A Comparison of Translations for Concrete Revolutio

It’s not often we get two different official sets of subtitles for a simulcasting anime, but that’s what happened with Concrete Revolutio (which was streamed by both Funimation and Daisuki here in the US). After seeing some screenshots from Funimation’s version of Conrevo‘s finale, which differed a bit from the Daisuki subs, I got it into my head to compare the two translations—what follows are the results, along with my commentary.

Concrete Revolutio

Season 1, Episode 8

Before we get to the finale, I want to first compare the translations of an important conversation between Jiro and Daitetsu from Episode 8 of season 1. Back when season 1 was still airing, I actually watched Funimation’s subs of the episode first, but when I rewatched the episode after the conclusion of the first season, I used Daisuki so avoid Funimation’s horrid contrast issues (which will be obvious in the side-by-side images below). When I got to the scene in question, I immediately noticed what, for me, was a significant and critical difference in the way a key phrase had been translated. I can’t remember for sure, but at the time I’m pretty sure I had a few thoughts already brewing about the significance in the difference between the translations—those thoughts have survived to this day. So, let’s take a look at the scene in question!

But before we get into it, I’ll also note that as an added treat for you guys, anime academic and translating whiz Frog-kun of frogkun.com was kind enough to provide me with the original Japanese lines and translations of them. I’ve included those beneath each image, so we’ll have three different translations to compare! All the English lines in the block quotes will be Frog-kun’s translations.

Concrete Revolutio

Daitetsu: 正義と悪は絶対違うものなんだと!

Justice and evil are completely different things!

Jiro: 正しいこと、間違っていることをはっきり決められる。俺は、正直言うと分からない。

You can clearly tell the difference between right and wrong. To be honest, I can’t.

It’s interesting to note the differences in the way the three translations treat Daitetsu’s opening line. Both Daisuki and Frog-kun translate the line as a very definitive assertion. It’s not a statement of the way reality ought to be, but of the way it is (at least, as Daitetsu sees it). This certainty of the reality actually winds up being pretty important to Daitetsu’s character, as he continues to hold stubbornly to this black and white view of the world where victory is equated to justice. “Supposed to be” seems almost a tacit acknowledgment that this isn’t actually the way things are, so sticking with the explicit assertion better informs the audience of the way Daitetsu’s character is.

As for Jiro’s lines, you’ll notice both Froggy and Daisuki have translated them in the exact same way. In simple terms of the language, I prefer that translation to Funimation’s, as it flows much better and sounds more natural. In addition, the phrase Jiro uses, “to be honest,” expresses the fundamental earnestness of his character, which is an important piece of his overall characterization at this point in the show.

Conrevo Episode 8 Translation Comparison 2

Jiro: 俺は・・・せめて正義の味方になりたいと思っている。

I do want to be an ally of justice, at least.

Daitetsu: 正義の味方?流行らないよ。まるでノンポリだ。

An ally of justice? That won’t win anyone over. It’s like being non-political.

And here’s where things get really important. First, a word from Froggy on translating this particular bit:

“The “non-political” (ノンポリ) line is quite an ambiguous one. Both Daisuki and Funi, I think, miss the point of it. The crucial part of the utterance is 流行らないよ , which Daisuki translated as “old” and Funi translated as “lame”. The verb 流行る doesn’t always have connotations about being appealing, though. In fact, it literally means something along the lines of “to be prevalent” or “to come into fashion”. That’s why I chose to translate it here as “that won’t win anyone over”. Yumihiko is saying that Jiro’s argument isn’t persuasive to anyone but himself. That’s why he compares it to being non-political.”

We’ll touch on the “ally of justice”/”hero” difference with the next sequence and Froggy’s explanation of choosing “that won’t win anyone over” is convincing enough for me to buy it—I found both Daisuki and Funimation’s translations to be rather odd when I saw them, and I think Froggy’s translation does the line and the sense of the conversation much better justice.

