The steps beyond simply “translating” a song (“Mimikyu’s Song” – Pokémon)

mikukyuToday I wanted to make a quick post talking about song translation and the difficulties/challenges people face when actually localizing it (officially or not). For reference, what I mean is beyond the simple translation, a way that works in the spirit of the original while still applying to the target audience/medium.

I felt it was a perfect opportunity to talk about after posting several different versions of the Mimikyu Song

I post every version in order below with some brief comments describing the step by step. A big thanks to aria and Alisha Lyn for doing the rhyming & rhythm fitting respectively. : )

Check out aria’s twitter here!

Check out Alisha Lyn’s twitter here!

Here is the song for reference:

Step 1: Original lyrics (Japanese)

The first step is the original Japanese lyrics, posted here for reference. I wrote up the romaji myself for those who were interested, but the lyrics are straight from the source (video description) rather than by ear.

The romaji lyrics will be useful in showing non-Japanese speakers about certain things later on.

Japanese:

ミミッキュのうた

ピカチュウじゃないよ ミミッキュだよ
さみしがりやの ミミッキュだよ
おひさま おひさま ちょっとこわい
まっくらなとこが 好きなんだい

みんなと なかよくなりたくて
ピカチュウのマネっこしています
このお洋服 似てるでしょ?
てづくりなんです すごいでしょ?
めくっちゃだめだよ ぜったいに
見たら呪われちゃうかもよ

ピカチュウじゃないよ ミミッキュだよ
おばけじゃないよ ミミッキュだよ

大きなツメで きみを守るぞ
10まんボルトで お役に立つぞ
頼れるポケモンに育つから
あなたの仲間にしてください

ピカチュウじゃないよ ミミッキュだよ
友達になろう ミミッキュだよ
ピカチュウじゃないよ ミミッキュだよ
さみしがりやの ミミッキュだよ

ピカチュウじゃないよ ミミッキュだよ
おばけじゃないよ ミミッキュだよ
ピカチュウじゃないよ ミミッキュだよ
友達になろう ミミッキュだよ

Romaji:

Mimikyu no Uta

<Yo yo kite kudasai, Mimikyu no rapu da yo!>

Pikachu ja nai yo Mimikyu da yo
Samishi gariya no Mimikyu da yo
Ohisama ohisama chotto kowai
Makkura na took ga suki nandai

Mina to nakayoku naritakute
Pikachu no manekko shiteimasu
Kono oyoufuku niteru desho?
Tedzukuri nandesu sugoi desho?
Mekuccha dame da yo zettai ni
Mitara norowarechau kamo yo

Pikachu ja nai yo Mimikyu da yo
Obake ja nai yo Mimikyu da yo

Ooki na tsume de kimi o mamoruzo
Jyuumanboruto de oyaku ni tatsu zo
Tayoreru Pokemon ni sodatsu kara
Anata no nakama ni shite kudasai

Pikachu ja nai yo Mimikyu da yo
Tomodachi ni narou Mimikyu da yo
Pikachu ja nai yo Mimikyu da yo
Samishi gariya no Mimikyu da yo

Pikachu ja nai yo Mimikyu da yo
Obake ja nai Mimikyu da yo
Pikachu ja nai yo Mimikyu da yo
Tomodachi ni narou Mimikyu da yo

Notes:

  • One thing you may notice is the prevalence of “da yo” in the song, two syllables that repeat to keep to a certain rhyme and melody. The “o” sound appears in many different forms “desho, narou, etc” throughout the song too.
  • Pikachu and Mimikyu repeat a lot too, and are likewise three syllables each, but thankfully the official localization seems to have kept Mimikyu’s name so that caused little issue in the song. (I.e. Imagine if it was a song about Bulbasaur and Fushigidane (the Japanese name), three syllables versus five…)

Step 2: Literal translation

So next was the literal translation of the song –getting the essential meaning. The closest possible meaning, though it may sound stilted, it is to assist with step 3. As far as I know, official work often has separate individuals work on this, as the translator may not be as good with word-smithing as someone who lacks the Japanese skill but majored in the English language, for instance. But that is for step 3.

