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.


Adventures in QC #5

Monster Names

A staple of Super Sentai is our color-coded heroes fighting rubber monsters with outlandish names, appearances, and powers. Most shows design and name their monsters using a formula-based scheme to make the process a bit simpler and make the monsters all feel more like they’re part of one army. These themes can range from simple ones like Goranger’s [Object] + [Mask] scheme to Goseiger’s very complicated [Creature] + [Movie] scheme.

Not every single show uses the two-part [something] + [something] scheme— for instance, Gokaiger doesn’t— but even in those cases, there’s usually an underlying logic to the monsters. In Gokaiger’s case, the Action Commanders are usually either homages to monsters from previous series or based directly on combinations of descriptive English and Japanese words.

Timeranger appears to use the traditional two-part scheme for most of its monsters. In this case, the formula is [Type of Criminal] + [Foreign Name]. The formula also extends somewhat to the main enemies, who all appear to be gangster archetypes (the moll, the don, the fixer) given names with European roots (Italian, Dutch, and French). There are a handful of monsters that don’t follow the formula, sometimes for story-based reasons and some arbitrarily.

Timeranger’s monster name scheme posed the only significant QC challenge in episode 03, where the team fights a monster named 現金強奪犯キース (Genkin Goudatsu Han Kiisu) in Japanese. Early in the QC process, we looked up the second katakana portion of the name and figure out if there’s a foreign name it’s typically used to write. As it happens, キース is… well, mainly used to write the common American name Keith. It can also be romanized in some alternate ways which the Japanese Wikipedia page helpfully outlined.

This sparked immediate debate. Monster theme or not, can you really translate an episode such that the Timerangers are punching out some guy named Keith? It seemed a bit like calling a Sentai monster Steve or Francis. There was something very off about that, even if that was the script’s intent. Since we already decided not to have the Timerangers refrigerating their bad guys because it sounded too goofy, we ultimately decided we couldn’t call a monster Keith.

Instead we went with one of the alternate romanizations from the J-Wiki page, Keyes. While that is an American name, it’s a surname so it sounds a bit more criminal and less silly. The monster we see briefly in the first episode, D.D. Lades, also uses an American surname, so that also felt like it was still respecting the show’s monster naming convention. Timeranger is generally edited into American English, so we tend to assume a mostly American audience for the fansubs.

While we didn’t want to handle キースin a way that was totally ridiculous, we did decide to have a little fun with how we translated his criminal designation. While some of Timeranger’s criminal designations are used to refer to types of criminals in the real world, Keyes’ title seemed to be something the show kludged together. It just refers to someone who steals money if you read the characters literally. We opted to translate it as Cash Bandit, which could’ve combined with the other possible translation of Keyes’ name to blatantly reference an Internet comedy series that’s popular… IN AMERICA.


Adventures in QC #4


Aside from technical issues like crackly audio, working with older entries in the Sentai franchise can have other difficulties. Since Toei cranks out a new Sentai show every year, entries in the franchise tend to be extremely topical. Passing fads that are now long-forgotten may end up woven into the plots of a year’s show in a very off-handed way. Viewers at the time would’ve quickly understood it, but people trying to decipher a show twenty or thirty years later can be at a disadvantage.

Battle Fever J does this several times throughout its second episode, mentioning a lot of ideas that people might’ve considered cutting edge at the time. Cloning, for instance, was a new enough concept that BFJ opted to put it in the title of the episode, even though the creation of the monster otherwise has little bearing on the plot. We also see the overachieving girl’s mother bring up positive affirmation, a New Agey idea that involved saying things you wanted to happen aloud to quasi-magically make them more likely to happen.

Probably the strangest fascination of the late ’70s to make its way into Battle Fever J was the passage this episode that explains how Satan Egos is actually responsible for world megaliths like Stonehenge. At the time, people took the “ancient astronaut” theory (popularized in Erich von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods?) that aliens or other paranormal forces created super-huge ancient structures like the pyramids far more seriously than anyone today would.

This sequence was completely baffling during the translation phase, thanks to the audio problems, the weird vocabulary it used, and the offhanded way it was tossed into the plot. It was only after a consultation with our friends at Over-Time that we could decipher the line well enough to figure out that it was just Battle Fever J trying to work some crazy pseudo-science into its story. While it probably would’ve seemed pretty hip when the show originally aired, now it’s more like a time capsule that quietly reminds you of the show’s age.


