Living the Live A Live Life: Part 5 (Sundown & Cube)

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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 breakdown of the SNES release and fan translation of Live A Live, in preparation for the upcoming remake. If you missed it, you can read the previous article (the kung fu master) here. The first part (the caveman Pogo) can be found here, while a list of all parts can be found here. Continuing onward, today we have a double-feature: the Old West cowboy The Sundown Kid and the far-future robot Cube! Before going back to the future, we’ll start around 1885 and follow the Kid’s journey.

Promotional art for Live A Live's Super Famicom release drawn by Ishiwata Osamu.
Once again the character illustrations were done by a Shōgakukan Award-winning mangaka. This time it’s Ishiwata Osamu, creator of BB and HAPPY MAN.

The Sundown Kid is a roaming cowboy, a legendary gunslinger with a bounty on his head. After ending up in a remote town, he learns it’s being extorted by a gang known as the Crazy Bunch, and offers to teach the townsfolk how to defend themselves from their oppressors.

As with most chapters, the story contains a lot of elements inspired by history, films and TV shows in the same setting. Unlike most chapters, since the inspiration in question is American, I can assume readers have at least a passing familiarity with it, so I’ll just skim over the details you may already know. Obviously, Sundown’s name itself is a fairly direct reference to The Sundance Kid, who was himself a member of Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch.

Sundown’s design is redolent of Clint Eastwood’s appearance in the Dollars trilogy. As you may be aware, there is some controversy over Fistful of Dollars, as it is almost beat-for-beat identical to Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo. Despite Kurosawa successfully suing on basis of the films’ similarity, the Dollars films were well-received in Japan. So well-received, in fact, that they were perceived as a genre shift for westerns as a whole. Critic Nagaharu Yodogawa wrote that Fistful of Dollars was not a spaghetti western, but rather a macaroni western, as it made spaghetti westerns look “thin” in comparison. Since then, マカロニ・ウェスタン (makaroni wesutan) has stuck as the name of the genre in Japan.

A Japanese DVD release of A Fistful of Dollars, billed as part of the "Macaroni Western masterpiece film DVD collection".
A Japanese DVD release proudly proclaims Fistful of Dollars to be the first in the macaroni western genre.

While Eastwood serves as the inspiration for Sundown’s character, the events of the chapter more closely resemble 1953’s Shane. To a degree, Westerns are all similar, but Shane was quite popular in Japan, and some of the scenes bear striking similarity, like the barfight that we’ll discuss later. It seems very likely to me that that film serves as the basis for much of the chapter.

Localizing this chapter presents a particular challenge. The Japanese writers needed to capture a Japanese’s person’s interpretation of a specific era of American history, and the localizers then needed to translate that from Japanese to English, retaining the same impression. In general, the Japanese dialogue is idiomatic and littered with English loanwords, but of course, English words are normal in an English release! To understand the thought process that goes into localizing such a work, some years ago I contacted Legends of Localization‘s Mato, who did the brunt of the translation work on the chapter back in 2001. Here’s his response:

First, I’m fairly certain that Gideon Zhi did some text editing/polishing for the second patch, so it’s possible some of what you’re referring to was his work. But I seem to recall going for that old west vibe in my initial translation too. Japanese doesn’t really have a “Wild West” speech style, so I’m pretty sure it’s all just a bunch of rude guys yelling at each other. But since the scenario takes place in a very American setting, it felt natural for the text to reflect that.
Basically, it’s along the lines of what I call “reverse localization“. In this case, we’d start by saying, “Let’s pretend this text was originally written in English and now we’re looking at the Japanese translation of it. With that in mind, what would the original English text have looked like given what the Japanese translation looks like?”
Again, it’s been a very long time, but that’s probably the thinking I went with. And since I grew around all that Wild West stuff, I was familiar with a lot of the phrases that comes with that theme.

Mato, via e-mail

I think the concept of reverse localization is pretty much a perfect fit for this chapter (and the remake staff seems to think so, too). With the idea in mind that an exact match to the Japanese text wasn’t really the intent, here, let’s take a look at some of the changes.

A GIF showing the introduction to Sundown's chapter, as he's confronted by Mad Dog in the badlands.

