I am nothing if not a masochist when it comes to hammering Japanese into my brain, and lately I've needed things to think about that are not related to insurance and paperwork, so I have re-started poking at the Ace Attorney games -- or, more properly, the Gyakuten Saiban games. The DS games are remakes of the GBA games and conveniently also contain an English script if I get too fed up with things, although you can't switch back and forth in the same save file, and the English text in the Japanese release has enough typos to rival some of Taito's classic 'quarity tlansration' efforts, from back in the day.

Still. It's interesting.

The localizations were done astonishingly well, considering Capcom basically released the first one in the US on a whim. As expressive as the English is, though, there are a lot of things in Japanese that just don't come across, because there simply do not exist any equivalents. One of the most basic ones, and usually very revealing, is keeping track of forms of address. I think my college textbook said there were something like five levels of formality in Japanese, but my college textbook was a liar. Counting formality levels is like counting colors -- how many you get depends on how finely you can discern one from the next, how big your vocabulary is, and how much you really care. Social standing, mood, respect, formality, and familiarity are all very tightly wound together in Japanese grammar. Once you get all that reasonably well figured-out, you also have to take gender into account. Something that sounds kind of informal and slangy from a male speaker can sound outright weird and aggressive from a female speaker. Pronouns are probably the most blatant example. A young adult man using 'boku' for the first-person pronoun is likely to be pretty polite; a young adult woman using 'boku' is usually seen as outspoken bordering on pushy.

(I'm very bokukko when I speak, if anyone was wondering. I consider it only sporting to give other Japanese-speakers fair warning about what my overall personality is like before they get too far into the conversation. Also, I'm a contralto, and I sound ridiculous when I do the girly squeak thing.)

Honorifics are another big thing that a lot of Westerners are at least passingly familiar with. They're titles, more or less, that get tacked onto the end of names, and indicate the relative social positions and relationship between the speaker and the person being spoken to/of. Most people know -sensei and -san by now, because for a while in the '80s you couldn't turn around without tripping over a piece of merchandise from The Karate Kid, or something with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles printed on it. There are roughly a squintillion of these, although a lot of them are very specific, and a good portion of the ones relating to nobility or the military are not much used by the general public anymore. Knowing the exact difference between a -dono and an -ojousama is like knowing the exact difference between a countess and a baroness. Someone somewhere does, and will probably get annoyed if you screw it up, but to most people it's murky and just filed away with "that lady outranks me".

Ryuuichi (Phoenix) is a boku-kinda guy. It makes him sound like a reasonably upstanding citizen, especially since he's somewhat more polite when he talks to other people than he is in his internal monologue, which is no less snarky in the original. He uses anata for the second-person when talking to clients and in court; he uses kimi when talking to friends. Neither is unusual. He does actually call Chihiro (Mia) "Chief" (shochou, which is 'head of the workplace'), and after she formally passes the law offices onto him, he goes with Chihiro-san, which is respectful without being obsequious. Chihiro calls him Naruhodo-kun, which is affectionate and cute -- the suffix -kun is generally used to address males who are younger than you are, and in the workplace or with older students, is used by managers or teachers to address subordinates/students. Notably, his surname is actually Naruhodou, with a long vowel on the end; naruhodo is an expression meaning "I see how that works now!" She's basically nicknamed her junior partner "Eureka".

It's also a slightly better setup for the bit about her getting Yahari's/Larry's name wrong at the end of the case. In English, she mistakenly calls him "Harry" Butz, and the joke is that Larry is such a twit around women that she could call him Floyd and he would answer to it happily, as long as she and her gazongas kept paying attention to him. In Japanese, his name is Yahari Masashi, and she calls him "Yappari" instead -- yappari is another idiom meaning 'certainly, of course, I knew it', and when he and Ryuuichi were at school together as kids, there used to be a saying that if there was some sort of mischief afoot "yappari, Yahari wa!" ("Of course Yahari's involved."). The fact that she's just spent an entire case calling the main defense counsel Naruhodo-kun makes it more of a running gag, that she ever-so-slightly mangles names in hilariously appropriate ways.

Mayoi (Maya) eventually gets around to calling him Naruhodo-kun as well, but for her entire first case, she's super polite and calls him bengoshi-san, "Mr. Attorney", more or less. She uses atashi for the first-person pronoun, which is also polite, and distinctly girly -- when she really gets going, she drags out her vowels all sing-song and generally sounds like a young teenage girl. She's full of -masu verbs, which is the polite way of conjugating things, which makes it all the more emphatic when she drops into plain forms to announce that she will not forgive the person currently trying to get Ryuuichi convicted of murder.

(Whose name is Konaka Masaru in Japanese, by the by, Redd White in the localized version. In the US release, he's constantly mangling his English in an attempt to bluff being smarter. In the Japanese version, he's constantly mangling his English in an attempt to bluff being cooler. There's some creative katakana interpretation of a nasal American accent in his dialogue boxes. He tells Ryuuichi DON BOZAA MII and GOHOOMU when he doesn't want to answer any questions, and at one point snaps at someone on the phone to SHARAPPU, which is actually closer to "shaddap" than our usual spelling of "shut up". The weird is distinct enough that reading it aloud specifically gets you a spoken American vernacular accent, rather than a phonetic rendition of how our dictionary pretends we pronounce things.)

