April 18, 2007

"Brigade"? Where'd THAT come from???

Over at Chizumatic, Steven is asking:
How much of the legend, or perhaps "cult" would be more accurate, of Suzumiya Haruhi is the creation of the fansubbers? For instance, the fansubbers have translated the name of Haruhi's club as "SOS Brigade"... ...So where did "brigade" come from? Well, it's funny, of course. But did the original author make it funny, or did the fansubbers make it funny?

I think Steven forgot that the anime ISN'T the source material: the novels are. In the first book, there's an explanation as to why they're using 'brigade' as opposed to group or association... unfortunately, I'm rushed for time and can't find the exact quote right now. IIRC, it goes something like "we don't have enough people to be a group or an association...".

Of course, the version I've read is fan-translated, too, so is therefore suspect, right? Yes, but... the 'offical webpage' of the US anime release is using 'brigade' too, so SOMEONE got something right.

I will point out that two or three fansub groups, working independently of each other, all wound up with the same translation (brigade). No 'regiment', no 'army', no 'squadron' (actually, that one would have been funnier)...
'...and I said it's the SOS Brigade, so it IS.'

UPDATE: Steven responds, saying that since the source could have been a fan-translated effort, it may very well be wrong, which I acknowledged. However, I'll point out that, without actually having the original novels (in the original Japanese), we don't really know. Either way, it certianly appears that the various companies involved accept it.

Posted by: Wonderduck at 02:07 AM | Comments (14) | Add Comment
Post contains 258 words, total size 2 kb.

1 My guess is that someone looked in their dictionary and found uncommon words like ???? (kuuteiryodan = "Airborne Brigade") and ??? (shouboudan = "fire brigade") and thought "brigade" sounded cooler than more obvious choices, no doubt on the theory that Haruhi rejects the ordinary.

This probably happened when the first preview came out, well before multiple groups started fansubbing the actual series.

I'd say the most likely words would have been association, gang, team, or band, not anything with a military slant.


Posted by: J Greely at April 18, 2007 06:44 AM (9Nz6c)

2 Sounds reasonable to me, particularly since I don't know Japanese, save for the few words I've picked up via anime.

In other words, I don't know Japanese.

Posted by: Wonderduck at April 18, 2007 09:10 AM (svIB9)

3 Well, my first thought was "what does the Japanese military call a brigade?" Based on J.Greely's comment, I'd say they were headed in the right direction. However, if Wikipedia is to be believed, "dan" is better translated as "division."

At a guess, the fansubbers selected Brigade, because it is, in English, the only possible mostly military term around the appropriate size. "Regiments" are smaller, "Battalions" smaller yet, and "Platoon" just isn't grandiose enough for Haruhi. "Company" and "Division" are too easy to confuse with their civilian meanings.

Brigade somewhat ambiguous; it also has civilian uses: "bucket brigade" etc., where military regimentation is only implied. If there was any of the modern Japanese anti-military mindset at work, this might explain part of it. (A longshot, I know.)

In the end, "Save the World by Overloading It With Fun Haruhi Suzumiya Division" sounds a bit too corporate, even if it's more accurate.

Posted by: ubu at April 18, 2007 09:57 AM (dhRpo)

4 I think Steven's mistake here is that he assumes the original author must have had some specific English translation for SOS-dan in mind. I'd suspect the author didn't even consider the issue.

And I don't buy the idea that "brigade" is an erroneous translation run amok, given that Kadokawa is using it to market the property in North America. After all, Kadokawa holds the distribution rights to both the novels and the TV series in Japan. It's their property. Always has been. If they decided on "brigade", then "brigade" it is. I suppose it's possible they merely followed the lead of fansubbers, but if no official translation existed in the first place, why not? "Brigade" is a perfectly reasonable translation, after all.

Posted by: Jeff Lawson at April 18, 2007 10:57 AM (YUrs6)

5 What Jeff said.

IIRC there were three different groups which released Haruhi fansubs, but two of them didn't start until well into the broadcast, when a.f.k.'s translation was already established. It's still a fine translation, though; one should remember that "literal" doesn't always mean "accurate".

Posted by: Andrew F. at April 18, 2007 12:44 PM (Whe4p)

6 I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that Jeff did a better job of saying what I meant than I did.

It's writers like him (and Steven) that make me want to just chuck the whole blogging thing sometimes... except for the F1 thing, I'd say there wasn't anything worth saying that they don't say better than me.

Posted by: Wonderduck at April 18, 2007 01:17 PM (cQPTX)

7 Well I just cracked my Nelson to see what the entry for dan #940 had in it, and nowhere does the word "brigade" appear in the definition. But I'm ok with brigade, given how militaristic Haruhi is about ordering about her subordinates.