After a brief scene of Sundown’s wanted poster being hung in a bar, the chapter opens with our hero riding on horseback through the badlands. On his way, he’s stopped by Mad Dog, a fellow gunslinger looking to collect on the bounty on Sundown’s head. Since Sundown doesn’t talk all that much, we’ll focus on Mad Dog’s dialogue, instead. In fact, let’s start with the very first thing he says:

JapaneseAeon GenesisDirect Translation
よう しばらくだな!Hey, s’been a while!Yo! Long time no see, huh!
そんなカオするんじゃねえよ。Don’t look so down.Y’know, you don’ have to make
a face like that.
My trusty friend here’s gonna
put the final period on your
little ol’ life.
I’m about to punch a period in
your life on the lam, after all.
かんしゃされて しかるべきだと
[Mad Dog dismounts]
I’d think you oughta be a mite
bit thankful.
I think some gratitude is in
order, wouldn’cha say?
抜きな….Don’t run away, now…Putting that aside…
I’m Mad Dog, after all! I can’t
let yer yellow-belly get itself
killed by jes’ any ol’ varmint.
丸腰のヤツを 殺っちまう
[Mad Dog approaches Sundown]
Wouldn’t be good fer business.Wouldn’t do for someone as
great as me to get that there bounty
by bumping off an unarmed feller.
[Sundown dismounts]
How many times
we done this…
I wonder how many times this
makes. Facing off against ya….
へへ….Heh heh….
Almost feels like we’re
sweethearts or something,
Now’days we feel like
a pair of lovers, y’know?
だが それも….But that’s also…But… even so…
[Mad Dog draws his gun]
[Combat begins]
… gonna end today!Today’s the end!

I’d say Mad Dog’s speech is pretty typical of rough-yet-easygoing characters like him. The most strongly-dialectical aspect is the slurred conversion of -ai to ē in his speech, as seen with じゃねえ (janē). Ordinarily, it would be pronounced more like janai, and means (oversimplification warning!) something like ‘is not’. Mad Dog also refers to Sundown as anta—a shortened version of the second-person pronoun anata—showing little respect or formality. While they are acquainted with each other, unless you’re close friends this is a really rude way to refer to someone. Third, the sentence-ender ze is like a harsher, manlier version of yo, used to emphasize things the listener should pay attention to.

In addition to the above, when saying he’ll be the one to claim the bounty on Sundown’s head, Mad Dog refers to himself in the third person, with the -sama honorific. It’s generally considered polite and humble to refer to oneself indirectly with a pronoun in Japanese, and one should certainly never attach honorifics to oneself. Violating both rules in this way betrays a massive ego on Mad Dog’s part. On top of that, –sama is typically reserved for one’s superiors. Using it on yourself indicates that you think you’re so great, you’re automatically the superior of everyone else!

Here’s a couple characters you might be familiar with that have similar speech patterns.

Randy Orlando ass he appears in the opening cinematic for Trails from Zero.
The laid-back playboy Randy Orlando from the upcoming Trails from Zero typically slurs his –ais into –ēs to demonstrate how casual and cool he is.
Dio Brando as he appears in the memetic "It was me, Dio!" scene from part 1 of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood.
If you could summarize JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure’s antagonist Dio Brando with one word, it would be ‘megalomania‘. So egotistical he thinks of himself as a god, it’s no wonder he not only refers to himself in the third person, but uses the -sama honorific when doing so.
Asuka Langley-Sōryū from Neon Genesis Evangelion asking Shinji if he's stupid.
Neon Genesis Evangelion‘s ill-mannered Asuka often asks Shinji “Are you stupid?” with the phrase “Anta baka?” to show how little she thinks of him.
Cloud Strife as he appears in the opening of 2020's Final Fantasy VII Remake.
Final Fantasy VII‘s Cloud Strife is a bumpkin-turned-bad-boy who also ends his sentences with ze when he wants to sound tough.

As for the word choice itself, I think it’s likely the Japanese writers consulted an English-to-Japanese dictionary for some terms, like 殺る (yaru), which is equivalent to ‘to do in’ or ‘to bump off’, rather than the more straightforward 殺す (korosu), ‘to kill’. There’s also ヤツ (yatsu), a casual way of referring to a person usually translated as “fellow”, emphasized by the use of katakana (basically italics in this case). It seems reasonable to me that they got that one directly from ‘feller’, as seen in tons of cowboy movies. Most of the chapter is written this way, so I think the reverse localization tactic was right on; the Japanese staff seem to have done nearly the same thing!

There are some minor errors in the Aeon Genesis translation, like mistranslating soremo as “that’s also” rather than “even so,” but I don’t think they negatively affect comprehension too much. Beyond that, differences are largely stylistic, word choice-related ones. Most of the chapter feels about the same, and I don’t feel a need to go over every single line of dialogue, in this case. The only other note I’ll add is that sometimes the dialogue errs on being a bit TOO punched-up, but I have a bias against that, and it’s hard to strike the balance just right.

After the encounter with Mad Dog, Sundown arrives in a town and goes to the bar, where he has an encounter with a member of the Crazy Bunch I mentioned earlier. After dealing with him, it’s revealed that the town is in desperate need of protection. Rather than simply take on the entire Crazy Bunch himself, it’s decided Sundown will enlist the townsfolk to set traps, teaching them to stand on their own two legs and defend themselves.

