Hey Blerdy Tribe! I had the chance to chat with Anne Lee about her work as a Localization Consultant & Proofreader on the new Norn9 Var Commons Switch port and the upcoming fandisk, Last Era! Many of you already know Anne, she has made several appearances on the Aksys Games streams with Sami as THE Otome Expert, sharing her vast otome knowledge with us all. But, for years Anne has been running the Japanese pop culture site Chic Pixel and most recently serves as co-host to the Pixel x Pixel podcast!
Of course first and foremost, Anne is an avid otome fan and that shines through in her informative and fun commentary! I am so glad that I was able to chat with her about what it was like working in otome localization!
Q. Hey Anne! Thank you for taking the time to sit down with me! You have been a pillar of the Otome Community for years. You run the Japanese pop culture site Chic Pixel and co-host the podcast, Pixel x Pixel with your partner Marcus, and now you’ve even worked on the localization of Norn9. I am so glad that we’ve been able to connect through the Aksys Games otome streams. But, in the event that some of my readers aren’t as familiar with you and your work—could you please tell everyone a bit about yourself and what you do!
Thank you so much for the kind words, and for inviting me to chat about myself and Norn9! I started my site, Chic Pixel, in 2011 as a way to share my love for niche Japanese pop culture, particularly otome games and BL manga. At the time, there weren’t a lot of people writing about otome games in English, and there were even fewer games being localized, so I shared information on the Japanese games I was playing, as well as information on the genre in general. I really wanted to make more information accessible to English speakers, as well as create a safe and welcoming space for people who didn’t feel well represented or accepted in other gaming-related spaces.
Some other things I’ve done over the years include: running the biggest Nintendo StreetPass meetup group in Australia for 5 years, writing a PhD thesis on BL manga, publishing an academic article on BL centaur manga, and working in Japanese to English localization for games and manga. I was also the first person to interview Ruby Party director Mei Erikawa for an English publication!
Q. Before we dive into your work on the Norn9 localization. You’re an otome gamer first and foremost. Could you tell me how you got into otome games? What are some of your favorite otome games? What are some of your favorite non-otome games?
I first learned about otome games when I studied abroad in Japan in my final year of high school and saw promotional materials for them when I was there. To date me a bit, this would’ve been 2006! At the time, my Japanese wasn’t that great, and I was intimidated by the idea of playing through a whole game in Japanese, but when I was in college and got a Nintendo DS, I decided to try importing them for language practice.
My first otome game was Tokimeki Memorial Girl’s Side 2 Second Kiss for the Nintendo DS, and I went in completely blind. I remember playing it as if I really was the main character, selecting the options I personally would choose, and had quite the rude awakening when my true love Christopher left me in the dust at the end of the game! Even though I got a bad end, I was totally hooked, and started looking up walkthroughs so that I could actually see the good endings.
Tokimeki Memorial Girl’s Side 2 Second Kiss will always have a special spot in my heart as my first otome game, but other favorites of mine include the Code: Realize series (love that steampunk theme!) and Moujuutsukai to Oujisama, aka Beastmaster and Prince, where you play as a girl working to become a great beast tamer who stumbles upon four talking animals who happen to be princes placed under an evil curse. It’s so much fun, and all of the guys are super cute! Plus, there’s a minigame where you pet them in animal form…
In regards to non-otome games, I absolutely love the Monster Hunter series! I got into those games with Monster Hunter 4 in Japanese on the Nintendo 3DS (before 4U was localized). I love everything about those games, from the super cool monster designs to the range of weapons (I’m a hunting horn main!) and adorable kitty companions (in Monster Hunter Rise, you even get a dog buddy!).
Q. As a member of the otome community, what are some things that you love about the fandom? What are some things that you wish were better/could be improved?
I’ve been talking about otome games on the internet since as early as 2011, and it’s really amazing to see such a vibrant and active English-speaking community spring up around them! I love the enthusiasm and huge range of interests people have within the community, and that I can learn new things from people playing completely different titles from me (for example, I’ve never really played mobile otome games).
As any community grows in size, you get the negative aspects that come with any large group of people sharing thoughts and opinions about something they’re passionate about. I think at times there is contention between people in the community who play games in Japanese and those who don’t, and when that happens I want people to remember that we’ve come together because we all enjoy the same hobby, and that’s the most important thing!
Q. I know I’m not alone in saying that the announcement that Norn9: Var Commons would be getting a new updated localization was a welcome surprise to the otome community. The first Vita localization was notoriously rough, as Aksys was still testing the waters with their otome releases. But, this new Switch port announcement is doubly exciting because you were actively involved with the localization. Could you share how that came about? How were you brought onto the project and what role did you play in the localization process?
Of course! I had already worked with Aksys Games as a proofreader on Paradigm Paradox and requested to be kept in mind for future projects that arose, and they reached out to me to see if I wanted to assist with Norn9: Var Commons. Since none of the original localization team was still around, they needed someone who could oversee both Norn9 Switch releases in order to ensure things like style and terminology were unified between both releases.