Deciphering Mitsurugi (Edgeworth) is somewhere between aggravating and hilarious. He starts out super-formal in court, which makes him a giant Wall O' Kanji in every text box. At one point he actually refers to the Prosecutor's Office as wareware, which is an archaic first-person plural that is used today, if at all, as a grandiose royal 'we'. It doesn't last very long. By the end of the first day of the first trial he runs against Ryuuichi, he's dropped four or five formality levels and whacked very hard into each and every one of them on the way down. When he's slamming his hands on the desk and glaring fit to kill across the courtroom, he gets all the way down to addressing Ryuuichi as kisama, which is technically 'you' but with an unspoken addition of '...lousy bastard, so help me if I could reach you I would wring your neck'. (Ryuuichi, in return, hits Mitsirugi-me once in his internal monologue. Rarely used, -me is a suffix that indicates you are about ready to throttle the person you're using it on. A rough translation of a box that just said "Mitsurugi-me..."  would be GODDAMN YOU EDGEWORTH. Which, coincidentally enough, is the same thing I say whenever he looks especially smug.) Through most of the trial he seems to think that his opponent's just "Mr. Defense Counsel"; at the end he does remember Ryuuichi has a name, but it's always the full "Naruhodou Ryuuichi", probably something he picked up from the Karuma/von Karmas, since they both do it, too.

Ryuuichi, notably, is picky about his honorifics. When he first meets Mayoi, he barely has time to realize she's standing over Chihiro's body, get her to cough up her name, and find out that she's Chihiro's little sister before the detective drags her off to jail. When he gets to talking to himself, trying to figure out what to do, he hits a point where he's gotten through her name, "Mayoi..." then deliberately pauses for a moment, and consciously decides he's going to call her "-chan". She's young, she's in trouble, and most importantly, she belongs to Chihiro; he decides very much on purpose that she immediately qualifies as a friend and someone who needs help and protection. The only other place he does this is when he's trying to figure out what to do about Mitsurugi, and he has to remind himself to think of the other man as Mitsurugi-kenji. (Translated as Prosecutor Edgeworth. Reasonably well, as that word does mean the state prosecution in Japanese -- the kanji literally say 'investigator (of) things', which is how his branch series got the name Ace Attorney Investigations.)

It doesn't work all that well. The first time the prosecution decides to come glare at him in the courthouse lobby, Mitsurugi starts his lecture on how he has no qualms about convicting Ryuuichi even if they did know each other as kids in a fairly formal and very stiff fashion. The only thing Ryuuichi can really cough up in response is "Mitsurugi..." without any honorific at all. This is known as yobisute, or "throwing away what you call (someone)", and it's only used when the people involved have already got some sort of context for their relationship wherein the level of respect the speaker has for the spoken-to is so obviously understood it does not need to be restated ever again. Whether this level is "undying" or "nonexistent" depends on who's talking. It's fairly common for older siblings to use it on younger ones -- Chihiro calls Mayoi just "Mayoi", for example -- or for parents to use it on their children. Between two unrelated adults, it's exceptionally rude to use it without being either tacitly or explicitly invited to do so. The kind of rude that starts fist fights. Ryuuichi and Yahari use it with each other (actually, Yahari tends to call him "Naruhodouo" with an extra-extra-long O at the end, just to emphasize how much he whiiiiiiiiiiiiines it) and the two of them have known each other since before kindergarten. It immediately whacks Mitsurugi two or three levels down the formality ladder, and for the rest of the conversation he is, if not exactly friendly, then at least reasonably familiar (plain form verbs, omae as the second-person pronoun). It's more or less what you'd expect of a man in his mid-twenties who is threatening his favorite rival, but he doesn't react like he's offended -- he just continues with what he was saying in a significantly less distant fashion.

There are other bouts of bizarreness in the dialogue, like Shochiku Umeyo/April May, who has the girliest conceivable voice and likes to refer to herself in the third person. Itonokogiri Keisuke/Detective Gumshoe has come across quite fabulously in translation. He likes to call everyone anta (a mumbled form of the reasonably polite anata, another form of you), use jibun ("me, myself") instead of any of the proper first-person pronouns, and grumble the ends of all his sentences off into a katakana -ssu. There are several English accents that have the same cadence as his Japanese, and one of them happens to be, probably by sheer coincidence, the kind of Newyorkese that Americans (and people who watch American television) already associate with scruffy trench-coated homicide detectives, thanks to Peter Falk as Columbo in the long-running eponymous series of TV mysteries, and Jerry Orbach as Lenny Briscoe on Law & Order. Itonoko-keiji may not be as bright as either of those, but at least he sounds the part.


  1. The more I read of your Japanese posts the more amazed I am at just how complex a language it is. Also the games sound like interesting fun but sadly I don't have the platforms to play them.

    1. You're one of my UK readers, yes? DS handhelds do not have any region protection on them, which means you can buy a DS and games from anywhere in the world, and even if they're not from the same place they'll work together fine. (Mine was brought back from Japan ages ago, and plays happily with US games, Japanese games, and a Chinese flashcard of questionable provenance.) Amazon UK has used DS Lite models available from about £30; Amazon US has them starting at ~$40, which may be cheaper even with shipping. The DS games are widely available and even new, clock in at about twenty of whatever your respective currency units are.

      Failing that, Capcom also offers the original set of games on Wiiware worldwide, and recently they were also finally released for iOS, and can be found in the App Store as 'Ace Attorney Trilogy HD'. If you really love these sorts of games, though, I would recommend picking up a cheap DS. The touch screen provides an excellent interface for point-and-click adventures, puzzle games, and visual novels. There's a large library of them for the DS that have been released in English, as well as free emulators that let you play a lot of the classics of the genre that came out in the 1990s for PC.

    2. Yep, I am.

      Maybe a better way to put it is that it sounds great, and yes, I could go buy a DS for not too much, and get some cool games, but honestly? I don't have time I want to spare. Angel has taken over most of my free time (half way through season 4! Nearly there!) and the PS2 has taken the rest...
      Still I do love reading your explanations and opinions of the games. :)


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