Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Somebody out there must like Alice...

The claim that unbirth from the upcoming PSP version is a mistranslation is, I believe, rather false. Why? Because somebody out there likes Alice rather a lot.

= Unbirth

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Transmediating Mulan

I watched Mulan on the airplane from Heathrow to Houston yesterday and paid rather close attention to ideas of transmediation, which is to say, how it moved from the film to the game. The Land of Dragons as Mulan's world is called in the game, is actually a rather easy transmediation/adaptation as there are only two real sources, the film and the game. There is, of course, the rough source from which Disney took the film, the Hua Mulan legend, but as the film was actually a combination of the legend and a short film called China Doll about a girl being whisked away from oppression by a British prince charming (according to Wikipedia). Sidestepping the film's issues of combining a Chinese legend about a tomboy and the Orientalist West to the rescue, the game takes the film at face value.

Cinematic Adaptation
The game begins with a scene of Mushu prepping Mulan to join the army, and reveals that she is a woman pretending to be a man. This scene has similarities to when Mushu reveals himself to Mulan in the movie: both use the dragon shadow to make it appear larger and more frightening. Similarly, there is a fight when Mulan enters the camp between herself and three minor characters. This is repeated in the game, but Sora, Donald and Goofy have a larger role in both starting and continuing the fight. Both of these scenes involve adapting the film script and visual tropes into the game's cutscenes, but also adding the game protagonists.

The movie has a subplot of Shang being promoted to Captain and trainer of the new recruits by his father who goes off to fight Shan Yu. Mushu fakes a letter by the father in order to get Mulan into a battle (and thereby gain fame). This moves the troops to the second camp. In contrast, the game simply has a move to the second camp/town and removes both the father and backstory of Shang. Unlike the segmented adaptations that take scenes, some larger aspects of the film (that are nonetheless minor plot points) are removed and the game progression must be altered to make it fit. In this case, a secondary reason is provided to move to a similar setting (burned camp and large field by a mountain). In order to cover for this alteration (and burn the second camp) the game adds a cave into which Sora goes, skirking his duty, which results in Shan Yu burning the camp (not a town, like in the film). This adds action into the game and results in a switch from Shang's father as focal point to Sora, the player character, as focal point.

Spatial Adaptation
One visual element that is taken almost verbatim is the Emperor's throne room. Within the movie it is seen from a vertical angle. Within the game it is an explorable room that almost exactly reproduces the film version, but in three dimensions. However, I do not know whether the game programers had access to sketches of the Disney animators or if they rendered the world from stills of the film. The courtyard and inner castle hallways are similarly rendered between the film and game. However, other spaces, such as the cave in which Sora is trapped by Shan Yu, are unique to the game and it is unknown from where they get the visuals.

Action Adaptation
Action adaptation is limited within Kingdom Hearts as the game itself has its own activities: you fight, you use magic, you seal world, and the aspects of the worlds/films/stories that reside within the game are (primarily) the narratives and visuals. One world where this is decisively not the case is 100 Acre Woods where Sora actually does certain things that happen within the books. The reasons this sort of adaptation is possible is twofold: one is that Sora simply replaces Christopher Robin. Sora can thus follow the same actions that Christopher Robin follows within the books. However, what holds up this element is that the 100 Acre Woods world is devoid of both Heartless and fighting. It is (in all of the games) a world of mini-games that avoid the action requirement. Rescuing Piglet in the air, throwing Pooh to get the pot off of his head, et cetera, are all adaptations of actions within the books.

Kingdom Hearts has very few action adaptations. They exist within 100 Acre Woods and minorly in some other worlds (you must have Alladin in your party to use Abu to activate certain idols in the Cave of Wonders, etc), but such adaptation is limited. It is almost completely removed in Chain of Memories as the only place where the worlds/original stories have any bearing is in the three rooms per floor that involve boss battles or cutscenes (the action in action rooms is completely standardized other than visual representation). However, Kingdom Hearts II adds a larger number of mini-games and mechanical adaptations into both boss battles and worlds that much better utilize this form of transmediation.

The Mulan world of Kingdom Hearts II's has one major instance of action adaptation: the battle with Shan Yu where you must protect the door to the castle (and thereby the emperor). The game actually takes out all of Shan Yu's henchmen (it turns them all into Heartless who simply swarm the door), which means the cinematic adaptation level has changed. Instead of fighting in front of, within and on top of the castle as Mulan, Shang and friends do in the film, Sora's (and Mulan if the player has decided to have her in the party) battle with Shan Yu takes place entirely outside of the door to the palace.

