Hey Hey Heroes, Travelers, and Wandering NPCs, as promised, here’s the first official Otome Debates post! Going into 2018 I wanted to branch out a bit from just otome game reviews, by adding some editorial styled otome games related content. The idea is to produce informative content about otome games that both fans and non-fans of the genre can enjoy. So what should you expect from this and other Otome Debates posts?
This is a brand spankin’ new bi-weekly (Tuesdays) post series where I talk about a few of the “controversial” topics floating around the online otome community. I’ll be covering a wide range of topics within the scope of otome games and their connected media. You don’t necessarily have to be familiar with otome games or the online otome games community to enjoy these posts, since they will mostly offer a general overview of the topic with points from both sides.
This week’s topic is one that has caused a lot of buzz in the online otome community. It’s a topic that has been at the center of some of the most heated Twitter battles… a topic that has divided the community for years… I wish I was joking, it seems like every time an English language version of an otome game is released in the West, the online otome games community implodes. Friend turn on friends, members of the #OtomeArmada immediately scramble to opposing sides and the rampant passive aggressive tweets begin to fly… But, what is “localization” and is it really worth all the fuss?
What is localization?!
Localization is the process by which content is adapted for an audience outside of it’s place of origin. Usually, when talking about localization, folks tend to focus solely on the translation of the medium, but there are a lot of factors that must be considered when adapting a game for sale in other locales, such as:
- updating/altering art assets
- creating new packaging, manuals, and guides
- updating culturally sensitive/specific content for a new audience
- updating hardware/software for use in the new target regions
- recording new audio
Localization isn’t an exact science, and there have been times when fans of the original source material have found issue with some of the liberties taken when adapting certain media, but as a whole, localization isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it helps bring content to individuals outside of the original target audience, in a way that is still enjoyable to the new audience.
Viewpoint Breakdown: Quality vs. Quantity
In the otome community the crux of the localization debate boils down to access. Despite the upswing in otome games being marked towards Western audiences (ie. Hakuoki), otome games are still largely targeted at a Japanese audience. The number of commercial otome games available to Western audiences just barely scratches the surface of what is available to Japanese audiences. Of course developers and producers are taking notice of the growing demand for otome games in the West, with international offshoots cropping up here and there to fill the demand. However, even then we get two maybe three games a year (in a good year), while Japanese audiences get double or triple that amount in half the time. There is a noticeable gap in the number of games that are accessible to non-Japanese speaking audiences. Of course some fans have found a way around this by simply learning Japanese, either through self study or other means, but for many language learning isn’t exactly a viable option. So for the vast majority of fans we have to rely on localization teams to bring us the otome games we crave.
Localization helps make games accessible, a fact that many Western fans wholeheartedly stand behind. However, many of these localization teams are very small and don’t have nearly the same amount of resources as their parent companies. So, the quality of some localized games can be a bit hit or miss a fact that many fans of the original Japanese versions of these games feel is a disservice to the original source material. But, as I mentioned earlier, some of these changes are necessary when adapting a very stylized work such as an otome game, for sale in a different region.
To some these creative liberties are seen as distasteful and at times inconsistent with the spirit of the original game. Again, localization isn’t an exact science, some things have to be changed in order to not alienate the new target audience, but there is a balance that must be maintained and for some the very idea of localization is seen as an affront to those sensibilities (ie. the removal of honorifics, the changing of colloquial phrases, or the use of slang in place of local dialects). But, for audiences unfamiliar with the Japanese language these changes are inconsequential, when compared with the accessibility localization brings to the Western otome fandom.
Then of course, there are those that call out the quality of the translation, pointing out instances where the written dialogue does not sync up with the spoken dialogue. Again, this is a notion that is lost on most Western audiences as they don’t have a Japanese language basis to use for comparison. In those instances players must rely solely on the written text for their enjoyment, which can at times be pretty hit or miss (ie. typos, the use of dated slang/jargon, and the mistranslation of names). But, do these flaws really warrant such a huge backlash? Localization teams are small and lack the resources necessary to compete with their much more well endowed parent companies, so a few hiccups here and there are to be expected. But also, should these flaws be written off in favor of the greater good of simply having access to games that were once unobtainable to the greater community?
Honestly, that’s hard to answer, because overlooking quality for the sake of quantity only works to further alienate the very fans that rely on localization as a means of accessing otome games. Instead there is a fine line that must be met and for that it requires the collective support of both sides, those with a Japanese language background and those members of the Western otome community.
Right, so as a Western fan of otome games I am very much in favor of localization, however, that doesn’t mean I don’t want quality. Now, I’m not going to be anal about adaptation changes, because as I mentioned above, as an American (with minimal Japanese language skills) I just don’t have the basis for it and many of the cultural references go over my head. There are just some things that don’t translate well, because there is no Western variation so omitting or editing them is justified… in some instances.
Of course there are things that drive me mad, like the mistranslation of certain honorifics or inconsistent name usage, but that degree of error doesn’t amount to the level of mass hysteria that some people have taken to unleashing on the entire online community every time a new localization is announced. I get it, you want the games you love to be given their due, to be lovingly and painstakingly translated and quality checked… and I don’t doubt that all localized games are, but when a localization team literally consists of seven people in a small office, things are going to slip through the cracks. But, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t hold developers accountable for their work, there’s just a right way to do it. Rather than dragging a company through the mud on Twitter or on Reddit, perhaps contact them directly with your concerns. Instead of telling people not to play a game, instead, say your piece and encourage them to try the game for themselves.
Honestly all of this infighting is more detrimental to the otome community than the individual Twitter tirades. There’s this hive mentality in the otome fandom that forces individuals to pick sides, when in reality we should come together as a collective to ensure the longevity of the fandom both in the West and elsewhere. At some point it stopped being about otome games and became more about being right. So, we take to our soap boxes and tweet until our fingers are numb, but what does it really change if we aren’t taking positive steps to preserve the games we love? NOT A GODDAMN THING!
Closing Statement: Is Localization a Bad Thing?
Both sides offer up valid points, things only cross the line when fans of both camps try to dissuade the other side from supporting localization altogether. Rather than offering up constructive criticisms of localized otome games, many have launched an all out crusade against localization, which in turn has led those in support of localization to retaliate in kind. Which in turn brings up the notion of privilege and elitism, those with the ability to understand Japanese and the ability to import original Japanese otome games can and will do so. But, it’s important to understand that localization isn’t necessarily targeted towards those individuals, it’s for those fans that are unable to import games or simply those who don’t speak/read Japanese. So, when the non-target audience takes it upon themselves to speak for the entirety of the fandom, that is where things get messy. Both sides have a lot to learn from one another and in a niche community like the otome fandom, it’s important to work together lest we lose sight of what’s really important… Otome Games.
But I want to hear from you guys, what do you think about localization? Is it a good thing or a bad thing? Which side do you stand on? Vote in the poll below and/or weigh in in the comments section:
What do you think of the new post series? Think it’s a good idea? Do you have a topic suggestion? Wanna chat? Drop a line in the comments section (I promise, I don’t bite…much). As always THANK YOU FOR READING