Monday, March 2, 2009

Lost in Translation

Careful readers probably have picked up on this already, but I do not live in the United States at the moment. I currently reside in the Mediterranean country of Spain, which puts me in a rather awkward position regarding comics and other media. For the most part, I do not like to purchase or read translated material very much because even the best of translations lose something along the way, and in my mind it feels as I am reading or watching a different material altogether. I have had the chance to read some titles both in English and Spanish and there is a noticeable difference in them (at least to me). Luckily through the Internet and a local shop that carries material in English, I can keep up with my comic reading habit. I wanted to talk a little about some of the things that occur with translations, and one very special case that I have not decided what I am going to do about it.

The most obvious problem in translation is the names of superheroes, and the way they decide to translate them are rather uniform. Some characters have the same name as they do in English, such as Thor and Superman (even though this one could easily be translated into "Superhombre"). Of course, not all of them are as straightforward, for example Spider-Man is mostly called just that, but people pronounce it using a Spanish pronunciation (roughly, espeedher man) and Batman is also called by his rightful name, but his alias Bruce Wayne is instead called Bruno Diaz in some Spanish-speaking countries. There are some straightforward translations, such as "Mister Fantastico" instead of Mister Fantastic and "Linterna Verde" for Green Lantern. Some work and some don't, especially when the translation leads to multiple words like Nightwing being "Ala Nocturna" or Hawkeye being "Ojo de Halcón". Additionally, Captain America becomes Capitan America, which is also pretty straightforward, but his nickname instead of being "Cap" is "Capi" which sounds kind of diminutive to me. And finally, there are some cases where whoever translated the comic books took great liberties. Deadpool for example is known as "Masacre" in some countries, and Martian Manhunter is "Detective Marciano". To make matters worse, different countries have different translations. When I was younger I used to watch the 90's X-Men animated series in Argentina (where I'm originally from), Rogue was called "Titania" and Wolverine was "Guepardo" (the literal translation), but here in Spain, the former is known as "Picara" and the latter as "Lobezno" (which translates into Wolf Cub, I have no idea what they call Wolf Cub from New/Young X-Men). Team names also suffer from some of these same problems, like the X-Men called "Hombres X" or "Patrulla X" depending on the country and the Avengers are known as "Los Vengadores" (which makes me wonder what the catchphrase that replaces "Avengers Assemble!" is).

Another problem that I have with translations is the actual interpretation of the text. When you read titles like Spider-Man, Cable and Deadpool, or any other comic that has a big comedic portion to it, puns, jokes and one-liners are greatly lost in translation. I have not read any comics in Spanish featuring the Riddler, but a lot of his riddles are play on words, so I can't imagine those making a lot of sense either. Curses and insults are another problem altogether, where sometimes literal translations end up sounding not as threatening or just downright goofy (I can't imagine what reading a Garth Ennis comic in Spanish would be like). And I do not if it is just me on this one, but when I read a character speaking Spanish, it sounds completely different that the voice I hear in my head than I would if I was reading that comic in English instead.

Aside from also suffering from the above problems, voice translations when it comes to movies and TV series, have a whole new set of problems. First of all (and I have no idea why) apparently there isn't a whole lot of Spanish voice actors because sometimes you are watching a dubbed movie and you will notice it is the same voice actor as something else you have watched previously. Basically every little girl in any movie that is put on TV will have the same voice actor as Lisa from the Simpsons. Other times, actors are given voice overs that do not match the original voice, or a combination with the point I was making earlier, like Jim Carey and Bruce Willis getting the same person doing the voiceover in different movies. And this is where my problem comes in: I want to see the Watchmen movie, which opens next week (March 6th), and has the same name in Spanish. It's odd that it is not translated somehow, and I think the closest translation would be "Vigilantes", and in that case the tag line would be "Quien vigila a los vigilantes?". For some reason, movie theaters here do not show movies in the original languages with subtitles, I would not mind watching it like that. Instead, they opt for completely dubbed movies and as I have stated which I find to be detrimental to the movie. On one hand, I really want to see the movie (which looks absolutely gorgeous visually and appears that it will be very faithful to the original material) the week it opens, and on the other I want to wait for the DVD release, where I would be able to see the finished product as it was intended. Decisions, decisions. What do you, my faithful 15 readers, think I should do about this dilemma?


  1. Translations are always weird. I was watching Rashomon once and the dialog was different between the subtitles and the dubbing, which I found very odd.

  2. This was a really interesting read. Didn't realize the differences in Spanish versions of comics.

    It's similar to when I see English versions of manga / anime (I know enough Japanese to make it through stuff like Naruto or Bleach and so on) and then see the English versions with characters renamed John Smith (hyperbole, but it used to be that bad) and something as simple as Sharingan begin translated as Kaleidascope Eyes and Kagebunshin as Shadow Clone Technique or whatever they called it.

    It's technically correct, but doesn't sound right at all to me. I dont see the need to translate proper nouns as direct translations, but it happens all the time. Just something you have to put up with I suppose.

  3. Couldnt find an email for you anywhere Matt, so how about dropping me a line at whenever you get a chance.

  4. @ Eric: Yeah, I've seen that happen as well. Oddly, in translations the subtitles tend to be more accurate, but I also like to watch movies and series with English captions on (it helps me remember the plot and dialogue more) and sometimes the captions aren't always right either. It's usually little stuff, but I have no idea why it happens.

    @ Kirk: Glad you liked the entry, and I sent you an email already. And I have to say did not know you knew Japanese.

  5. I never understood why Spain insists on dubbing everything, at least in my country (Peru) we usually get both the dubbed and subbed version of movies (tough the subbed version is available in less movie theathers and almost never found for animated movies, I guess kids don't know how to read).
    Anyway, I grew up watching the Latin American dub of Marvel and DCs animated series so ocasionally I use those names when referring to the characters with another Latin comic book reader, however, it seldom happens and I'm pretty much used to use the original names save for a few characters or teams (I can't help calling the Fantastic Four los Cuatro Fantasticos or calling Gambit Gambito or Archangel Arcángel, some things are hard to change).

  6. I actually found a theater that plays SOME movies with subtitles, but it's not all of them, and they have less showings. Better than nothing, but I still wish more theaters would do it.