Fans of Anime know all too well that subtitles can be anything from artistically translated to just plain wrong. Often the translation seems to be handled by someone who has the target language as their second tongue and this often results in stilted translations or errors.

Avalon originates with a Japanese script by Kazunori Ito, and I think it's safe to say that the Polish script used for shooting should be a good translation. However, the subtitles are a different matter.

As well as the technical competence of the language translator there are other problems with subtitles - ideally they should match the mouth movements of the actors fairly closely, there mustn't be too much text in each caption, and there has to be little enough text for it to remain on screen and keep pace with the spoken dialogue. Depending which of these takes priority the subtitle text can vary drastically from the original script.

The best example of this I know is the Anime Angel Cop. It has both English subtitles and an English soundtrack. Each use different elements of English colloquial speech and in one or two instances re-order a sentence in the subtitles to have it fit better as a shorter sentence or even impart a slightly different meaning to the original.

In the case of Avalon, the subtitles are generally fairly consistent. There's only one translation to avoid I know about, and that's identified by tranlsating "She's faster" when the two players are watching Bishop do a faster version of Ash's helicopter mission. I think it's this one that's also notable for subtitling the English text at the start of the film and coming up with a different version than the one in the film's visuals itself!

Against this backdrop I've been appealing through the website for people who know Japanese or Polish to get in touch and help with producing what I would like to become a new, high-quality translation of the script that will avoid having the questions that the film poses further confused by poor subtitle translation. Many thanks to all who have assisted, and I hope all will benefit from the information now to be found below.

Here's Ben's first message, sent shortly after seeing the original script and continuity script from the Memorial Box DVD. If you would like to help with this project please get in touch.

From Ben Rudiak-Gould, June 6 2003

The script in the pre-production book is substantially different from the continuity script -- lines of dialogue have been added, removed, and rewritten. Everything below comes from the continuity script.

The word corresponding to "Unreturned" in the Japanese script is "mikikansha," which means "an unrepatriated person" -- i.e., it more directly suggests the idea of soldiers who haven't returned from a war.

"Bishop" seems to be a character class and not a name. No one ever refers to the "Bishop" character simply as "Bishop." The closest they get is "ano Bishop," which is similar to "the Bishop" in English. People do sometimes say this when referring to a famous person by name, in both Japanese and English (the Zaphod Beeblebrox), but the fact that they never call him by name alone argues strongly against its being his name.

The criterion for the appearance of the ghost is the presence of a level-12 bishop in the party. Ash's conversation with Stunner about this is horribly mangled in the English subtitles. Here's a new translation. (The numbers are scene numbers from the continuity script)

(92) Stunner: I got this from a party that produced an unreturned. There's only one point common to every case: the bishop.

(93) Ash: The bishop...?

(94) Stunner: In parties that encountered the ghost, there was always a bishop on the team.

(95) Ash: Is it a matter of class?

(96) Stunner: No... there were apparently parties trying to make a name for themselves who quickly converted someone to bishop and then went running around on foolish "ghost hunting" expeditions, but it was an utter failure.

(97) Ash: Level, then?

(98) Stunner: Your intuition's as sharp as ever. In every Complete, there was a High-Bishop of level 12 or above. That's the condition. There's almost no question.

(99) Ash: (Lost in thought)

(100) Stunner: So what's your next move? You're interested in going to Special A, right? Will you switch classes from fighter to bishop?

(101) Ash: So there's no need to have a party...

(102) Stunner: Yeah, Murphy was solo. And he was...

(103) Ash: ... a level 12 High Bishop.

(104) Stunner: What level are you right now? Twelve? Or is it 13 now? Either way, to become a bishop that satisfies the conditions, you'll need at least twice the experience points. I'm sure you know all too well from watching Murphy how slowly Bishops advance. It takes an enormous amount of time, and access fees to match. It's not something you can do without a party as backup.

(105) Ash: I don't have the time to change class.

(106) Stunner: Then you'll have to join a party that has a bishop.

(107) Ash: I don't know...

(108) Stunner: The fact that you were in Wizard could be a handicap, I guess.

(109) Ash: ...

(110) Stunner: There are hardly any High Bishops out there in the first place. Your idea of going to Special A was unrealistic to begin with. Maybe if Murphy weren't lost, but as it is...

(111) Stunner: Thanks for the food. Let's talk again some time.

The line translated as "seek and ye shall find" is "motomeru mono wa ataeraren." This is definitely a quote from the Sermon on the Mount, but it's actually the previous phrase, "ask and ye shall receive." The distinction may be important, because "ask and ye shall receive" implies a third party, while "seek and ye shall find" doesn't.

You asked whether "unreturned" is singular or plural in "finish off the unreturned." I think it's singular, because the Bishop then shows Ash the concert poster and says "your target will appear there."

On "surely the answer lies within you" -- he goes on to say "after all, you were the one who wanted you to get here, not me," which is clearly true. So I don't think there's any deep meaning to the "lies within you" bit. He's just saying "why not ask yourself that question?" In fact, that's probably how I would have translated it.

Vogel has produced a Polish transcription of the dialogue and compared that with the English Subtitles. Here are his observations after doing very literal Polish->English translation. Click here for his full transcription. My comments are in italics.

1. First Ash-and-Stunner dialog

English: But if we ever teamed up again... it'd be like fate was giving us a second chance.

Translation: It is clear, that we have to meet, because everything indicates that we will work in one party

So in the Polish version he is almost sure that he will be in one party with Ash, but in English he only make a supposition.

2. A dialog beetwen Ash and the Game Master about Morgan Le Fey

English: There's a story like that in northern Europe. Odin goes on a journey. His ship is wrecked and he drifts to an island far across the water...

But as I read in an article about Avalon. It wasn't Odin (Odyn in Polish). It was a Dane called Ogier (stallion?? horde??). So the translators made an mistake.

3. Nine sisters

English: They're the ones who programmed this game.

In the Polish version there is nothing about nine sisters as 'the ones who programmed this game'. But when Ash and Bishop meets in the Flak Tower she asks him if he programmed Avalon (she knows that he is in the 'real' nine sisters). So I think that the English translation was made from oryginal Japanese script, not from Polish one. (Very likely, since the original language of the script is Japanese -- Alan)

English: You're one of the Nine Sisters, rulers of Avalon... designers of the program.

4. A very good question

English: How did you find me? Seek and ye shall find.

Translation: How did you find me? You always get, what you want very very much. And it is supposed that you need me very much. (While this could be construed as 'Seek and ye shall find' or 'Ask and ye shall receive' it's not that close to either -- Alan).

5. Class real - the beginning

English: Why did you send me here? Surely the answer to that lies within you.

Translation: Why did you bring me here? Because you were the one who dreamed about getting to here. Only you.

(Which seems to suggest that it's less that the answer lies within Ash but that she has caused this chain of events - again, this matches the comments from the Japanese translation above -- Alan)

6. Reality, what is it?

English: Reality is nothing but an obsession that takes hold of us!

Translation: The world is what we think it is

7. Game or not?

English: Don't let appearances confuse you. This is the world where you belong

Translation: Ash, don't let appearances confuse you. This is your class. Your world.

Lucas Worwag has done a new translation from the spoken Polish dialogue. Click here to read it.

One of my friends, James Byrne, allowed himself to be persuaded to analyse the script from the various Japanese sources, so producing what can be considered a canonical commentary on the original language of the script. Click here to see James' comments and rendering of the script.

Alan (web - at - ninesisters - dot - org)

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