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Preparation H (Getting Ready to Edit VN Sex Scenes)


Darbury

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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.

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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.

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H-Scenes are tons of fun. Especially when the word penis is never used, and genitals are always referred to with non-decent sounding words. Then add on all the terribly strange sounding lines that make you cringe. Something like "The joy of being born a woman" or something? That one was nice. 

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This is a great article. It is missing one vital discussion though IMO - having translated lots of H scenes now - and that is a discussion about what to do about onomatopoeia. H scenes contain obscene amounts of onomatopoeia. Japanese love their sound effects and they read and sound perfectly normal in their language, but in English they are, for the most part, downright childish and stupid. I tried to translate them to meaningful sound equivalents in English for a while and then gave up in disgust after running out of sounds we actually use in English. After that I just transliterated the sound effects and these days I'm wondering if all of them should just be dropped entirely and only the dialogue and text translated, leaving only ellipsis for the sound effect only lines.

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It is missing one vital discussion though IMO - having translated lots of H scenes now - and that is a discussion about what to do about onomatopoeia.

 

Great point, ittaku! I originally had a section in here about onomatopoeia, but I decided to break it out into its own blog post. It just got a little too long (*cough*) and I also wanted the freedom to talk about the use of onomatopoeia in non-H scenes.

And yes, I agree with you; they're challenging to deal with. I have my own thoughts on how to tackle onomatopoeia — it's different than the approach used in KoiRizo — but I'm curious to hear how others deal with them.

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Nice find. Thanks for sharing!

It's a really interesting discussion, and I agree with a lot of what he says there. I've even used a few of the tricks he mentions — e.g., trying to talk with something in my mouth to get mid-fellatio dialogue right. (Although rather than fingers, I used a beer bottle, which had the added benefit of containing delicious beer.) The original KoiRizo translation just threw a "w" in as the second character of every word for this, which kind of made it sound like the protag was getting serviced by Elmer Fudd. While I'm sure that's erotic for at least a few people out there, I figured it was worth fixing in the edit.

One thing I think he sidesteps in his discussion of "dirty talk," though, is the large disconnect in what actually counts as sexy dialogue in Western and Japanese erotica. A Western scene might have the heroine moaning, "Mmmm, I can feel you inside me. Harder! Harder!" whereas the literal translation of the same scene in a VN would have her saying, "Aaaaa! I can feel you punishing the interior of my womb with your dirty meat stick! Continue assaulting my undulating vagina with your thing!" You can polish the rough edges off that literal version, sure, but the Japanese descriptions are still much more clinically specific. (Oh so many script lines about the texture of vaginal walls and mucus.) And, if we're being honest about it, they're also much more about male physical dominance.

To make this sort of thing sound truly erotic to the Western ear, you face having to jettison large chunks of the original text, which is always a tough call. 

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