Nier: Automata – 2B – Lost in translation


The fact that I am a big fan of Automata is
no secret to anyone. In fact at this point it’s probably weirder
if you didn’t know that, but anyway. The time has finally come to talk about none
other than 2B herself. Some of the reasons as to why this video took
so long to make was because I was feeling burnt-out talking about the game and also
because I was struggling a lot with my phrasing and to be completely honest, I still can’t
perfectly nail it down really. But now that it’s been more than two years
since the game’s release, I feel a lot more comfortable approaching this subject and this
has been a video that I’ve been wanting to make regardless and a lot of people have been
asking for it for a very long time So I am encouraging you to head into this together with me. I’m putting a huge disclaimer here saying
I’m not criticizing either Yui Ishikawa or Kira Buckland’s respective performances of
the character. A lot goes into giving a character a voice
and the purpose of this video is not to single out anyone specific whether that’s an actor,
a sound director or any localizer. This isn’t about picking a winner or a loser. My job is never to try and tell anyone that
they are wrong for liking a certain version of a character more, it’s simply to acknowledge
the possible differences. Also this video will contain spoilers for
Nier: Automata, just as a heads up. So now that we’ve established that, let’s
get to it. In both languages 2B is undeniably serious,
soft-spoken and a big contrast to 9S. But if you’ve finished Automata you know that
deep down, 2B isn’t as cold as you may initially think. Throughout the game we see that she is indeed
very capable of feeling things when she is put in harrowing situations. There’s no difference there between the dubbed
version and the original. Of course, as far as the wording goes, it’s
a Japanese script being transformed to be comprehensible to an English speaking audience
and therefore some changes are necessary. But for the most part, it’s relatively similar. I’ve certainly come across worse offenders,
if I put it that way. But although there isn’t an inconsistency around
every corner, there are a couple of them sprinkled throughout. There’s one example from fairly early into
the game that actually shows off the difference in character very clearly. Already, during the fight
with Simone, 2B and 9S are attacked by androids that have been turned into weapons. Obviously taken aback by this,
2B clarifies that they are indeed being attacked by android corpses that have been turned into
weapons with a certain distaste in her voice. While in English, the line is approached with
a more lenient and sarcastic tone where it’s as if 2B just loathes being attacked by androids. I’ll play the clips here so that you guys can hear it for yourselves. So in one instance, 2B is apprehensive while
in the other she’s more sassy and dismissive. This shift is even more obvious during certain
conversations between 2B and 9S, where in English she comes off as more coarse while
she simply gently dismisses him in Japanese. One clear example of this is another scene
at the amusement park where 9S suggests that 2B refer to him by his nickname ”Nines,”
saying how the people that know him well do it and so she should feel comfortable doing
so as well. English 2B shoots this suggestion down with
”I’m good.” Japanese 2B obviously doesn’t agree to calling
him Nines either but she responds along the lines of ”not as of now,” implying that
she may be comfortable with using the nickname in the future. But to cut the localization team some slack,
Automata does have certain scenes that are rather difficult to translate. There’s a third example of this difference
in personality but it’s tied to a scene which is difficult to localize in general. In the prologue chapter, 9S keeps referring
to 2B as ”ma’am.” In Japanese however, he is simply adding the
suffix -san to her name as he wants to be polite and not simply call her name without
using any honorific. This is a cultural clash of course as the
importance of honorifics isn’t something that’s easily translated to an English speaking audience. Even though someone may have limited knowledge
on Japanese honorifics, the importance of using a polite form of speech is more complex. It’s a matter of respect that just doesn’t
translate to English because of a difference in language and customs. So it’s not really the same as calling someone
”ma’am” but that’s probably the closest they could’ve gotten. But the important part is that 2B, plainly
tells 9S that he doesn’t have to add -san to her name when speaking to her. Saying that there is no need for honorifics. Of course, if you’ve finished the game you
know why 2B feels this way and the fact that she insists on the more intimate choice in
this situation is a piece of foreshadowing to her emotional side. This is unfortunately also lost in English
because in comparison to the more commanding: ”stop calling me ”ma’am” that the localized
version of the scene has, in Japanese, 2B comes across as more timid and and lenient with 9S. That being said, 2B expresses her frustration
very similarly between both versions. Her more openly emotional moments is where
I’d say the characters most clearly overlap. Which is almost confusing because it feels
like the opposite is so much more common. So although the difference in character could
arguably be pretty hard to pick up on, I think it’s definitely there. Which of course leads to the bigger question,
what could be the reason behind this? Unfortunately, and obviously. I don’t know. Your guess is a good as mine and all I’m really here to do it hypothesize. First things first. A big part of 2B’s character originally is
the fact that she hits a lot of those classic kuudere notes. These types of characters in Japanese media