Posted by: Will at April 18, 2007 04:12 PM (olS40)

8 Speaking as a dilettante student of the military, in the US a regiment and a brigade are the same thing. It's the echelon between battalion and division and US army divisions have three of them. In the last hundred years sometimes that echelon was called a "regiment" and sometimes a "brigade" but it was always commanded by a brigadier general.

However, the word "brigade" has been seriously abused in recent years, and subjected to rather serious inflation in some cases for propaganda purposes. For instance the "al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades" (note the plural) is likely much less than a battalion in total strength, and probably was less than a company when the name was chosen.

The word is a favorite among irregulars, especially Arab militant groups. Every once in a while a new group shows up and claims to be thus-and-so brigade; in a lot of those cases the total we never hear from them again, and the likelihood is that the "brigade" was one or two guys who forged a threat letter.

So the word "brigade" leaves a sour taste in my mouth. That, combined with the fact that it actually isn't a correct translation of "dan", was why I reacted to it the way I did.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at April 18, 2007 05:14 PM (+rSRq)

9 If the Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi were a military drama, I can see how the distinction between "brigade" or "division" or whatever would be relevant... but it's not. In this context, "brigade" is a perfectly reasonable translation. It's reasonable enough that the fine folks at Kadokawa signed off on it for the North American marketing campaign. But what do they know? They're just native Japanese speakers. Perhaps you'd like to lodge a complaint?

Seriously, Steven... if you haven't figured it out by now, Japanese is not the sort of language where a dictionary is going to provide every possible definition to every possible word you encounter. A lot of Japanese words and concepts don't even HAVE standard English translations. It's a rough process to begin with, and if you're looking for absolute perfection, you're going to be disappointed.

Honestly, if you have a problem with the usage of the word "brigade" simply because it's been abused by people you don't care for (or because you're a "dilettante student of the military"), that's YOUR problem, not the translators'.

Posted by: Jeff Lawson at April 18, 2007 05:59 PM (YUrs6)

10 But what do they know? They're just native Japanese speakers.

That doesn't make them any more obviously qualified to choose the best English word than the native English speakers, especially if they're not bilingual. We don't know anything about the process by which the English name was chosen, but there's plenty of reason to believe that the US licensee was aware of the "existing fan preference".

A kanji that's used in common words for orchestra (gakudan), baseball team (kyuudan), public corporation (koudan), choir (gasshoudan), criminal gang (bouryokudan), and the Japanese Space Agency (uchuukaihatsujigyoudan) is certainly versatile, but it's not the word for "brigade".

It's not a word at all, and that's the root of the problem. The correct choice for the translation depends entirely on the context it was used in, and in my experience, the first few episodes of a translated series (professional or fan) often suffer a great deal from lack of context.

If I recall correctly, Haruhi came up with the name SOS-dan after reading all of the official rules for school clubs, and couldn't call it a "club" (I'd guess -kai) because she didn't have enough members. Kyon eventually registered it as an undersized club. I don't have the Japanese dialog handy, and I can guarantee that it would take me a while to find the right scene in my copy of the novel, but I suspect that the characters were thinking in terms of those school rules. "We can't call ourselves a -X, so we're a -dan".

If that's the case, then "brigade" does not accurately convey the same feeling that -dan did to the original target audience.

But that's not necessarily a problem, since we're not much like the original target audience. In the end, it comes back to Steven's question: did the choice of words affect the perception of the quality of the series?

In this particular instance, I think the answer is no, because most people have only a very vague mental picture of a "brigade", and I suspect most fans recognized the desperate attempt to spell out SOS that led to the inappropriate translation of the full name. Personally, I tend to assume that there's always something wrong with a fansub's translations and ignore the obvious quirks (which is precisely how I responded to both "brigade" and the nonsense invented for SOS).

I'm just curious enough to ask the five Japanese natives in my class tomorrow morning, to see what flavor they think -dan conveys for a group, in and out of a school context. Depending on what they say, I might consult my friend with thirty years of J-E translation experience.


Posted by: J Greely at April 19, 2007 10:13 AM (9Nz6c)

11 The problem is, "-dan" doesn't really have a literal translation (and I've discussed this with a couple of fluent Japanese speakers). All it does is signify that you're dealing with a group of "something". No literal English equivalent exists. So, when translating into English, pretty much any "group" related term is fair game. The only thing to guide you, really, is context. That, and you wouldn't want to get too fancy or specific with your choice of words.

Is "brigade" too fancy or specific a word to choose, however? I don't think so. Is it inappropriate in this context? I don't think so. I mean, if we ARE going to depend on dictionaries here, Webster's lists "a group of people organized for special activity" as an acceptable definition for the word. And I'm sure you've seen "brigade" used in the context of "group" on various occasions.

