Living the Live A Live Life: Part 6 (Akira)

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     Cube                                   Akira
            Sci-Fi                                 Near-Future

Kung Fu Master                Sundown                     Masaru             
      Wǔxiá                          Western                   Present Day    

Oboromaru                            Pogo        
Bakumatsu Period                     Primeval         

This is a continuation of my previous breakdown of the SNES release and fan translation of Live A Live, in preparation for the upcoming remake. The first part (the caveman Pogo) can be found here, while a list of all parts can be found here. Our final pre-release chapter is about the biker-busting, mind-reading layabout Akira, in the near future chapter.

Promotional art for Live A Live's Super Famicom release, drawn by Shimamoto Kazuhiko.
The character designer for this chapter is Shimamoto Kazuhiko, who has a storied history even in the west. Shimamoto is responsible for not only the manga adaptation of Kamen Rider ZO, but the character designs in both Ashita no Joe and G Gundam!

Akira is a kid described in Japanese as 超能力者 (chōnōryokusha), a person with supernatural powers, particularly ESP (extra-sensory perception). Over time, it became common to localize this as ESPer or Esper, though I think both are pretty cumbersome terms, and the latter completely fails to convey the original meaning. We’ll touch on this a bit more later in the chapter, but people with these types of abilities are also often described with the English loanword “Psycho”, despite the fact we associate that term with psychopathy, rather than psychics.

Regardless, the chapter opens with a brief tutorial on its mind-reading mechanic, followed by Akira whiling away the day napping on a park bench. His dreams are filled with a flashback to the death of his father, at the hands of a masked member of local biker gang, Crusaders. When Akira awakens, he has a moment to walk around the park, testing out his mind-reading powers, before being assaulted by members of the very same Crusaders gang that murdered his father.

A screenshot of the iconic motorcycle slide from the 1988 animated adaptation of Akira.
A psychic named Akira in a city overrun with bikers? Gee, I wonder where they got that idea from?

The park is filled with some humorous dialogue, usually centered around an ironic disparity between what a character says and what they’re thinking. Stuff like an old man watching a young couple arguing on a date and saying 「いやいや 最近の若いモンは人目もはばからず…。」(“Kids these days have no regard for the people around them….”) while reminiscing in their head about what they and their wife were like when they were young. Most of these lines of dialogue were translated intact, but some was fairly language-specific, such as the argument of the couple themselves:

JapaneseAeon GenesisDirect Translation
Your eyes are as blue as
window cleaner!
Let’s eat Italian food at
the Bay Bridge, Juliana!
Man (Thoughts):
確か 必勝デートマニュアルには
I’m sure that’s what the Dating
Strategy Guide said! Man, I’m
If I remember right, this is
what was written in the Dating Strategy Guide.
何それ~ チョ~ムカつくう~!
What?! How dare you!What the~ Guh-ross! Blehhh!
Woman (Thoughts):

I am SUCH an airhead!!
…. ….
…. …. ….
Not thinking anything.
The man’s pickup line uses a bunch of loanwords, which is a shortcut to sounding “cool” and worldly in Japanese, or at least trying to.

It’s easy to see the dialogue was changed in some places. Thematically, I’d say it’s fine, given that the chapter itself is a send-up to Japanese mecha, tokusatsu, and sentai shows. The closest equivalent for western audiences would have been Godzilla movies, Gundam, and Haim Saban-produced sentai localizations like Power Rangers. All of those are super punched up, so it’s probably what audiences would have come to expect.

Live A Live itself predates even Neon Genesis Evangelion, so mecha as a genre was largely hot-blooded and upbeat when it was written, as opposed to the gloomy, down-to-earth reflection of NGE it would become after the show’s release. The chapter also takes obvious inspiration from tokusatsu-style hero shows like Kamen Rider, which again feature stories about passionate heroes valiantly protecting kids. Released at the height of campy, destruction-loving stories in these genres, this chapter of Live A Live is like a primordial version of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann.

Matsu's introduction in the Japanese Super Famicom release, up to and including his use of his tightly-clenched fist of rage (Pissed Fist in the AG patch).

Anyway, when the Crusaders start harassing Akira, he’s helped out by a character you can’t help but immediately take a liking to. Introduced to us as 無法松 (muhō Matsu, lit. Unruly Matsu), he tells the Crusaders 「通りすがりの…たい焼き屋サンよ!」 (“I’m just passing through… I’m the taiyaki salesman!”) before helping Akira beat them to a bloody pulp.

Wearing a bright red jacket with 男 (otoko, lit. ‘man’) emblazoned on the back, riding a Harley, and sporting a skyscraper-sized pompadour, he is the unmistakable archetype of an aniki-style character. Aniki (兄貴 in kanji) literally translates to ‘big brother’, but it’s used metaphorically by young men to refer to the “leader” of their group, particularly amongst delinquents. If you’re familiar with Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Simon and Kamina’s relationship is similar, albeit more comical.