In the film it is Mulan and company who are bared from entering the castle by Shan Yu and his group who have kidnapped the emperor and taken him inside (they climb up the giant columns to get inside). Then, within the castle Shan Yu breaks down a door in order to follow Mulan. The game takes the two mechanics of breakable door and barring somebody inside the large palace doors and flips it around to fit the game. Shang takes the emperor inside for safety, Shan Yu tries to break the door down and Sora and company prevent Shan Yu from breaking the door. If he (and the Heartless) breaks down the door (or if you die) you lose the fight, if you prevent the breaking of the door and beat him you win. The game adapts a active element of the film into a battle element of the game (Pirates of the Caribbean has a similar adaptation with the 802 coins and immortality as I wrote of previously).

There is a second type of action adaptation within World of Dragons, but it is only somewhat related to the film. After Mulan joins the army there is a song that follows through their pathetic beginnings and ends with them being fully trained. Essentially, it's a hollywood montage that quickens time and shows the troops (and Mulan) learning to fight. The game does not have such a scene and instead features three 'training' missions. The oddity is that at the beginning Sora can fight (both as this is not the first world visited in the game - he goes to Hollow Bastion first and either Land of Dragons or Beast's Castle second, but the real training level is actually Roxas in Twilight Town, so the player has experience, and as Sora as a character has already been in to previous games and is fully experienced fighter in the game world), but Mulan cannot. The training missions thus provide the training of the film, to get her up to snuff, but prove to be an odd aside for Sora and the player as they have no bearing on his quest. However, during this section there is an added 'tension' gauge (also called 士気, which translates to 'morale'). This meter must be kept up by collecting items that enemies drop when defeated and empties with time spent and when hit by enemies. If it ever empties completely the game is over. This gauge only occurs until Sora exclaims that Mulan is a good fighter, and therefore exists as a adaptation of learning, or education for the war situation.

It is also notable that one of the next fights after the tension bar disappears is when the previously mentioned 'door' mechanic is used. On one level such mechanical additions are 'adaptations' (they fit the source/target situations), but on another they are simply a gamewide means of expanding/complicating the fighting engine from its simplicity in the first game.

Other Adaptations
Another element that might be adaptable, or perhaps translatable might be a better word, especially in this situation, is choice. Within movies a character might choose something and thereby exhibit agency. Games attempt to reproduce this in morality options. This is seen in good versus evil morality mechanics of games like Fallout, Fable and KOTOR. In the case of KOTOR it is actually adapting a mechanic from the movie of how to work the light and dark sides of the force (it is doing this rather poorly according to many voices, but that it is attempting to do so is good enough for me here). This is an alternate form of adaptation, but it is one that the Kingdom Hearts game, because of its linearity, does not do.

Finally, I will try to explain the use of the term translation instead of adaptation. In common thought adaptation is a subjective reproduction, but also change of some original element. In contrast, translation is a one to one equivalence of one text to another. This is a very base understanding of both words in that translation cannot ever be a one to one equivalence between source and target text and it always involves subjectivity and politics. Adaptation, then, is a type of willful acknowledgment of the limitations of translation at the same time that it sets itself up as a changed (in some way) text. While the word adaptation might seem closer to the core of the matter in some circles, I would say that all of my above examples are actually types of translation.

Square is to rectangle as adaptation is to translation.

Friday, August 14, 2009

From a recent Shouken Famitsu interview...

–What is the definition of a heart in Kingdom Hearts?

Nomura: It is the theme of the series. To explain it simply, a person has a body, a soul, and a heart. As an image, the soul is the life source, without it a person would be dead. Since the heart doesn’t have a form, memories play an important part in forming a heart. Also, the heart isn’t limited to people, but to all things. I tried to explain this concept to Disney, and they merely said that it must be an Eastern way of thinking. It may be interesting how overseas players think of it.

Translation of interview available here.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Some Japans.

In a recent interview, Tetsuya Nomura noted: "If Sora was a country child, Roxas would be the urban child." Reflecting this are two of the areas created by Square-Enix (rather than Disney) - Sora's Destiny Islands, a nostalgic archipelago of beaches (Kingdom Hearts) and a quiet community of chirping cicadas (Kingdom Hearts II) that feels unbearably small and provincial for Riku; and Roxas' Twilight Town, an urban space of (relatively likeable) gangs, skateboarding, job boards and public transit; both local and yet modern. Twilight Town, as the name suggests, has a sky in perpetual sunset, a "land of the setting sun;" Destiny Islands as a playable space is usually marked by dawns and mornings.

The sense of twilight is also reflected in the seasonality of the sequence in Kingdom Hearts II: it is the last few days before summer vacation ends, and school begins again. As Roxas says, reflecting on his pending absorption into Sora, "I guess my summer vacation is over."

