Wednesday, August 26, 2009

It’s a Secret to Everybody, Part Ten: Name Origins for Chrono Trigger

(This is a reposting of just one section of my rather lengthy “It’s a Secret to Everybody” post on video game etymologies. Click the link to see the whole shebang. Links to other sections are at the bottom of this post.)

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The two Chrono Trigger games — both major presences in my wasted youth — each offer a few names worth examining by virtue of becoming problematic as a result of their translation from Japanese to English. Foremost is the first game’s protagonist, Crono, whose name defies etymological sensibilities by omitting the “H” that appears in the series title as a result of the five-character limit that wasn’t extended for the American version of the game; had six characters been allowed, the hero’s name might have been Chrono and therefore more correct. (In official Japanese-language press materials, the name appears with the “H,” it should be noted — or at least that is the case when it’s not rendered as Kurono.) I discuss Crono’s odd name in an older post that focuses on the unusual decision to strip his mother of a name in the game’s English translation. Whereas she had one in the original Japanese, she’s inexplicably known only as Mom in the English version.

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missing an “h,” missing a clear pronunciation, missing a distinctive name

Similarly problematic is the name of Chrono Trigger’s leading lady, Marle, which lends itself to a few different pronunciations — somewhere between Meryl and Marley, depending on who’s doing the pronouncing — but which appeared in early Japanese media and English translations of said media as Marl, Mal or Mar, none of which have particularly appealing, heroine-worthy connotations. And then there’s Lucca, a young scientific genius whose name happens to be shared — as it’s pronounced, if not as it’s spelled — by two other female characters of games that Square produced aside from Chrono Trigger: Final Fantasy IV’s Luca, who grows up into a master of robot technology in Final Fantasy IV: The After, and Luka, a young-looking but old-acting character in Secret of Mana.

Crono, Marle and Lucca aren’t the interesting ones, however. As a result of the game’s tendency to skip through time, the three end up meeting heroes from various epochs — among them, Ayla, Frog and Magus. The first, a fur-clad warrior cavewoman, would seem to take her name from the protagonist of Jean M. Auel’s 1980 novel Clan of the Cave Bear, who is also a prehistoric woman who excels at hunting. Japanese media offers Ayla’s name as Eira, however, and I wonder if the decision to link the character to Clan of the Cave Bear might have been made by the American translators and not the original creators. Given that the Chrono Trigger centers around time travel, I wonder if Eira could have any relation to the English word era but have never found an answer one way or the other.

ayla_eria_frog_kaeru_magus_jacky
suitably prehistoric, appropriately changeable, and he of many names

Another of the game’s central characters is its representative of the medieval age — an anthropomorphic, sword-toting frog who happens to be named Frog. As the game progresses, the player learns that Frog was cursed into slimy, green amphibiousness and once had both a human form and a more suitable name, Glenn. In Japanese, Frog’s name is Kaeru, which literally translates as “frog,” appropriately enough, but can also mean “to change,” which might be just as appropriate, as well as “to return,” which is really neither here nor there. That Frog’s previous name was Glenn is probably not especially significant, but I can’t help but wonder if it was chosen for its resemblance to the word green, which would be all the greater if English-to-Japanese translation happened to render the name Grenn instead of Glenn. Furthermore, Frog and the rest of the Chrono Trigger cast were designed by artist Akira Toriyama, who also did the character designs for another Squaresoft game, Tobal No. 1, which featured an fair-skinned, green-clad character named Gren Kutz. This guy’s name was probably supposed to be Glenn.

And then there’s Magus, who I wrote about in a previous post. His various names are a rather complicated matter. If you include various identities he goes by in both the English and Japanese versions as well as characters in sequels closely associated with him, Magus has eight.

Both Chrono Trigger and its sequel, Chrono Cross, feature a pair of impish characters who represent a sword called the Masamune — a powerful weapon in the game as well as many other video games. (This weapon and all the others take their names from a famed thirteenth-century swordsmith, Gorō Nyūdō Masamune, who has become synonymous with masterful sword design.) The twin spirits, however, are strictly a Chrono series thing, and the origin of their names, Masa and Mune, is pretty obvious. In the Japanese version of the games, however, no famous Japanese sword is referenced. The blade is the Grandleon and the associated spirits are Gran and Leon. Not nearly as cool, really.

