Fansubbing BookStory.

Mitch Anzuoni’s heartwarming story of fan translation (see this post for another):

Usually, a Google Sheet is the site of bureaucratic misery and numbing digits; the exact sort of place you wouldn’t want to find yourself on a weekend night. Yet there I was: five hundred rows deep, carefully entering Japanese text I had extracted from the decompiled source code of a twenty-four-year-old .exe file. With me was a cadre of volunteers from around the world offering possible translations nearly as fast as I was pasting in characters. “能力 – skill level,” someone commented. “Ability,” wrote another. 好きな本 was decided as “favorite book”; 耐震工事, “seismic retrofitting.”

These are but a few choice elements of 本屋物語, a bookstore simulator created by the Japanese videogame developer Kairosoft in 1997 (the title translates literally as “Bookstore Story,” or more poetically, “BookStory”). I came across the game recently while searching for book-related sims. While sims (videogames that simulate activities) have been enjoying a genre renaissance lately, there’s still a decided lack of book-related titles, and so I was delighted to discover BookStory, with its charming yesteryear graphics and nostalgic UI elements.

Eager to share my discovery, I tweeted “Someone absolutely needs to translate this Japanese used book store simulator from 1997” with a link to the freeware download on Kairosoft’s site. Some retro gaming accounts picked up the tweet and suddenly I had the attention of several thousand newly minted BookStory fans who also yearned to play this beguiling game. […]

BookStory is a work in progress, a poem still being written. Much of the flavor text and book titles remain untranslated (they are stored in the game’s dynamic modules rather than in static strings, so modifying them is a little trickier). Since the consensus and emphasis is on human rather than machine translation, I invite you to try translating some of the book titles here. There are also efforts to translate the game into German and Romanian.

On Kairosoft’s website, there is a caption underneath a screenshot of BookStory’s title screen: The interior of the now-defunct Kurome Shobo has been faithfully reproduced. The game itself is a restoration, an ode, a translation of a beloved bookstore into the digital realm; a testament to the archival imagination. As indie bookstores shutter and massive conglomerates dominate the publishing world, BookStory offers a space to create and manifest the ineffable experience we seek in our favorite local bookstore. In this virtual counter-narrative, the players are writing—and translating—their own parts.

Visit the linked post for the details of how it was done. A game that reproduces a beloved bookstore: now that’s something I can see myself playing!


  1. fansubbing is so fascinating! there are a few Official Rights-Holders in the anime world who’ve actively collaborated with fansub circles to improve their official translations: Nozomi, who worked very closely with the Revolutionary Girl Utena fandom on their most recent english releases, are probably the standouts. if i remember right, one whole conversation was about what to do with the name of an (offscreen) character, which could be rendered either as “end of the world” or “ends of the earth”…

  2. I once wanted to write an alternate-universe story with that ambiguity as a plot point.

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