Small Words. Big Trouble.
Sometimes it’s simpler for me to point something out in anime and, in so doing, give it context. Today’s subjects are the words “kata” (型) and “kei” (系). When playing second fiddle in a compound word, “kata” -> “gata”, but “kei” remains the same. (That’s because “H Dei” would be really, really awkward to say.)
The anime this is from is a quirky semi-romantic comedy with a lot of sex jokes. A quick viewing of the opening theme (which all but anime newbies will know as “the OP“) explains the context of the kata/gata part: various girls are being rated according to their breast sizes. (^^;) I expect this would be A-cup, B-cup, C-cup, etc. So, our heroine is a B.
The “H Kei” part is from the girl having a revved-up sex drive and is on a personal mission to lose her virginity. Her problem is that she’s squeamish about actual physical contact and relationships, which is where most of the humor comes in. Her lust is willing, but her inner maiden is not. Quite a quandary, isn’t it?
So how do we actually translate these words? As it often is, we first need to understand what the words do in their own language before mastering what they do in ours.
Things vs. People
At its most basic, “kata” covers things and “kei” covers people.
A “kata” fundamentally represents the physical shape of something. That is why, in the industrial world, such-and-such kata generally represents a model or pattern. A “kataban” (型番) , or kata + number, usually reaches English as a pattern number. Similarly, “katagami” (型紙) – the same “gami” as in “origami”, so kata + paper = pattern paper for making dresses.
“Kei”, on the other hand, addresses groups, systems, and lineage. Have you ever heard the term nikkei? The kanji is 日系, with “sun/ Japan” and “kei”. This means of Japanese descent. Keizu (系図) is kei + map, meaning a genealogy. A direct descendant is a chokkei (直系), straight/ direct + kei.
What we’re really learning here is that the exact English words used may vary, but there is a much bigger difference between how the words are used in the Japanese language. There is no reason for confusion. A “kata” refers to a physical characteristic (in this case, breast size); a “kei” refers to the group that the heroine belongs to, namely “H” – for hentai, pervert, deviant, and so forth. (^^;)
I didn’t watch the whole show myself but it did have its silly laughs. For a mature audience, of course.
Bonus: The Hyaku Shiki
Another word similar to those two is shiki (式). This one gave me some trouble before I was even working professionally because fictional robots using such a name don’t seem to correspond to American naming conventions. That’s right! They don’t! This actually sounds more like it’s British. After all, Japanese civilization has been in touch with lots of British naval culture for a long time.
So, we could call the “Hyaku Shiki” from Zeta Gundam, back in 1985 and a video game classic, the “Type 100” because it isn’t using “kata” for “model” in the name. Even so, there’s no way a translator would get a free hand in real life. You translate names as you’re told to and that’s the end of it.
Incidentally, the “shikigami” uses the same “shiki” as above. Actually, the term “shiki” usually relates to equation, formula, and ceremony; I view this as being all related to procedure. Put another way, a mathematical formula is a ceremonial rite of a very different kind. These are methods used to get from point A to point B, but since they’re not models or systems, they’re another kind of classification, whatever that turns out to be. – J