Translation Theory: Gankutsuou [Spoilers]

Translation Theory: Gankutsuou [Spoilers]

It’s me again! Today, I’m covering something a little bit different than usual. This is sort of a reworking of a presentation I gave in my Japanese translation theory course back in undergrad (translating your own work into English is really weird). I’m revisiting Gankutsuou, but this time I’ll be writing about the anime.

Inspired by Alexandre Dumas’s classic novel, The Count of Monte Cristo, the Gankutsuou anime tells a story of revenge set against a science-fiction backdrop. My previous post on Gankutsuou gives a brief overview of the plot, so check that out if you haven’t already. I’m going to dive right into this one.

There’s a big conversation going on right now about subtitles/scanlations versus dubs versus the original language text/scripts. I thought it’d be a good opportunity to break this out. Something very interesting about the Gankutsuou anime is how the actual dialogue differs from the English dub in some parts. One thing I want to go into is how the nuances of Japanese cannot always be translated directly into English (and by not always, I mean most of the time). Another is how English word choice can wildly change the original meaning of the script.

There are two scenes in particular that I want to explore. Be warned, there are heavy spoilers throughout this article.

Episode 9: I Dreamed a Dark Dream

This first one occurs in Episode 9. A bit of background: Franz, the best friend of the protagonist, Albert, has a fiance named Valentine through an arrangement with their families. However, Maximilien, a friend of Albert and Franz, is in love with Valentine. In this scene, Albert has fallen ill, and Franz and Maximilien have a conversation that stems from this, specifically when Franz says Albert has never been ill, even as a child.

Maximilien: You and Albert were the closest of friends even when you were young children, weren’t you?
Franz: Yeah.
Maximilien: Mademoiselle Valentine told me all about it. She told me that she’s always been jealous of how close you two are and how she wishes she had the same thing in her life.
Franz: It’s just ’cause we’ve known each other for so long.
Maximilien: You know, I don’t think it’s just because you two are old friends. I somehow get the distinct impression that you share a special bond that no one else can understand.
Franz: Speaking of sharing special bonds, how long have you desired Valentine?

Yeah. There’s a lot to unpack here. But first, let’s compare it to the original script. This (and the translation later in this article) derives partially from the subtitles and translation done by me. I included some of the more literal translations to get the mood across.

Maximilien: フランツさんとアルベールさんは幼馴染なんですよね?
Franz: ああ
Maximilien: ヴァランティーヌさんから聞きました。それこそ二人はいつも仲良しで、自分はそれをうらやましく思っていたって。
Franz: 長いからね、アルベールとは。
Maximiilien: 長いだけじゃ…ありませんよね?お二人は…どこか他人が入り込めないような絆で結ばれている気がして…

Maximilien: You and Albert are childhood friends, aren’t you?
Franz: Yeah.
Maximilien: I heard from Mademoiselle Valentine. She said she’s always been jealous of how close you two are.
Franz: It’s because we’ve known each other for so long, Albert and I.
Maximilien: It’s not just because it’s been so long, is it? I feel like you two are connected by a bond that no one else can interfere with.
Franz: Speaking of which, how long have you had feelings for Valentine?

Of note here is that when Maximilien says “it’s not just because it’s been so long, is it?”, he raises his eyebrows. Franz responds by lowering his head. Little touches that really affect the dialogue!


Franz and Maximilien.

Let’s start with Franz’s segue. In the dub, Franz takes the subject of “special bonds” and connects it to Maximilien’s romantic feelings for Valentine. A little awkward, but alright. In Japanese, it’s a bit more nuanced. Franz infers what Maximilien is talking about, in this case being romantic feelings, and asks his question from there. Maximilien and Valentine do not have a “bond that no one else can interfere with”. The only thread connecting these two statements is the presence of romantic feelings.

Now, I’m not here to prove that Franz is in love with Albert. That would be a whole article in itself. But there are a few moments that hint at his feelings. 

