Adventures in QC #6

Names, Names, Names

There are few translation decisions in a sub that will draw more scrutiny than ones that relate to character names. Even if everything else about a sub is totally pristine, fans may predictably reject it if it does anything remotely unpopular to the spelling of any major character name or concept. Generally, fans prefer subs to use names that are either the official names, or whatever equivalent most fans have chosen to use themselves in forum discussion.

Official names are tricky. If you bring them uniformly into your sub without question, then you’ll end up with condols and warms running around. For most native English speakers, it’s annoying to look repeatedly at a romanization that’s just plain wrong. On the other hand, sometimes official names offer some valuable insight into what the creators meant a given part of the story to represent, and in those cases they ideally should be retained.

Timeranger is a tricky case where most of the official names are usable, but others aren’t really the best choice. This episode introduces, onscreen, a character name spelling we’d opted not to use from the beginning of the project. Time Green’s given name is spelled in this episode as Sion, whereas we chose to spell the character’s name as Shion in our subs. It seems worth going into why (though, hey, feel free to change it in your copy).

The crux of the issue is that there is no one correct way to turn Japanese phonetics into words you can write in the Roman alphabet. Instead there are multiple romanization systems one can use for rendering Japanese into English, each with its own point of view and purpose. Time Green’s name in Japanese, シオン, becomes Sion when rendered into English using the Kunrei system. It becomes Shion if rendered using the Hepburn system. The two spellings are both accepted variants of the name in English, though the most common spelling is Shion.

The Kunrei system is the one that Japanese nationals, who speak English as a second language, prefer to use. Foreigners, who usually speak Japanese as a second language, are most often taught to use the Hepburn system because it results in more intuitive pronunciations. In this particular case, we wanted to use the Hepburn spelling not just because it’s easier to pronounce, but also because it’s the most common spelling of the name in English-speaking countries. It also cuts down on confusion about his name’s origins, since in English-speaking countries there’s a totally separate name spelled Sion that derives from the English name John.

As a counter-balancing example, one of the official names we opted to keep even though the spelling wasn’t intuitive was that of Timeranger’s robot owl mascot, Tac. This is one of the official names Timeranger fans drop most consistently, usually opting for something like Takku or (occasionally) Tock instead. Of the two unofficial alternatives, Tock is definitely better, since Tac’s name on one level does seem to involve punning on the way tick-tock is written in Japanese.

We decided to keep Tac because we’re fairly sure that spelling comes from a reference that reflects on Tac’s function in the show. Granted, we’re not entirely agreed upon what the reference is. One possibility is that the Tac spelling references the iMac computer, which launched in 1998. It would’ve been viewed as bleeding-edge home computing technology at the time Timeranger was written. Tac is about the size of an iMac and is, ultimately, a personal computing device (if a very talkative one). His design uses many of the bright colors associated with the original iMac design. The iMac line was extremely popular in Japan, in particular spawning a lot of fanart of iMac-tans (iMacs reimagined as cute anime girls).

Another possibility is that Tac’s name is meant to be short for tachyon, making it another of Timeranger’s quantum physics references. The tachyon is a theoretical subatomic particle whose existence was never proven, but the basic idea is that it’s a particle that moves faster than light and therefore exists in imaginary time. Beginning in the late 70s, the tachyon became a major part of the jargon that appeared regularly in science fiction. Many authors began using tachyons to explain any element of a story that needed to violate causality, such as faster-than-light communication or virtually anything related to time-travel. Tac violates causality once per episode to summon Timeranger’s robot, so this would certainly be an appropriate thing to name him after.

Timeranger is definitely a show that likes its literary references. Episode 4 also introduces Shion’s home planet, which we decided to call Hubbard. You often see it written as Hummard on webpages, which is frankly a bit confusing since the Japanese spelling is ハバード. There’s not really anywhere for an “m” sound to come from. Anyway, the Japanese spelling of Shion’s home planet is also the Japanese spelling of noted Western sci-fi author L. Ron Hubbards name, so it seemed very likely that the planet’s name was meant as a direct reference. Remember that at the time Timeranger was written, Hubbard’s involvement in the founding of the controversial Scientology movement wouldn’t yet have overshadowed his contributions to the Golden Age of Science Fiction.