Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Evaluating Localization: In Defense of NOA Treehouse (Nintendojo)

This is, by far and away, my biggest article for Nintendojo. This has become a real hot topic over the past year and after a certain dust-up on my Twitter not too long ago, I knew I had to write about it. I think what amazes me the most about this whole controversy is that for years and years you had gamers praising NOA Treehouse as one of the best game localization groups in the business, and all it took for them to get vilified was for them to take out some butts. I imagine the presence of a certain hate group (which I won't dignify by name) made it far louder than it should be, but I digress.

Regardless, I'm incredibly proud of what I pulled off here, especially with how I managed to get an actual game translator to pitch in some comments! My friend Masked Man from NeoGAF works in Japan, and although he still won't tell me what he works on (pesky NDAs and all), he's absolutely the real deal. If you're reading this, just know you are the man.

This is a special article, so I'd like it to hog the spotlight instead of being bumped off by a Biweekly Music Wednesday! installment. I have a real penchant for delaying that column, I know, but I already have the next song planned and it'll actually tie into a subject I also recently discussed on Nintendojo! My only hint will be that the column written hasn't included the related series in some time. Definitely look forward to it.


  1. First things first, I love how you referenced that moment from Super Paper Mario. I'm playing through the game myself for the first time, and I was at that point but a week ago. It was an easy laugh, true, but if anything it's even more relevant now then in 2007. I've known about NOA's hilarious localisations for a long time, but this is among the first (but not the first) games I've played where it's such an integral element. More will come in the future, I'm sure. While the game does feel like RPG-combat would suit it better like the first two, it is still a more then solid romp.

    There's so much I agree with here. I feel it about games, but to be honest since most of the games I've played, where they were text-heavy and translated, were localised by NOA anyway, I never really questioned it. I knew if anything vital was missing, there would be internet outbursts, and since there weren't, I remained content.

    The point about literally-translated Japanese being stiff to English ears is a good one. It's how I feel about anime - while I often will acknowledge that the subbed version is better, I just always feel a bit distanced from it and don't feel as invested (though score-removal is stupid at best, as it almost always breaks the language barrier effortlessly), so in cases where the quality difference is negligible, if indeed there is one (like Pokémon before 4Kids lost the licence, or several Studio Ghibi films), I will likely pick the Dub if I feel like watching it. Of course, where the Dub is objectively worse, I will side with the Sub (like, ah, Kirby), but it usually leaves me sad that I cannot enjoy the Dub, as enjoying something in one's native language is more relaxing. Truth be told, I don't watch an especially large amount of anime. Enough, but not a whole lot, and very little that I didn't grow up with or that doesn't come from Ghibi. Guess I'm more of a Western Animation person!

    For all that, Japanese is just about the only language I have even a mild interest in dabbling in, as regards learning it, at any point down the line, asit does fascinate me. I'd never have the patience to get good enough to play Japanese-language games unassisted, though.

    The trend of character names in being a literal description of what they are, but from another language, is an interesting one, and one I've always liked in many media. We get it a bit in English media too - in the Kung Fu Panda series, many characters are called their species or character role, but in Chinese. Oogway=Tortise & Shifu=Master. Especially interesting are the villains, where Tai Lung=Great Dragon, Shen=God, and Kai=open. It may well be a coincidence, given it's not an unheard-of English name, Po=broken! Makes me wonder if they call them by their English translations from Chinese in the Chinese version, for the desired effect. Regardless, I was impressed enough to acknowledge it when I covered the films, anyway, so it clearly rubbed me the right way!

    Anyway, it was an excellent article, Anthony! I'm curious, though - you make it seem like you had the idea for the article, and pitched it to write it for Nintendojo. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I assumed that since you were in a volunteer position, you had little input on that level and were mostly given articles to write instead. Maybe I just don't know how Nintendojo's structure in that regard works, so feel free to enlighten me. Unless, of course, your job forbids you to do so, which is perfectly fine.

    As always, I look forward to whatever you have planned, especially since my plans to get a Wii U are in motion now! I haven't ordered it yet, but I now own two games for it, with a third lined up. I do this whenever I buy a console, getting games slowly to commit myself to buying it and to give me a solid library once I boot it up, rather then, you know, the one game that came bundled, and an extra one I may have picked up.