As for Jiro’s expression of his wish in the first line, then, I find myself torn between Funimation’s translation and Froggy’s translation. I find Froggy’s “do want” gives a better sense of Jiro’s desire, but I’m also a sucker for the “I…I want” construction used in Funimation’s translation. In short, translation is super subjective, and if you throw in the subjective preferences of a third-party viewer… well.

Concrete Revolutio

Jiro: だが、誰もが白か黒になれるわけじゃないか。たとえ灰色でも、その人が正義を信じるのなら、俺は正義の味方でいたい。

But not everyone can be black or white. Even if someone is gray, I’ll still want to be their ally as long as they believe in justice.

And so, we come to the most important lines of the scene, the episode, and possibly (as I see it) the entire first season of Concrete Revolutio. At this point in the story, Jiro is really starting to wrestle with the question of how to reconcile his desire to believe in justice and the gray realities of the world around him and his own place in it.  And the phrase 正義の味方 (seigi no mikata) is more or less the key to this whole puzzle (it appears in the previous sequence, as well). 

Again, I saw Funimation’s translation of this episode first, and I was immediately struck by how well the phrase “ally of justice” seemed to express this very gray way of understanding the world. Neither Daisuki’s nor Funimation’s translations make clear in the way that Froggy’s translation does that Jiro is directing his desire to align with “justice” towards those who believe in it—in other words, people. This is a better significant thing, as the post-protests Jiro of season 2 spend nearly all his time helping superhumans and those who “believe in justice” (recall the daughter of Human-Man).

A word from Froggy on this important phrase:

“The phrase 正義の味方 (seigi no mikata) has been translated in various ways across different media, and even in Conrevo itself it has been translated inconsistently. In this context, Jiro is quite literally talking about being an “ally” of this concept of justice, as opposed to something like an enforcer or a protector or a hero, and so “ally of justice” is the most fitting translation here.”

Daisuki’s translation of the phrase is, I think, actually critically poor because of the many different connotations and definitions “hero” has both within Conrevo‘s specific vocabulary and outside of the show. Funimation’s translation still doesn’t quite grasp the entire nature of the lines, but I think they got the most important part right. Being an “ally of justice” is all Jiro believes himself capable of until the finale of the show, rather than considering himself a superhuman (with an implied “of justice” at the end). And speaking of the finale…

Season 2, Episode 11 (Series Finale)

As I mentioned earlier, the differences I noticed in translation in the series finale of Concrete Revolutio were the impetus for this entire post, so I hope you’ll continue to humor me as we forge ahead.

Conrevo Finale Translation Comparison 1Conrevo Finale Translation Comparison 2

Jiro:たった一つの正しいことを求めても、自分の心すらままならない。それでも、探し続ける意味はある!

My heart wavers, no matter how much I seek one absolute truth. But there is meaning in continuing the search.

Satomi: ない。無駄の努力だ。

No, there isn’t. It’s wasted effort.

Of particular interest to me is that Froggy, like the Daisuki translator, maintains the first-person singular voice. I think this is a really important piece of what makes this line effective—it’s not abstracted to the first-person plural, but it’s Jiro speaking about himself. This is what I want to see in my shows, and it’s what Conrevo was really offering! The fact that Jiro was speaking about himself makes this line infinitely more relatable and compelling than the preachy-sounding first-person plural, and that’s completely lost in Funimation’s translation.

It was really interesting to see people’s reactions to these comparison images when I showed them on Twitter before writing these posts. Almost without exception, the people who had seen the show preferred Daisuki’s translation (as I did), while those who hadn’t liked Funimation’s better. I’m not really sure what to draw from this data, but the sample size was pretty small so it’s probably not a great idea to try and extrapolate any particular interpretation from that experience. What I can note, however, is that those who hadn’t seen the show mentioned that Funimation’s translation seemed to flow better—which I disagree with.