often come off as cold, emotionless and soft-spoken. They carry themselves in a very calm and apathetic
manner and rarely display any emotion unless fiercely provoked. She’s focused on her goal and fulfilling her
orders is her top priority but otherwise she’s generally indifferent to everything else. Fitting her in some weird character niche
isn’t what’s important here but rather the foundation that her character is built on. Although anyone who is familiar with Japanese
media surely knows of this trope even though they might not have known there was an actual
term for it, this same kind of character stereotype doesn’t widely exist in popular Western media. Because they’re very different from a classic kind
of tough-as-nails character or someone who is generally quiet but still has bite. Because 2B isn’t a hard-ass or particularly
rugged. She’s goal-oriented and serious yet very indifferent
to her surroundings. Which isn’t commonly seen in a lot of characters
written in the West, and therefore they can be hard to adapt. I’m not saying serious characters don’t
exist outside of Japan. I’m not crazy. There are plenty of examples of characters
from Western media that are deadpan but it’s often used to enhance
their sense of coldness or their sarcastic tendencies. The appeal in these characters often stems
from the sarcasm or toughness that seeps through their deadpan front. So the difference doesn’t lie in the soft
or monotone voice but in the approach to other people and their surroundings. It’s not a matter of being deadpan but rather
a matter of outwards apathy versus an otherwise coarse personality. For the record, I’m not necessarily calling
these types of characters bad. I’m simply pointing out that they are the
more prevalent types of deadpan characters that exist in popular Western media. This isn’t implying that English 2B is the
devil herself and is without respect for anyone she comes across. She is still a very soft-spoken and calm character. I would probably consider her one of the closer
examples of a dub attempting to translate and make this character type work. But at the end of the day, this is still a
matter of two different cultures looking at the same character through different lenses. Certain personality traits and characteristics
translate well and others don’t. But I don’t think this is strictly limited
to being a matter of characterization. I think a certain amount of this dissonance
can be attributed to a difference in language. Now things are gonna get a bit complicated
but I’ll try my best to keep it simple. The Japanese language has something called
a pitch-accent. This means that words are accentuated through
raise or drop in pitch. There are different types on pitch contours
or intonation patterns in Japanese which is what makes it sound like a steady stream. So what does that have to do with what we’re
talking about? It’s important to mention because English
is not a pitch-accent language. Instead, it has something called language
stress. Stress is when you accentuate words using
length, volume and pitch. Although it’s surely not something that most
people consciously do, syllables in English are often accentuated using all of these three. Meaning that English naturally has a more
dynamic rhythm to it in comparison to something like Japanese in where syllables are not accentuated
through length or volume in common speech. A very simple example of this is the word
banana or banana. In the word ”banana” the second syllable
is accentuated or stressed. How can you tell? Well, it’s louder and longer than the first
and third syllable. It’s not banana but baNAna. Japanese uses the same word as a loan word
but it’s said in a pitch-accent. So it’s banana with only a slight shift in
pitch and not baNAna which would be accentuating using volume and length as well. BaNAn- (Oh god, what am I doing.) Obviously I am skipping a bunch of details
because I don’t want to overwhelm anyone and I don’t want this video to be a two hour long
language class. My point being that the fact that English
is naturally spoken with more stress, makes it a less docile language than Japanese. This can lead to Japanese sounding more monotone
to an untrained ear that is used to a stress language like English. Which I believe plays a part in why people
may find that 2B sounds more animated in English. That is not to give any less credit to Yui
Ishikawa or imply that her or any other Japanese actor’s job was somehow easier. She does not sound completely monotone or
flat but she did a fantastic job portraying a stoic yet headstrong character. Anyway, I hope that didn’t make anyone uncomfortably
aware of their own speech patterns. But let’s move on and wrap this up. I know that working in translation isn’t an
easy job. It’s definitely an area where we should all
try our best to be reasonable and understanding. More understanding of the people who work
really hard in trying to bring titles from different parts of the world over to the West and also more understanding of the people’s preferences. Both the people that prefer dubbed media and the people who prefer the original, not because they
think a localized version would be bad but because they want to see what the creator’s
original vision was. Obviously although differences will exist, they
may seem more drastic than they really are when you focus in on them instead of looking
at the bigger picture. At the end of the day, Nier: Automata is still
a fantastic game with loads of fantastic voice talents in it. I feel like this video ended up being more
rambly than intended but that’s rather on brand for me, so… I can’t really be mad. Regardless of what you decide to take away
from all of this, I hope you enjoyed this video, thank you so much for watching.