    1. Yes, we do pitch our articles for Nintendojo! Off the top of my head, 99% of the articles I've written were my idea except for the 2015 Virtual Console awards one. I've grown quite passionate over this issue so I let this particular idea gestate for a couple months before pitching it.

      In regards to anime, I'm normally quite flexible on dubs/subs, although that's typically in efforts from within the past decade. Most 90s/early 2000s tried a little too hard to localize the material for American audiences rather than let it stand on its own merits, and so I've found a lot of dubs from my childhood don't hold up well. DBZ is one example I've gone over in the Budokai review, and revisiting the Digimon dub's attempts at humor was...yikes. As expected, the Kirby anime falls into this category, and I'm quite interested in seeing where the review for both versions will lead.

      (and speaking of Ghibli, I finally did a long-overdue Studio Ghibli marathon--watching most of the movies for the first time--in preparation for my giving Ni No Kuni another shot. Isn't My Neighbor Totoro such a masterpiece?)

      So you're finally getting a Wii U! Do enjoy Nintendo's generally-glorious output, as I'm still regularly playing a bunch of stuff on it (I <3 Smash). Perhaps we can play sometime if you partake in their online-enabled efforts.

      And do enjoy Super Paper Mario! It's not as godly as the first two, but the writing alone makes it worth the trip.

  2. Blast it, I had another long, informative comment typed out, and then I lost it! Hate when that happens. I can't be bothered to retype it all out: suffice to say, I agreed on Totoro, voiced my opinions on the similarities between Miyazaki's films and Disney's Golden Age (their first five features), said why Grave of the Fireflies is my most personally haunting war film, expanded further on the anime dub matter, and listed how many Wii U games I had my eye on, and that I planned to get the Wii U when I have five, and had planned to get the Wii U. I will retype the one topic left, though.

    My thoughts on Super Paper Mario exactly. The gameplay is more competent then exhilarating, but the writing more them justifies the playthrough. Question, Anthony: while the rank of the games is mostly agreed upon (GC --> N64 ------> Wii --------------------->3DS), how would you rank the writing/characterisation/narrative/script? All I know is that you prefer Thousand-YEar Door to Paper MArio in that regard, but not by a whole lot, as they're both truly excellent.

    1. I can't believe I never made that connection between Ghibli's 80's output and Disney's Golden Age! I did notice how amazing the 80's films were relative to the rest of their films (barring Spirited Away/Only Yesterday/Whisper of the Heart and maybe Princesss Mononoke), too. BTW, did you notice Brayton updated his Disney film tier list? Loooots of controversial stuff in the 7/10 category...

      It's a close toss-up between TTYD and SPM as far as writing/characterization goes, but I think TTYD's broader application of the latter (full characterization of the partners as opposed to the one-note Pixls) alongside the darker story wins out for me. I remember that having an especially strong impact on me as I was just on the cusp of becoming a teenager, and I long for another Paper Mario that'd be brave enough to venture such waters. I'd say SPM has the advantage of a tearjerker ending, but with TTYD being the first game that made me cry and all...

      (Funnily enough, I have ragged on Sticker Star in the past, but I've actually yet to play it! So, yes, that infamous SPM line applies to me as well. Guilty as charged.)

    2. I'm actually happy to see that you haven't played Sticker Star, if for no other reason that it's proof that even you, like all of us, can be guilty of ragging on a game you haven't played. I certainly can. By reading