Adventures in QC #3

Nawa Guna Heda

The challenges of translating an older show like Battle Fever J are very different than the ones you’d encounter in a relatively more modern show like Timeranger. Even when working with what should be a high-quality source, the sheer age of the material leads to issues where audio is unclear. This was certainly a problem even for the company that translated Battle Fever J for Hawaiian TV in the early 80s, JN Productions. As you’ll see if you check out their subs on track 2 of our release, JNP dropped lines with alarming frequency.

Most of the dropped lines are easy enough to time and translate for our revised sub track, but one line in this episode proved difficult: the line where Satan Egos refers to his commander as Nawa Guna Heda. At first, there was some difficulty making out the line. Once it was transcribed clearly, there was a problem in that nobody knew what the hell the line meant. The “nawa guna” didn’t seem to be Japanese and at that phase of the sub, we were still calling the character “Header” (as most online sources still do).

At this point, it seemed the key to figuring out the line would be figuring out what language the “nawa guna” might be. This was accomplished by a brute force Google search using different combinations of the syllables into potential words. We eventually hit paydirt with “nawa guna,” which appeared as a transliteration of Sanskrit in a book on JSTOR discussing religious customs in Sri Lanka. The source was otherwise useless, but knowing it could be Sanskrit was a valuable lead.

Every world culture has foreign languages it loves without really understanding, resulting in a lot of mangled misuses. Just as American anime fans have used Japanese in some of the dumbest ways imaginable, Japan has a long-standing love affair with Sanskrit. Fanboy Sanskrit shows up engraved on samurai swords as early as the 15th century. A quick trip to an online Sanskrit-to-English dictionary suggested that “nawa guna” together with the name we were erroneously translating as “Header” would mean something along the lines of “Nine Hateful Virtues.”

This made perfect sense, since the Heda character was obviously some sort of evil priest in Satan Egos’ service and Battle Fever J is not exactly the most subtle show in the world. We opted to leave the name transliterated into Sanskrit in the English translation to preserve the exotic, foreign quality it would’ve had for little Japanese kids who watched Battle Fever J when it first aired. As a result of this, his name appears as Heda in our subs, while the original Header translation is preserved in the JN Productions track.


Adventures in QC #2


We’ve established that Timeranger is Super Sentai as science fiction. This means the first few episodes are pretty heavy with exposition and technobabble. One of the most important bits of exposition in the entire series occurs in episode 2, when Tac starts explaining the rules of time-travel and talking about balance.

For awhile we were fairly baffled at what exactly Tac meant during the entire sequence, especially when he used the term ‘balance’. You can’t really refine dialog you don’t entirely understand to begin with, either. Since Timeranger’s technobabble last episode was rooted in reality, it seemed most logical to assume that Tac’s time-travel explanation had a similar basis. In this case, QC’s job was to figure out what it was.

Sometimes the easiest way to figure out what’s going on with a show is to look at other shows the same creators worked on and see if any patterns emerge. In Timeranger’s case, its head writer Yasuko Kobayashi worked on another major tokusatsu time-travel series in 2007, Kamen Rider Den-O. The time-travel system in Den-O is based loosely on real world quantum mechanics, especially ideas about singularity.

Ordinarily quantum mechanics would seem much too complicated to show up in a kid’s show, but if Kobayashi did it Den-O then there was reason for us to think she might’ve done the same in Timeranger. Some research turned up three principles of quantum mechanics that seemed to fit Timeranger’s time-travel rules and Tac’s expository dialog: quantum entanglement, quantum superposition, and the Copenhagen Interpretation.

Real world quantum entanglement occurs when two objects, typically subatomic particles, are connected such that any force that affects one of the paired particles will have an immediate effect on the other, no matter how far apart they are in space-time. Quantum superposition is the idea that any system which can be in more than one configuration can exist in both configurations simultaneously. The Copenhagen Interpretation is a theory of quantum mechanics which states that a system stops being in superposition when it is observed by an outsider.

Timeranger turns these ideas about the behavior of waves and particles into ideas about how time-travelers interact with the universe, much the same way Kobayashi did in Den-O. Quantum entanglement becomes the idea that through time-travel, historical eras become entangled with each other in a system that behaves according to the rules of quantum mechanics rather than more classical ideas of linearity. So in Timeranger, the years 2000 and 3000 became entangled during the initial time-travel event that sent the Londarz and the Timerangers back in time.