100 comments

  1. The "ma'am" part is a good example of how languages are difficult to adapt, and how this work can vary a lot between different languages.
    In english is obviously difficult to adapt something like the formalism of "-san" but as soon as you said it i realized that in italian it could be easly traduced in "she", and that's because we tend to use the 3rd person to talk with someone we have little or no confidence at all, or someone who is on an higher level in a hierarchy (like a teacher, a professor, a superior, someone important or simply an elder that is neither familiar or friend). And in this case 2B could have replied "just give me the <you>", and that would have been perfect.
    Sorry for the wall of text, but I find all of this very fascinating.

  2. I speak both Japanese and English really well and I find this topic very intriguing as well, games developed in Japan and localized into English nowadays are like completely two different games, I often switch between the two and stick with one once I get a feel of the characters. 2B might have been more animated in the English one, but Japanese 2B was more tsundere. So Japanese 2B was objectively superior 😉
    FF15 was definitely "more animated" in the way that you described here though, the Japanese FF15 banter between party members while roaming around got boring real quick.

  3. This is a really thoughtful video.

    I never realized how different the two dub tracks were until I realized half the people in our NieR group had played just the Japanese dub, and half had played just the English dub, and certain lines seemed to hold entirely different connotations to us.

  4. I don't know what to think about it. Mostly because my language is spanish, and no matter if I change the language or not, the subtitles remains the same. I think I have an acceptable level of english for understand the game, but in japanese, that's another story. Still, I'm really happy to had play this amazing game. I would do my best for search a (mostly) exactly translation from japanese to spanish, but it will be hard.

    Great vid btw! I will be looking at the rest of Nier, and other stuff you have around! And sorry for the long text!

  5. Never watched you before but I loved this and would totally love a 2 hour speech class! As someone who is trying to learn Japanese for video games and anime, this was a really fun and enlightening video! Will definitely be watching you in the future!

  6. from this I learned I am a kuedere cold and emotionless and serious and express emotion under extreme conditions

  7. 2B models were created to destroy all 9S models. A fitting allegory of what w*men do to men. I'd say her character isn't lost in translation at all.

  8. langage is the most underestimated cultural hurdle in existence, 
    I love this series never mind about speech pattern 🙂

  9. Language classes is what I’m here for, and you do a great job with both theory and pronouncing words. Keep it up

  10. I feel like 2B and Zero suffer some of the same issues in localization. it’s just that 2B has a far lesser role in her game, and can come off as boring and unimportant to some people.

  11. Now I'm curious if the Japanese version also has 2B and 9S take turns being skeptical about non-hostile machine lifeforms.

  12. Sassy, sarcastic and dismissive is the western localization idea of all women. Western media loves to turn every woman into a sarcastic bitch for the sake of "empowerment", while the japanese, even if married to their tropes, have dozens of different personalities for their female characters. FFXIV is one of the worst current examples given that basically all characters were butchered in comparison.

