In the Fate anime series, the word 宝具 "hougu", literally "precious tool", the special ability of the Servants, is translated as "Noble Phantasm". What are the reasons for translating it that way?

I don't mean to suggest that a literal translation is necessary, on the contrary, I am very much for free non-literal translations that keep as much context and associations from the source language as possible, even if you have to throw some aspects overboard for that.

But I just don't see which aspects this is supposed to translate. Any ideas?

Or is it just a case of "the translator had no idea how to translate it, so he/she just came up with something supposed to sound good"?

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    "Basically what Nasu tends to do is write this long chuuni name for Noble Phantasms in Japanese kanji, but give a different "official" name in the furigana reading. For example, Arthur's Noble Phantasm was written as the Golden Sword of Promised Victory, but the furigana header says "Excalibur"." - gamefaqs.gamespot.com/boards/… – Valorum Aug 18 at 21:11
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    As a note, the "gu" in hougu, doesn't mean tool in the same way the English word does. It's more like the word "implement" or "utensil." Basically any object that you might use for a specific purpose. Weapons can even be referred to as "dougu" (gu is the same kanji) which people similarly translate as "tool" all the time. – Kai Aug 18 at 21:32

It could be argued that it's in fact not translated. Or at least, that it's not the choice of some random translator.

The term Noble Phantasm is apparently in the Japanese source material. Mind you, I don't have any of the original material and couldn't read it even if I had it. So I can't confirm any of this firsthand.

But I found a source online quoting the Fate/side material, a 100 pages side book that came out with Fate/stay night, including among other things a sort of encyclopedia.

There is an entry for "hougu" and directly underneath the following

ノウブル ファンタズム

which translates to Nouburu fantazumu -> Noble Phantasm.

So Type Moon chose this as the English reading/translation of "hougu". It seems they did this for many of the terms/names in Fate. Another example is Gilgamesh' Gate of Babylon, which in Kanji is called something like "King's riches".

In this case I would be tempted to actually go so far as to say that Type Moon did not provide a translation into English but rather "coined" the English terms they thought fitting.

It becomes obvious that the literal translation of the kanji into English makes for some lacklustre names. On the other hand some things just can't be properly translated because they don't have same meaning in a different cultural background.

So providing a translation that is not literal but focuses on the concept that you want to convey is a pretty good idea.

I don't know if Noble Phantasm is the best choice but at least the noble part always made sense to me because they are used by heroic spirits. The phantasm part might allude to them not actually being real but sort of a manifestation.
In the Fate/ series they make a point about how much of a heroic spirits power has to do with how famous and legendary they are. Same goes for their weapons. For example, I could mean that Saber isn't using Excalibur but a manifestation of Excalibur based on it's legend.

But only the author can answer what he really had in mind when he chose those translations.


Thanks to the effort of Sebastion_H of finding the link, looking at the description actually gives the reason for "Phantasm":

Noble Phantasm [Armament]

The armaments carried by Heroic Spirits, made from humanity's illusions.

Though they generally come in the form of things like swords, spears, or bows, there are also those Heroic Spirits whose Noble Phantasms are auxiliary armaments like shields, rings, or crowns. They are solidified "mysteries", and injecting them with magical energy while calling their true name will unleash their abilities.

So while 具 stands for the "armament" (one of the meanings when used a counter), the "Phantasm" stands for the aspect that it embodies the essence of the ideas and imaginations that mankind accumulated about this particular Hero ("made from humanity's illusions", the Japanese text is a bit more detailed).

That makes a lot of sense, but one needs to know this background to understand it.

In the same way (but that wasn't the problematic part, "Phantasm"), "Noble" of course evokes the "heroic" part of the Heroic Spirit.

So, it is a fair translation when one does know the background, and given the Japanese tendency to add English Furigana to such words, I wouldn't be surprised if this appeared as Furigana somewhere to actually add those aspects to the Japanese word. Which is then of course lost in translation (or when spoken).

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