So, that’s what I did! My official credit for both titles is Localization Consultant & Proofreader, which reflects the range of things I did beyond just proofreading. Since the PS Vita version of Norn9: Var Commons had some localization errors, I checked the entire English script next to the Japanese so that anything that was incorrect could be fixed (such as the notorious “snow” line). I was given a lot of freedom to edit things as I saw fit, which was really great. You’ll see many lines from the original release were retained, but probably somewhere around half of the script has been updated to some extent, either for style or content.
Q. During one of the Aksys streams you mentioned that you love sci-fi stories (we were talking about Paradigm Paradox at the time). And it’s no secret that with its immersive sci-fi world and premise, Norn9: Var Commons definitely offers a unique otome experience. What are some things that you love about Norn9? Why did you want to work on the localization for this game?
There are just so many things I love about Norn9! It has everything I love in a good story – mystery, an intriguing world, and, of course, romance. The game starts with you playing as a young boy name Sorata, which is already jarring as we’re used to playing as a female character in otome games. After you enter the spherical ship Norn and meet the game’s cast, you’re then able to choose from one of three protagonists to play as, each with their own different male love interests. I love how you get a different perspective on the events of the game by playing as each of the girls, and with nine romanceable male characters, it keeps the game from feeling stale even after a couple playthroughs.
The game’s sci-fi plot also reminds me a bit of a classic shojo manga by Hagio Moto called They Were 11!, which is getting an English re-release by Denpa Books later this year. That story features ten elite space cadets from different races across the galaxy who are all put on a spaceship in order to pass a test. When they board, they realize there’s an extra person in the group, but they don’t know who the new addition is, or why they’re there.
In Norn9, the characters are young people with special powers called espers who are summoned by a mysterious organization known only as The World. They’re told to board the ship with only the vague idea that they’re to help maintain peace throughout the world. But when all of them have assembled, they realize there are only nine rooms on the ship, but 12 of them total. There are a lot of mysteries to uncover – what is The World, and what exactly is their mission? Why are there 12 of them, when the ship seems very clearly designed for nine people?
This game is a fan favorite for good reason, and I’m really excited to have had the chance to work on such a beloved title!
Q. You mentioned that you were involved with overhauling the script for the Norn9 Switch localization. What were some of the updates that we can expect with this new localization? Were there any carryovers from the original Vita localization?
As I mentioned earlier, I probably updated around half of the entire script, so there will be lines that have been completely carried over from the original Vita localization, but also some lines that are completely overhauled.
In terms of specific examples, there are too many to name them all, but one thing that took a bit of work was fixing how Koharu refers to the other characters. She has a bit of an odd, more polite way of speaking due to her using manuals to teach her etiquette and how to converse with others. In the original localization, she would refer to many of the boys as “Mr. (First name),” but even that was not consistent throughout the full game, making her dialogue very confusing at times. We opted to change it so she refers to all of the boys by their last names. There’s a little nod to the original use of “Mr. (First name)” in the prologue when she talks to Sorata – see if you can find it!
Q. What was your favorite part of working on the Norn9: Var Commons localization? What was the most challenging part of the localization process for you?
As someone who has been a member of the otome community for so long and enjoyed Aksys Games’ English otome game releases since their first release of Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom on PSP, it was a real honor to be asked to assist with updating the Norn9: Var Commons localization for the Switch re-release. I remember being active in the online fan community when the PS Vita version came out and all the buzz around it, but I never dreamed I’d actually be able to have a hand in sprucing up the script myself!
Updating a script like this is a really unique experience that doesn’t happen all that often in localizations, even for games that could really use it, due to the time and resources it requires. Normally, when I proofread a game, I’m working alongside the rest of the localization team, so I only get to work on sections of the script as it’s completed, and there’s a lot more back and forth with the rest of the team. In the case of Norn9: Var Commons, I had the entire English script from day one, and Aksys Games gave me a lot of freedom to manage the localization myself. It was a very exciting, albeit daunting, process!
On the flip side, managing the entire updated localization was the most challenging aspect of the process, as well! It was a massive undertaking, and I wanted to make sure I did right by the fans by making this release as polished as possible, so I did feel that pressure as I was working on this project.
Q. With localization each team brings their own unique voice to the projects they work on. Many in the otome community have noticed there is a very American tone to most game localizations. Until recently you lived outside of the US, did that affect some of the stylistic choices you made to the translation of Norn9: Var Commons?
That’s a really interesting point you bring up! I think that is a product of many of these companies being based in the US, and also the fact that even non-American companies want their localized products to be accessible to as broad of an English-speaking audience as possible. The standard English for many countries around the world is American English, and many companies I’ve worked with in games and other media have had American English as the standard in their style guides.
Living in Australia, they use British English, and it was definitely a challenge to switch between the two standards depending on the work I was doing. I always try to make sure my localizations are interesting, fun, and easy to understand, so I avoid things like Aussie slang or phrases that might be confusing for most players. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if some of my language choices were influenced by my 12 years there!
Q. What were some of your favorite lines or scenes from the new Norn9: Var Commons localization? Which line/scene were your least favorite to work on?