  13. i play lately this game and only do Play it in the JP version
    nothing against to eglish but My Main language is Dutch so i will automatic choise for the main language of the game that is JP
    most time if i SEE a game that is basecly made in language the voice of orgine shound way much more plasent then the EN version
    not only that but i hear a double weird sound in EN if i hear the voise that i get a chill…. But I Think the voice are really goood i only dont tend play the EN that often (this just me because some people voice kind of anyoing me with a really weird effect)

    like Panty and socking is a REALLy good explainsion How it work very good

    as diffrent explain i tend like Dutch cover of disney song much more likely then the english because i kind of hear at some part no good emostion or they sound kind of dry???
    that why i prever my own language

  14. I actually loved the more cold emotionless feeling 2B gave off in the English version. I thought it fit the story exceptionally well.

  15. Your video definitely should be a 2 hour language class. I learnt something today because of you, thank you very much !

  16. I should point out that 2B's reply to 9s wanting to be called Nines is not incorrectly translated. In fact it a direct translation. I would argue it had nothing to do with the word choice or intention- it came across as harsh in Japanese too- but the tone used to deliver that line between the English and the Japanese VA's is very different.

  17. i dislike the eng dub of this game, jp is so much better and smooth. I also noticed some of subtitle translation is a bit incorrect.

  18. Loved the video. I also feel that another aspect is Japanese doesn't mind too much about ambiguity and letting implication do a lot of the work in the language itself. Whereas languages such as English and such tend to want more clarity and directness which seem to also come across in the culture as well.

  19. Are they going to make a sequel to Automata?? I feel like since I’ve played Automata I can’t play other games. Nothing feels anywhere close to as fun and engaging. x_x

  20. Honestly aren't most things dubbed are "lost in translations", look at most English dubs of anime and Video-games or Japanese dubs of Hollywood movies and Cartoon/ TV shows, that's why I always recommend people to never watch dubs first , It doesn't mean that dubs are bad, it is just not worth losing the general view point that the creator had when making the scripts for the characters, you can watch dubs later, but always watch the original source material language first so you won't lose any context 🙂

  21. Japanese 2B is voiced by Yui Ishikawa aka Mikasa, which means she is automatically waifu material ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

  22. Ok so 2b and goku are kind of similar.
    Both of them have different personalities/behaviour in Japanese and English

  23. people here in the west don't seem to lean towards the stoic characters much unless they come form japan. an example would be cyclops from the x-men. popular enough.. as a side character but never actually leading the comics himself. it's not a personality those of the west generally enjoy when they create the books. generally. on the other hand we have the batman who is similar in personality and he is insanely popular. so it's just dependent on how it's done.

  24. This is a completely arbitrary number but I do feel like the English 2B is about 90% similar to the Japanese 2B. There are things that are obviously missed that you noted, and these do have an affect on how you understand both the characters and the relationship between 2B and 9S; in some ways it makes it a bit confusing at first for English speaking players because of this inconsistency in attitude. Overall though, I think we got a mostly complete version that, while not perfect, did a great job of portraying the characters as they were meant to be viewed by Yoko Taro when it comes down to the most heated and impactful moments, however, we did miss out on the more subtle cues that did not translate over well from the original. Do I think if these flaws didn't exist, would it have gotten "Nier: Automata" to receive a better critic rating in the West? No, in general it has been extremely well received and unless everyone was told about the inconsistencies, they would have probably never noticed the difference unless they decided to play with both voices and contemplated every scene or phrase. Perhaps this was truly how it was meant to be seen for a Western audience as opposed to a Japanese one where they are more accustomed to the "serious, stoic" character. All of this is interesting nonetheless and as always I enjoy your analyses.

  25. Sure, English may sound more aggressive than Japanese, but after playing the game in both languages and looking at the differences in their dialogue, I get the feeling that English 2B was adapted specifically to be slightly more intense than the original. It's a difference that, to me, is caused more by alternate scripts rather than the tone of the language alone. It's nowhere near the large gap between Gestalt's father Nier's coarse and pushy personality and Replicant's brother Nier's humble and polite attitude though.

  26. i wanna send this video to all the twitch viewers who forced their streamers to play sekiro in japanese when said streamers don't usually play/watch stuff in japanese , "the japanese voice acting is better" , they dont even know what a good japanese voice acting is like you idiots XD

  27. I will say this: to me at least, it feels more like Kira's delivery of the Simone fight line is a sense of "we just got here and i'm already entirely done with this shit". I totally get where you would get the sense of dismissive sassiness though.

