Lost in translation is a pretty funny thing.
The premise, not that old movie. We’re not talking about that here today.
Recently, I was give some manga from my friends over at TOKYO POP. Both were recent shoujo titles with Romanized names of their respective Japanese titles; Futaribeya and Konohana Kitan. Just those two books alone with their Japanese titles spelled out in Roman letters was enough to get my brain thinking about my personal anime/manga fandom in its entirety. Formally, that’s twenty years of show titles rattling around in my skull. Unofficially, it’s about thirty years because of all the ‘I didn’t know it was anime’ stuff I watched on Nickelodeon and random non-cable channels as a child.
When anime (or shall I say ‘Japanimation’? Just kidding, I won’t ever say that again) as a medium began to rise in popularity and my beloved fan subs and bootlegs graced the lovely hidden corners of the internet, more and more commonplace titles began to float to the surface. Publishers and distributors had a conundrum on their hands– do we leave these titles in Japanese? Or do we Westernize them?
Well, in some cases the joke was on them; certain titles had such deep roots and rich fan bases that there was no way those titles could be translated. Try as they might, some of those Japanese shows rejected their new English titles and went on to be Romanized and called by their faithful names. And while we have show titles like Neon Genesis Evangelion and Revolutionary Girl Utena that use their Japanese and English names interchangeably with success, other shows just couldn’t shed that Japanese naming skin. So today on PopLurker, we’re counting down some of my favorite Classic Anime titles that refused to be renamed in English.
11) Urusei Yatsura
If I said Urusei Yastura and you were a classic anime fan, you’d know exactly what I was talking about. Hell, if I even just lazied out and called it ‘Lum’ you’d know who I was referring to. But if I called it Those Obnoxious Aliens…would you have any idea I was referring to the same show?
Of course you wouldn’t– nobody ever called it that.
I’m trying really hard to remember where that translated name even came from. Even with an internet search, the oldest of tangible media for Rumiko Takehashi’s 1970s romantic comedy masterpiece has the name Urusei Yatsura attached to it. I’m wondering if it was an old manga translation or perhaps some VHS or Laser Disc packaging where I saw the name. Because even those old-old 1998 DVD boxes, you guessed it, say…
Granted, if you search for Those Obnoxious Aliens, the show definitely comes up. This was a real thing, I’m not making it up. But with some of the best and most groundbreaking animation, music, and character designs (come on, Lum is the OG Babe, hands down), it’s funny that its ‘English title’ just wouldn’t stick.
10) Tenchi Muyo!
Tenchi Muyo is one of the most chronologically confused animes I’ve ever watched. I remember being a fan of the original Muyo OAV, sticking around for Universe and the first two movies, seeing some Pretty Sami and Magical Project S before falling off the wagon and getting trampled by the timeline. But my friend Renee at Good Morning Otaku wrote a great article about the Tenchi Timeline, which I have referenced before and will continue to link as long as Tenchi makes no sense to me, which will more or less be forever.
But did you know it has an English name as well?
Published in manga form as ‘No Need For Tenchi’, this ‘no need’ naming convention never seemed to stick. I recall it used most in the early graphic novels, and I also feel like it was used in the English translation of episode titles. But go ahead and ask any fan, ‘Hey friend and fellow classic anime viewer– were you ever a fan of ‘No Need For Tenchi’?
See what their Oldtaku face does after you drop that bomb.
I dare you.
9) Kimagure Orange Road
Even if you’ve never seen Kimagure Orange Road, it’s one of those classic titles you’ve seen in anime stores or on fan-sub bootleg lists. It’s a a Japanese science fiction romantic comedy about a teenage esper named Kyōsuke Kasuga and the love triangle he gets involved in with delinquent Madoka Ayukawa and her best friend Hikaru Hiyama.
Now, this series is unique on our list because the title was never even bothered to be translated. It’s always just been called Kimagure Orange Road. But why? Well, upon further investigation, Kimagure is a word that is difficult to translate. Its closest equivalent is ‘capricious’ which is synonymous with ‘whimsical’ or ‘fickle’, which really, to me, don’t have much in common. In cases like these, why bother giving it an English title anyway?
8) Ruroni Kenshin
Ruroni Kenshin (sometimes referred to simply as ‘Kenshin’ by fans) is one of those shows that I really wanted to love. Seriously every friend of mine just adored this show. I loved the design. I loved the aesthetic. I loved the animation.
