We’ve touched on the Advance Wars series before, but this time we’re looking at the first game to make it out of Japan: Advance Wars on the Game Boy Advance. To try to ease Western audiences into the franchise, the game featured a comprehensive tutorial and a story mode, things that prior entries Famicom Wars and Super Famicom Wars lacked. The fairly basic story mostly served as a way to drip-feed new game mechanics to the player one at a time in progressively harder maps.
In particular, the eleventh map, “Kanbei’s Error?”, introduces players to airports—properties which can deploy air units such as helicopters, fighter planes, and bombers. In a way games often do, Advance Wars uses its pre-battle dialogue to explain the new game mechanic. During this scene, the protagonist Andy infamously asks, “What’s an airport, again?”
Although the scene’s purpose is obvious, it doesn’t change the fact that the question makes Andy look implausibly foolish. To be clear, there’s no plot device at work, such as amnesia, that would explain it. Andy is, somehow, a commanding officer in an army in a present-day setting with a somewhat shaky grasp on what airports are. This line of dialogue has become infamous, and risen to meme status among the Wars fandom.
For a line that sticks out so much, it’s natural to wonder: is this the result of mistranslation? Or is it a faithful interpretation of an equally stupid Japanese line? Let’s take a look!
Side-by-Side Airport Scene Comparison
The relevant excerpt from the cutscene is presented below, featuring the original Japanese and English scripts, and a basic/literal translation of the Japanese script.
NOTE: in the Japanese version, Andy is named リョウ (Ryō), Sami is named ドミノ (Domino), and Kanbei is named キクチヨ (Kikuchiyo).
|Japanese Script||English Script||Direct Translation|
Kanbei’s got us surrounded!
We’re surrounded by Kikuchiyo’s troops?!
On top of that, we have to
seize properties to win.
What’s more, it seems we’ll need to
capture many properties to win here.
Looks like things are
gonna get rough.
It looks like this situation is
going to become tricky…
But look! This time we have
But this time, in addition to factories,
there’s an airport too, isn’t there!
What’s an airport, again?
“Airport”… remind me what that is?
Airports let us deploy air units!
Airports can produce air units!
Plus, damaged planes and copters
can go there to recover HP.
Also, air units that have received
damage can be replenished at airports!
Oh, OK. Got it!
So, the short answer is, yes, it’s basically the same in the Japanese version. This line is very short, so let’s go through the whole thing, one word at a time.
Word-by-Word Airport Scene Breakdown
The first word, 空港 (kūkō), means airport. After that comes the particle って (tte), which has two possible meanings here. First, it could be an informal quotation particle, indicating that what came before it is a quotation—in this context, Ryō would be quoting Domino saying the word kūkō. This is how I interpreted it in my direct translation. Second, it could be an informal topic marker. English doesn’t have grammatical topics, and attempting to explain it is beyond the scope of this article, but if you interpret it that way, it turns the sentence, very literally, into “As for airports, what are those, again?” This is awkward in English, so this would generally be changed to something like what you see in the official English script.
If that was a lot, don’t worry. That was the most complicated part of the sentence, and the remaining words are simple. なん (nan) means what. The next word, だ (da), is essentially the word is. Lastly, っけ (kke) roughly means “remind me.” Ryō adding this suffix to his question is basically an admission that he was told this before, but forgot. This is the part that the official script turns into the word again.
Particularly knowledgeable Advance Wars fans might be aware that Andy correctly explains what airports do much earlier in the campaign, which makes the scene in “Kanbei’s Error” even more ridiculous. The second playable CO, Max, is introduced in Mission 4, “Max Strikes!” Thus, the player is given the choice to play as this incredibly overpowered new CO, or choose Andy again and subvert the premise of the mission. Each CO has a unique map, and differing dialogue as well.
Most players probably pick Max for this mission their first time around, but the scene we’re interested in only happens if you pick Andy. Annoyed at being assigned to work with a kid, and doubting his ability to lead an army, Max decides to test him on some basic knowledge (again as a plot device to tutorialize the player):
NOTE: in the Japanese version, Orange Star is called レッドスター (Reddo Sutā, Red Star), and the term for commanding officer (CO) is ショーグン (shōgun, general).
|Japanese Script||English Script||Direct Translation|
Cripes! I can’t believe I have to be a
nanny to this little kid…
Tch, why is a brat like this…
I’m not a little kid!
I’m a CO in the Orange Star Army!
I’m not a brat at all!
I’m a Red Star general!
