You don’t need me to tell you that translation is a difficult business. Any given anime sub always comes with quibbles about its accuracy, and some are even hugely controversial and flare up the internet pitchfork-mobs. Personally, I have no special Japanese linguistic knowledge and usually give subtitles the benefit of the doubt, but this week’s episode of Yakusoku no Neverland raises an interesting question.
These kids know about Molotov cocktails?
I mean, they may. I don’t know. But this is an issue that exists only in the subtitles and demonstrates the trickiness of translation. Now, in Japanese what Emma and Roy talk about are 火炎瓶 — you may have heard them say ‘kaenbin’ — and it transliterates to, roughly, ‘flame bottle’. That’s descriptive enough and entirely generic, but the English subtitles I had translated it to ‘Molotov cocktail’. Out of context this would seem the correct translation for a makeshift petrol bomb, but within Neverland… is it? The term ‘Molotov cocktail’ has history behind it, being named (satirically) after, as is easy to tell, a guy named Molotov. So the children referring to a ‘Molotov cocktail’ implies that history, implies that like our world they also had a guy named Molotov who upset the Finns, and indeed that their world may indeed be ours. Is that true? I have no idea. But I would bet that the translator didn’t either. Most likely they didn’t think about it at all and inserted meaning into the dialogue that wasn’t there originally. This is why good translators need to be familiar with the entirety of the material and think about what they’re saying with every word choice.
Again, translation is a difficult business.
As for the rest of the episode, we’re fast approaching the big finish of this story arc so I’ll refrain from commenting too much about it. I’m sure there will be plenty for discussion next week. I do, however, want to briefly talk about Ray. I feel like he’s been given a raw deal. Now, I’ve expected Ray to sacrifice himself for his friends for a while, now. He’s shown himself to be a creature of calculus. If he can sacrifice himself to significantly increase the probability of success I’m sure he will. You may disagree with his philosophy and his friends certainly do. But to refute Ray the story basically had to make him stupid. Norman’s alternative, faking one’s own death, is Thriller Gimmick 101. Surely Ray would have considered that. And even if he didn’t, why didn’t they ever tell Ray about that plan? I mean, they’ve already told all the other kids, what more harm can there be? At the very least when Emma and Ray had their little exposition time Emma could have interjected at any time and said, ‘Yo dawg, we know you plan to off yourself but you don’t got to do that no more.’. Sure, it made for a good scene as Ray definitely came down on one side of the ‘to be or not to be’ debate and provided action shenanigans, but I don’t believe in compromising storytelling for the sake of the scene. I’m a Pixar guy. Story first.
I’m hoping that next week we will get more complexity. Emma, in particular, has never been asked to truly test her own philosophy. She’s been staunchly the ‘save everybody’ voice of our protagonists, and so far she’s been allowed to live by that without much moral challenge. But now as complications arise perhaps she will be called on to make the calculation, to consider sacrificing one for the good of many, to be more Spock and less Kirk. In the end she may succeed anyway, but I want to see that moment of doubt. So far she’s had it easy; others hatched plans to make her ideals reality and we’ve conveniently time-skipped all the hard work of training the other kids and hiding La Resistance from Isabella. Now, though, Emma is the leader. And if she never has to make any hard choices how can we tell if she’s a good leader?