“Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies” Does NOT Take Place in Japan
I’ve always been a fan of the Phoenix Wright games, and I’ve had Dual Destinies sitting on my 3DS basically since I bought it. Recently however I’ve had a bunch of spare time on my hands (and a resurgence of desire to play handheld games) and I finally sat down to take a crack at it. Admittedly, I haven’t had a chance to beat the game yet but we’re operating on a deadline here so this is what you get.
The main thing that’s captivated me about this game – and I say captivated but it’s more like ‘amused me beyond belief’ – is actually due to an unexpected problem with English translation. See, since the beginning, the Phoenix Wright games in English have had a really weird conceit about them not taking place in Japan. I seem to recall them saying early on that the games took place nonspecifically in the United States, but the really important part is that the games do not, according to the English translation, take place in Japan. In Dual Destinies this becomes a bit of a hilarious problem.
The reason for this is twofold – first, there’s a case that takes place in a traditional Japanese village. Technically speaking it takes place in two traditional Japanese villages. This case concerns itself with the traditional Japanese village’s very traditional Japanese obsession with traditional Japanese-style monsters, which the game even refers to by their actual Japanese name: Yokai. Also, not surprisingly, everyone in this village is clearly Japanese.
As you might expect this presents a bit of a problem for the translators. However, I must say that they handle it masterfully: There’s one vague mention of how weird it is that a bunch of Japanese people established the village a long time ago as a “themed” tourist trap and then it is never mentioned again. The rest of the translation is (at least I’m guessing) pretty much word for word from the Japanese one. There’s a character who’s obsessed with handwritten talismans that ward off demons. One of the suspects is continually referred to as resembling a tanuki. What I’m trying to say here is that shit’s pretty goddamn Japanese. But no. This village is, like, off the I80 a couple hours north of Los Angeles. Or something.
The other really big glaring problem with this choice is the newest prosecutor they’ve introduced to the series. In the past this role was played by Miles Edgeworth, whose attire was patterned after the English and therefore easy to explain, the Von Karma family, who were clearly German, and a guy named Godot who was tan and just kind of liked coffee. It was very easy to explain these people away as being not Japanese because saying that they are Japanese is actually almost weirder than the alternative.
Enter Simon Blackquill. There’s no way to dance around this fact: Simon Blackquill is a samurai. He looks like a samurai. He has a pet hawk named Taka. He talks a lot about how a battle in the courtroom is like a duel with swords. And, oh yeah, literally everyone calls him a samurai, including himself. He refers to people by adding the suffix “-dono” to their last name, which is a trait common among samurai that has fallen out of favor in modern times. The man is a samurai. In a game, oh I don’t know, set in Japan, this would be a hilarious joke and the player would chuckle a little at Simon’s weird and outdated mannerisms and that would sort of be the end of it. In the English version the reaction is similar, except every little while the game has to remind you that “it’s super weird for someone to be that obsessed with Japanese culture.”
There are other little things that are less obvious, as well. For example, the game’s sidekick character is a woman named Athena Cykes, who’s clearly European. Phoenix mentions that he met her while he was traveling through Europe to study the different types of legal practices there. That alone is a little weird for an American, given that (for the most part) the legal systems of America and the better part of Western Europe are remarkably similar. Not exact, but probably not different enough to warrant flying across the world to watch them firsthand. However, this would make sense if – say it with me now – the game was set in Japan.
But the reason that I bring up Athena is that she has one particular personality quirk that’s kind of important to my argument: She has a fascination with languages. Every now and then she’ll but out some French or some Spanish for no real reason other than that she’s a child prodigy-slash-genius. Assuming, of course, that the translation is relatively faithful with this weird exception, this also makes sense in the original translation. Why? Because everyone’s speaking fucking Japanese. It’s weird for an 18 year old European girl to be able to speak Japanese, isn’t it? Hey, not if she’s a goddamn genius with a fascination for languages. Doy. Oh, everyone speaks English? Well now she’s just got a weird quirk. And don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with characters who have weird and arbitrary personality quirks. Everyone has weird and arbitrary personality quirks, it’s part of what makes us human. But as a writer it’s funny to me because these choices are clearly deliberate on the part of the original Japanese writers, and because of someone’s (ironically) arbitrary choice to make the game take place in America – a choice that was made during a translation meeting literally fifteen years ago – now we’re left with these hilarious inconsistencies.
And it wasn’t even a bad choice. In 2001 translators thought people wanted their localizations local. And maybe we did! What the fuck do I know? I was 10. Think about how 4Kids thinks nobody outside of Japan knows what rice is. It was the standard practice back then. It’s kind of weird when you think about it, really. I mean, if that’s the case, why bother importing Japanese media at all?
Maybe next post I’ll answer that question.