And I don’t need a nanny!
…Whatever that is.
OK, little man, why don’t you tell me
how to use the bases on this map?
Well then, you’d know how to use the factories and ports that are on the map this time, right?
You use the naval base to deploy naval units and the air base to deploy air units.
Factories are places that can produce land units, and ports are for sea units!
Not bad! I’m surprised you know that much.
So even you knew that much, huh?
But if a CO doesn’t have guts,
he’s got nothin’.
But, if a general doesn’t have skill,
he’s not even worth talking to.
Show me what you can do, kid.
I’ll have you show me your power!
The Japanese script doesn’t mention airports (or air bases) at all! In the English script, Max asks generally about the bases on this map, and Andy explains how ports and airports work. But in the original Japanese, Max explicitly asks about factories and ports, and Ryō answers accordingly.
There’s no question which script is wrong here: as established earlier, airports do not appear in the campaign in any map prior to “Kanbei’s Error,” and this map is no exception, having only factories and ports. This error introduces another problem into the script; since Max was doubting Andy’s abilities, it would be out of character for him not to give Andy a hard time for thinking there were airports in this map.
So, yes, it’s true that Andy demonstrates knowledge of airports earlier in the game… but it only happens if Andy is chosen for “Max Strikes!”, and even then only in the localization due to an error. As for why this error happened, I can only speculate. It’s possible that the map used to have airports and the localization was based on an earlier version, or the localizers felt that it would be better to teach the player new information rather than reiterate how factories work at a point when the player should be comfortable with them. The latter decision would be strange, as there’s little reason to tutorialize airports before a map that doesn’t have one. Either way, it’s hard to argue it’s not an oversight.
One other thing about this scene jumps out: the line where Andy admits he doesn’t know what a nanny is demonstrates the same level of obliviousness as “What’s an airport?” This line is not referenced as frequently, probably in part because not many players pick Andy for Mission 4. However, it does indicate that the airport question isn’t a one-off; Andy is consistently characterized as someone missing basic life knowledge. That’s only in the English, though; as you can see from the comparison above, the localization invented it from whole cloth, and there’s no corresponding line in Japanese!
A Trip Overseas
So, what do Japanese fans of the Wars series think of this line? Well, a Google search for the Japanese version of this line doesn’t turn up anything. So, at least in the publicly searchable web, it seems that Japanese fans have never discussed this line even once and it’s simply not a meme over there.
There is, unfortunately, a simple explanation for this: there just isn’t much of a Japanese fandom for this game at all. Nintendo made Japanese players wait for the game for three full years longer than American ones, even though Intelligent Systems is a Japanese developer and it was developed in Japanese. When it finally launched there, it was bundled with its largely superior sequel, Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising, in a package titled Game Boy Wars Advance 1+2.
Worse still, the duology released the exact same week as Dragon Quest VIII, a mainline entry in a series so outrageously popular in Japan that police told the developers to stop releasing new entries on weekdays so kids would not skip school to buy them. Game Boy Wars Advance 1+2 was only the tenth best-selling game of its release week with a mere 18,590 copies, which is less than one hundredth of what DQ8 sold. Seven of the games that outsold it weren’t even new releases that week.
Bizarrely, Wars pivoted from a Japan-exclusive series to a primarily Western series in the span of one release. The most recent entry, Advance Wars: Days of Ruin, launched in Japan as ファミコンウォーズＤＳ失われた光 (Famikon Wōzu DS Ushinawareta Hikari, Famicom Wars DS: Lost Light) nearly six years after America, and it did so in the form of a downloadable Club Nintendo reward. Nintendo apparently had so little confidence in the game’s ability to sell well in Japan that they gave it away for free.
And while the Switch remake, Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp, suffered a very long delay here in the West, it hasn’t even been announced for Japanese release. When Game Boy Wars Advance 1+2 sold poorly, and subsequent Wars games were unable to keep interest in the franchise alive in Japan, it is sadly no wonder why Japanese fans do not discuss the line, even though it is almost equally ridiculous in Japanese.
So, what do you think about the line? Do you think it’s a reasonable device to tutorialize airports, or was there a better way to do it? Are there other localization decisions from the Wars series you’re curious about? Let me know in the comments below, or ask us on Twitter! For another article looking into a line of dialogue infamous among its fans, take at this one about Xenogears‘ infamous reference to “Star Trech.” Or, if you like games by Intelligent Systems, you may enjoy this article about Paper Mario‘s tutorial lying to the player!