This was originally meant as a reflection comment posted as part of the final release post of Aikatsu on Parade!, but it grew longer and longer to the point where it seemed more appropriate as its own post.
When I try to write down what Aikatsu means to me, it’s hard in a way that I can’t fully explain. I’m not as enmeshed in the spirit of Aikatsu as Akatsukin is—I don’t follow Aikatsu news and I don’t keep up with other types of Aikatsu media. These days, I often even skip watching the songs when I edit scripts. By weight, a modern Aikatsu fansub is mostly comprised of Akatsukin’s force of will, with most of the rest coming from the encoding favors he calls in.
From that, you’d expect me not to have any strong feelings about Aikatsu, only continuing to work on its subtitles as a lingering habit, spurred on by nothing more than inertia.
But the thing is, I love Aikatsu. Not only has it been a part of my life for nearly eight years, during which I’ve had a part in subbing every single episode and movie along the way (and I don’t intend on stopping), but Aikatsu is on its own merits a great show, acting as a constant companion to us as the seasons pass. We watch familiar inspirational figures live their aspirational lives in what is more or less real time to us. These idols are people we get to know, people who we see grow as their time moves along with ours. Then, at the end of their journey, we look back at the beginning—often a year or more in both their time and ours—and reminisce with them and marvel at how far they’ve come. Doubtlessly many of you share those feelings when you follow Aikatsu as well.
Aikatsu on Parade is that feeling on an even grander scale. Bringing all the idols of the past together is of course the theme of the series, but one aspect of on Parade gave me that feeling above all else—the characters’ catchphrases.
As you all know, practically every character in Aikatsu has their own catchphrase of sorts. Yume can’t contain her excitement. Kirara hates baaad things. Ema is the Onee-san who can totally handle this for you. Viewed cynically, it’s a cheap way for the writers to give viewers a way to keep track of their sprawling cast. However, as someone who ends up deciding how to translate those catchphrases (and I am sure Akatsukin feels the same), they take on more meaning than that.
Whenever a new character is introduced, we have to play a game of sorts. We have to find a way to translate that character’s unique way to speaking in a way that is versatile enough to apply to any future uses of the catchphrase, but also strong enough to capture the character traits that the catchphrase is meant to display. There is a lot of guesswork to be done, since we can’t know how the character will use the catchphrase in the future and we can’t know if our chosen translation will work well with that usage.
Some turn out well, like Laura’s “That gets me going!” or Seira’s “If I’m do, you’re re.” Those kinds of catchphrases are both translatable and typically used in isolation, which makes them easy. Most are not like that. Most are like Hinaki’s “Heya!”, which she ended up using in an annoying amount of non-greeting situations, or like Nonocchi’s “mightily winsome”, which was hard to translate straight-up due to it representing a non-standard dialect. For most catchphrases, we had to brainstorm, make guesses, and then see if those guesses pan out.
In the moment, that creates uncertainty and fear that our chosen translation won’t stand the test of time. With each new occurrence, we either feel slightly validated or slightly annoyed at our past selves for choosing wrong. However, in the big picture, this also means that every catchphrase comes with a story. It’s a story of making a choice and then following that choice for the next however many months. Over the nearly eight years of Aikatsu, this has given rise to many, many stories, which is where Aikatsu on Parade comes in.
Whenever an old character says a catchphrase, I remember the story behind it. When Aoi calls a performance something special, I remember when Akatsukin and I were starting out as fansubbers, complete newbies. In the first 50 episodes, we translated her catchphrase a different way every single time (which, to be fair, was on purpose). It wasn’t until the DreAca arc that we settled on “something special”, which has on the whole been quite successful given how many times she’s used it throughout all incarnations of Aikatsu.
Aoi’s was a welcome surprise for how well it worked, but there were some in the opposite direction as well. When we rendered Aine’s catchphrase as “Bring it on!”, I was supremely confident that it would cause us no trouble at all. I thought it would be one of those set phrases that a character would say every once in a while where we could just plug in the translation and not have to think. In fact, I was more worried about Mio’s “I got a spark!”, which we ultimately only settled on due to the lack of anything better. As it turned out, Aine’s どーんとコイっ！s ended up being used in all sorts of contexts and the rigid grammatical construction of “Bring it on!” in English didn’t allow for easy adaptation. The main problem was that the words in “Bring it on!” are so generic that by themselves, they don’t make you think of Aine specifically—it is only when they are together in exactly that order, phrased as a command, that it is recognizable as her catchphrase. That means that when Aine targets her “Bring it on!” to some specific object, we have to awkwardly dance around it, like this:
I also want to tell the story of one of Raki’s catchphrases, this being a reflection on Aikatsu on Parade! and all. No, it’s not the ones about how lucky she is. I’m talking about the “Ciao!” one. She uses “Ciao!” as a greeting occasionally, but the main place where it springs up is in her excessive usage of verb forms that end in -chau (in the form -chaou so that it matches her “Ciao!”), meaning something along the lines of “with determination”. For this, we needed something lightweight (after all, it takes up such a small amount of space in the Japanese), flexible (the verb form can be used with virtually any verb and therefore any conceivable sentence), and meaningful (of course). Initially, that seemed impossible to do. English verbs don’t work like Japanese ones and it’s kind of a weird tic to begin with. To make things worse, the usual way to translate this particular usage of -chau isn’t directly via a set of words but rather to write the sentence in a way that the tone matches the tone of the Japanese.
Normally, what we do in situations like these is ignore that the speech pattern exists in the first place. You can sort of see this in action with Coco’s lines. For those unaware, many of Coco’s lines are worded in such a way that “Coco” can mean either Coco the virtual personal assistant or koko, the Japanese word meaning “here”. For example, her usual response to “Hello, Coco” is “ココだよ!”, meaning both “I’m Coco!” and “I’m here!”. We couldn’t find a way to make this work in English, so we ended up with the less clever situation of Coco referring to herself in the third person occasionally.
However, we had an idea for Raki. We would use the word “all” whenever she used a gratuitous-ish -chau. Amazing, this had the potential of ticking off all three boxes: it was short (but still possibly identifiable as something Raki, as long as we were consistent about it), flexible (many short sentences can have the word “all” thrown in somewhere without turning awkward), and even meaningful (the usage of -chau sort of implies going “all out”). And so, we ended up with lines like “I’ll give it my all!” and “I’ll get it all down!” (the second one is when Raki is taking notes), which surprisingly worked. It even ended up serving as a nice parallel to Wakaba’s catchphrase-y word “whole” (which, I’ll note, turned out much more awkward than Raki’s) when the two of them became peers and friends.
(As a side note, I’ll mention that I even thought about suggesting translating “Ciao!” itself as “‘Allo!”, but luckily for us all, that never came to pass.)
For me, the whole of Aikatsu on Parade is filled with stories like that, each one of which comes flooding back when a character is revisited. When I say that I liked Aikatsu on Parade, it is because I liked Aikatsu. It is because the collection of idols, friends, and characters that we’ve gotten to know throughout the years have been so amazing.
This is my Aikatsu story. When I watched Aikatsu on Parade, this is what I thought of when I saw all the old characters come back. I bet all of you have your own stories. Maybe Koharu’s candies remind you of something in your life that happened back then. Maybe seeing Akari become a mentor herself was extra meaningful to you. More likely, it’s something I could never imagine—the best stories of all. And if you’d care to tell, I’d love to hear them.