Over the years as an American nerd into otaku media, I’ve consumed not only just my fair share of localized anime, manga, games, films, and whatever cultural output from Japan, but also brushed up against some distinct thoughts and ideas about localization. It’s a little more sensitive to me, I guess, because I am an immigrant and that cultural crossing background highlights a little more of the gap between what one culture calls one thing and how another do it differently. Possibly because also that my Chinese background really contrasts with your more standard and stereotypical Ameri-centric western set of views of the world? Do Brits in the States struggle with this? I don’t know.
Take food for example. Learning about General Tso’s Chicken today is no longer something you need to be States-side to do, but it still is a little trying to explain it to your Chinese children that this Chinese food their American schoolmates say is Chinese food is actually invented in America and not Chinese food by the definition of “food eaten in China.” When it’s in this context that you learn about localization (on the giving end) things gets a little more interesting.
The issue is both a lot more and a lot less complicated. It’s like when some internet people get into heated debate on localizing phrases of Japanese speech in BakaBT fansub threads. Does it really matter? Which is really a modern version of learning 1980s MBA stories about the Chevy Nova being sold in Spanish-speaking countries. Or click-bait articles about dumb English on Asian signage. On the receiving end, it’s like trying to parse Maki Izumi’s jokes, at worst. It’s much more difficult trying to translate something than to simply read it and to understand it (by reading the TL note, if you want to go that far). And when it comes to comedy, it’s especially more difficult.
At the same time, this is the reason why Shiny Festa was sold for $50 bux on the App Store, when it was sold for $50 on the App Store. It’s not like localization is not important to creators and fans. It is incredibly difficult at times, complicated and costly. It is, but it’s difficult to say just how and where it’s important besides all the tried-and-true things.
To make that eventer spin on this article, let’s just say translating “eventing” as I know it into an international product is actually just as hard. If anything, because the “how” in areas outside of the tried-and-true is so hard to come by, it portends enormous risks to do something new, especially for larger productions. It’s kind of like reverse-engineering how, say, Slipknot, would sell out in a Japan tour (still? I don’t know), except you begin with the wrong end point (except Babymetal I guess).
It’s times like this I am glad that at least the Japanese government is willing to foot part of the bill?
In case you didn’t know, that is partly why AFA circuit shows have some pretty nice guests, and part of the reason why there have been more of these anison live shows outside of Japan. Different markets have different challenges. Singapore, for example, is one of the few SEA locales that can support AX and Japan-level pricing tiers…if not the only one. Just recall all the gnashing of teeth when Hatsune Miku went to Thailand for contrast. Taiwan so far has been priced similarly to Japan (but it’s technically just East Asia, not south enough), and the similarity in cultural attitudes between the Chinese island and Japan also help pave way for Japanese anison acts and seiyuu events. It’s just an easier place for Japanese people to deal with. The issue local to Taiwan is more in terms of demand and cultivating eventer culture.
Without going into everything and looking it all up, Lisani TW is a good example of another Japanese stab at this overseas. Taiwan, kind of like Japan, doesn’t really do anime cons per se. It has ket-style Fancy Frontier and other comic markets, that sometime have guests. It has more industry-style events like the various game/anime/comic festivals, which are closer to anime cons, sans the fan programming. It would make more sense to throw music events as such and not as a part of something else, or specific events billed as themselves. Over here in the States a more mega-style event is needed to up the critical mass of attendees, so that’s yet another challenge (or rather set of challenges) for eventing in the West.
So, this is how we get to TrySail’s TryAngle Harmony Fan Meet in Taiwan. Just a brief-er, the seiyuu idol unit Trysail is under SME’s seiyuu agency, Music Ray’n, featuring three female seiyuu still getting their first years in as managed voice actresses. They are Asakura Momo (Mocho), Amamiya Sora (Tenchan), and Natsukawa Shiina (Nansu). As a unit, they weren’t properly formed until just 2014, and during their time in public activity since 2013 they have always hosted a weekly radio show called Tryangle Harmony (Torahamo for short). Once in awhile, the radio show will host a public recording event. The fan meeting billed itself as Tryangle Harmony, so the fan meeting had a public recording session, plus some added activities, which is similar to their Japanese public recording events.
