Living the Live A Live Life: Part 2 (Masaru)

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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. If you haven’t read the first part, covering the caveman Pogo’s chapter, you can find it here. Otherwise, let’s continue on with the wrestler Masaru!

The opponent select screen from the Japanese Super Famicom version of Live A Live.
You can choose opponents in any order in this chapter!

Masaru’s chapter, thematically, represents something between Mega Man and Street Fighter, within Live A Live’s grid-based, turn-based JRPG combat system. Masaru’s goal is to fight the leading martial artists in a variety of disciplines around the world, learning their abilities, and becoming worth of the title of “Strongest” as a martial artist. The chapter’s packed with references to martial arts, both real and fictional, and of course Street Fighter itself. As an aside, this game was the first Square game with music composed by Yoko Shimomura, who had previously worked on Street Fighter while at Capcom, and later went on to compose for Kingdom Hearts.

A scan of the Japanese manual for Live A Live, featuring the character art for Masaru and his 6 opponents.
All of LAL‘s character illustrations were done by famous mangaka. This chapter’s are the work of Ryōji Minagawa. A work of his you may recognize is Spriggan, of which a Netflix adaptation was released last month.

The first thing I found noteworthy, here, was that, when naming Masaru, the Japanese text entry field actually defaults to kanji: 高原 日勝 (Takahara Masaru). The name includes the characters for ‘plateau’, ‘sun’, and ‘victory’, which spell out Masaru’s ambitions clearly: he wants to reach the plateau of ‘Strongest’ through victory in the ring. The inclusion of ‘sun’ I think primarily serves to make the name invoke more Japanese pride, since Japan is the land of the rising sun and all.

The Japanese name-entry field for Masaru. His name is written in kanji, unlike other characters'.
The next tab over lets the player input kanji, which is pretty rare in games!

It’s a little funny because from this alone, Japanese players wouldn’t immediately know how to pronounce Masaru’s name. I’ve seen a few interesting guesses from Japanese players, like Kо̄gen Masakatsu, but the manual makes it clear the correct reading is Takahara Masaru.

Because this chapter is, again, fairly light on text, I’m going to go over each of Masaru’s opponents one-by-one. Each of them only has four moves, an introduction, and win/lose quotes. We can go in any order we like, so let’s start with the optimal choice: Moribe Seishi.

Moribe Seishi's pre-fight dialogue.
Beating up an old man right off the bat? What is this, Super Punch-Out!!?

Most of the martial artists in this chapter are thinly-veiled references to real-world martial artists using their same style, and Moribe Seishi is no exception. A user of 骨法術 (koppōjutsu, lit. (bone-breaking art), his name is a play on the name of Horibe Seishi, founder of the koppōjutsu school. As you may have guessed, the style’s premise is that the best way to defeat an opponent is to break their bones fairly quickly, disabling them. Let’s take a look at Seishi’s moves. As with Pogo’s chapter, I’ll show the Japanese text, followed by AG’s, with mine last:

Sumo Slap
Confusing Clap

Trip Up
Leg Sweep

Seishi dashes at Masaru and quickly retreats after landing a strike.
This ability references 猫騙し (nekodamashi), a real-world sumо̄ technique of clapping in front of your opponent’s face to confuse them. Nothing wrong with AG’s translation.
Seishi turns while landing a blow on Masaru from close range.
足払い (ashibarai) is simply a judо̄-type leg sweep.

Rolling Kick

Piercing Blow

Seishi flickers out of view before quickly appearing behind Masaru and dealing major damage.
Seishi flickers out of view and charges through Masaru, reducing his stats.

As you can see, for Seishi’s special moves, Aeon Genesis opted to simply transliterate them. An advantage of doing this is that it gives the moves and Seishi a sense of “Japaneseness”. However, it doesn’t do much for allowing the player to actually understand what’s happening, especially with the SFC version’s simple animations. The last two abilities are the signature moves Masaru is able to learn during this fight, so let’s talk about them in a little more detail.

