"Literal" in this context means "word-oriented"—communicating the explicit meanings of individual words and phrases rather than the implicit meaning of the text as a whole. The opposite of a literal translation is a liberal translation—one that takes many liberties in interpreting the text, paraphrasing statements to make them flow naturally in English and generally bring the text into the comfort zone of the reader. In contrast, a literal translation makes only minimal alterations to the text, leaving the task of interpretation up to the reader.
Isn't That Just a Bad Translation?
It's not what most people expect from a translation—most people want the text sound as if it was originally written in English—but for people who enjoy studying text and coming to their own understandings, a literal translation provides the raw material for a more informed interpretation. A all-around bad translation is one that misrepresents its source on both a literal level and an idiomatic level. Official localizations of games usually hew to the liberal approach because of its broader appeal, and that's for the best—but this isn't an official localization! We're not trying to supplant any existing standard versions, only to offer a specialized alternative. There's room in the world for more than one translation; in fact, the best way to come to the fullest possible understanding of a text* is to refer to multiple translations, both literal and liberal.
*Short of being fluent in Japanese, of course!
- If a word must be inserted in order to make a line work in English, mark it with italics. Insertions should be avoided whenever possible, but since Japanese is such a terse language, that won't be very often.
- Any time a word is carried over into the translation without being translated at all, mark that with italics too.
- As a corollary to the above two conventions, don't use italics to indicate emphasis!
- Full names are to be given in the Japanese order, with the surname first and the given name second—it's Hakurei Reimu, not Reimu Hakurei.
- Unless, of course, the name is already in the European order in the original text! Margatroid Alice would be very silly.
- Honorific suffixes (-san, -chan, -sama, etc.), when attached to names, should be retained. Since they're not English, they should be italicized.
- All romanizations should adhere strictly to modified Hepburn, with the modification that long vowels should be represented as diphthongs rather than with macrons.