Why Does The Same Title Get Translated Differently For Anime Vs Manga Releases?

by Justin Sevakis,

Jimmy asks:

I always wonder why anime shows and manga tend to not use the same names for both titles or terms. For example Jitsu wa watashi wa manga is translated as "My Monster Secret", while the anime has the correct translation of "Actually I am", or Oregairu anime is referred as "My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU" and the manga and light novel use the correct title of "My Youth Romantic Comedy is Wrong, as I Expected". Furthermore the anime of Attack on Titan uses Scout Regiment, while the manga uses Scout Corps. Is there a reason why a 5 second google search cant be used to see if an official title is already in use by either manga or anime publishers.

Whether or not to translate a Japanese title into English for its English language releases is something that the industry has wrestled with time and again, and there really is no good, clear answer. Long Japanese titles are impossible for many Westerners to remember, let alone pronounce, and definitely have a negative impact on sales. And many Japanese titles don't translate into English particularly gracefully. "My Youth Romatnic Comedy is Wrong, as I Expected" is a sentence that any English teacher would circle in red pen and write "see me" next to.

And yet, many times what title a show gets released as ends up different that the title the manga gets. This is bad for everybody, because unless the consumers are REALLY paying attention (and many aren't), they'd have no idea that the manga they're seeing on a bookstore shelf is the same series as the anime they're currently watching on Crunchyroll. And that lowers potential sales and engagement for both! (Other translation inconsistencies happen too, but the title is what affects sales.)

The problem is, the anime publisher and manga publisher are usually talking to different people at the same time. The manga or light novel publisher is dealing directly with the original Japanese publisher, the series' original editor, and the author's management. The anime publisher is talking to the licensor, which either is, or is in contact with, show's producer. The show's producer is supposed to consult the author when it comes to major decisions, but usually there's a bureaucratic wall preventing them from doing so. The producer(s) often end up making a lot of these arbitrary decisions in a vacuum.

Often there's already an English title, either originating with the creator, or with the production committee -- and that English title might be Engrishy and terrible. Or the licensor will tell the publisher to use the Japanese title, or an abbreviation (like "Hanakimi" or "Saikano"). The Western publisher either has to deal with that, or push back. "Hey, this isn't a great title for Westerners. How about ______? Or ______? Those get the same point across, and sound a lot better to a native English speaker."

The licensor or publisher will then take the name suggestions up the chain of command, to the production committee, the producer, or the original creator. Sometimes they take the suggestion. Sometimes they don't. But depending on what companies and departments are involved, the people making those decisions are often not the same people. And if those decisions are being made at the same time, there's no pre-existing English translation to reference.

So what you're basically seeing is one hand simply not talking to the other. When this many people and departments and companies are involved, it's frankly a miracle that such miscommunications don't happen more often.

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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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