In fact, I actually prefer Daisuki’s translation most out of the three options, if only for its brevity and punchiness. There is a simplicity to the lines that lends them, I think, a kind of clarity that cannot be replicated by “more accurate” translations, which (as can be seen) tend to run a bit longer. This carries over into Satomi’s lines, as well, where I feel like the shortness of Daisuki’s translation does the best job of conveying Satomi’s dismissive attitude towards Jiro’s statements. This isn’t to say Froggy’s translation is bad (I don’t like Funimation’s at all), but perhaps speaks to how my perceptions of the moment and the characters effect the way I see the translations.

Concrete Revolutio

Jiro: 超人には必ず対になる悪がいる。俺たちはあんたという悪を倒す、超人だ!

Frog-kun’s Translation: There is always an evil for superhumans to oppose. As superhumans, we will defeat evil—you!

Before we finish up with this final sequence, let’s check in with Froggy one more time:

Conrevo’s dialogue is rather theatrical, even in Japanese. But it’s extra difficult [when translating] to retain the rhythm and punch these lines have because so much meaning is packed into each word. In English, you’d have to extend the utterances in order to convey all the meaning. As a result, it’s very easy to make the lines sound convoluted!”

Convoluted is right! These are big and complex thoughts being delivered in a relatively small space. As seen most prominently in the Funimation translation, it’s easy for the ideas to get garbled up in the transition between languages (although who knows if the Japanese viewers had an easier time trying to wrap their heads around all this).

Again, for my part, I return to the idea of the personal arc, which I think Daisuki best captures to great effect. Both the use of the first-person singular and the sequencing of the lines lead into the finale frame, in which Jiro declares with the close-up, “I’m a superhuman!” One thing I’ve always hated about Funimation subtitles is their tendency to bunch up lines together and leave them on screen for long periods of time. Because the line doesn’t change with the image from the second to the third shot, the close-up’s impact is visual only—while Daisuki’s changing of the subtitle along with the shot (combined with the personalization of the moment) makes clear how big a moment this is.

And it is a big moment! After all this time, after all this doubt, searching, and wondering, Jiro finally embraces himself as a superhuman of justice opposed to Satomi’s cynicism. It’s not only a declaration of the need to defeat Satomi, but the climax of Jiro’s personal arc and it empowers the remains of the Superhuman Bureau to act to defend him. Fantastic—translation and the art of subtitling come together to create a superb personal moment, which, thanks to Conrevo‘s set up, resonates in a beautiful way with everything else the show has been trying to do to this point. Maybe it’s not the most strictly accurate translation, but as a component of the show’s overall message a drama, it’s really cool.

Brief Thoughts on Translated Realities

Concrete Revolutio

Having already made it all the way through this exercise, I suppose it’s a bit late to be asking this question, but I’ll still ask it: does any of this matter?

My answer: heck yes, it does! Translation’s ultimately an art of adaptation—among other things—and that adaptation shapes the reality of the show for the viewers, particularly when they don’t understand the original language. If someone were to see only one of the three translations I’ve compared in this post, they would be likely to believe that it was the “correct” translation. That translation becomes a reality of the show for them, and, as we’ve seen, a poor translation can hinder the audience’s understanding of the show’s intent or a translation that differs slightly in focus can change the audience’s perceptions of the story and characters. So, the translation is very important, especially when it comes to shows as dense and reliant on the words being said as Conrevo is.

The other question to ask might be to wonder whether I, as someone who can’t understand Japanese (yet!), can really have any say on a topic like this. After all, I’m completely reliant on the translations of others to acquire even a basic understanding of the lines—I have no personal comprehension of the Japanese language being spoken within the show.

Well, I recently had a chance to read through a certain thesis written by a certain frog, and some of the ideas proposed within regarding fan translation have made me fell like I do possess a particular kind of expertise that qualifies me to have thoughts on this topic—that is, I have the context of the show and my understanding of its themes and my impressions of its character. And since Concrete Revolutio‘s dialogue (particularly in the two scenes I talked about in this post) is very tightly linked to its themes, I have a more than just my thoughts on what sounds most natural in English to inform my opinion on the translations here.

