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.”
“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.
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.
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.