At the request of Twitter (or is it 𝕏 now…?) user @RadioTails, we have another Sonic article! This time, the subject is Dr.
Robotnik Eggman’s biography in the manual for Sonic Heroes. Let’s get right into it:
I think just about anyone should be surprised to hear Eggman described as “a romanticist, a feminist, and a self-professed gentleman.” Well, maybe not the “self-professed” part. The question is, of course, does the Japanese manual say the same thing? Check it out below:
An evil genius scientist who, as his name suggests, has an egg-like body. This super-genius who takes pride in his IQ of 300 is an authority in the field of robotics. Despite being a so-called “evil genius scientist”, he has a fundamentally childish personality (?) At any rate, he loves “world domination.” Although he’s failed many times in the past, the scale of each world domination campaign he comes up with is grander than the last! Sonic—who’s always a thorn in Eggman’s side—is truly his eternal rival. Nevertheless, it seems that deep down, there’s a part of him that thinks of Sonic without hatred; there’s even a diligent side to Eggman that makes sure to send formal challenges to Sonic.
The English text for the manual actually gets the gist of things. Hitting the key points of Robotnik’s character while punching up the text gives it that “Saturday morning cartoon” feeling which characterizes the Sonic franchise. Still, there’s absolutely nothing in there about feminism at all. What gives?! Well, as others before me have pointed out, that text comes from the Japanese website for Sonic X:
Though he is an expert on robotics, his childlike naïveté is so great he actually believes he’s capable of conquering the world. He is desperate to make this ridiculous delusion a reality. A romanticist as well as a feminist. A self-proclaimed gentleman, he makes an effort to look good in front of others. His earnest wish is to acquire the Chaos Emeralds and give rise to the Eggman Empire. Though he regards Sonic as his nemesis-for-life, it seems there’s a part of him deep down that thinks of him without hatred.
It’s easy to see that the English bio pretty took these two sentences and added them to the existing description. As for why they felt the need to do so, we can only speculate.
I think the most likely explanation is that, due to differences in formatting, they felt the English bio needed to be a little longer and pulled from the Sonic X bio to pad it out. Other characters’ bios are also a mix of the X & Heroes bios, so it’s definitely not a one-off mistake. As for why Sonic X, both it and Heroes initially released around the same time, so it was pretty much the most up-to-date Sonic media to borrow from.
Though we’ve figured out where the line comes from, I think a lot of readers might be left with the feeling that the words ‘gentleman’, ‘romanticist’, and ‘feminist’ are a tough sell as descriptors of Dr. Eggman. This is a guy whose primary character traits are megalomania and enslaving woodland critters by converting them into death machines, after all.
As it turns out, ‘romanticist’ and ‘feminist’ have multiple meanings in both languages. In the case of ‘feminist’ in particular, those meanings have evolved and expanded greatly over time. I’d like to go over both of those before we wrap things up, here.
The closest match between languages is ‘romanticist‘, so let’s start there. The average English-speaker probably associates the word with lovey-dovey stuff, but that’s actually a subset of one of its two primary meanings. First, it can refer to someone who ascribes to the Romanticism movement in their art or philosophy. Basically, they put an emphasis on freely expressing sentiments, emotions, and ideas, as opposed to using reason and formal procedures to drive philosophy and art. Second, it can describe someone whose imagination tends to be idealistic rather than practical. You can probably see how phrases like “a hopeless romantic” and the association with love play nicely with this second definition.
These two definitions are the primary ways to interpret ロマンチスト (romanchisuto, romanticist) as well. From context, it seems obvious to me that it’s being used as an extension of describing Eggman’s aspirations for world domination as delusional, and Eggman himself as having a childlike naïveté.
In the case of ‘feminist‘, the word used in Japanese is フェミニスト (feminisuto). As the loanword for ‘feminist’, it seems pretty unmistakable, right?
Sometimes, a word changes in meaning significantly as it crosses from one language to another, despite being literally the same word. As an example, the French baguette (meaning rod) can also refer to a conductor’s baton, a really strict person, or even chopsticks! For EN→JP, マンション (manshon) infamously refers to condominiums, despite being the loanword for ‘mansion’. Most readers probably also know that while anime comes from ‘animation’, English-speakers only think of anime as Japanese cartoons.
These easy-to-mistake loanwords are known as ‘false friends‘, and ‘feminist’ can be a pretty confusing one. That’s because the standard definition of ‘one who advocates for equality between men and women’ is, indeed, a valid interpretation of feminisuto.
In the past, however, it was also used to refer to a man who “takes good care of women”; pampering them with gifts, lavishing them with attention & compliments, etc. The earliest example I could find of this use was from 1923, with feminisuto defined as 女性讃美者 (josei sanbisha, woman-glorifier). I think this interpretation is the most likely one, especially with Eggman’s outdated vocabulary. If you imagine a guy saying, “I take good care of all the ladies. I’m a feminist, after all!” you’ll be pretty close to the intended visual.
‘Feminist’ is a pretty loaded word even in English. Unsurprisingly, it seems the world-connecting power of the Internet has helped feminisuto acquire all the connotations ‘feminist’ has in English, positive and negative. While some sects of the Internet disparagingly use the term ツイフェミ (TwiFemi, Twitter feminist) in a way similar to ‘social justice warrior’, Cosmopolitan runs listicles helping women find feminisuto men who’ll be more considerate of them. All told, when describing a man, feminisuto can today be translated as ‘egalitarian’, ‘nice guy’, ‘womanizer’, ‘simp’, and more.
In the end, the impression I get from these bios written circa 2006 is: Eggman is incredibly book-smart, but sorely lacking when it comes to social intelligence. He mistakenly believes he gives off the impression of an aristocratic, enlightened charmer that knocks it out of the park with the ladies. This is downstream of an overall idealism (or naïveté, if you want to look at it that way) that’s downright childlike. This same idealism is what lets him think he could actually take over the world, and probably what gives him the flair for the dramatic that compels him to send calling cards to Sonic when putting his machinations into play.
If you enjoyed the article, share it with to any Sonic the Hedgehog fans you know! See if any of your feminist friends like it, too. Also, please follow us on Twitter for plenty of localization trivia and updates on new articles.
For more another English word that means something different in Japanese, check out this article about how “dynamic” is an insult when used to describe animation. Or, for a complete change of pace, how about seeing how the first puzzle in the first Zero Escape game had to be changed in localization?
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