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Manga Answerman - What Makes A Great English Translation?


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nobahn
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2018 11:34 am Reply with quote
I am reminded of a story I heard regarding President Jack Kennedy. He was giving a speech in West Germany (Or was it West Berlin? I forget.) and he wanted to say, "I am a Berliner" in German. So his staff transliterated it from English to German to get "Ich bin ein Berliner." Problem was, because of a quirk of German grammar (don't ask; I don't know) the usage of the word ein caused that sentence to translate as "I am a jelly donut." The upshot of the story ─ and the reason the class was told that story in the first place ─ is that all translation involves paraphrasing.
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CorneredAngel
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2018 11:45 am Reply with quote
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What's your take on what makes for “good” Japanese-to-English translation, especially in manga?


I'll say right off the bat, one thing I really dislike is expecting a translation, and getting a complete rewrite. Especially when the Japanese audio and the English subtitles clearly do not match in any way. I think this is even more egregious in some video games - like Valkyria Chronicles 4. Guys, we all know this is a Japanese game. No need to try to hide it.

For that matter, why should the expectations of a manga or anime translation be any different from what we expect from the translation of a movie or a literary novel? I want to see what the original author was actually *trying* to say and the specific words they wanted to use, not an approximate English equivalent.[/i]
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Coup d'État



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PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2018 12:20 pm Reply with quote
nobahn wrote:
I am reminded of a story I heard regarding President Jack Kennedy. He was giving a speech in West Germany (Or was it West Berlin? I forget.) and he wanted to say, "I am a Berliner" in German. So his staff transliterated it from English to German to get "Ich bin ein Berliner." Problem was, because of a quirk of German grammar (don't ask; I don't know) the usage of the word ein caused that sentence to translate as "I am a jelly donut." The upshot of the story ─ and the reason the class was told that story in the first place ─ is that all translation involves paraphrasing.


That's not ... wrong, I guess, but that's not how I, as a native speaker, would have taken the sentence. The proper way to say it would have been "Ich bin Berliner", but to say "ein Berliner" is not so horribly off that I *ever* thought of the baked good. I'll ask a few friends about this to see what they think.
The difference is rather subtle. "Ich bin Deutscher" and "Ich bin ein Deutscher" are both sentences I'd use, same with my home town. The fact that "Berliner" exist as food doesn't really take that meaning away, it's just a 2nd one, I guess?

When I visit my parents, they sometimes have the TV on. German translations of US shows are ... interesting. Sometimes, I can tell what the joke was supposed to be, and how it was funny originally, but it just didn't work in German, and my parents didn't get it at all.

Anyway, translations can make or brake a Manga. When I read Sailor Moon for the first time, I could never quite understand what was going on - the Manga seemed "deep" and confusing to me. Only when we got a re-translation that was taken directly from the original, and not from either the US- or French version did everything finally make sense to me.
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whiskeyii



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PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2018 12:35 pm Reply with quote
CorneredAngel wrote:

For that matter, why should the expectations of a manga or anime translation be any different from what we expect from the translation of a movie or a literary novel? I want to see what the original author was actually *trying* to say and the specific words they wanted to use, not an approximate English equivalent.[/i]


To an extent, I can understand that, but I think the discussion on the translation for the Eternal versions of the Sailor Moon manga is a pretty good summation about why more literal translations sometimes do more harm than help. Case in point:

For years, Sailor Moon's first "real" weapon was translated as the "Moon Stick", because "Stick" (the English word) was used in the original Japanese. However, "stick" had (from a Japanese pronunciation of the word), connotations with romantic words like "suki" (the same "suki" used for "daisuki" or "I love you") and gave a more dreamlike impression than what a native English speaker would glean from "stick", which feels more mundane and ordinary. The Eternal version chose to translate "Moon Stick" as "Moon Wand" to try and capture that magical, dreamy impression for English-reading audiences as well.

I also see this (and it drives me NUUUUUTS) when the English word "bitch" is used in Japanese, and it gets translated into a 1:1 English equivalent (i.e., "bitch") when the implications of its use in Japanese is actually more like "slut".

