Literal Translations vs Subtle Nuances
Sometimes translators have to make the choice between a literal translation and capturing the nuance and atmosphere of the dialogue. Literal translations give you the word-for-word dialogue in another language, but grasping the overall atmosphere of the scene is sometimes more important.
Kyouraku Shunsui of Bleach is a very charming, polite character despite how jaunty and lazy (and powerful) he can be. In Bleach 605, Shunsui adds the –san suffix on to the end of the word “Teki”（敵 which means “enemy”). He is referring to the Quincies in this context, and we can translate this a number of ways. Enemy-san, Teki-san, or Quincy-san, and so forth. But none of these fit in that well in fluid English, and this is where the overall nuance of the dialogue can take some priority. The –san suffix is added to show politeness, and despite the fact that the Quincies just came in and all but destroyed Seireitei, Shunsui has added the –san suffix on to the end of their collective term. He is trying to show cordiality and politeness when referring to them. Call it politeness or call it sarcasm, I have decided to translate “teki-san” in to “Quincy friends” in English, because this term in English seems to carry over well both the meaning, and the nuance that the original Japanese term (teki-san) had.
Shunsui also uses the word “Kureru” a lot when speaking about things that have been done, and this is also something that is extremely difficult to convey in English. There are various kinds of grammatical specificities such as “Kureru” that modify the nuance of a sentence/statement in Japanese, but for the time being I will focus on “Kureru”.
The grammar point "Kureru" is used in spoken Japanese a lot and mostly in the context of when someone has done something nice / a favour for you and you are trying to express gratefulness without having to outright state that you are extremely grateful.
For example, just so you can understand the nuance:
"Nanao-chan did all my leftover paperwork (Insert Kureru here) today".
This would express mainly the fact that Nanao-chan did indeed do the leftover paperwork, but it also shows that you are grateful for it.
Shunsui is stating that the Quincies shattered all of Seireitei -insert Kureru here-. This is perhaps more sarcasm, or just showing that Shunsui can make light of almost anything and take everything in stride – this nuance is very hard to convery – but it is important in conveying the intricacies of a character via their dialogue.
Literal Translations vs Metaphorical Expressions
Every language has some metaphorical expressions which are not to be taken literally. For instance, if I were a Samurai and I said, “I feel naked without my Katana”. What does this mean? I don’t really mean I feel like I have a distinct lack of clothing and I feel cold and embarrassed. :x In this context, it would mean I felt incomplete without my weapon of choice.
There has also been a lot of discussion about whether Ichibei told, or did not tell, Yhwach that his throat would be Crushed.
The Japanese for what Ichibei says is "Nodo ga tsubureru" (喉が潰れる).
Nodo = Throat
Tsubureru = Crush
So yes, it literally means that throats shall be crushed. But no Japanese native speaker will take it that way.
What it really means is
"You will lose your voice / your voice will go hoarse".
If you look at Bleach 605, Yhwach did lose his voice. It can then be argued, sure, that he did go and destroy his throat by plunging two fingers in to it (ouch) to regain his voice so the expression may have had some sort of a double entendre.
As mentioned above, however, no Japanese speaker would take that expression literally to mean a crushed throat. That would be akin to native English speakers reading about a grand heist at a casino in Vegas being a “close shave”, and then proceeding to conclude that the entire operation had been about the thieves using razors to intimately shave each other. Just, no.
Come on guys, some phrases shouldn't be understood literally or the true meaning is totally just gonna go over your head. (Unless nothing goes over your head because your reflexes are simply too fast…)
The vagueness of a sentence without a subject
In Japanese, when you speak you don't actually need to indicate a subject. You can just pick up a conversation without explicitly indicating what/who it is you are talking about. This can sometimes make it very hard to discern what is actually being discussed, and consequently prove difficult to translate.
In the scene when Ukitake is discussing the Quincy Invasion in to the Royal Realm, it is not actually clear who it is, that Ukitake is saying has "let" the Quincies invade the the Royal Realm. (“Let” can be otherwise understood as “failed to stop”.) Ukitake could be meaning Shunsui, or he could be the Royal Guard. Shunsui does not confirm or deny whether it is himself in the next panel, he just goes on to ask Ukitake if he has realised that this is as predicted - the "Kamikake" is *doing something/been put in to action* and seems like it's successful.