Another allusion to tropes of spatiality is Hollow Bastion/Radiant Gardens, a world straddling an apocalyptic moment which led to the obliteration of even the memory of the original name of the space; it is, ironically, only after digital archives are released from the TRON-based world of "Space Paranoids" that the natives of Hollow Bastion - all characters drawn from Square's "Final Fantasy" legacy - recover their lost memory of the name and nature of their homeland. (Amnesia and false memory are a plot-device for Chain of Memories and a well-worn plot mechanic in anime, manga and videogame narratives; for the most part, however, it is a problem only for Square-Enix created characters. With the notable exception of Winnie-the-Pooh in Kingdom Hearts II, the Disney characters do not suffer memory loss.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Translation Issue #4: Stories, Movies, Games

Various people have written of the limited number of types of translation from age old sense and word to John Dryden's metaphor, paraphrase and imitation to Roman Jacobson's tripartite of intralingual, intersemiotic and interlingual to Anton Popovic's four equivalences of linguistic word, paradigmatic, stylistic and textual. Translation is an intensely complicated issue that is deeply related to all aspects of the Kingdom Hearts franchise and all of the above divisions are both helpful and hurting toward understanding the stories.

Kingdom Hearts is itself somewhere between localized and translated between Japan and the United States. While the dialogue is in fact localized through a highly domesticating translation from Japanese to English (jokes are all domesticated/localized), the themes within the stories (innocence, transnationalism, Japan as Destiny island) are un'translated.'

The individual world stores are also translations (one might even call them iterations). By looking at the friction in the translations we can see important points. As usual, Atlantica provides one of the ripest examples, but I will also use Agrabah, Wonderland and Port Royal as opposing examples. Atlantica and Agrabah featured in Kingdom Hearts, Chain of Memories and Kingdom Hearts II; Wonderland features in Kingdom Hearts and Chain of Memories; Port Royal is new in Kingdom Hearts II.

Agrabah / Aladdin
Agrabah is one of the most used worlds. It features in KH, COM, KH2 and 258/2. Olympus Coliseum and Halloween Town are the only other worlds that share this distinction. All are interesting for their similar translated reasons. In KH, Agrabah traces the vague story line of the movie Aladdin with the minor addition that Sora is the hero and not Aladdin alone. You find Aladdin who has already found the lamp, Aladdin takes his two wishes, Jafar steals the lamp and becomes a genie with his third wish, you beat Jafar and finally you leave. There is the alteration that the cave of wonders is not where the middle of the level happens, but the end. COM repeats this with the minor intervention that you stay within Agrabah proper never going to the cave of wonders. Like the story and hinted at in the movie, but unlike KH, Jafar in COM is a rival for the Princess' affections (or at least desires the throne through her).

Aladdin is an addition to 1001 Nights that has been taken up by Orientalist fantasies around the world and adapted into many narrations. It in many ways has no original version. Thus, the two stories presented in KH and COM are equally presentable and readable. KH2 brings up something new as it is the translation/adaptiation of Aladdin 2, a direct to video Disney release. Iago turns good, Genie Jafar gets loose and Aladdin (Sora for the game) stops him. The second film has been loosely translated to parallel the game progression. Finally, 358/2 has various mini-stories that fill in certain gaps between KH and KH2 but has certain large differences. Whereas the physical layout of the city proper resembles the KH, it is completely changed in KH2. Similarly, the cave of wonders changes in all of the games.

Wonderland / Alice in Wonderland
Wonderland featured as an initial world in both KH and COM. In both cases the refrain from the Queen of Hearts angered at Alice for stealing her heart/memory serves as informative of the rest of the games. KH's theft of heart reveals information about heartless and the princesses; COM's theft of memory reveals about the nature of memory and the creation of false memories. However, it is absent from KH2. The translation from Lewis Carroll to Alice the film is awkward enough in its highlighting of certain sections and avoiding of others. However, even more particular sections are highlighted in the games. The Cheshire cat, the white rabbit and the queen and cards are all there, but all of the other notables are removed (including the caterpillar for obvious reasons despite his perfect inclusion into a game based on memory (COM) and identity (358/2).

As for the physical translation the entryway, the small/big medicine, the queen's court and the forest. All of the games have the same rooms. KH leads from entryway to small/big room to queen's court to forest to tea party; COM's main rooms are forest, but queen's court and small/big room are both boss battles; 358/2 adds a room between the small/big room and the queen's court that then leads off to two addition sections that are blocked off at first.

Port Royal / Pirates of the Caribbean
Port Royal is a translation of Pirates of the Caribbean the film, which was of course an adaptation of the Disneyland ride Pirates of the Carribean. The ride takes you through the idealized Caribbean tale of pirates attacking a town, taking gold, chasing women, auctioning off women, and going back to their booty cave; the film adds an idea of 802 coins of cursed Aztec gold that then curses the crew of the Black Pearl as well as entire sections about British Imperialism and the East India Trading Company, and then Davy Jones' Locker, the Flying Dutchman and Pirates as resisting modernity in the sequels.