The eponymous Muhō Matsu from Muhō Matsu no Isshō, played by Toshirō Mifune.

Matsu takes his name from the eponymous lead of 無法松の一生 (Muhō Matsu no Isshō, lit. The Life of Unruly Matsu), played by Toshirō Mifune, who you may know from The Last Samurai. You might know it by its localized name, Rickshaw Man. I haven’t seen it myself; Matthew has described it to me as a film that’s hard to nail down, but generally follows a troublemaker with a heart of gold who eventually assumes the role of a surrogate father figure, much like Live A Live‘s Matsu.

Aeon Genesis’ localization did an excellent job keeping this character’s impression intact. Of course, I can’t mention Matsu without also mentioning his signature move, 怒りの鉄拳 (ikari no tekken, lit. ‘tightly-clenched fist of rage’), which Aeon Genesis localized as Pissed Fist. The name alone does a lot to give the correct impression to the player, and it’s an absolute masterstroke of localization. The fan translation also makes Matsu a bit more talkative, since much of his dialogue is simply “…”, which doesn’t come across the same way in English.

There’s a ton of text in this chapter, but most of it follows this basic pattern. Some type of joke, quip, or wordplay is present in the Japanese, and Aeon Genesis does their best to rewrite it in a way that works for English-speaking audiences. Sometimes the rewrites are unnecessary, in my opinion, but taken as a whole, the overall tone is preserved. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what the remake does with some of the trash-talking.

Staying with the intro, the next thing any comparison must talk about is the chapter’s theme song. As Matsu and Akira head to Akira’s home at the local orphanage, Go! Go! Buriki Daiō! plays, complete with lyrics displayed in time with the instrumental tune. As with Sundown’s chapter, Mato from Legends of Localization did the first-pass translation of this chapter, so I have a tiny bit of inside info on this one. While the final version of the AG patch simply transliterates the theme, Mato did originally intend to properly localize the song, and had written out a version, somewhere. Let’s take a look at what that may have looked like, shall we? Try and read along to the music!

JapaneseAG/TransliterationDirect Translation
「GO!GO! ブリキ大王!!」Go! Go! Buriki Daioh!!Go! Go! Great King Tin-Plate!!
今は昔のバビロニアIma wa mukashi no BABIRONIA(From) the now-ancient Babylonia
はがねの拳が天を突くHagane no kobushi ga ten wo tsukuIts steel fists strike the heavens
異形の魔神を倒すためIgyō no majin wo taosu tameFor the sake of bringing down grotesque evil spirits
怒りで火をともせIkari de hi wo tomoseIgnite with rage
あつい心が呼びさますAtsui kokoro ga yobisamasuIts impassioned heart awakens with a shout:
ブリキ大王 我とありBURIKI! DAIOH! ware to ariGreat King Tin-Plate, to me!
As with the rest of the game, this tune was composed by Yōko Shimomura. According to a July 2004 post on her blog, she’d jokingly written some joke lyrics to the song in an original draft with lyrics like「インコ野郎をブチのめせ!」 (Beat the crap out of that damn parakeet!). Of course, Square Enix wouldn’t be happy if the full thing was released, so that’s all we get.

Obviously, a direct translation is not a suitable localization, but it should at least give you an idea of the meaning, for now. I have a feeling Mato’s version probably matched the meter of the song and rhymed.

Anyway, there’s a lot of specific cultural references in this song. First and foremost, the name buriki is a loanword, the etymology of which isn’t 100% agreed-upon. However, it is used to describe a thin tin plating that was often used for toys like cars and robots in the first half of the 19th century. As for the tune itself, it is an unmistakable homage to Getter Robo and Mazinger Z. Specific terms, like referring to Buriki Daiō’s opponents as 魔神 (majin, lit. demon god, referring to a powerful spirit who does bad things) evoke the super robot genre as a whole, while others are direct references to specific super robot shows, like Daitān 3‘s summoning call, ware to ari. There is absolutely no way most westerners will get many of these references⁠—even at the time of the patch’s release, when mecha’s popularity was at its apex⁠— so I don’t expect they’ll survive the remake’s localization intact.

To round out the article, I think the only appropriate thing is to take a look at one more song in the chapter: PSYCHOで夜露死苦!! (PSYCHO de yoroshiku!!). If you’re a long-time fan of Live A Live, you probably know this song in English as “A Painful Death at the Hands of a Psycho“, a title that is legendary for both its grim darkness and its ostentatious length. While this is the most commonly-accepted name for the chapter’s battle theme, it’s far from the only translation, and it may surprise you to know that it’s certainly not accurate. This is going to be a LONG explanation, but if you’ve made it this far, you like those!

A screenshot of Psycho from the Live A Live OST on Apple Music.
This track is so difficult that whoever did the translations for this album on Apple Music just gave up after ‘Psycho’!