      As for Tim Brayton's Disney list, I did not know, even though I frequently reread those reviews. Interesting take. It makes sense to me - when a person has personally pegged a movie as great or above, their opinion is not going to shift even slightly, and the same can be said of medicore and downwards. But when it comes to the okay-to-really good category, opinions can shift somewhat from time to time, as that range is more open to marginal change, simply-put.
      Hence why Lion King jumped from the highest 6/10 to the lowest 7/10, and Frozen from the lowest 8/10 to the highest 7/10 (he's not the only one to lower his opinion by a mere tip - the film has dropped to a 7.6 on IMDb, which speaks about the sizeable number of people sick of Frozen due to the media frenzy. I too enjoyed it more when everyone wasn't showing it with praise I felt it didn't deserve). I can remember when he had Winnie The Pooh as the lowest 9/10, when it's now a 8/10. And his original The Little Mermaid piece referred to it being the least of the studio's masterpieces (meaning 10/10), whereas it's been the highest 9/10 on the list for as long as I can remember. The personal biggest surprise for me is Hercules leaping all the way up to the highest 7/10, compared to it's previous spot.
      Knowing you, Anthony, I'd say you're most frazzled by Big Hero 6 being a low 7/10, am I right? Personally, I'd agree with him, maybe a somewhat better 7/10. I was always more more startled myself by Wreck-It Ralph's placement, which is hands-down my favourite Disney film since Lilo & Stitch. I can understand his opinion from the review, even if I don't fully agree with it. I'll say this - his expanded thoughts later this Summer will come at a peculiar time, when the movie has started to fade from people's minds even though it was, and still is, regarded as great by the collective culture. The Lion King is the only other film on the list I disagree with the placement about (some I may have one point higher or lower, but not enough to merit discussion). As an Disney animation junkie, I too often view them from a formalist angle with it comes to critiquing them, but perhaps not to the same extent.
      There's no point getting frazzled about someone else's opinion on movies, especially when that person has such wonderful insights into them. I saw The Great Mouse Detective recently for the first time, for instance, and my opinion aligned with his quite nicely, right down to the villain dominating the piece. I do like the way Pixar does animated villains (which is how Disney is doing them as of late, though only with Wreck-It Ralph do I think they succeed), but I will always prefer the Disney villains of old that dominated their films Or didn't, but were great regardless.

      Anyway, I'll let you know of my further opinions on Super Paper Mario as I progress. I'm also playing Mario Kart 7 right now too. Last Summer I 3-star ranked all the cups in Mario Kart DS, yet I'm still surprised how I 3-star ranked 50cc and 150cc in the 3DS version now first time. 150cc is a little more taxing, but still, is it that the rank system is less harsh, or I'm just much better? I honestly didn't think I was that good, despite devoting many hours to Time Trials in both the GBA and DS versions.
      I rather like the notion of us sharing the opinions of what games we're playing as we go through them. Should we keep doing that here? Or switch it to Twitter? Or would you rather not?


  3. By all means, Mike! I'd be glad to discuss this further on any platform you choose.

    I actually STILL haven't seen Big Hero 6 yet! Unfortunately, I don't have a driver's license so I typically see movies with my cousin. He's been building a family over the past three years, though, so his time is very limited. I've been meaning to get to watching that and Zootopia...

    My own opinions on the 7/10 placement are as follows:

    -Hercules is a 7/10 movie through and through, but it's not really a "top" one.
    -Frozen is absolutely 7/10. It's good for what it is but the story's just too much of a mess.
    -I love Mulan/Peter Pan and like Cinderella a lot, but I can understand a 7/10 score (my secret affinity for Mushu notwithstanding)
    -The Lion King is waaaaaaaaaay too good for 7/10, any plot issues aside.
    -Aside from looking pretty, The Black Cauldron has no business being at 7/10. Shame since I actually dig the style a lot.
    -Wreck-It Ralph is probably the only 3D Disney movie I love, so naturally I'll go "bah" at it being 7/10. This may be a bit brazen to say, but I really wish Disney would go back to 2D and leave the 3D to Pixar. :(

    Everything else is fine except for maybe Melody Time, although during my marathon a couple years back I grew so sick of the music package films (despite my love for Three Caballeros/Make Mine Music) that I didn't give it a fair shake.

    There's no need to get uppity over Brayton's opinions, yes, but he's such a fascinating Disney scholar that I can't help but dissect such things. For the record, I also loved the Nostalgia Critic's Disneycember reviews. And if you haven't read Steve Hulett's "Mouse in Transition" column over at Cartoon Brew, I highly recommend it. (It's also now a book!)

    I remember Mario Kart 7 driving me by. It's fun but you can tell the rushed schedule was the reason why mandatory stuff like Vs. Mode were cut (also didn't care for how all the secret characters are locked behind 150cc). Came out right before the shithole that was 2012, too, so there's that. Definitely another time.

    Regardless, rumor has it you may see more Mario within a month's time...