The film is about the rescue of Elizabeth Swann by William Taylor with the help of Captain Jack Sparrow and the eventual raising of the curse of the Aztec Gold. These elements are all used within the KH2 world, but the imperialist and globalization elements are all avoided, as is the idea of pirates as good, freedom loving individuals. Instead, they are depicted as untrustworthy and generally negative. The elements that were transferred directly are the places and characters to provide a setting, and the curse and gold to privide an interesting battle mechanic (ghosts that are invincible outside of moonlight and a boss that is invincible unless all of the gold is in the chest).

Otherwise, the translation is some what odd in various ways: unlike the costume changes when visiting other worlds, Sora, Donald and Goofy maintain their normal clothes and cartoonish appearance despite the pseudo naturalistic representation of the Port Royal characters. Port Royal is, in many ways, a poor translation precisely because it is too close to the themes of capitalism, globalization and individualism, all of which are at stake within the Kingdom Hearts franchise. As those elements must remain hidden in the game there becomes little meat to use from an already limited story. That pirates are turned into the bad guys in the game despite such piracy and individuality being their specific allure to fans is equally confusing.

Atlantica / The Little Mermaid
Finally, we come to Atlantica, the adaptation of The Little Mermaid, which came from the Danish tale by Hans Christian Anderson. The original story involves a mermaid who gives up her voice to get legs, but loses the love of the prince, is unable to bring herself to kill him with a special dagger and in so doing dies (but gets to go to Heaven instead of turning into sea foam). The Disney movie names the mermaid Ariel, the sea witch Ursula and has certain machinations of Ursula directly opposing Ariel's quest for love as a means for her to gain the power of the Sea King, Triton. The story ends with Ariel and the prince falling in love and Ursula being banished (Disney's true love ending replaces the bittersweet soul to heaven ending). This story is translated almost perfectly (singing included!) in the KH2 world of Atlantica, but that version supposedly follows the two previous iterations in KH and COM, both of which follow different paths that culminate in the death of Ursula (poor thing dies the same death 3 times - 6 times if you include her large form and Riku's memory as well). The story is repeated but each time stresses a different element: first protectionism, second friendship and sacrifice, and third true love.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

On certain worlds: Hundred Acre Woods

One of the worlds visited by Sora isn't reached by the Gummi Ship. Early in the game, Sora is asked by Cid to bring a book to an old man living in District III; the man is Merlin (from Disney's version of the Arthur legend, "The Sword and the Stone") by opening a book in Merlin's room, he enters Hundred Acre Woods and meets Winnie-the-Pooh, who is sitting on a log, contemplating how one can say goodbye to oneself. 

The world of Hundred Acre Woods is a series of mini-games, set in different areas which become accessible after the player discovers "Torn Pages" in other worlds. There are no Heartless in Hundred Acre Wood; however, the world can be "closed" by finishing all the mini-games. Closing Hundre Acre Woods is a prerequisite for unlocking the preview short-film, but it isn't required to reach the end of the game.

The history of Pooh as an intellectual property, as a franchise, and as a license, aptly illustrates the vicissitudes of popular culture products since the mid-20th century. While almost all the worlds visited by Sora are taken from Disney properties which, themselves, are appropriations and retellings of existing narratives, the relationship between Disney and the estate of A.A. Milne is more complicated than most. Winnie-the-Pooh was among the earliest licensed cultural properties in the contemporary sense: the rights to publish, merchandise and broadcast Pooh material in the United States and Canada was first licensed to media producer Stephen Slesinger in 1930, only 4 years after the publication of the original book. Certain iconic elements of the depiction of Winnie-the-Pooh (the red shirt, in particular) were added to the original E.H. Shephard illustrations by Slesinger and his associates, and they would begin producing non-Disney Pooh films in the 1940s. After Slesinger's death in 1953, his widow continued to manager the brand, re-licensing it to Disney in 1961; the Milne family would also license global rights to Disney later the same year. After a series of complicated lawsuits, Disney has more recently allied itself with the Milne family to secure all rights from the Slesinger family; the franchise will go into the public domain in 2026.

Winnie-the-Pooh is Disney's most successful franchise, producing over $1 billion in revenues per year, surpassing the revenues brought in by the nominal flagship characters. The first Disney film to feature Pooh was Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (1996). The visual depiction of Pooh as a Disney character has been relatively stable since that time; Pooh is often depicted wearing Slesinger's red-shirt, is given a portly and awkward style, and speaks slowly and amiably: the original voice work by Sterling Hollaway became the model for future vocal characterizations.

