When is a duck not a duck?

I recently posted a comment on a topic about translated names in English dubs of Japanese anime.

While the first half of my comment deals with Japanese dubs, the more enjoyable part to write was on the topic of names which hold a meaning. Consider the opening of Randall Miyashiro’s post:

I recently watched Air and found it somewhat odd that they translated the bird’s name into Sky. Granted the literal translation for Sora is sky, it still is a proper name which I feel sounds odd when translated.

I’ve only watched the first two episodes of AIR, so I don’t know anything about the character in question, but the point of the topic is clear. The main content of my comment follows:

[In regards to Princess Tutu], I believe ADV did the right thing there. I read the English translation of the manga, and while it makes more sense to use the name Ahiru for her there (as she’s really a human, not a duck, in the manga), the name felt out of place. A Japanese name in a Germanish fairy-tale world with European-sounding names? Calling her Ahiru in the anime’s English dub would have significantly killed the feel of the series, certainly destroying the original creator’s intent.

Likewise, to continue with Princess Tutu, ADV dubbed Neko-sensei as Mr. Cat — who can argue with that change? I can understand if they went with Herr Katze, but using “Neko sensei” or “Mr. Neko” or “Teacher Neko” or “Neko teacher” in the dub would have been another killing point.

And it goes on. Would it have been better to leave or Arikuiko’s name as-is? It’s written アリクイ美 in Japanese, emphasising the combination of “arikui” (anteater) and “ko” (suffix for a girl’s name). Can anyone argue calling her anything other than Anteaterina in the dub?

I’m certain there are plenty of dubs with name changes which are out of place. It makes sense for Pokemon to have name changes because there are so many monsters, as well as name changes for the main characters in the anime due to the dub’s wide target audience. Likewise, I applaud the efforts of the Ojamajo Doremi dubbers for, even though they chose to change names, to keep the “do re mi” by using those as the first letters of the three lead girls’ names. (I haven’t seen the dub, but from what I’ve read about its changes, I wouldn’t want to.)

We’re far away from the days of Serena and Darien. We’ve reached Meimi and Asuka Jr.; we’ve reached Tomoyo, Osaka, and Chiyo-chan; we’ve reached great things. When it comes around to Sky versus Sora, I hope anyone spending time thinking about the change considers, “Why might this change have been done? Does this change preserve the meaning of the character’s name in the context of the story the series tells?”

I’ve read the typings of fans displeased with Duck as Duck in ADV’s dub. The only thing I can conclude is they want everything to be as close to the Japanese as possible, and throw all of the original creator’s intent out the window in the name of preserving as much of the original creator’s intent as possible. You can’t have it both ways. If a duck is named Ahiru, it’s because Ahiru is a noun to refer to the little yellow rubber birdie you played with while taking a bath as a baby. In English, we use the noun “duck”.

I completely support looking at changes made for a dub, and Randall’s topic is definitely a good one, and I imagine one which has come up many, many times before with anime fans. However, as we’ve moved from dubs with whole cast name changes, to dubs which even make use of “-chan” where it holds a meaning (I’m thinking Nanaka 6/17 here), I imagine the nature of the same topic has changed in conversation little by little.

Sailormoon had Serena and Darien instead of Usagi and Mamoru. Love Hina brought us Keitaro and Naru, but left out almost all (if not all; it’s been a while since I watched the dub) nicknames. Things such as Kaolla calling Shinobu by the name “Shinomu”, if I recall it correctly. All lost, but at least we didn’t have to sit through the struggles between “the loser, Kenny” and “the quick-to-anger Marisa” as the lead characters.

Randall finishes with a question:

Did anyone else think that translating Sora’s name seemed like a weird? I’m used to seeing things like this in Bootlegs or Babelfish, but it surprised me that ADV did this as well. Are there any examples where this has worked?

I think this is the wrong question to ask, or at least with the wrong background and premise. Instead, ask, “If I didn’t know Japanese, and didn’t watch the Japanese version, and didn’t know anything about the Japanese version, which name would be more comfortable and make more sense to me?” Think like someone who doesn’t watch anything in Japanese, only in English, while still accepting that this is a Japanese series.

Hm, I think I’ll edit my comment there and add that in.

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