A Cherry Blossom by any Other Name..
by J Andrews
Why this compulsion to change the names of the characters when anime is brought over to North America? We've progressed little since the days of Voltron and Battle of the Planets. In those anime nearly all the names were changed. In the anime of today, approximately 15 years later, some names are kept and the rest are changed. To what purpose?
Nelvana gives us a clue in their Cardcaptors FAQ. "Cardcaptors is directed at an English-speaking audience. Many fans are children. Some of the original character names are difficult for English-speaking children to pronounce. The new character names are as similar to the original as possible while at the same time allowing children to identify with the characters and ensuring the names are memorable and simple."
Now, let us take this one step at a time. Ah, children, the great youth of the US and Canada who have been breast-fed on the milk of television and video games. Children who buy Pikachu dolls, quiero Taco Bell, and can tell you why Digimon is nothing like Pokemon. These are the children who can't pronounce a name like Touya. It's simple, guys, Toe-ya. Those things you have on the front of your foot, ya?
So "some" of the names are hard to pronounce. Well, let's see. We have Kero which rhymes with marrow and wheelbarrow. We have Clow which rhymes with row, mow, tow. There's probably a Dr. Seuss book that will help them with that one. But okay, those are the names they didn't change. On paper. But not a single voice actor pronounces them right, or Sakura. More on that later.
Yukito. You key toe. This isn't rocket science, people. Besides, kids build model rockets anyway. Tomoyo. Toe moe yo. See how that toe keeps cropping up? Maybe it's an insidious plot to get rid of all possibility of foot fetishers liking the show.
But enough about these hard to pronounce names. Let's attack their other main point. The children need to "identify" with the characters. Apparently diversity isn't taught at the elementary school level? Well, good thing my college has a diversity requirement then to make up for the lack. I'd be darned surprised if most of the kids watching this show didn't have an Asian kid or two in their classes at school. They might even know someone whose last name is Kinomoto. Do they not identify with the students in their class who have names that aren't common in the US and Canada? Do they pick on the kids named Hanako, Wu, or Etienne?
Give kids a little credit here, Nelvana. This isn't the world you guys grew up in anymore. It's far more diverse. More than half the kids watching your show identify themselves not as any one race, but of several. I myself would probably be called Caucasian or White if you looked at me, but I check the Other or No Response box on forms. It doesn't matter to my generation or the one after us. They can handle names they haven't heard before. Besides, do you really think they know boys named Tori, girls named Madison, men named Aiden? Julian's about the only name chosen that makes any sense according to the reasons given in the FAQ. (And I happen to be personally fond of it.) If children in Canada are familiar with these names and find them "memorable" and "simple", then I have to inform you, Nelvana, that American children are not and do not. Not any more memorable or simple than Touya and Yukito.
Now, lest I forget one thing that was mentioned in this excerpt, we'll go back to how the new names are kept "as similar to the original as possible". Oh, yes. Touya/Tori is at least a little close. Rika/Rita is the best of the lot. Julian/Yukito? Well, two of the vowels are the same. Fujitaka/Aiden, however, just throws me for a loop. Jack would've been closer, or any manner of other names. Tomoyo, if I may make a suggestion, wouldn't be bad as say.. Tammy. But I'm sure you did your utmost, Nelvana. It was sheer luck that I came up with those names off the top of my head and they seem so much closer to the original.
I'll move on to the next part. The part about mangled pronounciations of the names that were kept. "While it is common in Asian languages to put the accent on the first and last syllables of a word (i.e. SAH-koo-RAH), in North America, names tend to have the accent on the second syllable (i.e. Re-BEC-ca)." Ah yes, of course! Like Dra-CU-la and Spi-DER-man. I see now, thank you. But you still didn't explain why Kero is wrong, or Clow is wrong, or Syaoran (Showron) is wrong.
Fess up, Nelvana. It's pretty obvious to me that your translators did their best to see that the names were pronounced correctly, and then your voice actors screwed up. I'm sure it wasn't their fault. How likely is it that you provided them with copies of the anime in the original, so they could hear the right pronunciations of things? I have some evidence to back up my theory.
Take Li Showron for instance. Showron, if you pronounced it like you're pronouncing Clow, would come out 'Shaoran'. Amazing, isn't it? That's how it's actually pronounced! I think the translators tried to give you a romanization (spelling) that would be easy to pronounce, and then it got screwed up anyway. This FAQ also claims to have worked with Kodansha on things. I wonder if Kodansha wasn't just too polite to tell them they've mangled pronunciations like stupid Amer-, oh sorry, Canadians.
I'm also slightly confused on Li Showron. Li was his last name and is now his given name. But Li Meilin is now Meilin Rae; changing her last name but keeping her first name right where it is. And, oh yes, it didn't escape my notice that the Chinese names were kept. I'll keep that in mind for future ponderings.
As for Natasha... with a certain movie about a moose and squirrel being released soon, I think this name is a little ill-chosen for Sakura's late mother. Don't you, Boris?
Anyway, SaKUra, I'm sure some of us are just glad you're not Nikki, like was previously bandied about. Although I see they managed to slip that name in anyway for someone else. Chelsea, Zachary, Tori, Madison, Julian. Sounds like the cast list for Popular. Only Tori would be a girl and Madison would be a boy. Or a County.
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