As Disney acquired broader rights to the Milne estate, they also managed to create a new line of merchandise and depictions which harkened back to the original Shephard illustrations. Called "Classic Pooh," the style is meant to evoke the original; however, Disney still does not own the rights to the original prints themselves, which are currently held by Egmont, a British publishing firm which took the rights to the illustrations in their acquisition of Reed's Children's Books, which had acquired them from the original publisher, Methuen, in the mid 1990s. The "Classic Pooh" line of merchandise also evokes that static and prosaic style of the original stuffed animals (owned by his son, Christopher) which inspired Milne's stories. (The original toy animals are on display at the New York Public Library.) Winnie-the-Pooh is a bifurcated franchise managed by Disney, which successfully markets the tension between them. Consumers who wary of the overtly animated style of the post-Slesinger Disney versions of the characters can instead collect merchandise with of the more illustrative, Edwardian style. The "pure" Disney version is the one which continues to produce new narrative configurations (Disney is planning a new film with a girl, Daphne, taking over the role of Christopher Robin,) while the classic version connotes its own historicity, appealing to a nostalgia that is made all the more pronounced by this bifurcation.

In Kingdom Hearts, the World of Pooh is encountered in both forms. The "classic" style is used in the interface by which the player, as Sora, accesses the various mini-games that constitute the Hundred Acre Woods, depicted as the pages of an open book, upon which Sora walks. The mini-games become available in a specified order as each new Torn Page is found in different worlds. The first, the "Hunny Hunt," is a game based on the first Pooh short created by Disney: "Winnie-the-Pooh and the Honey Tree" (1966).  Completing all the mini-games closes the Hundred Acre Wood; winning each mini-game superlatively, by accomplishing more difficult tasks, wins Sora an additional power (Cheer).

The Hundred Acre Wood reappears in Chain of Memories and Kingdom Hearts II. In all cases, the world is played as a collection of mini-games, with no fighting. Nonetheless, when first encountered by Sora, the world has suffered a kind of oblivion of its own: only Pooh remains, as the other characters have disappeared, only to slowly return as new Torn Pages are discovered. The association of the Pooh franchise with the innocence of childhood suggests both that the prerequisite darkness does not exist in the hearts of the denizens of the Hundred Acre Wood to produce Heartless. However, the near-oblivion also is consistent with the concept of Sora as someone on the cusp of adolescence, forgetting of the things of childhood.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Crunching Worlds


Kingdom Hearts
Destiny Islands
Traverse Town
Deep Jungle
100 Acre Wood
Halloween Town
Hollow Bastion
End of the World

Chain of Memories - Sora
Traverse Town
Halloween Town
100 Acre Wood
Hollow Bastion
Twilight Town
Destiny Islands
Castle Oblivion

Chain of Memories - Riku
Hollow Bastion
Traverse Town
Olympus Coliseum
Halloween Town
Destiny Islands
Twilight Town
Castle Oblivion

Kingdom Hearts II
Twilight Town
Hollow Bastion
The Land of Dragons
Beast's Castle
100 Acre Woods
Olympus Coliseum
Disney Castle
Timeless River
Port Royal
Halloween Town
Pride Land
Space Paranoids
Radiant Garden
The World That Never Was

358/2 Days
The World That Never Was
Twilight Town
Beast's Castle
Olympus Coliseum
Halloween Town


There are three forms of being within the game world: living beings, heartless and nobodies. Here is the logic as explained by Yen Sid (the knowing wizard and diegetic tutor).

(Nobody and Heartless)

Sora: But wait a sec, how come the Heartless are still running around?
Yen Sid: Your past endeavors did prevent an immense effusion of Heartless from the great darkness. Make no mistake about that. However, the Heartless are darkness made real and darkness yet lingers in every heart. The Heartless are fewer, but while darkness exists in a single heart it will be difficult to eliminate them.
Goofy: Gorsh, that must mean if everybody's heart was full of light them Heartless would go away!
Yen Sid: Now it is time to speak of the enemies you will encounter. If one such as you, Donald, yields to the darkness in their heart they too will become a Heartless, but you know this. The Heartless are always lurking and ever seeking to capture new hearts. Never let your guard down. Now then, at times if someone with a strong heart and will, be they evil or good becomes a Heartless the empty shell they leave behind begins to act with a will of its own. An empty vessel whose heart has been stolen away. A spirit that goes on even as its body fades from existence. For you see, Nobodies do not truly exist at all. Nobodies may seem to have feelings but this is a ruse they only pretend to have hearts. you must not be deceived.
Sora: Nobodies. They don't exist
Yen Sid: Now then, the being you see before you is known as a Dusk. they are the most common form of nobody. but there are others. Some larger. Some with frightening and unique powers. be vigilant. on your journey you will meet an alarming number of Dusks. They will all attempt to do you harm. Still they are nothing but empty shells destined to return to darkness. But...the beings you see before you now are different. these powerful Nobodies have formed a group called Organization XIII. It commands the lesser Nobodies.
Sora: Organization XIII...
Yen Sid: While Heartless act on instinct, Nobodies function in a higher manner, they can think and plan and it seems they are working towards a goal. What that goal is we do not know. The king sensed the danger and journeyed forth to find it. He found the dark realms keyblade and closed the door. Now he's traveling from world to world fighting the heartless as he seeks the answer to the riddle of the Nobodies and Organization XIII.