There were so many fun and interesting scenes in Norn9, plus it’s a huge game, so it’s hard to remember them all! But one line that I had a fun time with early on is when Sorata first hears the mysterious melody in the prologue. In the original English Vita text, he says “At that moment, I began to feel uneasy. Yes, I’m aware that the Japanese word for ‘uneasy’ is a contradiction,” which is not incorrect, but does not make any sense unless you know Japanese. He says “iwakan o kanjita,” which technically is something called a tautology, where you repeat the same thing twice using different words. In this case, “iwakan o kanjita” is a bit like saying “I felt a weird feeling” – it isn’t wrong, but it’s much more direct to just say “I felt weird.” So, I updated the text to read, “Suddenly, I began to feel weirdly strange. And yes, I’m aware that’s a tautology.” I hope the change makes more sense for English speakers playing the game (even if you have to look up “tautology”!).
As for least favorite parts to work on, the longer repeated scenes such as the dream sequence and Aion’s explanation required a lot of checking between routes because there are large portions of the text that are exactly the same, but also some sections that change depending on the characters. The worst was when very small portions, sometimes just one line, within a larger section would change. I had to check these parts so many times, it made my head spin!
Q. I know this’ll be tough, but who are your favorite characters from Norn9?
Oh, yes, that is so tough! They all feel like my babies now, especially after working on both Norn9: Var Commons and Norn9: Last Era. For heroines, as a perfectionist and the type of person who always tries to do everything on my own, I really relate to Mikoto. Due to her power, she feels a strong duty to protect everyone and has a very strong sense of pride. While she seems like she always has everything under control, I find the fact that she has a hard time with things that aren’t combat-related, like crafts and drawing, to be really cute.
My problematic fav love interest has got to be Ron, who is 100% the shadiest character on the Norn. It helps that I love his voice actor, Tomokazu Sugita, but he’s also extremely funny and unpredictable, and he has the best loveable shit kind of energy.
On the flip side, I also love sweet puppy dog Heishi and his exuberant personality, as well as Senri and his antisocial ways.
Q. As a gamer and an otome fan, was it difficult to maintain the balance between being a fan and your professional work when working on the localization of Norn9? What are some tips that you have for folks looking to pursue careers in localization work?
That’s a good question! I think the hardest part when balancing being a fan and professional is feeling especially strongly about wanting to a good job for fans and not disappoint them – not that other professionals in the gaming industry don’t also want to create good work and please their fans, but when you’re a fan yourself, you know that perspective in a way that a professional slightly removed from that sphere wouldn’t.
Luckily, I’ve been working in localization for a while now, so I’ve built up some experience and confidence. I’m glad my first project with Aksys Games was something like Paradigm Paradox, which, while it was a great game, didn’t have the hype and expectations around it that a fan-favorite title like Norn9: Var Commons does. At the end of the day, it’s impossible to please absolutely everyone, but I put my heart and soul into this project and am proud of the end result!
In terms of tips for getting into localization, I think the landscape has changed a lot since I first started dipping my toe in 10 years ago. I benefited a lot by promoting my niche interests through my blog and writing for other websites, as well as social media, even before I started looking for localization work. Since I made a name for myself in the otome and BL space early on, people who were involved in those industries started to contact me over time. Now, there are a lot of great online resources for aspiring localizers, such as J-En Translations and the Honyaks community. While the popular formats for self-promotion have changed, I still think it’s beneficial to establish yourself online and promote yourself in some way, and if you can find a way to intersect your skills and interests to cover an under-represented niche, that can help you stand out amongst the crowd!
Q. In the past few years the Western otome fandom has grown considerably, we now have so much more variety in the types of otome localizations we see released each year. And with Aksys Games and others supplying a healthy lineup of games as far into the future as 2024, the future of otome games in the West is looking bright. What are your hopes for the fandom moving forward? Are there any games you are hoping to see get a localization?
I say this a lot, but it really is an exciting time to be an otome game fan! With multiple major releases being localized from Japanese to English per year, plus a vibrant indie development community, there’s no shortage of amazing titles to play in English.
I’ve been vocal over the years about wanting to see something by Ruby Party, developers of the first Japanese romance game for women, Angelique, released in English someday (aside from Touken Ranbu Warriors, which they also worked on). I think it would be great if English-speaking otome fans could experience more of the genre’s lineage, and while the original Angelique is quite dated now, Ruby Party has released titles for the Switch and PC that would be a great introduction for a Western audience!
Aside from that, Tokimeki Memorial: Girl’s Side 4 for Nintendo Switch and Moujuutsukai to Oujisama Flower and Snow for Nintendo Switch would be my other top picks. Girl’s Side 4 of course because I love that series and feel it has a lot of depth and interactivity that we don’t often get to see in otome games these days, and as I mentioned, Moujuutsukai to Oujisama is one of my favorites. It unfortunately had a failed Kickstarter years ago, and I’d love to see someone pick it up and give it the love it deserves.
Going forward, I hope the fandom continues to celebrate this amazing genre and support and uplift the huge variety of voices and perspectives within the community! I sincerely hope you enjoy Norn9: Var Commons, and if you do, please consider picking up the newly-localized fan disc, Norn9: Last Era, when it comes out later this year!