To start with, let’s see how one might come to the conclusion that A Painful Death at the Hands of a Psycho is the right translation. Let’s go character-by-character, eliding PSYCHO, which refers to Akira’s psychic abilities. First is で (de), which is a particle/conjuction that I like to think of as closest to ‘at’, ‘and’, or ‘via’ in English, depending on the context. For the kanji, we have 夜 (yo), the character for ‘night’, followed by (ro), which can be ‘tears’ or ‘Russia’, 死 (shi) meaning simply ‘death’, and lastly 苦 (ku), indicating ‘hardship’ or ‘suffering’.

As you can plainly see, a literal translation wasn’t used here. The first two kanji are totally missing from the final result, after all! But that’s okay, because a literal translation of the kanji wouldn’t have been any closer to capturing the intent. To understand why, we’re going to have to start with the reading alone, yoroshiku.

If you have any knowledge of Japanese whatsoever, you probably have a decent grasp on the meaning of yoroshiku, already. For those who don’t, it’s hard to distill into a single one-size-fits-all translation, but it’s used as a ‘please and thank you’ when a new relationship is beginning. Translated literally, it could mean something close to ‘please treat me nicely’ and ‘let’s make sure this goes well’ rolled into one. It carries an implication of gratitude for something that hasn’t happened yet. It’s often used in business-related concepts, like when starting a new job or a meeting, and for introductions of all types.

A screenshot from Komi Can't Communicate, in which the eponymous Komi is failing to give her introduction to her classmates at the start of the semester.
The bare minimum expected when introducing oneself to peers is your name followed by yoroshiku onegaishimasu. If you can’t manage that, maybe you can’t communicate at all!

As is common in Japanese, the literal meaning isn’t all that’s material, but the context in which it’s used. As I mentioned above, the phrase implies a gratitude for something that has not happened yet, and an assumption that it will go well if everyone does their best to make it fruitful. To that end, it’s also used as a conversation-ender in many contexts. When making plans with a friend, they might say yoroshiku when hanging up the phone, as a “I’m looking forward to it.” When visiting extended family members like an uncle or cousin, they might say お母ちゃんによろしくね (okaachan ni yoroshiku ne) or “Tell your mom I said hi, ok?”/”Give your mother my regards, ok?”

So, how does such a polite, everyday phrase tie into unpleasant ideas like ‘suffering’ and ‘death’? The answer is pretty straightforward: yoroshiku as written in this chapter is biker slang! One of the first things you’ll learn about Japanese is that it seems almost intentionally designed for puns. Kanji typically have at least two readings, and usually many more meanings than that. As a result, it’s common to use kanji for their phonetic reading as opposed to their literal meaning as a joke in casual conversation. Kanji used in such a way are called ateji.

The player character in Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town looking at the TV while the Japanese equivalent of 4:44 is displayed over and over.
This Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town easter egg (which softlocks your game!) comes from a common Japanese pun based on the fact ‘death’ and ‘four’ can be pronounced the same way.

Originating in the 1970s, the term probably derived from slang that arose alongside the pager boom. We have an article planned that goes all into pager-based slang, so I won’t get into too many details, here, but to summarize: much like how English-speakers used ‘143’ as slang for ‘I love you’ based on the number of letters in each word, Japanese people used ‘4649’ as slang for yoroshiku, since the numbers can be read as yo ro shi ku. Around the same time, bikers began writing yoroshiku as 夜露死苦, to sound a little tougher while delivering this pleasantry. I hear nowadays it’s regarded as pretty lame, like the person using it is trying way too hard to look cool. I guess if a guy in America learning Japanese as a second language can explain it, it doesn’t have the same mystique, huh?

So, all that in mind, it’s easy to see why so many have struggled to get the impression of this track’s name across. But what IS the correct translation of PSYCHOで夜露死苦? To be honest, it’s difficult to say there’s one “right” way to do it. The important thing to bear in mind, I think, is that 夜露死苦 is a way of giving someone your regards in a way you think is cool, but will be perceived as trying to be edgy. Something Bart Simpson might say, like ‘smell ya later’ or ‘so long, sucker!’, with a little wordplay mixed in. I think I probably would have settled on ‘So Long, Psycher!’

With that, I think we’re ready to close out the first half of this series. I don’t think there’s more I could go into without spoilers, and I truly hope there’s a lot of people waiting to play this game when the remake releases in just a couple days, so I don’t want to chance ruining their experience!

For now, the week of Live A Live is over, and so are daily updates to the site. But I’ll still post once or twice a week with other articles I’ve got planned! You can keep up with those, as well as stay informed when the remake-focused articles go up by following me on Twitter. In fact, tomorrow, I’ll be publishing an article about how one of Paper Mario‘s tutorials lies to the player in English, but not Japanese. I hope you’ll come back and enjoy it!

One comment

  1. Perhaps something along the lines of “Psycher’s Killer Sendoff”? It’s far from perfect, but it preserves the death aspect, as well as the slightly dated slang. It also sounds slightly similar to “psycho killer”.

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