Imperialism, Translation, Gunbuster (Episode One)
JAPAN AND THE TEXT
The series opens up with an 85 second sequence preceding the opening song. In this sequence we hear Noriko talking about her father, his role as space admiral, his death at the hands of the aliens, and her vow to become a space pilot and emulate her father. The images we see are, in order: (1) a photo of Admiral Takaya with little Noriko; (2) a newspaper article with the story of Takaya’s spaceship Luxion; (3) a newspaper article on Admiral Takaya with his color photograph; (4) the same photograph (this time black and white) of Takaya at a funeral parlor; (5) a newspaper article reporting the destruction of Luxion; (6) another article detailing the fate of its crew; (7) a junior high-school career questionnaire form and (8) an envelope marked as containing the application form to the Okinawa Girls’ Space Pilot High School.
The subtitlers have translated all of Noriko’s speech and even some of the newspaper headings, but they have missed some basic details that happen to be the most revealing. In the second of the 8 images the Japanese reader will note that the newspaper is the Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan’s Big Three. The name is exactly the same and the banner design is that of its real life counterpart. The date reads: August 24, 2013, Monday. And immediately to the right are the words:（日本版）(or “Japan edition”) [see 01]. This is a departure from the usual Asahi Shimbun header. Usually Japanese newspapers have international editions or country-specific editions (e.g. Thailand edition), but a Japanese newspaper will not be marked with the words “Japan edition” in Japan as this is redundant for a flagship paper.
[1 – August 24th, 2013. Monday. (Japan edition) / 2 – Asahi Shimbun]
A reasonable interpretation could be that in Gunbuster the newspaper is headquartered elsewhere than in Japan. But the fact that it is the Asahi Shimbun, with an identical logo, confuses us. The Asahi Shimbun is a Japanese paper, but somehow in the year 2013 its structure is such that Japan’s is but one of a number of major editions. What does this mean?
The third image gives the viewer more clues, provided that he has read the Japanese in image 2 and is thus seeking to understand the situation. Admiral Takaya’s photo is set against an array of international flags. We can see the flags of Great Britain, Brazil, South Korea, Finland, and others including, of course, Japan. However, whereas each country is represented by a single flag, there are three Japanese flags in view. [see 02]
The questionnaire in the seventh image we see is very formulaic and therefore even though it goes completely untranslated in the subtitles there is really no loss for the non-Japanese fan. The same cannot be said for the four lines written on the envelope in the eighth and last image, which I will label (a) (b) (c) and (d) [see 03]. There is a single line on the left running top-down that reads (a) 願書在中, and then at the bottom three more lines:
The subtitlers here placed translations to the right and below lines (b) and (c) respectively. This in itself is an effort above and beyond what most subtitlers usually make, because Noriko’s voice is speaking in the background and it is considered acceptable to focus on her words. In fact, one of the popular fansubs of Gunbuster, by a group called “digital panic”, leaves all four lines untranslated. But the omissions in this translation are still momentous.
As you can see from the screencap, the translation to the right of line (b) reads “Application Form”. In fact, this is properly a translation of line (a), which I could translate more precisely as “Application Form included.” Of course, the placement of the subtitle next to (b) will lead the viewer to assume that “Application Form” is the translation of line (b) when this is not the case. My own translation of line (b) would be: “Attached to the Imperial Space Army”. The question “What is attached?” is immediately answered in line (c) below. The official translation for (c) reads “Okinawa Girls’ Space Pilot High School.” This is a fair translation of line (c) except that the word “pilot” does not appear in the original. Line (d), the address of the school, remains untranslated. My own literal translation would be “Kanabashira 1-chome, Kadena City, Okinawa Prefecture.”
Again, what is left untranslated is vital to understanding the jingoistic flavor of the show. The Japanese fan will know before the opening song comes up that there is an Imperial Space Army and that although it includes many nations Japan likely has a leadership role. Moreover, the nationalistic gesture of basing the high school in Kadena (currently the site of a major American air base) will not go unnoticed. I consider the English subtitlers’ failure to note this address as particularly regrettable, because the name and significance of Kadena are widely known among students of Japan, and including it would have gone some way to alleviate the international fans’ ignorance of the imperialist subtext at work here. There is also a small but interesting detail: Kadena is currently classified as a “town” and it is 85% under American control. Judging from the address in the envelope, in the future of Gunbuster Kadena has been promoted to “city” status and our best guess is no American troops remain within in the area.
My suggestion to subtitlers would be to avoid translating line (a) altogether and focus on (b) through (d). Line (b) should definitely translated. The address in line (d) could be compressed into English as “Kadena City, Okinawa” and these words put to the right of the line.
The rest of episode one is taken up with classic tropes from the shojo genre: the heroine as the new girl in school, her trouble with older girls, the appearance of a beautiful, kind sempai who helps the heroine, and so forth. The imperialist text comes to the surface again in episode 2.