The next segment of the game has Sundown scouring the town for anything that can be used in a trap, and assigning members of the town to go set them up, while he continues his search. So, let’s take a brief look at some of the townsfolk you’ll be protecting, as well as the traps they set.

The bar interior as it appears in Live A Live's Super Famicom release. Sundown is approaching a group of local men.

The four characters pictured here are named ウェイン (Wein), ジェンマ (Jemma), クリント (Kurinto), and セザール (Sezāru). Aeon Genesis’ translation of those names are Wayne, Gene, Clint, and Gibson. For Wayne and Clint, the translations are 1:1, with both versions clearly intending to evoke famous cowboy actors John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. You might be scratching your head over the other two, though.

For Gene and Gibson, they may be intended as references to singing cowboy Gene Autry and rodeo champ “Hoot” Gibson, two slightly-less-famous American cowboy actors. It’s also possible they refer to Gene Wilder (Blazing Saddles‘ Waco Kid) and Mel Gibson (who played the eponymous lead of Maverick). At a glance, Gene and Gibson obviously bear no phonetic resemblance to Jemma and Sezāru. I think the most likely explanations are that AG either figured western audiences wouldn’t get these references, or didn’t get them themselves. The Japanese name Jemma is definitely a reference to Guiliano Gemma, famous for playing the lead role in the Ringo series of films. Meanwhile, Sezāru most likely refers to César Ojinaga, a Spanish actor who was far more well-known in Japan than America.

The bar interior as it appears in Live A Live's Super Famicom release. Sundown is approaching a trio of mariachis.

Next, we have the mariachi trio Sancho de los Panchos. The band is named for the players, Sancho, Delos, and Pancho, who provide most of this chapter’s music! Each Spanish-speaking member has a distinct personality, such as Delos, whose goofball antics include speaking Italian (“Vongole bianco!”) even though he’s ostensibly from Mexico.

The fan translation kept most of their lines the same, tonally, though some of the specific wording changed. The Italian line, for example, has changed to “Hula!”, perhaps so that it could be more easily recognized that it’s not Spanish at all. By the way, the group itself is named as a reference to Trio Los Panchos, a band that was popular in the 60s and 70s. I’m sensing a pattern with some of the references in this game….

The last town member I wanted to point out was the kid, Billy. Billy himself isn’t too notable, though I’d say he gets punched up the most overtly in the AG patch. What is notable is the unique trap the player can set with Billy, a weapon called パチンコ (pachinko). While the term probably conjures an image of the gambling machine in your head, it’s not an anachronism! Both the machine and this item derive their name from the small metal balls they fire; ko as a suffix indicates that they’re small, while pachin is the sound they make when being fired and striking something. If you’re having a little trouble imagining that sound, it might be easier to understand when you realize the term can also refer to a small gun, as well as a slingshot. The fan translation correctly named this item Slingshot in English.

And that’s about as far as we can take Sundown’s chapter without spoilers. Ordinarily, I’d round out the article here, but I have so little to say in the next chapter that I think I might as well fold it into this article. In the distant future, the robot Cube is helping his human crewmates transport a secret, precious cargo.

This chapter’s mangaka is Tamura Yumi. She’s probably best-known today for 7 Seeds, which got an anime adaptation in 2019, though Basara was popular at the time of release.

A chapter with essentially no combat, Sci-Fi resembles a visual novel in all but appearance. In appearance, however, it unmistakably resembles the Alien series of films, with its long, hauntingly-lit, circular hallways. It also has visual elements evoking HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and references to Star Wars and Star Trek. The joke of the chapter is sort of that, when things go wrong, there are so many sci-fi elements that it’s hard to figure out exactly which sci-fi trope is threatening the crew.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to talk about this chapter at all without spoiling it, so I’m just going to cover two interesting quirks of Japanese from the very beginning of the chapter. First, when Cube is first activated, his creator introduces himself as カトゥー (Katū), spelled Kato:

Kato introduces himself to Cube in the Japanese Super Famicom release.
This is one of the few names in this game I don’t know the reference to. If you get it, leave a comment!

If you don’t know any Japanese at all, this may not seem that strange, but it actually takes advantage of a unique nuance of Japanese loanwords.

By default, Japanese has around 50 kana, which follow a consonant-vowel pattern combining 9 consonants with 5 vowels (a i u e o, ka ki ku ke ko, ra ri ru re ro, etc.). There’s also a few “voiced” variants that slightly modify the sound (ka -> ga, to -> do, etc.), but that’s about it. As you can imagine, when trying to convey sounds in other languages, this can be quite limiting. So, Japanese has one more trick: small kana.