To discern whether Ukitake is indicating whether it is Shunsui or the RG that have "let" the invasion in to the RR happen, the general path to take is to think about within whose power it is to have been to "prevent" it. I had thought it was primarily the RG who were responsible for letting Yhwach take a walk around in the RR, so I had translated it as "They". But the Chinese scanlations team has put down "you've" as the pronoun, indicating that Ukitake is speaking directly about Shunsui. This can also be correct. Note that this sentence is just plain vague, and there isn't really a way to be 100% sure unless you gave Kubo-sensei a phone call yourself.
Also, do note that this entire statement by Ukitake is a conjecture based of what Ukitake has caught wind of to bring up a point with Shunsui.
When new concepts/objects/skills are brought in to a Manga
When a new move, or a new object, place, skill, concept, or character – is brought in to the latest chapter, translators have to make a choice on whether to translate the name in to English words, or leave it in the original Japanese and add some notes. In most cases, the latter is the safer choice but even then, to try to understand the introduction of something new may take a lot of research and background knowledge.
What is a Kamikake? No one knows at this point, but most Native Japanese speakers see the word as a derivative of the word “Gankake” which is a Shinto/Buddhist prayer.
Kamikake comes from that same vein, except for fictional purposes, the "Gan" has now become "Kami".
The entire dialogue of Ukitake discussing the Kamikake, I interpreted to flow something like this:
The Quincies successfully set foot in the RR > Someone (Likely Ukitake but maybe not) predicted that the RR shall be invaded by Quincies > The Kamikake is set in motion > The Kamikake seems to be working in their (SS) favour.
In time, we shall see what the Kamikake is.
Senri Tsuutenshou 千里通天掌 (Ichibei's giant palm)
Just wanted to talk about the origins of this skill and what it's likely to be based off.
This palm is based off the palm of a buddha called "Ru lai". (and Ichibei is a monk! Ah-hah! )
It's actually extremely difficult to find English material about this Buddha in question, but in my own words, this Buddha has a palm that can extend to infinity. This skill is most famous in Journey to the West, and for all I know it probably originated from there. (Journey to the West is a Chinese Classic Novel published in the 16th century and is widely used as an inspirational source for many fictitious stories and games today)
This reference of the all-extending palm that you can never run away from is so well known amongst Chinese kids (because Journey to the West is the childhood story almost all Chinese kids grow up with) it's often used jokingly (or half jokingly) to describe one's mom.
This is an extract from the Wikipedia Article of Sun Wu Kong, which narrates Wukong's experiences with Ru Lai Buddha based on events which happened in the Journey to the west.
With all of their options exhausted, the Jade Emperor and the authorities of Heaven appealed to the Buddha, who arrived from his temple in the West. The Buddha made a bet with Sun Wukong that Sun Wukong could not escape from Buddha's palm. Sun Wukong, knowing that he could cover 108,000 li in one leap, smugly agreed. He took a great leap and then flew to the end of the world in seconds. Nothing was visible except for five pillars, and Wukong surmised that he had reached the ends of Heaven. To prove his trail, he marked the pillars with a phrase declaring himself "the great sage equal to heaven" (and in other versions, urinated on the pillar he signed on). Afterward, he leaped back and landed in the Buddha's palm. There, he was surprised to find that the five "pillars" he had found were in fact the five fingers of the Buddha's hand. When Wukong tried to escape, the Buddha turned his hand into a mountain. Before Wukong could shrug it off, the Buddha sealed him there using a paper talisman on which was written the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum in gold letters, wherein Sun Wukong remained imprisoned for five centuries.
Journey to the West has been the inspiration for many games and fictional works, the more you read about it the more you realise! Some examples are, Son Goku from Dragon Ball, Wukong from League of Legends, and the Saiyuki Manga, for starters.
I just want to say that Wu Kong is my childhood hero.
That’s about it from me, sorry it’s so long – hope it gave a little bit of insight in to what it is to translate between Japanese and English, and some of the choices translators have to make to bring out the most accurate portrayal of a story to the readers.