This doesn’t directly flow from Froggy’s thesis, which speaks more generally about fans applying genre-specific knowledge and cultural assumptions to translation, but I think the principle is still quite similar: because of my familiarity with Conrevo, even though my impressions and opinions are mediated through translations, I’m capable of forming my own understanding of the characters and applying that understanding to the translations. I think, even had I not have watched Funimation’s subs first, what I already knew about Conrevo and Jiro would have alerted me that something was not quite right about the way Daisuki translated seigi no mikata as “hero.” At least, I think so.

Anyways, that’s all I’ve got! A special thanks to Frog-kun for offering the translations and excellent commentary on those translations. This ended up turning out a bit longer than I expected, but I hope it was a good read. And, of course, if you haven’t watched Concrete Revolutio yet, I really recommend that you do! It’s a wonderful show.

Concrete Revolutio

7 thoughts on “A Comparison of Translations for Concrete Revolutio

  1. Convoluted is right! These are big and complex thoughts being delivered in a relatively small space

    Translation is hard… and a black-and-white”right” answer is a very rare thing. Sometimes there isn’t even an acceptable shade of gray “best” answer. Even setting aside the other difficulties inherent in translation, and they are legion… Translating subtitles faces three unusual constraints; The limited amount of time the words are on-screen. The limited amount of time the appropriate image is on-screen. And the limited amount of space available on screen.

    So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that different translators arrive at different choices.

    That’s also why I own multiple translations of many haiku, and as many annotated translations as I can lay my hands on. As the following link shows, the possibilities are nearly endless. (With the caveat that you must pay attention to when the translation was made – the understanding of haiku in the West has changed over time.)

    http://www.bopsecrets.org/gateway/passages/basho-frog.htm

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a good post and collaboration!

    I’ve seen you, Froggy, GuyShalev, and others talk about this show and its really fascinating to see. It actually sounds like a show I’d really like. I definitely have a bit of a thing for superheroes and superpowered characters, so I’d definitely like to check it out.

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  3. Of particular interest to me is that Froggy, like the Daisuki translator, maintains the first-person singular voice. I think this is a really important piece of what makes this line effective—it’s not abstracted to the first-person plural, but it’s Jiro speaking about himself.

    The thing with Japanese is that the speaker often omits the subject of the sentence. Jiro could have been speaking in first person or third person, although first person is usually assumed in these cases. Funi might have picked the third person perspective because from the context it’s evident that Jiro’s line was driving home a broader thematic point. That said, it’s a bit on-the-nose. Also, I personally preferred first person here simply because the line is shorter, and when you’re making subtitles, brevity truly is the soul of wit.

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  4. I know very basic Japanese grammar and a few words. I could probably puzzle out the Japanese with the appropriate tables and make up my mind that way. I’d still be missing a lot, especially with more complex grammatical structures or cultural reference. I do think Funimation flows better. I don’t like Daisuki’s diction at all. It’s inconsistent in style and feels horribly clumsy. That said, the meaning expressed in the Daisuki subs seems to match the show better (and also matches the dramatic delivery better with its ordering and frequency, I think.) Since my priority is to understand what’s going on, I’d prefer Daisuki’s subs.

    Anyway, for me, Frog-kun wins this easily.

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  5. Okay, this is a super interesting post. Thank you for all your efforts, Issac and Frog-Kun!
    I thinks the first time I noticed this kind of thing was the difference between the dub and sub translation in “Princess Mononoke” In the denouement, after al hell has broken loose, and Irrontown has fallen, Lady Eboshi says in the dub “We’ll rebuild, better than ever” In the sub she says “We’ll build a small village” or words to that effect. It’s the difference between arrogance and humility.

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