Small kana allow a bit more variety to the sounds by forming either an in-between sound between two vowels, or a new consonant-vowel pair, entirely. For example, in Japanese, there is normally no distinction between the ‘f’ sound and the ‘h’ sound. ふ represents a sound between hu and fu. But what if you need to differentiate between ‘horse’ and ‘force’? For that, we need small kana. ホース (hōsu) is the loanword for ‘horse’, while フォース (fōsu) is the loanword for ‘force’. フォース takes the kana for hu/fu and adds a small o to the end. When hu is modified by a small kana, Japanese speakers know it’s meant to use the ‘f’ sound rather than the ‘h’ sound.

Yoko Belnades introduces herself to Soma Cruz in Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow.
If the nuance of small kana and name localization interests you, we have an article about how difficult ‘Belnades’ was to localize.

With that, let’s look at Kato’s name. Ordinarily, a name like ‘Kato’ would be given as something like カト (Kato), pronounced like ‘kah-toe’. You probably assumed Kato’s name was pronounced that way, in fact! In actuality, the small ゥ after the ト modifies it to be pronounced identically to ‘2’! This sound can be more-or-less conveyed by the kana ツ (tsu), but トゥ has one more advantage: It also emphasizes that the romanized spelling is unmistakably ‘to’. You’ll see this often in transliterated English phrases, like タイム・トゥ・ゴー (time to go)!If you’re unconvinced, check out the Japanese voice acting for Kato’s introduction in the remake:

The other major point is also katakana-related. A lot of the text in this chapter is presented on a computer screen. In Japan, it’s common for sentient robots and computers to speak using extra katakana, which is “sharper” and perceived as inorganic due to its angular shape. Characters like Robo from Chrono Trigger use katakana for things like the personal pronoun watashi (ワタシ instead of わたし) or the declarative copula desu (デス instead of です). In English, we tend to localize this by having robots speak in HYPHENATED-CAPITALIZED-SENTENCES, or adding something like -beep- or *bzzt!* to the ends of their sentences.

Japanese dialogue from HVC-09/Spyborg in Star Fox 64.
HVC-09 (Spyborg in the West) from Star Fox 64‘s Sector X speaks in a mix of only kanji and katakana, even when hiragana would be appropriate.

The computer in this chapter is an extreme case: all of its text is katakana. This detail is likely inspired by the analog vision of the future from films such as Alien. See, until the late 1980s, most Japanese computers used the JIS X 0201 display standard, which was only capable of displaying Roman characters and katakana, not kanji or hiragana. Usually, the inclusion of kanji makes it easier to separate things like prepositions from vocabulary, so this makes it pretty annoying to read! Just take a look at this side-by-side comparison of the first screen of the chapter, contrasted with what it might have looked like if it were written the “normal” way:

The very first text to appear in the Super Famicom Live A Live's Sci-Fi chapter, side-by-side with what it would look like if it used kanji where appropriate. The kanji version is comprised of far fewer characters.
There’s about half as much text on the right!

The difference probably isn’t immediately obvious if you don’t speak Japanese, but the meaning of the text is far more readily apparent on the right. The very first word, senmei, could be anything from ‘vivid’ to ‘declaration’ to ‘explanation’, but its actual meaning is ‘ship name’. Using context, it’s usually apparent after a bit of thought what the correct interpretation is, but this process is taxing for a non-native speaker, especially when you’re not sure if you even know the word being used. I honestly expect there’s some mistranslations in both AG’s release and the remake owing to this, but I haven’t exhaustively compared them.

That about wraps up this pair of chapters! The sixth and final article in the series is the mecha-inspired near-future chapter, featuring the psychic biker-buster Akira as our lead character! Also, after the Live A Live remake releases, I’ll be back with a quick postmortem that has full spoilers. If you want to know when that goes up, follow me on Twitter!


  1. “[Kato] is one of the few names in this game I don’t know the reference to. If you get it, leave a comment!”

    As someone who is sort of a Trekkie, I think I can explain this reference. Commander Sulu’s name was changed to Kato in some Japanese dubs.

  2. How does the bit for Cube’s intro from AG’s translation “Since you’re round… how about… Rover! Like an exploration vehicle!” work out? I know the Remake goes with “Roundy” for this scene.

    1. Kato initially suggests the name 「ころ」 (Koro), which is a rolling onomatopoeia. However, he rejects it because Koro is a common element of dog names.

      Gorons get their name from this onomatopoeia (goro being like a heavier roll), and you might be familiar with Koromaru from Persona 3, just to give examples of where you might’ve seen this elsewhere.

      I think a better alternative to either localization might’ve been something like Spot, which is both a common dog’s name, and circular. But both localizations kinda split the difference.

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