Insomnia | Commentary

In the Name of Consistency

By Alex Kierkegaard / July 10, 2007

I often get asked -- mostly by Americans -- why I insist on referring to Japanese videogames by their Japanese titles. Many of them are offended when they see me referring to Ghosts 'n Goblins as Makaimura, or to Virtua Tennis as Power Smash. This alienates them; they see it as pretentious and elitist.

My standard reply is, "How would you feel if I started calling American movies by their Japanese names?" Will Smith's 2005 movie Hitch, for example, is called Saigo no Koi no Hajimekata in Japan. How would you feel, I ask them, if I went around calling it that?

They usually come back at me with something to the effect that, "If you are discussing the movie in Japan with Japanese people you should use its Japanese name, but when you are talking about it in America with Americans you should use its American name".

But see the thing is that I am not in America and I am not addressing Americans -- at least not exclusively. Granted, in the site's statistics reports the US is always first, but then Japan is second and Germany is usually third, and there are people from more than two dozen countries visiting here on a regular basis.

And if Americans are annoyed by this practice, how do you think Japanese readers would feel if I started referring to their games by titles dreamed up by Western execs at five a.m. while laughing hysterically and snorting cocaine off the butts of naked call girls, all expenses paid by their company's marketing department? (Some of the names they come up with can only be justified if they are on drugs -- the Ghosts 'n Goblins and Mobile Light Force series being two flagrant examples.)

And should I refer to Kimi no Tame nara Shineru as Feel the Magic: XY/XX (its American name) or as Project Rub (its European and Australian name)?

Or how about the Chinese or Korean titles of many Japanese games? Why not use them instead? (There are people from China and Korea reading this website too, you know.)

But the fact is that just as I couldn't care less what they decide to call Trusty Bell in Tajikistan, I couldn't care less what they decide to call it in America either. This is a Japanese game and I will call it by its Japanese name until the end of time, just as I plan to keep calling American games by their American names. For a website targeted to an international readership, covering games from across the world with complete disregard for national borders and arbitrarily drawn-up regions, this is the only sensible choice. Each game will be referred to by its name in its country of origin, with alternate titles always listed under the "Also known as" sections of individual reviews and archive pages.

There are three more good reasons for this choice:

1. I always make sure to review the original versions of games, so when I discuss Power Smash 3 it's because that is the game I played. If I called it Virtua Tennis 3, to please the Americans and the Europeans, I would end up lying, because the fact is that I've never actually played Virtua Tennis 3.

2. Oftentimes I write about games long before they are picked up by Western publishers for localization, and therefore have no idea what titles those games will eventually be given. What am I supposed to do in those cases -- refrain from talking about them until they are picked up? What about those that are never picked up? Or do I review them first and then go back and edit the reviews once the American or Korean or Tajikistani titles are announced?

3. Academic critics (and serious critics in general) of movies, literature, etc. commonly discuss works using their names in their countries of origin. Moreover, the titles of many foreign movies (Rashomon, Au revoir, les enfants, L'avventura et al.), simply enter the English language, without at any point being changed to something different in English. All of this stems from respect towards the original authors and their work, and a desire to remain as faithful to them as possible. The moral is that, if you want people to start taking videogames a bit more seriously, the best way to go about it is to start taking them a bit more seriously yourself.

So there's no pretentiousness or elitism involved here -- only common sense.