Titles Lost In Translation


He’s all about protecting you, right?

You thought that thing was called that? Well, you’re only half wrong.


I’ve talked before about how translation differs among cultures. For many English-speaking fans of foreign entertainment, watching movie/TV/game content subtitled is, after a fashion, respecting the creator and their original content. While even subtitles are not “perfect” translations, they cut fewer corners than dubbing does and have to employ fewer tricks to get the same content delivered at the same rate.

For instance, during a talk about localization I saw at Pax East some years back, one of the members on the team that localized Final Fantasy XII mentioned that lip-syncing and information delivery could be tough when you aren’t allowed to mess with code. So, in order to preserve the amount of information, when a character was simply facing away from the camera and not talking in the original Japanese, he delivered a large portion of his monologue in the English version.

The takeaway here is that translation is not a perfect science.

But what I have found most interesting recently is how titles are changed. Because titles do two things: 1) Give a first impression. 2) Have unlimited time to be delivered. Unlike dubbing, where info might have to be cut, and tens of thousands of sentences need to be dealt with, a title has only one tiny sentence and nothing necessarily needs cutting.

What’s difficult is also that titles often work themselves into the work. Consider the moment that someone says the title of the book or movie during the story. It stands out. It’s meant to be significant. When the title changes, or perhaps doesn’t have the same dual meaning it may have in the original, the same impact that mentioning the title would have may be gone. Lost.

The Last Guardian

What inspired this? The short of it is that I just finished The Last Guardian. Got it in America, so played it in English, and I have no idea how the Japanese version compares in dialogue. While it’s a good game, I have no doubt that there are better uses of your study time if all you came for was learning Japanese.

In any case, the name of the game, The Last Guardian, is the English title. You might think the Japanese title would be 最後の守護者 or something similar. In fact, the original title of the game is 人食いの大鷲トリコ. “The Man-Eating Eagle Trico.”


He’s all about eating you, right?

Hot damn.

What makes this title so significant to me is that it seems totally separate from the English. Like, polar opposite. In the English, there’s a sense of protection. In the Japanese, it’s practically a horror. And, I feel like compared to the English, the Japanese title feels more like a spoiler. Can something be a spoiler if it was revealed in the title of the original game? There’s a question.


It was actually back in 2007 that I got my first exposure to this concept. A new expansion titled “Wings of the Goddess” was released for Final Fantasy XI. The director talked about how the Japanese and English titles differed in an interview. The Japanese title was アルタナの神兵. “Holy Soldiers of Altana (a goddess in FFXI)” Paraphrased, he mentioned that while Japanese speakers often like very literal titles, English speakers prefer something metaphorical. In this case, the wings of the goddess Altana are the soldiers that keep her aloft. Makes sense. His explanation was interesting though, and helped inform the further name changes that I’d continue to see.

Japanese people like literal titles.

English-speaking people like metaphor.

So that’s what inspired me to come up with this list of movies and shows that have somewhat or totally different titles in English and Japanese.

Different Names

Just to be clear, this is just a simple list of titles that I personally found. Without further ado:

Japanese Title — Japanese Title Translation — English Title
人食いの大鷲トリコ — The Man-Eating Eagle Trico — The Last Guardian
ワンダーと巨人 — Wander and the Giants — Shadow of the Colossus
デュープリズム — Dewprism — Threads of Fate
ゼロ・グラビティ — Zero Gravity — Gravity
月に囚われた男 — The Man Trapped On The Moon — Moon
ヒックとドラゴン — Hic and the Dragon  — How to Train Your Dragon
アナと雪の女王 — Ana and the Ice Queen — Frozen
ベストキッド — Best Kid — The Karate Kid
ルイスと未来泥棒 — Lewis and the Future Thief — Meet The Robinsons
おもひでぽろぽろ — Memories Come Tumbling Down — Only Yesterday
紅の豚 — The Crimson Pig — Porco Rosso
平成狸合戦ぽんぽこ — The Heisei Tanuki Battle Pom Poko — Pom Poko
逆転裁判 — Reversal Trial — Ace Attorney
Mr.インクレディブル — Mr. Incredible — The Incredibles
レミーのおいしいレストラン — Remi’s Delicious Restaurant — Ratatouille
カールじいさんの空飛ぶ家 — Old Man Carl’s Flying House — Up
ハリー・ポッターと謎のプリンス — Harry Potter and the Mystery Prince — Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
ハリー・ポッターと死の秘宝 — Harry Potter and the Death Treasure — Harry Potter and the Deadly Hollows
スコット・ピルグリム VS. 邪悪な元カレ軍団 — Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Wicked Ex-Boyfriend Army — Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
ビッグバン★セオリー/ギークなボクらの恋愛法則 — Big Bang Theory: The Love Rules of Us Geeks — Big Bang Theory

Well, there’s what I have for now. If you have any more, I’d love to hear them!

2 thoughts on “Titles Lost In Translation

  1. Those Japanese literal titles are really…. something. I wonder why that difference exists?

    And how did you like The Last Guardian? We’ve been waiting for it to come out for, like, 9 years!

    • I actually wonder who has the authority to change them? Is a title like the cover of a book–largely marketing’s responsibility?

      The Last Guardian is great! Not perfect, mind you. Same problem as Shadow of the Colossus or Ico, in that the controls can sometimes feel sloppy. Like, sometimes when I gave commands to Trico, I was left wondering, is he listening? Which is alright in a game like this, because animals don’t exactly follow orders quite so simply. Ask my cats.

      But I mean, the fact that I had to begin that with my one flaw is probably a good sign. I though TLG was amazing, especially at the end. That said, I think if you didn’t finish it, or got halfway, you’d feel like the game was only “okay”. The ending is half of what makes these games great. Like, it’s the last 2 hours that carves the memory of the game into your head. Worth playing, and at about 10-15 hours for a first playthough, a good use of time. 🙂

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