浴びせ蹴り (abisegeri) is a real-world technique that combines two terms. First, 浴びせる (abiseru), meaning “to pour on”. This is used metaphorically to describe inundating someone with something, like insults, work, or blows. Second is 蹴り (keri), meaning ‘kick’. So, abisegeri is either a powerful single kick from above, or a two-hit barrage of kicks, both achieved by a rolling motion.

Sasuke from the Naruto manga performing one of his signature techniques, the 獅子連弾 (shishi rendan, Lion Barrage).
In the manga Naruto, one of Sasuke’s signature moves, the Lion Barrage, ends in a series of rolling kicks similar to abisegeri.

The other move is slightly more complicated. 痛打 (tsūda) is a regular Japanese term meaning “severe or crushing blow” comprised of the kanji 痛 (pain) and 打 (blow/strike). However, Seishi’s ability replaces the first kanji with 通 (passing through). The new term, 通打, is still read tsūda, but now indicates a strong blow that passes through its opponent. This brings the term more in line with the signature bone-breaking style of koppōjutsu.

For both of these moves, Aeon Genesis chose to simply transliterate the Japanese text. While it’s possible they simply did not know the associated real-world techniques, I think it’s more likely that they chose to leave them as their Japanese readings as a way to preserve a sense of “Japaneseness” for the Western audience. It would be instantly obvious to Japanese players that these are Japanese techniques, and it’s reasonable to want to preserve that. However, since the player is able to use these moves, I think it might make it harder to remember their function.

With Seishi’s bone-breaking moves in his arsenal, Masaru is basically equipped to take on anyone else in the roster. That in mind, we’ll just start at the top, with ナムキャット (Namukyatto):

Namkiat's pre-fight dialogue.
Being nearly untouchable, he speaks to Masaru with a fairly patronizing tone.

Like Seishi, he takes his name from a real-life martial artist. In this case, it’s Muay Thai practicioner Napa Kiatwanchai, who was famous in the late 80s. Kiatwanchai’s name could be written ナパ・キャット・ワンチャイ (napa kyatto wanchai), so namukyatto is essentially a the same name with one letter changed, just like Seishi’s. That in mind, AG’s translation was Namcat, but I prefer the remake’s Namkiat, so let’s go with that.

Namkiat is a Muay Thai user, too, so his moves involve a lot of kicking. There’s only one move of his worth discussing, from a localization perspective: パンチャマキック (panchama kikku).

Namkiat spins before landing a series of blows on Masaru.

A super-high, spinning jump-kick, the Panchama Kick (AG’s translation) is a direct reference to ชูชัย ลูกปัญจมา (Chuchai Lukpanjama), a Muay Thai champion. As with a lot of the obscure references in this game, he was popular in the 70s, and there’s very little modern documentation about him. Still, I did learn that he famously hospitalized Tadashi Sawamura—a Japanese kickboxer known as キックの鬼 (kikku no oni, The Kick Demon) whose fame bordered on celebrity—in a single blow after 3 rounds.

This victory is offset somewhat by the fact the 12-pound weight difference between the fighters was in Lukpanjama’s favor, and that Sawamura was a newcomer to the Thai boxing scene, but even so, it left an impression on Japanese audiences. With over 200 matches, Sawamura had a tremendous win-by-knockout rate (over 90%!) that would raise some eyebrows. He must’ve seemed undefeatable, so it’s natural Lukpanjama’s decisive victory cemented him in the minds of LAL‘s developers.

Tadashi Sawamura delivering a devastating mid-air knee to the face of his opponent, Chuchai Lukpanjama.
Despite his loss, most of the photos of this fight are of Sawamura’s better moments. Here he is delivering a tiger knee to Lukpanjama.

Localizing this reference presents a few problems: for one, Lukpanjama is a real person, and Western publishers are typically squeamish with such direct references. For another, Western audiences surely would have no idea who Lukpanjama is, and would miss the reference. Changing the name to a more recognizable figure for Western audiences just increases the chance of litigation, so either leaving it as is or a total rewrite are probably the way to go.