  28. Loevd the amount of information and time you took into making this video I also loved this game since it's release. Great job and keep making such amazing content 👍

  29. I work with vides so i know it's not easy to do, but if you manage to make a 2h ong video like this i bet lots of people would like. sure i will. this was awesome

  30. I like the change in character for 2B, I assumed that she was so blunt and mean to 9S because she didn't want to care about someone she was going to kill, also it makes the time she says nines when she dies WAY sadder.

  31. Will you make a "lost in translation" video for 9S too? I love his english voice but I think his character got quite changed too and I'd love to hear your thoughts on 9S' changes as well!

  32. I just finished the game. I cant use the online feature so Im not good ebough to get the final ending. 😭
    However, this game is a masterpiece.

  33. it's also interesting that Yui Ishikawa also voices this character archeotype (Mikasa from Attack on Titan and the titular Violet Evergarden), but regardless she does a splendid job at portraying the character emotions like that

  34. so it's the translator fault that 2B sounded like an asshole sometimes in English voice not the actor's
    and I'm Soooo happy that someone maybe this game more than I do !! I thought that that's impossible Thank u

  35. If Aurora tiptoes any harder to not hurt anyones feelings she's gonna break her toes.

    Which will hurt my feelings.

  36. Ok but can we get that 2 hour language class? You described stress and pitch accents way better than anyone ive heard before.

  37. I think the major reason for the difference for 2B's tone during less emotional moments is due the localization director's view of the character. 2B has a commanding pose in promotional art, and her basic walk cycle exudes confidence, to say nothing of her obvious combat prowess. To Westerners, it may not make sense for 2B to be showing the slight vulnerabilities in her speech that she seems to in Japanese, while at the same time her body language implies she's maintaining the composure of an experienced, professional killer.

  38. The art of localization is the ability to also transfer emotions, innuendos and slang in your chosen language.

    The scene when 9S offers 2B to call him Nines has quite some Nuance to it. The German translation caught this pretty well by saying "Lass mal" which slang for "I'm good", however turning down the offer in a friendly manner. I think what's missing here is a gesture as body language is just as important to deliver someone's motives. Since it was an in-game sequence in a dynamic fight, this wasn't possible and thus 2B sounded rather harsh in that moment. The missing information had been automatically filled by our brain.

  39. I hate when english speakers are retarded enough to be bothered with subtitles because they can't read fast enough and the rest of the world has to suffer with their awful dubs..

  40. Huh, never noticed the stress as you've shown with the word "banana" before. I always use the same volume there. Interesting.

  41. It's always tricky to really nail down the differences between japanese language and english because a lot of what we say is based on culture, not language itself. Theres things that need to be expressed in japanese culture that just don't need to be in a western culture and vise versa. You end up with cases where a direct translation IS possible but would seem silly.

  42. Should I play Drakengard 1?? I kinda want to but if its as janky as DS1…… I dont want to fall of anymore cliffs

  43. Hmmm. Id hypothesize those changes are intentional.

    Now obviously I dont know the localizers intentions and ive only cleared about a third of the game so my experience with the script is limited, but if the examples you gave are the most prevalent, well…

    Those examples werent super complex japanese, definitely not something an experienced translator would just drop the nuance for (especially considering you cant see their mouths well in game and therefore dont have to sync) (I would love to see more complex examples if you have any.)
    To me it sounds like an intentional change to make 2b more appealing to western audiences. Like you said, kuuderes and those type of more…ugh, I dont want to use this word, but submissive traits are generally more desirable in japanese culture.
    Likewise a little bit of spice goes a long way (generally) in the west (where politeness is a lot less valued) and probably added some er, waifu points over here. (As if she needed more)

    Long story short, I'm guessing localizers tried to keep her "appeal" in mind as they, well, localized her.

    That being said you probably know all this already I just wanted to add my take. Really liked the video! i love to talk japanese as its a really fun language and I havent gotten much chance to practice since I came back

  44. for a second i thought this was going to be about some kind of disastrous name changes for 2B in other languages… spanish 2B = dos be, and other weird stuff like that lol. nice video, well done!

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