Literal English lyrics:

<Hey hey, listen up! It’s the Mimikyu rap!>

I’m not Pikachu, I’m Mimikyu!
The lonesome Mimikyu
Mr. Sun…Mr. Sun is scary.
So I stay in the darkness, I like it in here!

I just want to be friends with everyone!
So I pretend to be Pikachu
I look sort of like one in these clothes, right?
I made it all myself, isn’t that amazing?
Never ever try to take it off!
You’d get cursed!

I’m not Pikachu, I’m Mimikyu
I’m not a monster, I’m Mimikyu

I will protect you with my big claws!
I will help you with my thunderbolt!
I’ll be a dependable Pokemon if you raise me,
So please become my friend!

I’m not Pikachu, I’m Mimikyu!
Let’s be friends, I’m Mimikyu!
I’m not Pikachu, I’m Mimikyu!
The lonesome Mimikyu…

I’m not Pikachu, I’m Mimikyu!
I’m not a monster, I’m Mimikyu!
I’m not Pikachu, I’m Mimikyu!
Let’s be friends, I’m Mimikyu!

Notes:

  • “Mr. Sun” is a pun on “Ohisama” (a way to say “the sun”). The “-sama” is an honorific that can be attached to names too. As the nature of the song was child-like, it fit translating it that way better .
  • Originally I translated the song in the third person (“it’s mimikyu, it’s not a monster, etc). It can work both ways due to Japanese vagueness (trainer talking to Mimikyu or Mimikyu to trainer), but after the video context it seems to be one talking about itself, so first person.
  • The literal translation is what you often see in fan-subs in anime, for instance. The lyrics in Japanese playing on one side, then the literal (sometimes stilted sounding) meaning below.

Step 3: Edited to rhyme and flow in English

With the literal translation, the next step is to make it rhyme and flow in English without sounding as literal. A big thank you to aria for writing a version that rhymes while keeping the original meaning!

Flowing English lyrics:

Pikachu? Nope, I’m Mimikyu
The lonely and friendless Mimikyu
Sunlight and brightness is what I fear
Shade and darkness is where I’ll appear

Lonely and sad, I just want to have friends
And that’s why I choose to pretend
A Pikachu disguise, does it look good?
I made it myself, weren’t you nearly fooled?
But don’t take it off, oh no, don’t try!
You could get cursed, or worse, even die!

Pikachu? Nope, I’m Mimikyu
A monster? No, I’m just Mimikyu

My claws will protect you from any danger
My thunderbolt will always help my trainer
A loyal Pokemon that will follow you to the end
Come on now, won’t you be my friend?

Pikachu? Nope, I’m Mimikyu
Let’s be friends, I’m Mimikyu!
Pikachu? Nope, it’s Mimikyu
The lonely and friendless Mimikyu

Pikachu? Nope, I’m Mimikyu
A monster? No, I’m just Mimikyu
Pikachu? Nope, I’m Mimikyu
Let’s be friends, I’m Mimikyu!

Notes:

  • Some liberties are taken with word choice and such that can start to slightly change meaning of the song. Subtleties like that are inevitable, but the pay off of a song that reads much better in English is often worth it. For example, “Mr. Sun” has become “Sunlight,” a less personalized or childlike version of “the sun,” but keeps to the flow and meaning still.
  • This is a rather in-between stage, since often if one comes this far it is to go onto step 4, rather than presenting this in any other fashion.

Step 4: Edited to rhyme and go with the rhythm while keeping flow

The final step: Now we have to keep to the rhythm while preserving the rhyme. This is the tricky part as it requires use of syllables and sound to better match both the translation and the original song.

Thanks to Alisha Lyn however, we have one that does just that:

Fully localized English:

I’m not Pikachu, I’m Mimikyu, you know?
The lonely and friendless Mimikyu, you know?
Sunlight and brightness is all that I fear,
So shade and darkness is where I’ll appear.

Lonely and sad, I just want some friends,
And that’s why I chose this look: to pretend.
A Pikachu disguise, doesn’t it look good?
I made it myself, were you nearly fooled?
But don’t take it off, oh no don’t even try,
You could get cursed, or worse, could even die!