Great Aja's description on the fighter selection screen.

Next up is グレートエイジャ (gurēto eijya, Great Asia in the AG patch). A professional Japanese wrestler using a lucha libre style, he, too, is believed to be an homage to a real-world fighter (Mutō Keiji). His initial description uses a lot of loanwords, which I thought was neat. In addition to Spanish transliterated into Japanese (such as エル for el), his backstory also uses pro wrestling terms from both America and Japan.

Asia’s bio introduces him as a トップ・ヒール or “top heel” (an American wrestling term used for bad guys) and references his use of ラフ殺法 (rafu sappō, lit. “rough killing technique”), a Japanese wrestling term equating to “foul play” or “dirty tricks.”

In contrast to Aeon Genesis’ translation, which describes Asia’s techniques as “rough,” likely due to the rafu sappō discussed above, the Japanese text describes him using the loanword ‘technician’, giving the impression that his movements are refined and not wasteful, rather than relying on his size and brute strength.

The Red Stone of Aja, as seen in the OP for the 2012 anime adaptation of part 2 of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Battle Tendency.
Although eijya can be read as ‘Asia’, he also shares his name with the red stone of Aja from Part 2 of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, itself referencing a Steely Dan album of the same name. Given the connection of both Part 2 and Great Asia to Mexico, it’s possible the LAL developers intended his name as a reference to this instead of Asia.

In addition to the wrestling fighting styles, the Japanese text also uses his dialogue and moves to give him a “pro wrestling heel” impression. His Japanese pre-fight dialogue has a rare actual swear word, as opposed to simply rude dialogue, evoking swear-filled rants like those of American wrestler Iron Sheik.

As for the moves, they’re pretty straightforward, so I don’t see a need to compare the translation on any of them in detail. His signature moves are both simple English loanwords of real wrestling moves: トルネードプレス (tornado press) and Fシュタイナー (F Steiner, for Frankensteiner).

I don’t have particular notes on Tula Han or Max Morgan, so I’m going to simply skip to our final selectable opponent, ジャッキー・イヤウケア (Jyakkī Iyaukea), Jackie Iaukea. A large fighter hailing from Hawaii, his bio states he’s failed to reach the rank of 横綱 (yokodzuna, sumо̄ grand champion). Instead, he’s stepped into the world of martial arts.

Jackie Iaukea ass he appears at the start of combat.

As with the other fighters in this chapter, he is a reference to both WWF wrestler Curtis Iaukea and American sumо̄ wrestler Konishiki Yasoshiki; the latter is famous for almost reaching the rank of yokodzuna despite being a foreigner.

There’s a number of interesting choices a localization has to make for this character. First, let’s take a look at his moves (again remembering the JP -> AG -> M.E. template):

Aloha Clap
Mahalopen Palm

Ogre Grip
Unshakeable Reversal

Jackie releases a series of tornadoes while shuffling around on his feet.
This move’s name is a portmanteau of the Hawaiian ‘aloha‘ and the Japanese ‘harite‘, an open-handed slapping technique used in sumо̄.
Jackie does a 360 degree spin while tossing Masaru up slightly.
This is a hard one to localize. It’s a combination of ‘unmoving’ and ‘reversal’, but with a prefix literally meaning ‘demon’ that is metaphorically used to mean ‘frighteningly powerful’.
Jackie uses a simple striking move on Masaru.

The last two moves present problems of their own. Looking at 突き (tsuki, lit. thrusting, lunging), you might think its translation is pretty straightforward, but Live A Live has specific constraints that make it interesting. Being an SNES game, space was at a premium, and many moves are shared between multiple characters as a result. This happens in a lot of games, and usually doesn’t present much trouble in localization.

The problem with doing this in Live a Live is that, because of the massive variety of settings, a localization that works for one character may seem weird for another. Enemies using claws, swords, and even lasers may all share a cutting move, and choosing the best word for all three sometimes isn’t possible.

