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September 19, 2019

Dr. Eggman - genius, gentleman, feminist?

Dr. Eggman, also known as Dr. Robotnik, is the primary antagonist of the Sonic video game series. He's a mad genius known for engineering all sorts of robotics to take over the world.

But according to the English-language Sonic Heroes manual, he has some hidden depths. He's also a feminist:

Eggman is a romanticist, a feminist, and a self-professed gentleman.

This quote has long confused Sonic fans because Dr. Eggman has never spoken about feminism or had any particular attitudes toward women. (If you want to determine for yourself whether Dr. Eggman is a feminist, I recommend reading this Vice article.) Imagine reading a description of Bowser from the Mario games that mentioned "Bowser is also a fiscal conservative" among random traits and you'll see how jarring this is.

There's been speculation that this is a mistranslation, because there's a Japanese word "feminisuto" that actually means something along the lines of "chivalrous, romantic." Considering the context that Dr. Eggman is both a "romanticist" (another strange translation) and "a self-professed gentleman," it makes more sense for the intention to be "chivalrous."

You can see an example of "feminisuto" to mean chivalrous in the following episode from the anime Revolutionary Girl utena:

Ki-sama wa... (why you)
Feminisuto daraka na ore wa. (because I'm chivalrous)

The Japanese manual of Sonic Heroes does not mention whether or not Dr. Eggman is "feminisuto." This has basically been the end of most research.

However, it's worth pointing out that the translation for the English Sonic Heroes manual may not have come from the Japanese manual, but from another source. The official Japanese site for the anime Sonic X does indeed say that Dr. Eggman is "feminisuto":

ロマンチストかつフェミニスト。 自称紳士のええかっこしい。
Romantic and chivalrous. (?)A self proclaimed gentleman.(?)

It seems that they decided to use Sonic X descriptions for the English Sonic Heroes manual, but whoever was translating it was unaware that "feminisuto" meant "chivalrous." "feminisuto" does also refer to someone who is a feminist, so the translator may also simply have decided that "feminist" would make more sense. It's even possible they thought it was funny.

Whatever the cause, it's a humorous example of how strange translations can end up taking on a life of their own.

Note: this was originally published in abbreviated form on Twitter in October 2018.