BYU Asian Studies Journal


Tasha Layton


BYU Asian Studies, Rurouni Kenshin


Anime is one of the most common forms of entertainment in the United States. Its ubiquitous presence causes some Western viewers to forget that anime is, in fact, foreign film. One of the only things that reminds us of this fact is the strangeness of the scripts, particularly the grammar—a quirky grammar that is often a target for anime critics and comedic imitators. While it is true that the Japanese language used in anime is quite stylized, there are more important explanations for why the English versions sound unnatural. Audiences often think only of the denotations and semantic functions of the words in translation and, therefore, have difficulty understanding why the English is somewhat disjointed. With denotations as the only consideration, translation would of course be simple and the result would be smooth. However, Japanese relies heavily on connotations to communicate, and these are often hard—perhaps impossible—to translate into polished English. In an attempt to maintain as much of the original text’s meaning as possible, translators often sacrifice some naturalness in speech. This sacrifice is noticeably the case in Rurouni Kenshin, an anime and graphic novel series in which the English translation choices are unnatural but meaningful. This paper will compare the original Japanese to its English translation in terms of unique Japanese linguistic components, such as phrases, honorifics, personal pronouns, and a key interjection, to explore the difficulty involved in creating a translation that is faithful to the original script and to note important parts of character and plot development that are lost.