Now, I’ve buried the lede a little bit here, but the actual problem here is that ‘thrust’ is a perfectly acceptable translation for all scenarios this move is used in. The only two characters in the entirety of Live a Live with access to the move are Jackie and Yun, a child with no combat training. The problem is, having played the demo, I know the remake has actually changed Yun’s tsuki to something more poetic:

The remake's localization of Yun Jou's moves. The relevant move has been localized as Hardship's Strike.
Yun’s version of the ability from the remake’s kung fu chapter.

Yun is in the Kung Fu chapter, and many of the moves there are named poetically to fit the kung fu theme. Yun, however, was unique in that his martial arts abilities are nothing special. For that reason, his starting moves were a simple ‘Thrust’ and ‘Kick’, and, in my opinion, did not need such a flowery rewrite.

As it stands, I’m very curious how the official localization will handle Jackie’s version of the move. A few abilities in this chapter have fairly straightforward names, so I personally think ‘Hardship’s Strike’ is even less fitting, here. The most likely outcome, I think, is that the two moves will have separate names, as the space limitations aren’t really a concern on the Switch.

Similarly, 大激怒岩バン割り (о̄gekidoganbanwari, lit. great bedrock-dividing rage) is shared between Jackie and a robotic ninja! The demo hasn’t shown us what the ninja’s version is called, yet, so we’ll have to wait with bated breath for that one, as well.

Jackie jumps high into the air, sending debris flying.

The final note for Jackie requires a little warning. It involves an English shorthand for ‘Japanese person’ that became a racial slur during World War II. The word appears next to something I very much want to talk about, so it’s unfortunately unavoidable, here. That being said, here’s a screenshot:

Jackie's defeat dialogue in the Japanese Super Famicom version of Live A Live.
Aeon Genesis: “Ugh… the ringside rope…!”

When defeated, Jackie addresses Masaru with this term, and then follows with omae saidoroppu ne…! (“You’re the siderope, right…?!”) The impression given by Jackie overall is that, despite his size, strength, and sumо̄ status, he’s somewhat stupid. So, he’s made a couple major mistakes in his defeat, here. Aside from using a slur in place of Masaru’s name, he’s also used the term ‘siderope’.

I’ve seen a few Japanese players confused by the meaning of this phrase, so I’m sure English-speaking readers are as well. Remember how we discussed yokodzuna, the highest rank of sumо̄? The kanji that make up the term (横綱) literally mean ‘sideways’/ and ‘rope’. This refers to the iconic rope belt the yokodzuna is allowed to wear!

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess' Cor Goron preparing to sumо̄ wrestle Link while wearing a cloth belt.
Sumо̄-using characters’ designs will often incorporate a unique belt to convey their status as the best at what they do, like Gor Coron from The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.

So the joke here is that Jackie is using the direct English translation of yokodzuna to refer to the rank, and sounds pretty stupid while doing so. I think Japanese players may also get a bit of national pride from humbling a foreigner using a slur against them as well. If I were a betting man, I’d wager that the slur will remain in the Japanese version of the remake, but the line will get rewritten completely in the official localization, as it did in Aeon Genesis’ patch.

After defeating all six fighters, you may be wondering how the chapter ends. Obviously, it doesn’t just send the player back to the main menu, but I think until the remake comes out, I’ll refrain from spoiling the conclusion. I have a whole lot to say about it, though, so check back after the remake releases, and I’ll close this chapter (and the others) out! For now, feel free to take a look at part 3’s Oboromaru, the ninja tasked with protecting the future of Japan in the Bakumatsu period.

Did the article help you understand how martial arts are treated in Japanese media? I think quite a few concepts in this chapter see broader use in games, anime, and films coming from Japan! If you can think of more examples, let me know, below. Also, if you want to keep abreast of newly-posted articles, like the one tomorrow covering the Shinobi chapter, follow me on Twitter for updates as soon as they come out.

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