How a Sentai Writer Translated This Rap Battle Into “Ya Boy Kongming”

When Chinese strategist and statesman of the Three Kingdoms era Zhuge Liang Kongming engages in a rap battle in modern Tokyo, you know he’s going to crack a rhyme. And with lines like “My schemes make jaws drop to the ground,” episode six of Ya Boy Kongming raised the bar for 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 sound works the adaptation is written by Yōko Yonaiyama. But bringing this script to life for English-speaking audiences is Jake Jung, an American translator based in Japan. Having previously worked on other titles distributed by Sentai Filmworks, including Made in the Abyss and Vinland SagaJung shared the unique experience of translating Kongming’s rap battle against Kabetaijin.

In a Twitter thread yesterday, Jung shared that the scene was the longest translation of their career and “a great challenge and creative exercise.” The thread provides insight into the toughest but overlooked parts of localization as Jung shared how he pulled off stellar rhymes like “In this rap battle we got a rap rookie / That’s my style of you flatten like a cookie.”

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

The hardest part of the scene, he shared in a response, was incorporating historical references into the rhyme scheme, such as an allusion to General Ma Su who Kongming ordered executed after a failed expedition. “It wasn’t a game, Ma Su that I killed,” Kongmin raps in the episode.

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