Thursday, April 27, 2017

Localization Editor Withdraws Name Rather Than Give Up "KKK" Joke

Akiba's Beat Game Over Screen
On XSEED's official forum, localization editor Tom Lipschultz posted a list of changes made in the English version of game Akiba's Beat. In addition to things like changing names of characters to reflect puns in the original Japanese, there was one joke that Lipschultz was changed that he felt was a bridge too far-- changing a background sign that read "KKK Witches" in the original Japanese version :
The original was a parody of "NKK switches," a Japanese light switch manufacturer based out of Akihabara. I personally felt "KKK witches" was pretty funny for its shock value, but when I mentioned it to my coworkers, they... were not as amused. 
Yeah, I can't imagine why a white guy going "LOL it says KKK roflcopter" would be a bad look or anything. Instead of pausing for a moment of self-reflection as to why the name of a domestic terrorist group was funny to him, or why a background joke might be worth changing, Lipschultz decided to double down.
 ...[XSEED was] insistent upon the name being changed. And of course, I fought this as best as I could, since I saw the forceful change of this as an act of censorship...
Yes, according to Lipschultz, changing a joke to avoid name-dropping the Ku Klux Klan is exactly the same thing as actively suppressing art! He was the lone brave white guy sticking up for the original intent. Like, what if the original Japanese developer really wanted to make the minor background company sign joke as some sort of statement about the USA right-wing hate group responsible for lynching about 3,500 black men over the course of its existence, right? Lipschultz continues:
In the end, however, it was Acquire themselves who voluntarily changed it to "ACQ witches"... [XSEED emailed the original Japanese developers] to let them know that the KKK is a well-known abbreviation for a hate group in America, and asking them if the name "KKK witches" had any specific meaning in Akiba's Beat... Acquire simply changed the sign text and sent us a new build. 
Oh. So since the original developers of the game made the change, this must mean they were cool with it. If the intent was to make some sort of political statement, they would have kept it. Censorship implies there's some sort of involuntary act, and Lipschultz himself said the original developers made this decision themselves. So that's why Lipschultz... asked for his name to be removed from the credits? Yep, he confirms it himself.
It is due to this change, and specifically due to my initial misconception that we'd directly asked the devs to change it, that I asked to have my name removed from the credits of Akiba's Beat... I feel it's a good symbolic gesture on my part, showing my commitment to my principles on this matter... I'm perfectly fine with being the "ninja localizer" of XSEED, fighting the good anti-censorship fight from the shadows. 
Yes, this is the hill Lipschultz chose to die on. This also means that per XSEED company policy, he will no longer be credited on any future work he does for the company, and he took this stand being fully aware of this company policy.

It turns out that Lipschultz has many misconceptions, from what censorship is, to what it means to be funny to what it means for something to be "very Japan". Not content to dig a hole for himself on the forums of the company he works for, Lipschultz took to the comments section of a Kotaku article about his decision in what I'm sure he thought was a noble and well-reasoned attempt to defend himself. Here, let's watch him go and dig himself deeper:
[The KKK acronym] doesn’t make me chuckle on its own, but in the context of appearing on a sign in a busy part of Tokyo, where the business in question obviously had NO IDEA what it meant? That’s pretty funny, if you’ve ever been to Japan. “Engrish” exists as a concept for a reason, and a sign that says “KKK witches” is so out there, so WRONG, that it appearing on a sign is definitely worthy of at LEAST a chuckle, for the absurdity alone. 
I guess the idea is, I believe it would be funny to the game’s target audience, those being Japanophiles. Because it really is very “Japan.”
You see, a KKK reference is funny because... racism! Non-native speakers being ridiculed for not understanding a language is funny because, um... also racism? People that like Japanese pop culture think racism is funny too? I guess?

Honestly, I'm surprised Lipschultz still has a job considering he seems to have no grasp of optics, humor, or what localization is supposed to be. Posting on the Neogaf boards, Lipschultz once had this to say in his defense of anime boobs and fan-service:
Even if you consider content in a game to be perverted and classless... let the classless perverts have it! They deserve to enjoy their games just as much as the rest of us. And to say that it "taints" the game for the rest of us is no different than saying having someone of a different race, or sexual orientation, taints the neighborhood.
Yes, just like his withdrawing his name from the credits of Akiba's Beat and all future XSEED games he works on was his attempted to channel Evelyn Beatrice Hall (no, REALLY, he said so right here), standing up for sexualized female characters created by men, for men, is like speaking out against discrimination of marginalized people. That's totally not gross at all!

I think the best way to explain translation vs transliteration is by using a musical analogy. When a violin repeats what a piano just has played, it can't make the exact same sounds. It can only approximate the same chords.The violin can, however, recognizably make the same "music" as a piano, but only when it's faithful to the logic and limitations of the violin as it is to the logic and limitations of the piano.

Languages are like that, too. Each has their own "sound" and their own logic.The process of rendering ideas from language to language is really more like a transposition than a translation-- translation implies that there are word-for-word equivalents that exist from one language boundary to another. That's like saying piano sounds exactly like the violin!

And the idea of word-for-word equivalents of a story, of a language's underlying feeling strikes me as false to the nature of story telling.The best a translator can do is hope for is to come close as possible not to the text's literal meaning-- it's nearly impossible to drag a sentence's meaning across one language barrier to another completely 100 percent intact. What is more important in preserving, intent... even at the expense of making four strings do the same notes as 88 keys (i.e.English from Japanese). A translator should work to preserve a story's essence, the total feeling of the complexities.Literal translations, as outlined in today's earlier piece on Persona 5, are stilted, awkward and can seem more like transcribing than translation,

When the original game developer of Akiba's Beat was contacted about what the KKK initials of the "off brand" light switch maker sign meant for a US audience, they changed the joke because they intended to just make a silly company name reference, not name-drop a US domestic terrorist group.

Basically, what Lipschultz has done is mixed up the right of people to not be suppressed by the government or societal coercion with the tension that is part and parcel of the act of translation. Instead of pausing and reflecting on why a minor joke with unintentional racist overtones was something he saw as so essential he'd be willing to throw away credit for his work, Lipschultz decided that not keeping "KKK witches" was the molehill to die on.

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