Just wondering, how does profanity usually carry over in the localizations you've seen? I know that Persona 3 and 4 have some pretty harsh language in English, and Catherine goes straight for the f bomb. What are your thoughts/insight on that, and how do you think it'll go for P5's localization, since people have noticed the Catherine similarities, edgier tones, and larger amount of blood and violence so far?
This is an interesting question, and one that was one of the first I found myself confronted with when I actually started studying Japanese. You see, the thing is, the Japanese language has a completely different concept of what a “swear” is than English or German do.
Of course, there’s some words you wouldn’t wanna use in public - sexual organ colloquialisms like “chinpoko” and “omanko” come to mind - but “cursing” in general is a lot more of a matter of context in Japanese than it is in the other two language that I speak, and usually it’s not the language used that makes something offensive - it’s how it is used.
For example, a decade or two ago or so, the Pokemon Fandom was complaining in great rages about the Anime being “censored”, but not because of the usual 4Kids stuff, but because a Fansub where Ash kept yelling “Damn!” and “Shit!” whenever something bad happened came out. The truth behind the matter is that this particular translation choice of 4Kids didn’t actually involve any censorship whatsoever: While the Japanese exclamation “Kuso!” is a quite literal equivalent of our swear “Shit!”, it’s not a word the Japanese feel the need to protect their children from - it’s not considered offensive to use it on a children’s show, as long as the character isn’t directly addressing someone with it; that’s when it becomes offensive. When a character calls another “Kusogaki” (shitty brat), for example, then it’s far more cutting to the Japanese ear than them just exclaiming “Kuso!” into the air with no direct goal it is addressed to. That’s why Ash using “Kuso!” in Pokemon is not exactly offensive, but Adachi calling the IT and the world “Kuso” over and over sounds extremely harsh.
This doesn’t only apply to this one word. There’s a lot of other expressions in Japanese that would be considered offensive in one context, but perfectly harmless in another. Another thing is that in Japanese, more often than not, it’s grammar and sentence structure that make dialogue sound harsh and rude, much more than the actual contents of said dialogue. The dialogue of Kanji from Persona 4 contains actually almost no outright “swearwords” in the Japanese version; what makes him sound so aggressive and rude is the way he uses his grammar and constructs his sentences, how harshly he tends to roll his “R”s, how he shortens down words like he didn’t care for them to sound correct, how he slurs words and even whole sentences almost constantly. There’s no outright offensive vocabulary needed to make him sound rude; it’s all in the way he uses his words.
Something else that can make dialogue sound offensive are word choices: Using any male pronouns harsher than “Ore” (sometimes even “Ore” will do the trick); having characters refer to others as “Anta”, “Omae” or even “Kisama” for “You”, using just a little less respectful terms to refer to your family members than what is common… None of these things is considered “Too offensive” to be shown on children’s TV in Japan, yet they’re impactful enough to make a character seem positively rude if used right and it high enough measures. That’s what this dialogue is: Not censorship worthy, but harsh enough to make the audience flinch a little when the characters talk. Something that can’t always be accomplished in that way in our more clear-cut western languages.
And then come us translators and try to somehow put this stuff into German or English. Hoo Boy.
At this point, we usually have two options: Make the dialogue sound less rude than it actually sounds in Japanese, resulting in a loss of emotion, or make it sound just as rude, making it so offensive in the process that it requires a T or M rating to pass by anything.
Ace Attorney usually goes for the first option. It’s characters, no matter how rude they are in the Japanese version, are usually translated in a way that doesn’t exactly raise the game’s rating in any way, at the cost of sounding a bit… unrealistic or even “Narm”-y at times. (”You scoundrel!”)
(Btw; This method is also what gave birth to the famous “You spoony bard!” line, in an attempt to retain the rudeness of the term “Kisama” along with the game’s low age rating.)
Persona, on the other hand, usually goes for the later option, seeing how the game, given its contents, doesn’t have any hopes to get anything other than a T or M rating to begin with anyway! So the translators go nuts; any instant of Kanji being rude gets peppered up with a lot of “Damns” and “Assholes”, every occasion that Yosuke is frustrated has his feelings conveyed through a realistic use of “Hell”s, “Crap”s and “Damn”s. None of these terms they use so frequently have any direct equivalents in their Japanese dialogue; Kanji merely has the pronunciation and grammar of a Yakuza-goon, while Yosuke speaks with a very heavy “Young, Male, Tokyo City”-dialect. The swears are merely used to convey the emotions their dialogue expressed in the original, which, without them, just isn’t really possible in the English language.
That’s why it’s sometimes so hard to judge if a Japanese medium has had its script “censored” or not in translation; It’s just not as simple as that. Several valid translation choices exist, and which you pick is simply determined by the priorities of the project you’re working on. That’s the truth of the matter.
Therefore, what P5′s english script will be like, too, is going to depend all on what Atlus of America make their priorities during translation. If they deem the non-dialogue contents of the game so heavy that they can’t escape the M-rating anyway… Well, chances are we’re gonna get a nice dosis of F-bombs whenever they feel it fits the emotions of a scene.