I am re-reading the Battle Angel Alita manga
. It is quite entertaining, if you like science fiction stories with gory action sequences in comic book, errr, graphic novel form. James Cameron is going to make a movie out of it when he finishes all of his Avatar films, if he lives long enough. Maybe.
The main character of the series is a cyborg named Alita, who looks like a petite, very attractive young woman who is possibly the greatest fighter in the solar system. The action takes place in a post-apocalyptic future world. (None of this will surprise you if you are familiar with manga in general but somehow don't already know about this particular work, which is quite well-known and popular.)
I said the protagonist's name is Alita, but that is only true in the American translation of this work. In the Japanese version, her name is Gally (that is, the name of the protagonist in the Japanese version of this work is most commonly transliterated into English as "Gally"). Translating Japanese is rendered even more of a challenge because of the writing systems used. That's right systems
. The Japanese use Chinese characters, which they call kanji, to represent words abstractly (that is the character represents the word itself, it doesn't tell you how to say it), but they also have two different ways of writing words phonetically, in which each symbol represents one syllable. These systems are called hiragana (used to write Japanese words phonetically) and katakana (mostly used to write non-Japanese words phonetically). (By the way, anyone who has studied Japanese more than a little will realize that my previous statements are a gross oversimplification, but nothing I said is actually wrong.) Since very few English speakers can read Japanese, all of the names of people, places, and things in manga must be transliterated into English.
But this isn't the end of the complexity. The Japanese have also adopted the Roman alphabet as an additional writing system, which they call romaji. And the Japanese like to use English words and phrases, written in romaji, to be cool or interesting. Manga often have an official version of their title that is written in English (or at least in romaji) that may not be the same as the English transliteration of the Japanese title. For Battle Angel Alita
, the official, English version of the Japanese title is Gunnm
, while the transliteration of the Japanese title is Ganmu
is supposed to be a portmanteau word
combining the English word "gun" and the Japanese word "yume" (dream).
The story takes place in a city called the Scrapyard, The inhabitants of the Scrapyard eke out a living by scavenging the junk that rains down from the floating city of Tiphares, directly above it. Orbiting above and supporting Tiphares (in the manner of a space elevator
), is the space city of Ketheres. In the Japanese version Tiphares was known as Salem and Ketheres as Jeru. (Or Jeru-salem, if you put the two names together.)
This is just a small example of the difficulties of translating something. You can't just try to match up words without taking into account the cultures behind the languages, if your translation is going to make sense. I am not claiming that the decisions made in creating the English text for Battle Angel Alit
were the best possible ones, but I think it is obvious why the translator or translators thought that some kind of changes to the names were necessary.