Larry Kenny -- Project portfolio

YUI - Again

The Music

I first heard this song as the intro to Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. While the arrangement of the original is pretty standard 'kickass action anime' fare, the song stuck with me as a particularly energetic and hadn't gotten old by the time the show stopped using it. I was tempted to learn the song mostly for the challenge of actually singing it - I've been speaking Japanese for a couple years now, and I still had to practice over and over to actually get all of those syllables to fall out of my mouth somewhat coherently. Despite continually telling myself I was just going to learn the song and be done with it, I had so much fun with it that I wound up going through all the trouble of doing a full arrangement video.

Since the original pretty much aced the whole "hit-you-in-the-face power chords / use compression on the compression" style of rock arrangement, I decided to go for a more mellow rendition, while trying to maintain the energy of the original. Also, I wanted to do something with the flute, which I started learning a few months ago. It turns out that there's actually a pretty big gap between "hey, I can sort of play this instrument" and "I could totally improvise and record a soaring solo on this instrument", but once I started I was too stubborn to quit. The piece was also a source of great lessons in flute arranging (like "nobody uses a flute duo in a rock song cover, so you can get away with arbitrary, poor arrangement choices").

The Language

For reference, the original lyrics and the translation given in the video are avaiable at the bottom of the page.

At least to the perspective of this struggling gaijin, contemporary Japanese song lyrics are like Classical Chinese: they're easy to understand, as long as you already understand them. I know the words, I know the grammar, and yet even as I sing along, thinking I understand in Japanese, I find myself wondering "Wait, was that a sentence? Did that actually express a thought or did it just sound cool?" So needless to say, I'm not making any claims as to the accuracy of my translation. That said, unless otherwise noted, my translation should pretty much convey the meaning of the original. Here are my notes on the process, for those of you learning Japanese or wondering what gets lost in translation.

This song uses a lot of contractions and pretty casual speech. This helps with the singing faster than I can think, the 'cool, exciting' style, and confusing foreigners. の no gets shortened to ん n left and right and vowels between words are often thrown out. If you don't undersatnd something in the lyrics and I don't comment on it, just assume it's some kind of shortening or slang rendition. Now, taking it stanza by stanza:

The first stanza is pretty straightforward, and it features the word magarikunetta "winding and twisting", which as far as I can tell is included by law in every other song any Japanese person wants to write. The meaning of hito ni tsumazuku "stumble on/through people" is somewhat unclear, hence my loose rendition about being lost in a crowd. I think the idea, in any case, is that the singer was distracted from the dream he should have been pursuing by other people and circumstances in life.

The second stanza's first line has a nuance that I couldn't really get across. The time to which the singer is not expressing desire to return to is presented as a sort of quote. A more idiomatic, if less accurate translation might be "It's not that I'm thinking 'ah, for those good old days'".

Something that sometimes trips up Japanese students is the way ように yō ni is used in e.g. the third stanza. Overly literally, the line there means something like "In the manner / condition of (you) understanding for me", which doesn't seem complete. The absent but implied completion is something like onegaishimasu "I wish / humbly request". In shrines in Japan you'll see lots of ema, wooden plaques with wishes written on them. They invariably end in ように, with the "I wish" implied and understood. Hence, "I hope you'll understand."

The next line (犠牲になったような悲しい顔はやめてよ) is also a great example of the versatility of Japanese grammar. The second half on its own is "quit (making) that sad face", but "sad face" (kanashii kao) is also described by the modifying phrase gisei ni natta yō na, where yō na means roughly "having the appearance of", with "appearance" itself being described by the embedded sentence gisei ni natta "became a victim / sacrifice". So if you really want the full sense of the original, try "stop making that sad face that looks like you've become a victim!". Except, you know, the original sounds good. The word 犠牲 gisei is also a wonderful example of the Japanese kanji system working well and logically (which does happen occasionally, I choose to believe). The right half of each character is itself a common character, respectively 義 and 生, whose well-known onyomi pronunciations are gi and sei. The left half of each character is 牛 ushi, meaning "cow" -- hence, a sacrifice. With the sound-characters even meaning "life" and "duty", an apparently complex word becomes beautifully sensible. Keep this in mind the next time you're cursing that common kanji you thought you knew for having a rare twelfth pronunciation.

