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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.