Now, does that mean "brigade" should be the official translation with regard to Haruhi? Why not? After all, if no literal translation for "-dan" exists in the first place, and the Japanese publisher decided "brigade" was good enough for their English-language marketing of the series, it's as official a translation as you're ever going to get.

And that's the point I tried to make earlier... looking for some sort of original and official English translation that predates "brigade" is a waste of time, because no such translation exists. For all intents and purposes, "brigade" IS the original and official translation. I don't know who the first person was to come up with that particular translation, but whether it was a fansubber, a Haruhi fan, or Jesus himself, it doesn't change the fact that it's the official translation. And it's just as correct a translation as party, group, company, or whatever else you'd use to translate -dan.

And for what it's worth... the JSDF's elite paratrooper unit, 第1空挺団 (Dai-ichi Kūtei-dan) refers to itself in English here as the Japanese 1st Airborne BRIGADE. And they're merely using the 団 character alone (as opposed to 旅団, which would be a more specific of referring to a military brigade).

Posted by: Jeff Lawson at April 19, 2007 03:13 PM (YUrs6)

12 I don't recall anyone requesting an "original and official English translation that predates 'brigade'", and even if one existed it wouldn't prove much. There's an original and official translation of the series title "Shichinin no Nana", and it even appears in the credits, but it does nothing to convey the feel of the original title. IMHO, that makes it a poor translation, and its provenance is irrelevant.

I think we've passed the point where we've put more effort into discussing this than went into choosing "brigade" in the first place. As translation-induced flaws go (and, yes, I think it is one), it's pretty trivial, below the level of, say, the English title of Mahou Senshi Louie, which spoiled a joke in one episode, or the handwritten notes in the ROD OAV that were signed "up! up! up!" because the translator didn't know that Nenene was a character in the original novels. [and both of those are from official releases, so I don't just pick on fansubs...]

As for the paratroopers, I'm not surprised that a military brigade would use dan and not ryodan, for the same reason I'm not surprised that Toukyou Daigaku is commonly referred to as Toudai. The first thing the Japanese seem to do after constructing a new compound word is contract it. :-)


Posted by: J Greely at April 19, 2007 06:06 PM (2XtN5)

13 Wonderduck focuses in on the word "dan" and my comments about translating that word.

That was, in fact, the least important element in that particular post of mine, and before anyone else decides to send me irate email about it, I'd appreciate it if you'd go to first sources.

If I'm going to get reamed out, I'd at least like it to be for what I myself wrote, not for what someone else said I wrote.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at April 20, 2007 03:42 AM (+rSRq)

14 Hmm- I like the translation "brigade". It has a certain ring to it. Also, though as Jeff Lawson points out "dan" can be translated as "brigade" even as a military term of art, I think the better parallel is with things like flood brigades or fire brigades (as J Greely mentions), both of which are "dan" in Japanese. That seems closer to the nature of Haruhi's little group than a military brigade.

SDB is right that the fansubbers have taken some liberties with the name, mainly in terms of the "save the world" bit. But the "Save" part is implied by the whole SOS motif, and as you say they needed to make it match SOS.

I also think that this is one case where Jim Breen's otherwise excellent wwwjdic (which seems to be the original source of SDB's definitions) may be a bit off. "Stir up" is an odd primary definition for that sense of moriageru, I think. "Overload with fun" is also a bit odd, but may actually be closer. Moriageru tends to have a sense of brightening the atmosphere, or raising someone's spirits, as far as I can tell, while in English "stir up" tends to have negative connotations.

[By the way, the use of Breen's dictionary is also likely why tame didn't show up for SDB. For some reason JDIC has a hard time with words written in kana. If you search it for ため you get no results, but if you search for the kanji 為 it works. This is a bit of a pain though, as tame is generally written in kana. I'm not sure what the relationship is between the dictionary SDB is using and JDIC is, but the source seems to be the same at least.]

Fansubs are all over the place in quality, but in my experience the best of them are generally better than commercial subs (and given what I've heard about the rates the industry pays subbers it's not surprising that this is the case, particularly as it is possible to make quite a bit of money translating J-E in some fields). Japanese maps poorly to English though, so there will always be some liberties taken.

I've read some Japanese novels alongside English translations. Even when very well known literary translators had done the translations, the differences were very noticeable. I did this with Birnbaum's translation of "Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World" (incidentally this seems to be the source of some of the imagery in Haibane Renmei) and whole paragraphs were elided in the English text.

I don't recall which group's sub of Haruhi I watched, but I was actually really impressed by the translation- I recall laughing out loud a couple of times at it, just because they found a really nice way to capture the feeling of a certain sentence.

Posted by: Tagore Smith at April 21, 2007 06:55 AM (RHuBz)

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