Sora: それよりーどうして世界にはまだハートレスがいるの?
Yen Sid: そなたたちの働きによって大いなる闇から大量のハートレスがあふれだす事態はさけることができた。しかし、ハートレスは元々世界に存在している心の闇が具現化したもの。数は減ったが、心に闇がある限り完全に消し去ることはむずかしい。
Goofy: じゃあ、もし、心が光であふれればハートレスはいなくなるんですね!
Yen Sid: では、おまえたちが戦うであろう敵について話しておこう。もし、ドナルドが自らの心の闇にやぶれてしまうと心無き者、ハートレスになってしまう。これはよいかな?ハートレスは相変わらず心を求めてうろついているから気を抜いてはいかん。さてー良くも悪くも、強い心を持った者強い思いを持った者がハートレスになると、残された抜け殻が意志を持ち動き出すことがある。これがノーバディだ。心を奪われし器ー魂の存在ー消え行く肉体ーいや、存在しない者。感情的に動いているように見えるが、実際は心があるかのように振る舞っているだけだ。奴らの言動に惑わされてはいかんぞ。
Sora: ノーバディーー?存在しない者
Yen SId: さて、このタイプのノーバディはダスクと呼ばれている。ノーバディの一般的な姿だな。これ以外にも大きいものや特別な能力を持ったノーバディがいるから注意が必要だぞ。よいか?通常のノーバディどもは数が多いので厄介だが、しょせんはただの抜け殻。悪さはするだろうがほどなく闇に溶けてしまう。しかしー彼らはノーバディの中でも特別な存在だ。ⅩⅢ機関と呼ばれる組織を作り他のノーバディを統率している。
Sora: ⅩⅢ機関
Yen Sid: 本能的に活動するハートレスとは違い。ノーバディは統率され、何事かをなさんとしているようだ。しかし、その目的は見当がつかん。王は世界の危機にいち早く気づいて行動をおこした。闇の世界のキーブレードを見つけ出し扉を閉じた。そしてなお、ハートレスと戦いながらⅩⅢ機関ノーバディの目的を探そうと世界を駆けめぐっているのだ。

A being is thus comprised of various things, but mainly a heart, a body and memory. The heart is a repository for the various emotions (seen in the Halloween Town experiment as well as the Nobodies' lack of emotions) as well as somehow tied to both light and dark (known through the discussions between Xehanort's Heartless and Sora throughout the game). The body is a shell and both mistreated by the gameworld's logic and the characters: Pinocchio has a heart but is not really a body, and Nobodies are, in fact, a body even though they supposedly are an empty, non-existign shell (存在しない者). Finally, memories link/chain between people and in this way are one of the more important aspects of being.

As Yen Sid states, when a being gives in to the darkness in their heart they turn into a Heartless. In actuality, their heart is swallowed by the Heartless.

(Creation of a Heartless)

The Heartless is thus mindless darkness that has taken a heart. When the Heartless is killed the heart is then released into the world where it goes to Kingdom Hearts.

(A Heartless is killed and its heart goes to Kingdom Hearts)

The only instances of this not happening are the 7 princesses of Heart and Sora, all of which remain unexplained other than to give both Sora and Kairi Nobodies (Roxas and Namine respectively), but no Heartless.

The Heartless seek only hearts and as sucha re depicted as rather mindless creatures. Base and animalistic - primal evil, rather than 'cultured' evil.

On the other side of the equation is the Nobody that is formed when the being is strong. The Nobody is the body, the empty shell. It has no heart as the heart went to the Heartless, and it has no memories of who it was. It has memories of the present, but cannot form emotions. As such, the heart is posited as intrinsically tied with memory and what might be called the essence of being is somehow tied with both but unexplicated. When Sora is turned into a Heartless/Nobody he claims 'he' was floating in teh darkness, but that his ties to Kairi brought him back. His soul/essence is tied to memory and others.

If the Heartless are base, animalistic creatures the Nobodies are posited as strategic evil.

In a franchise so primarily about transnationalism and territory the question now becomes how does one read these forms of being? The heroes of liberal agency that has been given an equal pattering of the social subject, but what of the rest? At this point I'm not sure.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Translation Issue #3: 繋ぐ, Connect/Tie/Chain

One of the key words or themes used throughout the franchise is that of connection. Sora's social self, as connected, survives/triumph's; Riku's individual self must be tempered with social connects; the worlds must be separated, must not be connected; memories are connected; people are connected through memories and hearts.

