ittaku reacted to Darbury for a blog entry, Eep Opp Ork Ah Ah (Editing Onomatopoeia in VNs)
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?
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.
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?"
*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:
“Where do you think you’re going, jerk?”
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.
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: "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: "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.
ittaku reacted to Darbury for a blog entry, Preparation H (Getting Ready to Edit VN Sex Scenes)
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.
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.
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.