A Translator’s Challenges - Pokemon

“You” is said to be one of the most difficult word to translate, but what about puns? Pokemon is full of puns from names to dialogues. As I started learning Japanese, I realized how difficult a job it is to be a translator and also how fascinating it is.

I watched pokemon on cartoon network in English as a child and I re watched it now as an adult and my feelings haven’t changed. What did change is that I started noticing a lot of puns in the show which I did not notice as a child. Recently, the pokemon Go boom was revived, and I started playing it again. I thought of changing my system language to Japanese for a while, and this changed the pokemon system to Japanese. I was thrown off with the sudden change in all the names and all the katakana. I went back to look at all the Japanese version of pokemon names and well they’re as punny as the English ones.

I realized what hard work it must have been for the English translators to change the names of pokemon to, what I believe, is even funnier and apt. Though some names remain untouched others are very creative.

Pikachu is the mascot of the franchise and it remains the same in Japanese and English. The Japanese onomatopoeia for Sparkly, shiny (pika pika) and chuu for the sound of mouse. Raichuu for Rai = thunder and chuu for sound of mouse.

As most of the first generation of 151 pokemon are species that exist in the world, the names are taken from animals. But the way it is made into a creative pokemon name is what fascinates me. For example:

Poliwag: Pollywog the larvae frog, another name for tadpole. If you’ve noticed its movements when taunting or avoiding the pokeball – It WAGS its tail

Poliwhirl: Notice the “whirl pool” drawn on its chest

Poliwrath: evolves into an angry, mean fighter – Wrath = anger.

 Not much for the imagination, but poli"toed" is what is it is drawn as.

Some Japanese cultural knowledge I gained along the way of learning pokemon names in Japanese are:

Hitmonlee - English took Brucelee for naming and the Japanese “SAWAMURAA” for sawamura tadashi, a former Japanese kickboxer with a KO% of 94.6%.

Hitmonchan - English from Jackiechan, and Japanese “EBIHARA” for Hiroyuki Ebihara, a world champion Japanese boxer. The English version is more creative because they didn’t directly use the names as the Japanese version.

Very interesting cultural notation I realized was with Magikarp.

Magikarp in Japanese is koikingu コイキング king of the carp (carp is a type of fish) evolves into Gyarados (same name in Japanese) where, the tale is that the a carp, fighting against the currents of waterfall reached the top and because of its perseverance and determination, was turned into a dragon.

This legend deserves its own article, so do be on a look out for that.

Phrases used as names? 

Oddish – Japanese name: 謎の草'なぞのくさ, (nazo no kusa) meaning mysterious plant, odd plant. Ryhmes with raddish if you ask me.

Tentacool- Japanese name メノクラゲ, (me no kurage) a jellyfish having eye

Bulbasaur is フシギダネ written as 不思議種or 不思議だね?read as the same (fushigidane) which means either strange mysterious seed or [phrase] it’s strange, isn’t it?

Ivysaur is フシギソウwritten as 不思議草 or 不思議そ.. read as fushigisouIt means either strange grass or [phrase] looks strange.

The list can go on and on, here's some last interesting ones.

Jigglypuff – Japanese name: プリン(purin) meaning pudding. Pudding jiggles and jigglypuff “Puffs up” when angry.

Muk – べとべとン(betobeton) Onomatopoeia for sticky. Muck and mucky is English for waste matter

Drowsee – In Japanese is  スリーピー (sleepy). Now it’s a double fun game for Japanese learning English realizing sleepy in English is drowse for drowsy.

And much like ash's journey to become a pokemon master and be the very best, a translator's journey to know and master them all is as difficult. The very best have been translating the pokemon series for a long while and that is the very best I try to achieve too.