The word used in Japanese is 繋ぐ. The only instance it strays is during Chain of Memories when talking about how memories are 鎖, chains. However, like the idea of chains of iron and gold, chains in this way can be shackles or they can be lifelines. Whereas the Nobodies indicate that memories are shackles, or rather memory is a shackle (記憶の鎖), the good social subject Sora holds them as lifelines.

The English words used are link, connect, tie and chain. While there is no particular added meaning in any of these terms, and in fact the dual meaning of chain brings out Chain of Memories' theme far better than 鎖, the breadth of words does not in fact hammer in the concept, both good and bad, of connection.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


There are various forms of mobility within the Kingdom Hearts franchise. Mobility changes forms over the course of the games as well as between the games. However, there are themes of acceptable and unacceptable mobility that hold throughout and between the games.

Kingdom Hearts
The Heartless travel through dark routes that are somehow connected by keyholes. That they do not disappear from a world when Sora closes the keyhole is suspect. However, that the world must be "connected, tied to the darkness" "闇と繋がった" is important (1)

(Leon explains the keyholes)

(Destiny Islands is connected)

It is assumed that Riku's method of travel where he uses his dark energy and not a 'vessel' '船' somehow links into the Heartless means of travel. This method is continually used throughout the franchise.

Second are those few who simply have strong will. Among these are Sora, Riku and Kairi at the beginning and Beast at the end of the game. This belief/will power induced travel is rare and not replicated throughout the remainder of the franchise. It is used to bring the main characters to a state where they can travel, but is then discarded. In this way it is almost a primal or innocent form of mobility.

(Riku, Sora and Beast travelling on willpower)

Third is Gummi Ship travel, which utilizes technology that came about through the introduction of heartless into the world. That the player fights Heartless ships between the routes indicates either that you travel along the same paths or that they simply are there to cause problems.

(Gummi travel)

The belief form of travel is given important stature an never really looked down upon in any way within the game world. It shows individual power and agency, and especially in the instance of Beast it is seen as something that must be investigated.

The Heartless travel, of connecting worlds to move between, is from the start seen as negative. It comes from the expansion of darkness, but also specifically from Riku's desire to escape his island, to travel. By him inviting darkness and homogeneity he can travel, but it is what is then combatted for the remainder of the game. Mobility is both desired and feared, good and bad, just as are connections. Destiny Islands loses its innocence, but then again, Sora and Riku are able to then save the expansive world through that necessary loss of innocence. Like Japan's entrance to modernity, the opening of the borders and the Meiji restoration, Destiny Islands' path must be read as bittersweet, but necessary.

In the end, the ultimate closing of the door to Kingdom Hearts returns to world to its unconnected, pure state, and in so doing eradicates (momentarily) Gummi Ship travel. However, the emotional links between people are maintained. Hearts and memories are maintained as links between people. Such links, unlike the connections between worlds, are consistently considered good (even in the case of evil characters' links - eg: Axel and Maleficent)

(Leon, Yuffie and Aeris explain the end of mobility and remaining emotional ties)

Chain of Memories
This brings us to the beginning of Chain of Memories. Riku and Mickey are on one side of the giant door in the world of darkness. Mickey finds himself, eventually, in Twilight Town then travels to Castle Oblivion by card. How this happens is unexplained, but such a mystery generally surrounds Mickey's movements. Riku is led to Castle Oblivion by Diz/Ansem instead of giving up/dying. Sora, Donald and Goofy seal the world from the End of the World (non dark) side and end up in some unknown place where they are led to Castle Oblivion by Marluxia (2).

Within Castle Oblivion all action, mobility included, is done through cards. Action cards (magic, attack, summon et cetera) as well as room cards are obtained during battles, but floor cards are different. Floor cards are made from memories of places even if those memories end up being both suspect and partial. Sora's friends don't remember him, he forgets Kairi, but ultimately he remembers (3).

(Action Cards ; Room Cards ; Floor Cards)

While the imperfection but dependance upon memory is interesting my purposes here remain focused on mobility, something that regains focus as one of Sora's final acts in the tower. After defeating Marluxia, and just before agreeing to have his memory restored, Sora seals Marluxia's room in the same manner as he sealed the keyholes in Kingdom Hearts. Thus, the same act of supremacy and liberal agency practiced in Kingdom Hearts is repeated at the end of Chain of Memories: mobility is for those who deserve it, which is to say, for Sora and Company to decide and enact.

