficult book' off his shelf to try to put himself to sleep.


Right, tonight I'm going to tackle a book on the theory of relativity.
This should be a complete knockout for my brain and put me to sleep.
...Just saying it won't make me believe that, but whatever.
What what...?
'Most people will likely have heard of the theory of relativity.'
'However there are likely a lot of people that aren't aware this is where the theory of warping time space is derived.'
'This theory of relativity is where experimental results confirm that no matter where you observe light from, its speed is always the same.'
'The unusual phenomenon that whether you are approaching light, or moving away from it, the speed stays the same has various scientists proposing possible mechanisms for, but is ultimately left incompletely unexplained.'
'This theory of relativity is accepting that no matter who observes light, the speed appears the same.'
'If we allow ourselves to accept that what is outside our normal perception is possible, then it's only natural our perception is warped.'
'So when thinking in terms of the theory of relativity, that's what is meant by warping time space.'
The explanation was indeed simple, so what was the problem?


What all needs to be done here:

  • The joke doesn't make sense (at least, it doesn't to me; you might be smarter than I am and able to get it immediately).
  • There's some Engrish to be cleaned up (That "What what...?" line, especially, which sounds like it's straight from an old hip-hop song, not the utterance of a donkan harem protagonist about to read a book on special relativity), and there's ample opportunity to make the phrasing more natural.
  • Once the nature of the joke is understood, it turns out its timing can probably be improved as well.

It actually took me a couple of rewrites before I finally grasped the nature of the joke, and then I was able to both clean up the language and land it properly. It's frankly still not all that funny, but hey, a not-that-funny joke is still better than nonsense.


I think tonight I'll take on the reigning champ. Tonight, it's me vs. the theory of relativity.
This should be a first-round KO. I'll be asleep in minutes.
Actually I'm not convinced of that at all, but whatever.
Ok, let's see what we've got here...
'While the Theory of Relativity is a common topic for popular discussion, many people don't realize how this theory explains the warping of spacetime.'
'The Theory of Relativity grew out of experimental results showing that the speed of light is the same to all observers.'
'In contrast to, for instance, a ball flying through the air, which will speed up or slow down relative to you as you move away from it or towards it respectively,'
'light particles have the same speed even to an observer that is approaching or moving away from them. This observation initially puzzled physicists.'
'The Theory of Relativity simply formally states that observation as a law of physics: regardless of the motion of an observer who is observing a particular beam of light, its speed appears the same.'
'If we accept this theory, which is outside our normal everyday perception, it's only natural that our perspective will be altered substantially.'
'This is why scientists say the Theory of Relativity causes spacetime to be warped.'
Actually, that made a lot of sense. Why did I think this would be difficult?

Okay, much more readable, and I think you can actually understand the joke when reading it (you can, right? please tell me you can.). Aside from making it understandable:

  • I deferred the idiotic non sequitur to the last line of the text-within-the-text, since it's the setup for the punchline on the last line and I wanted to get them closer together, since any time between these two is time people will spend being confused.
  • Being a geek, I also decided to add a little more to the special relativity explanation to try to make it more clear, mostly so that it didn't look like the idiocy was endemic to the text, but rather was isolated to that final statement.
  • For that last part, I ended up shuffling some text around, but it's not voiced text so this is really no big deal. You'll probably want to shuffle around whole lines, rarely, so be prepared to do that, for reasons like this one.
  • Lastly, and most importantly, I tried to make the whole book-inside-the-VN passage flow as though it were a single logical explanation (you know; like a scientific-minded book normally would deliver). This is crucial for making the non sequitur at the end more jarring, and thus making the joke work (to the extent that it does).

That last one is really the key, and it's applicable to more than just jokes or short passages like this. It's easy to get hung up on fixing individual lines and then miss the big picture. Lines are connected to make scenes. Scenes are connected to make the VN. Each level of that chain needs to fit together to make sense, and as the editor, you're on the line for that.

As I'm writing this blog post, I realize there's at least one error in the "final" text I delivered up above: inconsistent capitalization of Theory of Relativity. Possibly more problems as well that I'm not seeing, and certainly there's room for improvement. Well, hopefully QA caught that grammar problem.

I wasn't delighted with the result, but nonetheless, this was a good time to move on. This joke isn't going to be winning Olympic gold with such a shaky landing, but at least it does land instead of flying off on its own somewhere, leaving us behind and horribly confused. That's good enough for this filler scene. Everything can always be made better, and you can spend an eternity making something a little bit better all the time, but then nobody will ever actually see your work. You need to realize when to step back from something and say "It's good enough; ship it."

Bottom line, if you're playing To Heart 2 and you get to a scene where the protagonist is picking a book to put him to sleep, take the science trivia book instead. That joke was funnier to begin with.



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4 hours ago, ittaku said:

QA so far has only picked up that you misspelt realise.

The struggle to use UK English was real. I corrected dozens of my own mistakes like that while editing, but I'm not surprised there were still many, many left. I was still occasionally spelling words using the UK spelling in other writing for weeks after handing the scripts back to you.

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5 minutes ago, Fred the Barber said:

The struggle to use UK English was real. I corrected dozens of my own mistakes like that while editing, but I'm not surprised there were still many, many left. I was still occasionally spelling words using the UK spelling in other writing for weeks after handing the scripts back to you.

It's really weird, as it's almost like another language. Because I'm so used to seeing American spelling as well, I easily switch from one mode to the other. As you're likely not used to seeing regular English spelling, you wouldn't have been fluent in it so I can understand why it would be so hard for you. Yes, quite a few still needed to be corrected after your edits, but I've mostly automated that process with my own programming scripts since the bulk of my editors use American spelling.

For what it's worth, I was quite pleased that I was able to translate the explanation of the theory of relativity and am sorry it didn't flow to your liking :unsure: But then, that's why I paid you all those peanuts to improve it.

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