Japanese Language: Do You Like Me?

Sweet-Talking Video Game Demon Girls

This is a dialog in Persona 2: Innocent Sin, the first version of two games that were both labeled Persona 2. I have not tried the second, but I have very fond memories of the first as an import Playstation (1) game. The second game is sort of like the literal meaning of a doujinshi (“story with the same people”); it’s an alternate reality in essence.

Anyway, that really isn’t important. What’s important is that this game is getting a touch up and re-release for the Playstation Portable, allowing us to take advantage of the above high quality sample image.

Let’s get our feet wet.

“Nightmare” – A Girl Demon In “Innocent Sin”

So let’s get this out of the way. “Nightmare” is a girlish demon. I vaguely recall she’s one of the “demons” in Persona who’s based on Western horror traditions rather than Eastern. (For an example of Eastern, take Nurarihyon, who gets a lot of love in the currently airing Nurarihyon no Mago.) Anyway, it’s a demon with a girl personality.

This game features interaction between the teenage heroes (of which 3 of 5 are girls, mind you) and demons. The interactions can go well, or they can flop badly. In this case, the main character is speaking with Nightmare.

Nightmare asks… (and you can look at the Japanese above in high quality – I’m trying to be kind to people w/o Japanese computing/ advanced reading ability…)

“Nightmare no koto, suki nan desu kaa?”

Now, the “kaa” is purely speaking style, so it’s just “ka,” the question particle, plus a gratuitous question mark (common for this kind of dialog).

And yes, she’s speaking about herself in the third person. This is a “cute girl thing” and needs to be understood as such.

Here’s a really important thing though…

In Japanese, “suki” is a passive verb.

Now, in English, love is an active verb. For that matter, like is an active verb. Many people prefer translating “suki” as love, rather than like, because in teenage romance, the word is used as a soft-pedaled substitute for “love” and implies it. That may be what you go with for your own understanding, but here’s how this sentence actually works, taken literally:

“Are you fond of me (Nightmare)?”

It’s asking if the main character has a liking for Nightmare, if he is fond of Nightmare. Indeed, it essentially has the nuance of, is Nightmare his type?

That’s not a nuance you will ever get from an official translation. This is for the simple reason that passive constructions are avoided in English whenever possible.

Given how the original soft-pedals this, I might go with “like.” Anyway, let’s look at the image again to look over the possible responses:

  1. Suki da. (A positive response -> “I like you.” etc.)
  2. So iu wake de wa nai. (A polite “That’s not how it is.”)
  3. Choushi ni noru na. (A terse “Don’t get carried away.”)

Now, don’t think that choosing the polite response is guaranteed to work. Girls aren’t that easy, even video game demon girls. ^^ A positive reply can backfire because Nightmare doesn’t believe you, for example. You can’t control everything here.

Quick hits:

Wake ()essentially occupies a middle ground between a riyuu (理由) and a setsumei (説明), a reason and an explanation, respectively. If there’s a “wake” (wak-eh, strong on the “wak”) for something, there is a basis for it.

So, for there to be no “wake” here means that there’s no basis. Or put more colloquially, as these constructions should generally be read, since there’s no basis, that’s not how it is. Put more bluntly than the above phrase, there’s “no way” he likes her.

Your choushi (調子) is essentially your rhythm. Idiomatically speaking, it is how you feel, your state of mind, your emotional state… anyway, let’s not get into psycho-babble here. To noru (乗る、のる), or ride, your emotional state is to get carried away (riding on the back of your emotions).

So this response would be the verbal equivalent of a slap in the face. Don’t get carried away, demon girl!

Well, she’ll either love that or try to rip your head off.

One of the two…

J Sensei

About J Sensei

Blogger, writer, linguist, former Japanese> English translator, rusty in French, experienced in Japanese, fluent English native. Writing for Technorati.com and various blogs. Skype: jeremiah.bourque (messages always welcome). E-mail: [email protected]
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