XSEED “KKK” Localization Controversy

In the news today: Localizer Asks to be Removed from Game’s Credits After Developers Erase KKK Reference (via Kotaku)

Summary: A localizer for the publisher XSEED has gone public with their opposition to a decision made by developer Acquire to remove a KKK reference from the upcoming title Akiba’s Beat. A sign in the Japanese version of the game read “KKK witches,” a play on the Japanese light switch company NKK Switches. Upon the publisher informing the developer of the hateful connotations behind the acronym “KKK”, the developer took the decision to replace the phrase with “ACQ Witches”.

The localizer in question wrote on the XSEED forum: “I personally felt ‘KKK witches’ was pretty funny for its shock value, but when I mentioned it to my coworkers, they… were not as amused.” Further, the localizer has asked to be removed from the game’s credits as a sign of their opposition to what they see as censorship. Since XSEED has a policy of no longer crediting localizers in perpetuity after they have initially requested to be removed from a game’s credits, this localizer does appear to have done themselves a disservice professionally, particularly as their decision was based upon a misconception. They state: “When I first requested to have my name removed from the credits, I actually didn’t know we’d never specifically asked Acquire to change this – I assumed we had. If I’d known that then, I might not have ever suggested removing my name from the credits. Then again, I still might’ve!”

Since we’re not here to criticize personal decisions, let’s instead focus on this localization issue. (Since that’s what this blog is all about.)

The original Japanese was intended to be a funny ploy on a company acronym well-known to Japanese players. It was not intended to be a shock reference to the KKK, since the game’s original audience is Japan where the KKK isn’t much of a thing. (You can argue that well-educated Japanese writers would have at least heard of the KKK, but to assume its cultural significance in Japan would be to demonstrate a lack of understanding of Japanese society, and the projection of Western thought). In the US, however, such a reference would undeniably cause controversy and damage the reputation of the game, its developers and publishing company. In any case, ascribing intent to a piece of language that was not intentionally there is a mark of bad localization.

In this case, the line should absolutely have been localized out. What’s surprising is that it was the Japanese developers who came to this conclusion faster than the localizer did.

Let’s focus on the localizer’s defence for keeping the line. As stated above, they “personally felt ‘KKK witches’ was pretty funny for its shock value.” Moving past the insensitivity of that remark, let’s focus instead on what appears to be the localizer’s desire to retain the unintended humor behind the inclusion of the acronym KKK. In a comment on the Kotaku article linked above, they stated: “…In the context of appearing on a sign in a busy part of Tokyo, where the business in question obviously had NO IDEA what it meant? That’s pretty funny, if you’ve ever been to Japan.
“Engrish” exists as a concept for a reason, and a sign that says “KKK witches” is so out there, so WRONG, that it appearing on a sign is definitely worthy of at LEAST a chuckle, for the absurdity alone.”

From this, we can clearly see that the localizer wanted to share the discord they experienced by seeing the acronym used without the intent it has outside of Japan. To share some of the amusement one experiences when encountering Engrish and cultural clashes. This is not the job of a localizer. A localizer’s role is to smooth over cultural disconnects like this, PARTICULARLY when to not do so would be to introduce unintended, potentially inflammatory meaning to the text. Localizers are not hired to poke fun at the ways Japanese language often clashes with English, they are not hired to share a nudge and a wink with players. While some hardcore purists opposed to “censorship” may begrudge such a decision, it remains that Japanese developers hire localizers to produce a product that hits the same intended notes as the original, that stands alone as a professional piece of work. And the developer’s word is final.

In my opinion, this sort of “joke-alization” is more suited to fan translation, not paid, professional work.

What are your thoughts?