The next stanza has some great words. The adjective 苦しい kurushii is defined "painful, difficult", but it's more... bitter? Grueling? It's painful for your soul. It's often used to describe 人生 jinsei, which is life. In the song it's used adverbally with the verb 背負う seou, which combines 背 "back" with 負う "to bear", making it a good colorful word. And thus the phrase is more "I've been painfully bearing (it) on my back (metaphorically)", where "it" is... sin? Tears? Whatever you imagine it to be. Specifying your verb arguments is for wimps.

"As if on a blank slate" is a loose translation. The original is more like "As if spelled out in a blank notebook". It could also be "white notebook", but that seems unlikely unless white notebooks have some obscure cultural significance. ...I'm pretty sure that's not the case. Also, I threw out motto "more", as in "I want to spit it all out more honestly", because it didn't fit well into the English.

The chorus of this song is designed specifically to laugh at unprepared translators. You could plausibly render it in anywhere from three to eight sentences and get different meaning each time. I'm sure some day I'll look back and laugh at how easy it should have been, but I prefer to tell myself that it's just not supposed to make clear sense. It's like an impressionist painting... throw the ideas out there and let the brain do the connecting work. Actually, given that this is Japanese, that may very well be what's really happening. A summary of my shortcomings here:

The fun part of Japanese is that while I was singing the chorus I totally believed what I was saying.

Some inevitable lost nuance comes from the lack of good translation for mama "the ongoing / unchanging condition". The singer didn't just make the listener worry; they burdened them with worries and left them that way. Regarding umaku ienakute "I can't / couldn't say (it) well / skillfully", that could be that the singer can't find the words now, though I think it's more that they exasperated the listener's worry by being unable to express things in a comforting or tactful manner.

I'm not sure what to make of kakaeru in the next two lines. Its usual meaning is to carry or hold close, typically under the arms, or by extention to have or engage. Of course nobody bothers to specify the object of this verb (well, aside from that it's 全部 zenbu "everything"), and it's not even clear who the subject is. I think the singer is still describing the listener, remarking on everything they had to endure or accept -- the singer acknowledges placing a heavy burden on the listener which they must continue to place. But this is not the only interpretation. As for junban tsuketari wa shinai kara, I'm really not sure. It's "since I won't do (something)", and junban means "sequential order". Tsuketari could mean "addition", but I'm not sure. Perhaps "(since) I'm not going to keep adding things (burdens?) one after another"? Something like that. Which, by the way, is my mantra for the next two stanzas. I have nothing to add on those, other than to implore those of you who realize I'm filling in a lot of blanks with "let's go with that" to clue me on what's really going on (or let me in on the secret that these are really just partially formed thoughts ripped from a journal).

Instead of using the Japanese word for heart (心 kokoro), the song uses hāto, literally the English word "heart". This is often done because in Japanese, English sounds cool. Beyond that, I'm afraid I don't have a sense of the difference in nuance. Also, a more literal translation is "As if my red heart was irritated", but that sounds silly.

Kitai shite n'no could be "have expectations about", perhaps... the inconsiderate song has contracted the words here well beyond comprehension. By English speakers, anyway.

Finally, 目を覚ませ me wo samase is more idiomatically "wake up", but "open up your eyes" fit over the original melody so well that not only did I have to translate it that way, I had to sing it that way too.

Looking back, this song... has a lot of lyrics. I suppose that could be why it took me so long to do. Learning it was a great challenge, though a bit unsatsifying in that there were only one or two words I didn't know; the real challenge in understanding was in figuring out the difference between "this is intentionally ambiguous or most likely implies that" and "this does not even resemble a sentence, and this language hates me". Ah, but if I didn't want to grapple with challenges like that, Japanese would not have been the right choice. Perhaps once my brain has finally stepped away from this song it will all click as a cohesive whole and I'll be able to replace this entire document with a single, brilliant, all-encompassing theme statement. Or maybe it's just a string of thoughts and half-thoughts and that's alright, because I have to say... it sounds really cool.


