Tuesday, May 19, 2009

East vs. West: Kato-chan and Jeff

Before the advent of the ESRB rating system and a broader American familiarity with Japanese entertainment, localization tended to wreak havoc on the Eastern sense of humor. The 1987 Japanese PC Engine game Kato-chan & Ken-chan came to America in 1990 as J.J. & Jeff for the TurboGrafx-16. When I first played the U.S. version, there were a number of puzzling elements that became clear more than a decade later when I saw the original Japanese edition. This much I knew in advance -- the Asian comedians the game was based on were unknown in the U.S., and so were replaced with generic 90's hipster characters.

And of course, the Japanese text was replaced with English; I have no idea whether the translation is in any way accurate.

But why is the other, unplayable character simply standing by a lamppost with his hands on his hips and his back to the audience at this point in the first level? He seems to have no reason for doing so... until we see the original animation, in which the character's hands are employed to properly direct a stream of tiny yellow pixels.

At least the birds are permitted their natural, comically outsized, bodily functions in both versions.

This next change actually has a frustrating impact on gameplay -- J.J. is armed with a spray can which fires in FRONT of him, a marginal advantage at best for taking out enemies approaching from the right, where there is plenty of time to plan a normal jump attack. And it seems odd that he has to squat to fire said spray can. But all becomes clear when we see Kato-chan's more conveniently targeted rear gunnery, so to speak.

And finally, why is Jeff squatting immobile in the bushes wearing a wolf mask and holding a spray can? Apparently because there were a few graphical bytes freed up by leaving out Ken-chan's straining facial animation.

Now, I don't mean to suggest that the original was a comic masterpiece. Potty humor is potty humor in any language. But at least it made a little bit more sense.

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