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 Hubbard’s 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.
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.
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.
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.