Because of the entanglement of the two eras, the years 2000 and 3000 now exist in a state of quantum superposition. It is certainly possible for both years to be changed, but those changes right now are merely potential changes. Tac’s dialog makes it clear that as long as the time-travelers remain in the past, this state of superposition will continue to exist. The possible changes that the time-travelers could be making to the years 2000 and 3000 won’t become actual changes.

The Copenhagen Interpretation explains why Tac’s time-travel rules exist. If the Time Protection Bureau sent additional time-travelers back to the year 2000, the second group would observe the first group. Anything that group had changed in the year 2000 would become a permanent change with consequences that would affect the year 3000 in a linear way. If only part of the original time-travel group returned to the year 3000, it would have similar consequences.

If the Timerangers can take all of the Londarz into custody and return with them in one trip, though, then the principle behind the Copenhagen Interpretation would indicate that the years 2000 and 3000 shouldn’t change. No one outside the initial time-travel system would be able to observe it, leaving the time-travel itself in a state of superposition that could have no effect on the timeline’s history. This has to be the desired balance Tac is talking about.

We made the edits to Tac’s exposition in this episode by working from this basic theory of how Timeranger’s time-travel should work. Checks made against future episodes have indicated that it’s a solid theory in terms of describing the show’s events. While the audience clearly doesn’t need to understand the science involved just to make sense of Timeranger’s plot, it helped us to understand how Tac’s explanation should be worded.


Adventures in QC #1


One of the most distinct elements of Timeranger, as entries in the Super Sentai franchise go, is that the team doesn’t execute their enemy at the end of each week’s battle. Instead, the criminal monster is shrunk down and frozen into an immobile form about the size of a popsicle.

The term for this process in Japanese is asshukureitou, a combination of the words for ‘compression’ and ‘cold storage’. It’s ultimately just a bit of technobabble lifted from the Japanese for vapor-compression refrigeration. It felt inappropriate to say that Timeranger was refrigerating their bad guys, though.

From context, asshukureitou seemed more like one of those sci-fi jargon words that was based on science fact, while describing a concept that wasn’t entirely possible. So we decided to translate the term that way, by finding some way to transform it into a bit of English sci-fi jargon that would carry roughly the same meaning.

Translating made-up terms is a tricky thing for any translation, but particularly of tokusatsu. Fans of this genre are big on the idea of authenticity. Localization is, perhaps rightfully, associated with liberal adaptations like Power Rangers. Fans who care enough to watch the show in Japanese want to feel like they’re getting something authentic.

Timeranger is, fortunately, not a show grounded extensively in Japanese culture. Timeranger’s basis is science fiction, a genre that played host to plenty of pioneering English-language authors H.G. Wells, E.E. Smith, and Robert Heinlein. So English should have no shortage of appropriate sci-fi jargon to apply to Timeranger’s Japanese sci-fi jargon.

QC’s job in this case was simply to figure out which terms might work best out of what was available. Cryostasis emerged as an early contender. I’d like to say we went with the term because of something impeccable about its sci-fi lineage, but that’s not really the case.

It’s not unusual for Super Sentai to take direct inspiration from English-language films, particularly big Hollywood blockbusters. In Timeranger’s case, its creators were clearly fans of the 1993 Sylvester Stallone film Demolition Man.

Demolition Man is about a 21st century cop who gets framed for murder and sentenced to “cryoprison,” where he’s frozen for 70 years before being awakened in a future that can’t otherwise cope with 21st century criminals. Timeranger is basically Demolition Man in reverse: cops from the the year 3000 travel back to save the past from dangerous 30th century criminals.

Cryostasis is the term Demolition Man uses for cryoprison’s freezing process, so it seemed the most appropriate way to translate asshukureitou. Now, it’s true that Demolition Man’s cryostasis doesn’t shrink people, but shrinkage is actually a property of real-world cryostasis. Cells become compressed as the water in them is extracted and turned to ice crytals.

In light of that, we decided not to add additional explicit references to compression or shrinking in dialog. Some direct references to compression instead survive in other parts of the script. For instance, the “press” in Time Robo’s Press Blizzard, which you’ll see in episode 2, is a direct reference to the English word compression.