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How a Sentai writer translated that rap battle in ‘Ya Boy Kongming’

If you thought rhyming in one language was hard, try keeping a rhythm with subtitled translations.

Courtesy image opening credits/YouTube HIDIVE

When Chinese strategist and Three Kingdoms-era statesman Zhuge Liang Kongming gets in a rap battle in modern day Tokyo, you know he’s gonna bust a rhyme. And with lines like “My stratagems make jaws hit the floor,” episode six of Ya Boy Kongming raised the bar on a show that has already established itself as a must-watch this season.

Based on the ongoing manga by Yuto Yotsuba and Ryō Ogawa, the P.A. Works adaptation is written by Yōko Yonaiyama. But bringing that script to life for English-speaking audience is Jake Jung, an American translator based in Japan. Having previously worked on other titles distributed by Sentai Filmworks, including Made in Abyss and Vinland Saga, Jung shared the unique experience of translating Kongming’s rap battle against Kabetaijin.

In a thread on Twitter yesterday, Jung shared that the scene was the most time consuming translation of their career, and “a great challenge and creative exercise.” The thread offers some insight into the more challenging but overlooked parts of localization as Jung shared how he pulled off stellar rhymes like “In this rap battle, we have a rap rookie/It’s my style to flatten ya like a cookie.”

Jung also shared how they incorporated other sources into the translation. At one point, Kongming incorporates a rhyme from one of the Nineteen Old Poems, a Han era anthology of Chinese poetry. Jung wrote that he worked with various Japanese translations of the original Chinese text, as well as working from the original Chinese poem to write his own.

The hardest part of the scene, he shared in a reply, was incorporating historical references within the rhyme scheme, like an allusion to the general Ma Su whom Kongming ordered executed after a failed expedition. “It was no play, Ma Su I did slay,” Kongmin raps in the episode.

Ya Boy Kongming continues to be released on Tuesday’s on Hidive.

About the author

Autumn Wright

Autumn Wright is an anime journalist, which is a real job. As a writer at We Got This Covered, they cover the biggest new seasonal releases, interview voice actors, and investigate labor practices in the global industry. Autumn can be found biking to queer punk through Brooklyn, and you can read more of their words in Polygon, WIRED, The Washington Post, and elsewhere.