But I was never quite sure what a ‘Ruroni Kenshin’ was, other than the very distinctive looking main character said ‘oro’ a lot.
Finally, once the show made it onto streaming services and away from the fan subbed bootlegs of yesteryear, I gave it a try. It was dull to me, which was sad because ‘Freckles’ is such an uplifting song and a version of it even made it onto DDR Max. And while there’s no official English name for Kenshin, its title is made up of a slew of Japanese puns.
Ruroni = Wandering
Kenshin = Ken (sword) + Henshin (Transformation/Change of Heart)
And unless you count the OAV and movie marketing nightmare that was Samurai X…
You can see the problem here.
7) YuYu Hakusho
“Hey guys! There’s an awesome new anime that I think you’ll really love! It’s called ‘Poltergeist Report! It’s super great and all the rage. Want to watch it with me?’
*blank stares from friends*
“Huh, no one has heard of it? It’s really popular. Maybe I’m saying the name wrong. Anyone want to watch The Ghost Files?”
*one friend glances at another and lifts his eyes in the direction of the door. The other friend nods slowly and shifts his eyes back over to you, the speaker*
“No dice, huh? Man…maybe I’m still messing it up. I know! You guys want to check out Ghost Fighter tonight? I’ll buy the pizza and beer.”
*one friend slips a bottle of cyanide pills from his back pocket. The other starts inching toward the window. You look around at them, confused*
“So no one wants to watch YuYu Hakusho?”
*Your two friends cheer, jump up, high five, and ask why you didn’t just say that in the first place*
*Your jaw hits the floor. You grab the bottle of cyanide pills from the floor, swallow the contents, and jump out the window*
Or maybe that’s how I felt the first time I heard Poltergeist Report used in reference to the anime classic YuYu Hakusho. It’s one of those shows where it didn’t even matter what the hell it was about. Four boys wearing distinctive colored clothes and a cute girl on a broom. It’s just fucking Yuyu Hakusho, damn it! Eventually, the usage of Poltergeist Report, which clearly never stuck, faded out and even the robot host of Cartoon Network’s Toonami referred to the show by its Japanese title.
6) Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon
No list about anime naming conventions would be complete without our favorite soldier of love and justice.
That’s right– I said solider.
For the longest time, Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon was unabashedly translated as Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon. Everyone seemed to agree with this title to the point where the background music in the show gently chanted ‘Sailor….Soldiers’ while the girls transformed or fought. I want to say it was used most in the 4th season, SuperS, but don’t quote me on that. This is an internet article– you think I’m going to do research?
After the fifth season, titled Sailor Stars, it seemed the whole Pretty Soldier/Bishoujo Senshi debacle had come to an end. A few years after the show ended, a new product line called ‘Sailor Moon World’ popped up, which seemingly settled the impending storm. But alas, she was a brewing. A live action Sailor Moon television show called Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon arrived, and fans, myself included, embraced the new Pretty Guardian title, as it seemed exclusive to the live action show.
Finally, as the manga began to get republished and the rights were purchased by Viz Media, the new Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon title popped up everywhere. Fans were confused, and show creator Naoko Takeuchi decided seemingly out of nowhere that she’d actually envisioned the Pretty Guardian title all along. Which seemed like crap.
Today, we have this newly resigned logo from Viz which is used for the merchandise and DVD sets. They cut the shit and went with a good old straightforward ‘Sailor Moon’. I personally hate the design, but hey, you go live your best life. If the new one bothers me, I can very well go back to my cave and look at the OG Sailor Moon logo in a multitude of languages until the universe implodes. But I’ll never call it Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon. Not because of some contrarian conviction.
I’m just old and busted.
5) Kodomo no Omocha
Kodomo no Omocha, shortened to Kodocha in the fandom was a show that was explosively popular among the underground fansub crowd. If I’m not mistaken, half of the show was successfully fan-translated before the rights were purchased by Funimation. And truly, they swooped in just a little too late. Just like when ADV swooped in to dub Wedding Peach, the craze was ending and we were heading toward the second wave of anime.
But that’s a tale for another article.
While Kodocha is a perfectly great name for shortening the title of Kodomo no Omocha, the show’s name literally translates to ‘Child’s Toy’. There’s nothing funny or any sort of weird Kanji or cultural puns or accidentally perverted (unless you’re me) that prevented this name from being used. However, the love of the series was too strong and it was never known as anything other than Kodocha, even here overseas.