Franz gazes at Albert from the other room and says, “But if you love her, that should be all that matters.” Maximilien asks why Franz can’t love Valentine, despite being her fiance, and he slowly lowers his head as the question is asked. Franz’s response: “What about you? Will you stop loving her just because you can’t marry her? […] You can’t, can you? You can’t simply fall out of love, can you? Even if it’s a relationship where you can’t marry the person.” 

I’ll leave you with that.

The biggest difference here is Maximilien’s comment about bonds. In the Gankutsuou English dub, he says they have “a special bond no one else can share in,” while in Japanese, he says they are “connected by a bond that no one can interfere with.” This might seem like a trivial difference, but it’s telling to me. “No one else can share in” means no one can have a bond like Franz and Albert have: a strong friendship, a shared bond. “A bond no one can interfere with” is different, if a bit hostile. It suggests that no one can, or is even permitted, to come between the two of them.

Episode 15: The End of Happiness, The Beginning of Truth

The second anime scene I want to go over is the big one. In this scene, the Count of Monte Cristo has taken Albert on a cruise through space. Little does Albert know that the Count specifically took him on this trip so one of his plans involving Albert’s father could go into play. The Count has just told Albert that he will be leaving Paris soon. He tells him that the task he came to accomplish will soon be completed, and he will no longer need to reside in Paris. Albert doesn’t react well, to say the least. In Japanese, what he says is arguably a confession, while in English, it is much more unclear.

Albert: No, don’t say that! Please, stay in Paris for good! Or, if staying in Paris isn’t possible, then I want you to take me with you when you go! I don’t think that I could bear being apart from you!
Count: I’m moved, Albert. I didn’t realize you thought that highly of me.
Albert: I do!
Count: Your youthful passion will cool to wiser reason.
Albert: That’s not true, Count! To me, you are… I mean, the way I feel is…

Albert: そんなことおっしゃらず、どうか、ずっとパリにいてください!もしもそれが無理とおっしゃるなら、どうか、僕もお供させてください!僕は貴方から離れたくない!
Count: 貴方は…そんな私を思っていると…?
Albert: はい
Count: 情熱はやがて冷めるものです。

Albert: Don’t say such things! Please, stay in Paris forever! If that’s not possible, please take me with you when you go! I don’t want to be apart from you!
Count: Do you think that highly of me?
Albert: Yes!
Count: The ardor of youth eventually cools.
Albert: That’s not true! To me, you’re…*

*This is what the subtitles say. In actuality, Albert says 僕は貴方が… (boku wa anata ga…), a phrase that is usually ended with 好き (suki) or a similar word, making the phrase mean “I love you”. This, however, is impossible to translate directly into English.


Albert and The Count.

We first need to consider the ways we say “I love you,” and how we trail off.

“I love…”
“僕は貴方が…” (literally, “I ___ you…”)

In Japanese, the object is known, but the verb is not. In English, the verb is known, but the object is not. There is no set way of saying “I love you” in English while preserving the subject but leaving out the verb. What’s interesting is considering the different ways this can be worked around. Is “to me, you are…” adequate? Does it get the feeling across? What if it were “I’ve fallen for… (you)”? The issue here is that it seems a bit stronger and less nuanced than in Japanese, even if it’s a set phrase.

Now, I’m not saying any of these official translation choices are censorship. I’m saying it’s all about context. Gankutsuou isn’t BL or shoujo (in which BL isn’t uncommon), so any feelings between two men are more subtle. They are supplemental to the story, but not the whole story. There’s little room for romance in something so focused on dark themes such as revenge and how it destroys lives.

Before we criticize dubs and subs, we have to consider a couple things. It’s important to note that literal translations do not work well. Inevitably, something is going to be left out. It comes down to the difference between Japanese and English and sentence structure. If everything were translated literally, it would lack flow in English. This isn’t to say that everyone needs to consume both the English and original Japanese media to fully appreciate the work. If someone likes dubs, great! You can enjoy dubbed work without being obligated to know what the original script said. For those who are interested, though, comparing the two (or comparing the original script to the subtitles) can be an eye-opening experience.

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