Otakon 2009
The Art of Translation with Trish Ledoux

by Evan Miller, Jul 20th 2009

Trish Ledoux opened her panel on the Art of Translation by outlining the history of her career in Anime, which started in the late 1980s. "I was a fan of Sci-Fi and Role-Playing games when I discovered Anime," said Ledoux, who would eventually become one of the most recognized staffers at Viz in the 1990s. After taking an interest in the anime through the Rumiko Takahashi classic Urusei Yatsura, Ledoux began watching anime and joined Bay Area Anime clubs to see more. She eventually became the editor of the fan magazine Animag, which was published in Berkeley. Following a brief stint studying abroad in Japan, Ledoux returned to the states and put her editorial skills to work again as editor of the Viz publication Animerica. Her work at Viz also saw her work on the company's early flagship anime titles, including Ranma ½.

Currently, Ledoux is working as a freelance manga localization editor and teaching Japanese at schools in her area. Her recent work has included Negima for Del Rey and the Eureka Seven novels. She talked at length about the way the industry has changed for the better and for the worse. "Manga has the incredible ability to represent one vision from beginning to end," said Ledoux, comparing manga to the extensive production process involved for anime. However, as anime and manga has become more popular, translators have suffered some extreme pay cuts. "Translators used to receive twenty dollars for each page they translated," remembers Ledoux. "These days, most of them get about five per page - or less." Telling the audience that the number of freelance manga translators has skyrocketed in recent years, Ledoux offered some frank advice to aspiring translators in the audience: "Have a day job too; make sure you have something by which to pay your electric bill."

Ledoux gave an introduction to the anime production process in relation to translation. The first point she brought up is that all translation is contextual. There are multiple possibilities, and the translator must restrain themselves to adapting the source material faithfully. Outlining the process for translating anime, Ledoux described the translator as merely the first cog in a detailed, thorough process. After the script is translated, the script goes to the adapter, who adapts jokes and other things, but keeps the script close to what Ledoux called the "shining path" of the original storyline. After a while in the business, "you learn where things can be adapted properly."

A big part of the panel was devoted to talking about the history of anime adaptation related to translation. Ledoux recalled that when anime was just beginning to become popular - and even now - editors and directors try to make things match the lip flaps for dubs more rigidly than most other productions, not to mention some of the original anime in Japanese. This kind of scripting required what they called "flap spackle," or words and sentences added to match character lip movements. "These days, it's best to have more accuracy or matching of the flaps," said Ledoux, adding that producers and actors often suggest script changes as they work on projects as well. She also admitted that early dubs "sucked" because most of the staff wasn't adjusted to the dubbing process. As she put it, "we didn't know what we were doing." Other changes in the translation process have arrived with the advent of new technologies. "We used to use encyclopedias and contacts in Japan to check lines," said Ledoux. "These days, Japanese Wikipedia is just an enter key away."

The panel closed with a brief Q&A session, where Ledoux offered other tips to aspiring and current translators. "Leave your ego off the page," said Ledoux bluntly, advising translators to stay true to the tone, adapt for the audience, but never forget who the characters are - especially if the use of swear words is being considered. Another suggestion concerned working on titles that other translators had worked with previously. "Don't try to mimic the previous translator; it will just affect the tone of the work if you do," said Ledoux. The closing of the panel also delved into personal anecdotes, such as the story of Ledoux getting to sing karaoke with Rumiko Takahashi and her thoughts on gender diversity in anime fandom. After working in an industry that was male-dominated in its early years, "it's nice to see how diverse things have become," she said, referring to the substantial growth in female attendance at conventions like Otakon.


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