On the Use of Japanese Honorifics in Fire Emblem Fates and My Policy Going Forward

You may remember way back in the spring of this year that I ran this poll on the site to determine what to do about the use of Japanese honorifics in Fire Emblem Fates. This was due to a reader helpfully pointing out on the Project Help page that Byakuya/Hoshido should perhaps have them preserved since it’s mimicking Japan’s culture, while Anya/Nohr should not because it’s mimicking an outside culture.

After a lot of feedback in terms of voting in the poll, comments here, through e-mail or DM, Reddit comments and so on, I’ve made a decision.

When Byakuya characters use honorifics, I will sometimes leave them in. These sometimes are dependent on a few things:

  1. Do I get the sense that the author is using them as a way of distinguishing them as a means to show Byakuya’s closeness to Japanese culture rather than as a side effect of the usual way of writing in Japanese that you can also see in Anya and other Fire Emblem titles?
  2. Does the character put an unusual amount of importance on treating somebody in a different way than you’d expect and without that little bit of information, it’s more difficult to see how they’re acting?
  3. If those two things, along with the fact that they are a Byakuya character align, then is the use of the name instead of a pronoun also appropriate for translation? That is, sometimes character names in Japanese should be translated as a pronoun in English because it sounds awkward otherwise and there’s often no good way to represent the way Japanese people use names in place of pronouns as a means of social convention.
  4. I will not in any way shape or form translate titles that have equivalents in other languages, such as Princess, Prince, Your Majesty, my liege, Lord, Lady, Count, Earl, General, Boss and so on. This is not unique to Japanese culture and should be translated.
  5. Therefore, this only applies to uses of -san, -sama, -kun and -chan, and if it appears, -senpai, but I don’t think it does in Fates. Contrary to popular belief, -san does not directly correlate to Mr. or Mrs. in English (which these days is more appropriately referred to in Japanese with the suffix -shi) and -sama is not directly equivalent to Lord or Lady or an address to nobility. As in all uses of honor language in Japanese, it’s much more dependent on in-groups and out-groups than it is on the person’s actual status. Therefore, Kamui’s dialogue will be handled on a case to case basis, since this character has a unique perspective from the rest and in any case, I have to translate all three politeness levels anyway.

I realize some people believe that leaving in honorifics, even at this extent will make it sound awkward and dumb and that people will point and laugh. However, I don’t believe it’s appropriate to do a translation by trying to appease others for a reputation. One reader did point out to me in an e-mail that you can see cases of Spanish (ex. senorita), French (ex. Monsieur, Mademoiselle) and German (Herr) terms of endearment or titles left intact in English from time to time depending on the case, so why should Japanese be any different?

That said, I do agree that sometimes it is more than sufficient to translate a sentence with all the tools that are available in English to match the politeness levels and cultural understandings of the Japanese version. If I, a native Japanese person who speaks it as his first language, think nothing is lost in such a translation, then I somewhat doubt that there is something that needs to be preserved.  In such cases, I will continue to translate by context clues.

As such, I will be going back to edit Byakuya characters dialogue to reflect this and continue translating using this new policy. (The older versions that have already been translated will of course be preserved below the version 2.0 translations if you prefer that.) As always, if you’d like to leave any input on the individual translations about whether you think the use of a honorific is appropriate in that case, please leave me a comment. As usual, I will consider your feedback and adjust the translation as necessary.

Thank you very much for all the kind feedback I’ve received on this issue and for helping me make a decision on this. Together, we can make this the best Fire Emblem Fates translation it can possibly be! I welcome all your constructive criticism and feedback in the future too!

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