4 Ways American Video Games Retconned Japanese Culture
My best friend in high school was a guy named Carlos, and he had a somewhat interesting attitude towards culture shock because unlike a lot of people we knew in east Houston he had actually been deported to the United States (Long story). As a result he was keenly aware of what he called "untranslatable cultural idioms," things that make perfect sense to a Mexican or an American, but just don't quite cross over in the language to the other culture.
If you've been on the Internet at all in the last several years you know that Japan and America have their share of untranslatable cultural idioms as well. We don't understand the idea of eating baked potato-flavored Kit-Kats before an exam for good luck, and they don't understand why we own so many guns and tattoo common words like "water" in kanji along our lower backs. Sure, you could type out an explanation. The words are there, but in the end you're applying things one side understands intuitively while the other doesn't.
Video games show this off better than anything because while many, and for awhile virtually all, were made in Japan they knew they were going to have to sell to America to make the big yen. When the time came to do translations, some folks wisely caught things that would not have gone over well here in the States. Things like...
Yoshi Eating Dolphins: Super Mario World had a lot going for it from the get go because Shigeru Miyamoto was adamant that Mario should ride a dinosaur, proving that Miyamoto knows what awesome is and don't ever argue with him. Thus was born Yoshi, who can eat enemies and then turn them into eggs, which seems like a very strange reproduction cycle to me.
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The game also had dolphins because, again Miyamoto knows awesome. The appear only in one level, Vanilla Secret 3, where Mario uses them as moving platforms to get across a water level. They are ridiculously adorable, all grins and cute little goggles. Sure, they can take you the wrong direction, but we knew they weren't enemies because they did no damage and Yoshi couldn't eat them...
Except in the original Japanese where he totally can. The Japanese don't really understand our love of dolphins as non-food stuffs, and didn't really see a problem with Yoshi chowing down on them. On the other hand, we keep turtles as pets too and make no squeaks, so maybe the Japanese are right to treat us a little patronizingly in this.
Ness Gets Naked: Earthbound has a level where the lead character Ness goes into his own subconscious called Magicant. It's a dream world, if you will, and that was explained to us here in America by putting Ness into a pair of cute striped pajamas. In Japan, however, Ness does the level wearing nothing but his trademark red baseball cap.
While it's tempting to label Japan perverts here you have to remember that non-sexual nudity is much more acceptable there than over here. Women even used to walk around topless like it wasn't a thing. It's only when they started trying to sell Japan to the West that things got more covered up, but even now nudity is often used in art to denote purity. Since Magicant is pretty much all about Ness defeating his own nightmares, this makes it understandable.
Trading Offensive World War II Tropes: I'm not a big Pokemon fan, truth be told, but I will give Nintendo credit for something. Lots of RPGs have self-destruct moves that do damage to the enemy at the cost of the life of the character, but since it's basically trading an active party member for one dead enemy it is almost always completely pointless. In Pokemon, the move "selfdestruct" puts your Pokemon into a faint, but since another can just be thrown out for the one on one duel it is actually pretty effective.
In Japan they don't call it "selfdestruct." They call it "suicide bombing," a phrase that wasn't funny to Americans in World War II and gets less funny every year. We got to reciprocate, though, in Fallout 3 when we changed the name of the gun "Fat Man," named after the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, to Nuka Launcher.
Speaking of Pokemon...
Pokemon Use a Brutal Execution Technique: Pokemon has its fair share of creepy stuff... and several other games' shares as well as I've pointed out in the past. One of the worst is a move that we know of as "night slash," but the Japanese call "blade testing." Seems like kind of an odd name, and it would have probably confused Americans who would be unaware of exactly what the name means.
Swords were a big deal in Japan, even after guns arrived. Just as you don't want a shoddy handgun prone to jamming when you find yourself in need of one, you don't want a crappy sword that breaks when it comes time for The Bride to take out The Crazy 88. That means you have to test the blade, a process called tameshigiri.
Though blades were tested against everything from bamboo to steel, they were also set against cadavers or even living convicted criminals. Some masterless samurai would go so far as to try them out by hiding along a road at night and going slash happy on random people. Not that such things would offend us over here where we snipe from the shadows and teabag the corpse as often as we say howdy. It's more likely the game makers knew we would be clueless about proper sword regulatory practices.
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