Thursday, April 10, 2008

Lost in Translation: Macross Plus

I've been playing a lot of Ace Combat lately (I mean, a lot... A LOT), and it got me to thinking about the Robotech-related miniseries/movie Macross Plus. And the theme song, Voices, is sort of iconic for the series, so I decided to check it out again on YouTube, and well, since most of the versions of the song are in the original Japanese, I wanted to know how accurate the translation for the Dubbed version of the song was.

And I have to say, it is quite a departure.

But before we get into the nitty gritty, I think the teaser plot outline from the IMDB/Bandai is appropriate starting point for this discussion so you all have some idea of where this is coming from:

2040 AD. Humankind's first colonized planet, Eden. Master pilot Isamu Dyson is assigned to New Edwards Flight Center as the test pilot for the prototype variable fighter, the YF-19. YF-21 pilot Guld Goa Bowmann is also there. Once friends and now rivals, the two compete in prototype trials. Meanwhile, virtual singer Sharon Apple has come to Eden to hold a concert. Her producer, Myung Fan Long, was a former friend of the two pilots. The three will fulfill a fated reunion....

Sounds pretty straight forward, doesn't it?

Now, the Japanese Version of Voices roughly translates as this:

The first word was "dream"
From the middle of sleep
Which secretly accompanies
The darkness in my heart

The second word was "wind"
Directing my journey
From God's arms,
Fanning wings

As if counting
the melting sorrows,
Yet another golden
apple fell

Not even looking at the scenery,
There is the place you're going
With merely a single life,
You struggle to reach that place

An old magic book;
moondrops; the curtain of night--
Only a premonition of meeting someday

(English in this version)We can fly
We have wings
We can touch floating dreams
Call me from so far
Through the wind
In the light

The third word was "hmm"..
Caught by straining ears
As I softly release
Your trembling arms

Which is a nice sentiment and all, I'm not going to deny that. But, does that really go with the above plot? And I admit that those aren't the exact translation provided by the subtitles, but it is close enough to that was used in the movie in terms of subject matter and phrasing.

Now let's compare that to the English Lyrics for the Dubbed version:

The first word in my dreams
I could clearly see
Planet Eden high beyond the skies

Beautiful and sad
is this story I`ll tell
of the winged travellers eager

`twas one day
the wind guided him where to go
like an eagle high above he flew

Waving from down below
he flew out of sight
into the mystical darkness

Neither a smile nor a cry
I gave when he left
feeling my spleen decline

And hoping
one day we`d fly over
back to the places we once shared

Where vessels glide
in silky waves and of gold
deep in the gulf such planet lies

Surrounded by this universe
of love and hate
confusion breaks through and dwells.

Cast a spell, from the old magic book.
Set a path.
In the black magic box, something strange will happen, it
will take you so far.
So try...

We can fly,
we have wings,
we can touch floating dreams.
Call me from so far
through the wind
in the light.

Someone came from the dark over from the stars.
Protecting my heart from crying.
Taken back by surprise my traveller returned.
What went wrong? Why did he change?

Now, both versions are sort of weird in terms of imagery and language use (I just about fell out of my chair when I realized that the line "feeling my spleen decline" appeared in the dubbed version). But, contextually, the Dubbed version seems to have a lot more relevance to the material it is accompanying. I mean, Macross Plus is about test pilots and a love triangle, and that's what I get from the dubbed version. The Japanese version has a complete different subject matter, and in the context of both the entire series/movie and for those of you who have seen Macross Plus and remember where it was used for dramatic effect, it makes no sense whatsoever. Melodically, they are both pretty good, but wow, it is like two entirely different songs lyrically. I know that happens quite a bit when a foreign-language song is translated into English, but I've never seen it happen in this context.

So I guess the lesson here is that sometimes, things get lost in the translation, and sometimes, like George Chapman's translations of Homer, sometimes the work in question becomes a completely different animal entirely.

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