I’m not Pikachu, I’m Mimikyu, you know?
I’m not a monster, I’m Mimikyu, you know?
My claws will protect you from any sort of danger,
My thunderbolt will always help my kind and friendly trainer.
A loyal Pokemon that will follow ’till the end,
So come right over here and make me your friend.

I’m not Pikachu, I’m Mimikyu, you know?
Let’s all be friends, I’m Mimikyu, you know?
I’m not Pikachu, I’m Mimikyu, you know?
The lonely and friendless Mimikyu, you know?

I’m not Pikachu, I’m Mimikyu, you know?
I’m not a monster, I’m Mimikyu, you know?
I’m not Pikachu, I’m Mimikyu, you know?
So let’s all be friends, I’m Mimikyu, you know!

Notes:

  • This version, if you try singing it while listening to the song, should fit very well. It does vary by how some people say some of the words though, so there may be minor variation depending on if someone sings it or hears it as slightly off. But for the most part, it should work perfectly over the original song. Try it!
  • One great thing here is how well “you know” replaced “da yo” from the original song. Same syllables plus the “o” sound in “know” making this an even better fit. It was a great call.
  • You will notice, if you compare to the literal translation, again how subtle differences can overall change the meaning, but not drastically enough for it to be a complete overhaul.
  • In official dubs of things, where even songs have been changed/localized, this is the stage required for that.

So, in summary. When someone has to “translate” a song, there are several different translations. One is just to write how to read/sing the song in its original language (romaji). One is the literal one for those who wish to understand the meaning but are not concerned with keeping to the melody. Then there is one that seeks to keep to rhyming conventions to make a new “song” out of it. But lastly, and hardest, is one that flows with the melody, keeping to the rhyming lyrics and keeping the meaning from the original/literal translation.

It is what differs a fan-sub from a professional dub. The sub usually expresses the meaning, the dub has to do the entire process to get here. A lot of work does go into it, thankfully Mimikyu’s Song is a very simple song in all aspects compared to what more complicated ones could have come.

For example, have you seen the Yadon Song (JP) /Slowpoke Song (EN)? That one had an official localization and I may do a comparison another day. This is another example of the full change up of having to keep to original song flow, conventions, and keeping vaguely the same meaning.

A final note: sometimes, there is a step 5, where lyrics are completely changed beyond that. People may take liberties and change the song to better fit what they envision fits something at the loss of the original meaning. Be it for better flow, or deemed better for business, meaning, or perhaps entertainment. I did not include that step here though as that would probably have very little to do with the translation. The most justifiable cases involving this, however, is if the original song was heavy in cultural references. In this case, for the target audience, the people in charge may opt to find equivalent cultural reference in their own culture, or change it entirely to something else that fits but that did not otherwise exist.


And that’s that! Once again I would like to give a big thank you to aria for their contribution in making a rhyming version with better English, and then Alisha Lyn for their contribution in one that fits the rhythm.

I hope this post helped inform you in some way! Back to Fire Emblem stuff I go!

Please feel free to use these lyrics for your own purposes, whether it be for singing or what have you. All I ask is you link back here to give the proper people credit : )

2 thoughts on “The steps beyond simply “translating” a song (“Mimikyu’s Song” – Pokémon)

  1. Very interesting. Just now, I tried to sing the rap (Coming from someone who isn’t good at rap at all) in Japanese and the English lyrics by Alisha Lyn (Special thanks to her, by the way, she did a very good job, much like Aria!).

    I really think this song is adorable. The singers voice helps too. Also, that Miku Mimikyu is cute. She looks like she’s using it as a weapon! …If she isn’t leakspinning it, that is.

    • Glad it worked out for you, as was the intention of translating the lyrics this far. I’m grateful for their contributions and hope I can get more songs to be better flowing in the future (as I often just do literal translations).

      Yes, it is quite adorable. I found the Miku-kyu when searching for a pic to put as the featured pic, and glad there were no spoilers since that popped up first xD It was fitting too, considering song lyrics and all.

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