What was remarkable about this event was that we’re dealing with a very much uni-lingual setup–three young Japanese kiddos talking shop with each other, the usual mindless banter between voice actresses, to a majority Mandarin-speaking audience. Japanese and Mandarin aren’t really alike. Taiwanese, which is a Hokkien dialect that also has some Japanese influence, maybe a little? But I can assure you out of the 60-70% of the crowd that was local, more people understood Japanese than Taiwanese.
Which is what’s special about Taiwan as an eventing unicorn. This was something many of us who were going overseas to Taiwan for the Trysail event debated about heavily. Just how will they localize the talk event? It would be really stilted to host an event with an interperter (think of your average anime con panel). Most Taiwanese otaku have reasonable command of Japanese, %-wise, compared to all other oversea fan base. What’s really interesting, and maybe a little ironic, was that the Trysail fan meet was largely scripted–this was the real key.
For those of you who weren’t there and/or unfamiliar with the typical seiyuu stage event style, basically (and this includes the public recording part of the Torahamo radio) the cast members go through segments that are somewhat scripted. The radio show portion has an intro where the girls make some small talk (which is always about food, when Japanese people are in Taiwan…), then there was a segment called “Meigen Memocho” where Asakura Momo has to guess from a lead-in question, which 3 statements presented to her is the correct famous saying and not one of the other two statements, which are made up by her castmates. This portion, the questions and statements are obviously pre-scripted and during the segment they projected the Chinese translation on the screen behind them. It worked really well–at least for me, whose broken Japanese non-skills are usually not good enough to keep up (and 100% of the time too lazy to look it up)–because once I understood the topic it’s easy to follow along. After the Torahamo segments, the fan meet proceeded to do a live dub/play, which is 100% scripted and actually subtitled in full. Then there was a pre-screened Q&A corner which had more typical translation by an interperter. During the free talk MC parts outside of the radio recording the interpreter would interpret somewhat, usually taking steps to not interrupt the flow. As a result the translation tended to be simple meanings and lack the full expression. Not that it matters?
If all you had was pre-screened Q&A at a panel, it’s gonna be stiff unless you let them banter freely. The Trysail radio format is really special in this regard, and much like their Japanese public recording when it’s produced with care and good coordination, this worked beyond our expectations. Which is also to say, I can’t imagine it working outside of Taiwan. Maybe the live dubbing part?
I left one key thing for last from the Trysal Fan Meet. The last talk segment in the event was a game where MochoTenNansu compete to win some Oh! Bear souvenirs. This was also the funniest segment. The game was, they were presented with the kanji of a Chinese phrase that happens to match a Japanese phrase of a different meaning. The person who guessed the right meaning gets some points, and the person with the most points at the end wins the prize. The event organizers made use of the projection again, and projected the Japanese term and its Japanese meaning in both languages. The answer, once everyone made their guesses on notebooks, is also projected in both languages.
This game is as localized as it gets. It is beyond the facsimile of playing nice with meaning and exploiting some albeit-common word plays that well-traveled Japanese and Chinese people would be familiar with. And I’m not sure if three silly voice actresses making a fool of themselves would be nearly as funny if you couldn’t approach their tasks from both languages. I mean, this is one of those cases where I am sufficiently blessed with comprehension and I think I got more out of it than even many of the visiting Japanese fans. It’s as they say, a pun is only funny if you understand it. And this is a corner about bilingual puns, essentially!
Anyways, I am hard pressed to think if the Music Ray’n crew can reproduce this sort of a good experience in a different country. Maybe they could–and it might tickle the local weeb population pink like it did here. It was honestly a really funny show, the Trysail girls put on last Sunday. It was definitely for the Taiwanese fans. That’s really special. And part of it might also have to do with the prevalent Japanese literacy in that particular fandom, too, that the production can go straight for the laughter jugular, and not have to pussy-foot around the formality of languages. This is the best localization I’ve ever seen, for a live talk event.