Sonic the Hedgehog has a strange relationship with racing games. On the one hand, it seems inevitable that a character with speed as his defining trait should be used to push sales of a racing game. But the conclusion of any race seems equally foregone when one of the participants is “the fastest thing alive“, doesn’t it? The obvious solution is to put Sonic and his furry friends in vehicles so they’re on an equal playing field, as in 1994’s Sonic Drift. That way, the whole gang can engage in some super Sonic racing.
In 2006, Sonic Riders released, and reused this premise for the first time in almost a decade. Sonic and friends participate in the EX World Grand Prix—a racing tournament orchestrated by series antagonist Dr.
Robotnik Eggman—aiming to win the grand prize: the Chaos Emeralds. The tournament has each member of the cast ride a hoverboard known as an Extreme Gear. Overall, the game feels like an excuse to put a cool character on a cool vehicle and sell some toys. Otherwise, it’s just an ordinary race! Isn’t that right, Dr. Eggman?
Wait, a second, isn’t that what all races are? This expository line has become somewhat infamous, so I thought I’d check it against the Japanese and see if it’s a mistranslation or if we need to consider putting the doctor in a nursing home. I also figured some additional context might help for those who’ve never played Sonic Riders or don’t clearly remember the introduction to the “Heroes” story mode.
|Japanese||Official Localization||Direct Translation|
|世界の諸君！ 久しぶりじゃな。||Ladies and gentlemen! Welcome everyone!||Ladies and gentlemen of the world! Been a while, hasn’t it?|
|おやおや、どうもみんな退屈な顔をしておるようじゃな。||I hope you’re all ready for a show. We’ve got an exciting event just for you.||My my, it seems there are dull looks on everyone’s faces, aren’t there?|
|ホーホッホッホッホ！||Ho ho ho ho!||Hohh ho-ho-ho-ho!|
|そんな退屈ばかりしておる諸君にとっておきのプレゼントを持ってきてやったぞい！||Since you all seem so bored, I’ve put together a little extra something to spice things up!||I have an ace up my sleeve that I’ve brought as a present for the people who are just so bored!|
|名付けて「EXワールドグランプリ」！||I call it the “EX World Grand Prix”!||It’s called “EX World Grand Prix”!|
|エクストリームギアの世界最速を決定するグランプリじゃ！||A tournament to see who’s the best of the best with Extreme Gear!||The Grand Prix will determine who’s the world’s fastest, with Extreme Gear!|
|ただし……。たんに、世界最速を決定するんじゃないぞ。||Not just a race… But a special race, to see who’s the fastest.||However…. We’re not only determining the world’s fastest.|
|今回、行うレースはルール無用のガチンコバトル。||And… These races are no-holds-barred!||This time, the races being held are no-holds-barred battles without rules.|
|参加者はカオスエメラルドを持ち寄って、見事、優勝したものが、カオスエメラルドを独り占めできるのじゃ！||All contestants pay a simple entry fee of one Chaos Emerald, and the winner takes it all!||Entrants will bring a Chaos Emerald—how splendid!—and the champion can have the Chaos Emeralds all to themself!|
|さあ、ウデに覚えがあるやつらの挑戦をまっとるぞ！||So, let’s see who among you dares to meet this challenge!||Now then, those who have confidence in their speed, fly to the challenge!|
Although the same information is conveyed overall, it seems like Eggman’s speech changed quite a bit in localization. The line about boredom seems like a bit of a non-sequitur without its initial setup, and I think it loses Eggman’s “Saturday morning cartoon villain” vibe that Sonic localizations are usually pretty good at preserving, as I’ve noted before.
However, the most egregious discrepancy is certainly the line that got us looking in the first place. The localization claims that what makes this race special is that it will determine who’s the fastest. In Japanese, Eggman is explaining that the winner won’t just get bragging rights, but all the Chaos Emeralds wagered as well.
The most likely reason for the localization’s mistake is the way Eggman ends his sentences. The bad doctor has a habit of saying じゃ (ja) and じゃな (jana) instead of the standard だ (da) and だな (dana). This—along with his use of the first-person pronoun ワシ (washi)—is due to his use of 老人語 (rōjingo, old man speech). Basically, Dr. Eggman is old enough that words and grammar used when he was first learning how to speak have fallen out of fashion.
While da at the end of a sentence is explicitly declarative, ja can be more ambiguous. Alone, it fills the same declarative role as da: it says something is a certain way. When attached to nai as janai, it can express that something isn’t a certain way (Ringo wa mikan janai, Apples aren’t oranges).
Janai can also be used to seek a response from the listener (kawaii janai?, Cute, isn’t it?), and that’s where things get tricky. Basically, na can function as a truncated form of nai (and so can ne, for that matter!). This response can be confirmation of what was just said, or just a simple reply to make sure the listener is paying attention. Eggman’s really trying to make sure all eyes are on him, because he’s saying something suuuper important.
Unfortunately, because jana and janai are pretty similar, I’m guessing the localizers mistook the janai in the “special race” sentence for jana, and went from there. They had to deal with differentiating his rōjingo from his rhetorical questions, and may have overthought the very straightforward janai in question.
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If you want to know the origin of another headscratcher, consider checking out this article about Tifa’s iconic “Dilly-dally, shilly-shally” line from Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. You’ll learn about mimetic words, which are far more common in Japanese than English. Or how about this article about the supposed mistranslation of a character’s name in the original Soul Hackers?