masa_mune_goro-nyudo-masamune
masa, mune, and mr. masamune himself

The brothers also have a sister, Doreen, who doesn’t do much of anything in Chrono Trigger besides have a name that stays the same in both the Japanese and English versions of the game, despite the fact that Doreen is the most ordinary Western name of the whole lot. (It’s theorized that her name is supposed to approximate the English word dream, which could be significant in that it’s suggested that she and her brothers might have been dreamed into existence.) In Chrono Cross, however, all three siblings fuse together to form a new powerful weapon — something called the Mastermune in the English version and Grandream in the Japanese. (Oddly, Mastermune features only one sibling’s name; Grandream features only the ones excluded from Mastermune.) Grandream sort of resembles the name of Gran Dolina, an archeological site in Spain’s Atapuerca Mountains where evidence of the first hominians in Western Europe has been unearthed. Given Chrono Trigger’s theme time travel, it wouldn’t be an entirely inappropriate reference, but I feel like it’s just a coincidence.

In keeping the time-honored tradition of naming video game characters after rock stars, Chrono Trigger features a trio of B-level villains named Ozzie, Flea and Slash, who would seem to take their names from Ozzy Osbourne, Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers and, again, Slash from Guns N’ Roses. (For the record, that’s three characters named after Slash, each in unrelated games. And here’s another: the Chrono Cross character Nikki, who is such a rockstar that he actually fights with his guitar and who happens to be known in Japan as Slash. I’m guessing Nikki takes his American name from the Mötley Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx.)

ozzie_vinegar_flea_slash_mayonnaise
the condiment crew: ozzie, flea and slash

In the Japanese version, the trio has themed names that honor another onomastic tradition: random-ass food names. Ozzie, Flea and Slash are Vinegar, Mayonnaise and Soy Sauce. Or damn close, anyway: The last two fall just a little short, at Mayonee instead of Mayoneezu and Soisuu instead of Soisoosu. The Condiment Crew also helps make sense of another Chrono Trigger character, Tata, whose English name is a clipped version of what the Japanese version was aiming for: Tarta, as in tartar sauce.

Chrono Cross continues the condiment theme with minor, comic relief bosses named Solt, Peppor and Ketchop — or, in Japanese, Salton, Sugar Lou and, for some reason, Ludwig. Yeah, at this point, it seems like something that should be put to an end.

Whereas Chrono Trigger features only seven playable characters, Chrono Cross offers a whopping 45, including some like Glenn and Luccia whose names seem to reference those from the first game. I’m not going to try and tackle the whole cast, but I’ll make a note on one that always stood out to me: Macha.

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mammycha, essentially

For being a relatively minor character that only appears in a single game, Macha could inspire long academic papers on the subjects of racial depictions in video games and racial otherness as perceived by Japanese pop culture. In short, she appears to be an incarnation of the mammy stock character, even though the world of Chrono Cross doesn’t exactly have race as we in the real world do — that is, Africa and America don’t exist in the games, so the notion of an African-American representation doesn’t exactly work. But hell — she wields kitchen tools in battle and attacks by throwing dishes at enemies or literally folding them like laundry. For the purposes of this post, I’ll leave the matter at the fact that her Japanese name, Mamacha, even more closely resembles the word mammy. (She and her family members also suffer from a peculiar speech impediment that makes them add the syllable “cha” to the end of words for no apparent reason, but I’ve never been able to make any sense of this.) Macha was the subject of one of the earlier posts of this style that I ever put up on this blog, so have a look if you’d like to read more.

Finally, Finally, there’s an interesting note about Crono’s mother in Chrono Trigger and the mother of the Chrono Cross protagonist, Serge. Both games open with the heroes being awakened by their mothers and these scenes are clearly intended to parallel each other. But whereas Serge’s mom gets a proper name, Marge, Crono’s mom is simply known as that — Mom. As I noted in this post, the Japanese version of Chrono Trigger gave the character an actual name, Jina, but it was for some reason nixed from the English language version. I can’t imagine why, other than some translator’s belief that English-speaking players wouldn’t otherwise put it together that Jina is Crono’s mother and not some strange woman wandering into his room and opening his curtains. Very odd.

The whole “It’s a Secret to Everybody” series:

2 comments:

  1. "Eira" is exactly how "Ayla" would be rendered in Japanese (assuming the "ay" is pronounced like the name of the letter A, and not like "eye"). The romanization of the Japanese word doesn't match the spelling of the English word, but that doesn't mean anything.

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  2. To be clear: You're saying the romanization of "Ayla" doesn't match the English word "era," right?

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