Translation Notes: Romancers' Neo

Romancers' Neo first caught my attention as the opening theme song of the Nanoha PSP game Gears of Destiny, which I've mentioned before. (The OP version runs until the end of the first chorus, where the translated lyrics are "it waits for you".) If there's one interesting thing about it, it's that the lyrics are liberally sprinkled with... I would say English terms except I'm not actually confident that they are all English. If they are, they're obscure enough to evade my fairly expansive vocabulary. In short, one of the hardest parts of being a translator is that you have to be everything else too, or at least be able to fake it well enough.

Which brings up an interesting question, really. When translating, do you leave the original text in (where it makes sense to do so) or do you translate for meaning instead? Another good example of this is Only My Railgun by fripSide, the opening to A Certain Scientific Railgun. Presented with what is nominally English but which makes little sense to English speakers, what do you do when translating, whether for subtitles or for a blog like this one?

The second line, thus, provided no end of problems. Partly because it took me forever to figure out what "campanella" was supposed to be. Once I did think to look more closely at Italian, rather than English, the idea of talking about a bell ringing came shortly thereafter. This is a case in which I felt leaving the Italian term in the final product would have been almost completely nonsensical; simply replacing "bell" would only produce confusion, and trying to avoid adding the reference to ringing (which is not really in the original text) would have been worse. ("Reach, campanella!" Yeah, no thank you.)

Of course, then immediately after that I did leave a fairly obscure term in. For the record, "rondo" is a word in English, referring to a work or movement of music with its own particular subject. This time, though, trying to shoehorn in a definition would have been the less optimal choice. Any attempt to do a single-word replacement (such as "melody") would be materially different, and putting in an entire explanation would quickly descend into an overly-long string of words. So, rondo stays in, and anyone who wants to know what the song's exactly talking about can look it up, as I imagine many Japanese would have to as well with the original text. (It does show up in Japanese dictionaries too!)

The next incidence of an unfamiliar term came in the first stanza after the chorus (fourth overall). "Kalmia" is apparently a type of plant, assuming that that is in fact what was intended when these lyrics were written. (It's what comes up in the Japanese dictionary for the katakana カルミア, at any rate.) And there's a distinct way in which that reference makes sense, in that the rest of the line refers to a sprout... breathing strongly? In all likelihood, I made hash of that line, but I feel like the characters as written make... little sense. What I did in the end was to associate breathing with living, and connect that back to plants and growing, but that's very much a workaround.

Of course, the other problem is that the kanji there has nothing to do with plants. If you were to ignore the reading given, you'd see the word for "ambition", which is where that part of the translation comes from. Kalmia is apparently a decently pretty plant (if Google Images is to be believed), so perhaps it makes sense for "grow to become like this" to be a sprout's ambition.

And then we hit the end of the stanza and the Japanese katakana "ファーブラ", with which all I can really do is give you the near-direct romanization "fabula" and leave it at that. I can't even suggest what that might mean, because I have literally no idea. Searches in three separate dictionaries (the English, the Japanese, and the other Japanese on my phone) each yielded no results. If someone does have a theory they'd like to defend, by all means tell me about it. UPDATE: Aaaaaand I should have paid more attention to the possibility of Italian showing up again. Apparently "fabula" translates as "fable" in that language. Barring any better explanation, I've edited the translation slightly to reflect this information.

Once I got through the incredible mess of unfamiliar words, though, the translation was reasonably straightforward. I did flip around sentence orders in a few places, most notably in the chorus, where the word "rise" starts the line in the translation and ends it in the original text. Needless to say, I do think that the alteration is a more effective way of getting at what the song is saying.

Let me know what you think of the translation (or the song) in the comments!

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