The original lyrics of "Again", along with romanization and a mostly accurate, non-lyrical translation. Note that the translation is sentence-by-sentence, not line-by-line.

Yume no tsuzuki
oikakete ita hazu na no ni
hosoi michi hito ni tsumazuku
I should have been
chasing after my dream
But I've stumbled lost in the crowd
on this long, winding road
Ano koro mitai ni tte
modoritai wake janai yo
Nakushite kita sora wo
It's not that I wish
I could go back to old times
I'm just searching for
the sky I've lost
Wakatte kuremasu yō ni
gisei ni natta yō na
kanashii kao wa
yamete yo
I hope you'll understand
Wipe that sad,
victimized look
off your face!


Tsumi no saigo wa namida janai yo
Zutto kurushiku seottekun'da

Deguchi mienai kanjō meiro ni

dare wo matteru no?
Sin doesn't end with the tears
I've been carrying the
pain with me all along
In this maze of emotion
with no way out in sight,
who am I waiting for?
Shiroi nōto ni tsuzutta yō ni
motto sunao ni hakidashitai yo
Nani kara nogaretain'da
genjitsu tte yatsu
As if on a blank slate
I want to spit it all out honestly
What is it I want to run away from?
Is it... "reality"?

Kanaeru tame ni
Wasurechai sō na
yoru no mannnaka
Bunan ni nante
Yatterarenai kara
Kaeru basho mo nai no
Kono omoi wo
keshite shimau ni wa
mada jinsei nagai deshō
Natsukashiku naru
Konna itami mo kangei jan

I live
to fulfill this desire
in the middle of this night
on the bounds of memory
I can't take
the easy way out
I don't have anywhere to turn back to
Even if this hope
is wiped out
isn't life still long?
It's all coming back to me...
I welcome this pain!
いけないよな ごめんね
ikenai yo na gomen ne
umaku ienakute
shinpai kaketa mama datta ne
I have to apologize...
I'm sorry
I could never find the right words,
and I've made you worry
Ano hi kakaeta zenbu
Ashita kakaeru zenbu
Junban tsuketari wa
shinai kara
Everything you accepted that day...
Everything you'll accept tomorrow...
I'm not going to
make a list
Wakatte kuremasu yō ni
sotto me wo tojitan'da
mitakunai mono made
mien'da mon
I hope you'll understand
I slowly closed my eyes,
and I can't see see
the things I don't want to see
Iranai uwasa ni chotto
hajimete kiku hatsugen docchi
Ni kai attara tomodachi datte
uso wa yamete ne
I don't need these rumors
Who heard them first?
Meeting twice makes us friends?
Spare me your lies
Akai hāto ga iradatsu yō ni
Karada n'naka moete irun'da
Hontō wa kitai shite n'no
genjitsu tte yatsu
As if my heart was angered
my body's burning up inside
I truly had hope about
this thing called "reality"
Kanaeru tame ni
Sakebitaku naru yo
kikoete imasu ka
Bunan ni nante
Yatterarenai kara
Kaeru basho mo nai no
Yasashisa ni wa
Itsumo kansha shiteru
dakara tsuyoku naritai
Susumu tame ni
teki mo mikata mo kangei jan
I live
to fulfill this desire
I want to shout
can you hear me?
I can't take
the easy way out
I don't have anywhere to turn back to
I'm always thankful
for your kindness
so I want to become strong
In order to move forward...
Friends, enemies, I welcome them both

Dō yatte tsugi no doa
Akeru n'da kke kangaeteru
Mō hikikaesenai
Monogatari hajimatteru n'da

Me wo samase
Me wo samase
How do I open the next door?
I'm wondering...
I can't turn back...
the story has begun

Open up your eyes
Open up your eyes
Kono omoi wo
keshite shimau ni wa
mada jinsei nagai deshō
Yarinokoshiteru koto
Yarinaoshite mitai kara
Mō ichi do yukō
Even if this hope
is wiped out
isn't life still long?
I want to try to make right
all the things that can still be made right
Once more, let's go!
(Repeat 1st chorus)