Hey kids, it’s your ‘first time anime’, Inuyasha. Known in Japan as Inuyasha: A Feudal Fairy Tale, this new-millennium Rumiko Takehashi anime (the one that made her rich as shit in spite of Lum, Ranma, Maison Ikoku, Mermaid Scar, Mermaid Saga, and the rest of her huge body of work) was the one that many young fans cut their teeth on. Unless you’re me and you grew up watching anime produced from 1984-1999, then Inuyasha is just at the tale end of the classic era, but too old now to be considered new anime.
All this shit I’m spouting is arbitrary and composed to suit my agenda that I’m literally devising as I type. I just want you to be aware of that.
So, while Inuyasha was tearing up the airwaves and becoming the most popular contemporary anime both in Japan and the US around 2002 through the end of the final act in 2010, no one ever saw a need for it to have any English attached to its name. And this is good! Yes, it’s a proper noun and the main character’s name. But when we break down the name, we see that Inu means dog and Yasha is a female demon. And while you may be over there thinking ‘Why would anyone dub his name away from the original Inuyasha?’
Never forget Mr. Satan to Hercule.
3) Fushigi Yuugi
Fushigi Yuugi is an anime series that was licensed and badly dubbed by Pioneer in 1997-1998. It’s got a killer design and premise, but the comedy and tone sadly just don’t hold up. In fact, this show makes an appearance in two previous PopLurker articles, one about ‘everybody wants to do me’ (aka Harem) anime, and the other about unrequited queer loves in anime. Because making fun of the gay character, Nuriko, is what this damn show did best.
Love it or hate it, it’s a shoujo classic and was very important at the time.
But this is a case of the licencor pushing a new name so hard that I could practically feel their veins popping. Pioneer renamed the show The Mysterious Play and this title appeared everywhere. On the video packaging, on the art books, on the newly translated/published manga, you name it. But guess what fans always called it?
It was a distinct, straight to the point name. No other show had a title that sounded like that, so why fluff it up with a TL;DR title that doesn’t capture the essences? Granted, sure, we early teens maaaay have mispronounced it and called it “Fushijee Yuujee” for five minutes until the president of the anime club made fun of us. Whatever. It was a thoroughly Japanese title and it was one that we felt cool saying. So keep your Mysterious Never Ending Butt story, Pioneer. We don’t want it!
Yeah– told them off!
Pioneer has been dissolved for years, so I’m literally talking to no one like a dolt.
2) Kare Kano
After the lunacy that was Neon Genesis Evangelion, studio Gainax decided to reel it in and produce the anime version of Kare Kano in 1998. It was another one of those anime titles that everyone knew about from contemporary anime lists and fan sub tape websites.
It also got the unfortunately translated name of His and Her Circumstances.
Guys, these kids are in high school. That title sounds like a fucking soap opera. It’s an approachable slice of life shoujo series about a girl named Yukino Miyazawa with good grades and a perfect exterior. However, it is a façade to win praise. In the privacy of her own home, she is spoiled, stubborn, a slob, and studies relentlessly and obsessively to maintain her grades. On entering high school, she is knocked from her position at the top of the class by Soichiro Arima, a handsome young man whose very existence Yukino considers a threat to the praise on which she thrives, and she vows to destroy him.
The show was short, the show was cute, and the show was always referred to as Kare Kano.
1) Hana Yori Dango
Man, you don’t realize how many 90s anime series involved a girl where all the dudes wanted to tap that until you start writing a listicle of some kind.
But I digress.
My fellow classic Otakus, we have made it to the end of our list! And what classic anime list of untranslatable show names would be complete without Hana Yori Dango.
That is, Boys Over Flowers.
I think it’s safe to say that title never really stuck.
Hana Yori Dango was the story of a girl named Makino from a working class family who won a scholarship to a rich school. Now surrounded by four dudes (but really focusing on her relationship with two of them), we follow her adventures surrounded by dumb rich guys.
The story is incredibly popular and spawned many incarnations. From the manga, to the anime, to a live action series and a movie, Hana Yori Dango was a force that could not be stopped. It even made it stateside along with its Boys Over Flowers title…which really, no one other than itself ever called it that. And while the name is plastered all over the manga and DVD releases, it knows enough to have the original title right next to it because Boys Over Flowers is just so basic bitch next to the mouth music that is Hana Yori Dango.
I invite you to correct me, my weeb brethren. And if I’m wrong…
We should hang out and watch Ghost Fighter sometime with some Obnoxious Aliens.