(Sora seals Marluxia's room)

Riku's journey is less about mobility and more about liminality between light and dark. However, as his mobility is dependent upon his utilization of the dark, it remains an issue. He comes to terms with his own darkness, his individuality, by taking the middle path between light and dark, social and individual. Riku's mobility is interesting, but it is Mickey's that is important. Originally, he is barred from entrance, however, he eventually overcomes that and manages to arrive to save Riku. His adaptability, Disney's adaptability, while limited, is proved to be unstoppable. The same unstoppability allows Mickey to be everywhere in Kingdom Hearts II. He has absolute and unquestioned mobility beyond any other character.

Kingdom Hearts 2
Initially the only groups that can travel are the Heartless, the Nobodies, Riku through his utilization of darkness and Mickey through his mysterious mobility.

When Sora, Donald and Goofy are given the run down by Yen Sid they are told that the old connections are gone. However, the worlds themselves support the creation of new pathways:

Yen Sid: これこれ、まあ、待ちなさい。そなたたちの活躍のおかげで世界は今元の状態に戻っている。つまり世界をつなぐ道は消えてしまった。
Donald: 困ったなぁー
Yen Sid: 心配するな。王が言うには世界はそなたたちに新たな道を用意したようだ。その道はゲートを開くことによって使えるようになるはずだ。ゲートを開く方法はーわたしにはわからん。しかし、ソラのキーブレードが教えてくれるらしい。剣が光を放ったらグミシップに戻るといいだろう。目に見えぬ心のつながりのごとく、離ればなれになっても、全てはつながっておるというわけだ。
Sora: 心がつながってる。
Yen Sid: そのとおり。
Sora: 了解!
Yen Sid: しかし気をつけろ。闇に巣くう者たちーノーバディ、ハートレスは闇の回廊と呼ばれる道を使って世界を渡り歩く。その回廊とゲートをつないでしまおうとする動きもあるようだ。
Donald: 欲張りだなあ。

Yen Sid: Now, now. Just a moment. Because of your previous endeavors the worlds have returned to their original states. That means the pathways between them have disappeared.
Donald: How do we get around?
Yen Sid: Do not fear. If what the king suspected proves true the worlds have prepared new pathways along which you may travel. These pathways may be utilized by unlocking special gates. How these gates are opened I'm afraid I do not know. However, the keyblade will serve as your guide. When a beam of light radiates from the keyblade return to the Gummi Ship. Though the worlds may seem far apart and out of reach they nonetheless remain connected by invisible ties. As do our hearts.
Sora: Our hearts are connected.
Yen Sid: That is correct.
Sora: Got it.
Yen Sid: But, be warned. As you proceed the Heartless and the Nobodies will be using their own paths: corridors of darkness to travel from world to world. They may be attempting to link these dark pathways to the gates between the worlds.
Donald: Hey, that's not fair!

These new pathways take the form of commodity connections. One can travel between places as soon as they appropriate commodity is located. Specifically, commodities allow travel from the world to others and not to the world itself. Thus, the order of mobility is that one finds a world's commodity, activates it, and then is granted access to connecting worlds: follow the labour.

(Activating Hollow Bastion's card grants access to the connecting worlds of The Land of Dragons and Beast's Castle)

The only world where this does not in fact take place is the initial trip to Hollow Bastion where it is stated that they feel it's a familiar place: the same heart/memory connections from Chain of Memories justify the initial travel to Hollow Bastion, but not to other places where they've been before such as Atlantica or Agrabah.

(Going to Hollow Bastion from memory)

The end of the game brings about total connection between the worlds that have been granted by the worlds and the key bearers, bringers of foreign influence. However, the only ones to use this mobility are Sora, Riku, Mickey and Company (Diz/Ansem included), and the Moogles, the merchants.

William claimed that Moogles break the 4th wall, and they do. They are also the string that connects all of the games together. They are the merchants and creators. They synthesize/build items and they sell cards.

(Moogles in KH, COM and KH2)

It can only be assumed the franchise will continue as it has been so popular. The logics of sequels and remakes demand no less. What we will of course see are the increase of key bearers (the count is at 10 although 3 of those are the same being, and 3 are 'dead') who are mobile. It will ultimately be a battle between the good key users and the bad ones. It will go directly back to Triton's fears of protectionism and the unavoidable havoc wrought by transnationalism and multinational business. On the one side will be Disney, Sora and Riku (if they do not move to new characters), and on the other can only be some allegorical embodiment of multinational big business turned bad, which of course isn't Disney. No never.

(1) The word 繋ぐ is consistently used in the Japanese. However, it rotates between connected, tied and linked in English.

(2) Mobility of the Nobodies is assumed to be in full functionality between floors of the castle and it is assumed between other worlds although 358/2 Days will likely have more to say about this time.

(3) Memory here is not opposed by oblivion as it seems to be in the naming. Rather all memories are tied to hearts and people and if strong enough are permanent. This is, of course, a rather simple understanding of memory that is slightly more in depth throughout the game, but unimportant for the present purposes.