P.S. I also usually don't go in for honorifics, because most stories don't require them in English (it's typically just a story about peers). I think it becomes much harder when you have to address different ways of speaking (that "cutesy-wutsey baby talk" approach vs a super-formal manner of speaking) that English doesn't really have an equivalent for without things turning a little farcical.
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Chester McCool



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PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2018 1:05 pm Reply with quote
whiskeyii wrote:
For years, Sailor Moon's first "real" weapon was translated as the "Moon Stick", because "Stick" (the English word) was used in the original Japanese. However, "stick" had (from a Japanese pronunciation of the word), connotations with romantic words like "suki" (the same "suki" used for "daisuki" or "I love you") and gave a more dreamlike impression than what a native English speaker would glean from "stick", which feels more mundane and ordinary. The Eternal version chose to translate "Moon Stick" as "Moon Wand" to try and capture that magical, dreamy impression for English-reading audiences as well.


Those kinds of changes are extremely annoying, especially in anime since you clearly hear the voice actors say one thing but the subs insist it's something else. Plus it seems a bit hypocritical given the disdain for the old English translation. By the same logic most American's don't know what Buddhist religious stuff is, so renaming Burning Manadala made sense to get the intention across.

A good translation is one where the translation itself is transparent. It should feel natural, and the translator should be nonexistent. Using Sailor Moon again, when the old DIC dub had the girls talk like 80s valley girls, it was extremely obviously that wasn't what they were saying. The minute I think "Yes, I'm sure this Japanese teenage girl talks exactly like an American valley girl and uses the same slang lingo" the translation has failed because it becomes obvious the translator is attempting to "write" rather than just translate. And there's nothing worse than a translator who thinks they're a writer.
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Shiflan



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PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2018 1:29 pm Reply with quote
Great article.

When I started learning Japanese I did so partially by watching a ton of anime and picking up words here-and-there when watching subs, the way that any anime fan knows what "senpai", "onee-chan", and "baka" mean, and also taking formal classes in college. I soon started annoying my friends by pointing out what I thought were "errors" in subtitles here and there because I knew they weren't literal translations. But that's the noob talking. It didn't take long to figure out that a literal translation just doesn't work most of the time.

Deb is right, it's downright hard to translate Japanese to English because you're trying to balance what the dialogue actually says, literally, with the spirit of those same words. Throw accents and slang into the mix and things become even more challenging. And there's there's the matter of how to translate idioms and jokes: do you change the joke entirely to one that you think conveys the idea better to an English-speaking audience? Or do you retain it, hoping that the reader knows enough Japanese culture or language to recognize the reference? I tend to prefer the latter myself, but clearly not all readers do, and even then it doesn't work for all situations. If you're going the latter route, do you plaster the page (or the screen, in the case of subtitles) with footnotes or explanations, or do you instead try to keep things uncluttered and easy to read?

It is not an easy job, and the more Japanese you learn the more that becomes apparent. I have a lot of respect for the people who translate manga or anime for this very reason.
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R. Kasahara
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2018 2:19 pm Reply with quote
One form of literal translation that drives me nuts is the way Yen Press handles sound effects. For those who don't know, they keep the drawn effects in Japanese (which is fine, as it's usually easy to infer the sound through the art), and include a small translation beneath that (which, again, is fine), but between those two is a romanji transcription of the sound effect.

Here's an example from vol. 4 of Silver Spoon. In a panel where a flashlight smashes to the ground, the sound effect is presented like this:
ガン (as drawn in the artwork)
Gaan
(Whack)

This is really distracting, especially when reading comedies like Silver Spoon or Yotsuba&!. It's even more noticeable when, say, animal noises that aren't in word balloons are redrawn on the same pages as "dialogue" instead of given a similar treatment-- no "ワン Wan (Bark)", but just "Bark". I would prefer it if they left out the romanji altogether, or shifted the sound effects off to a glossary in the back, like in some Viz series.

On the other end of the spectrum, the most extreme translations I can think of are Carl Gustav Horn's, such as those for the Evangelion parodies Dark Horse has published in recent years. They can be a little too much at times (and so are his translation notes, but for different reasons) which makes me wonder, moreso than with other translations, how they read in the original Japanese.

I agree with Chester McCool in that the best translations are natural: neither hitting you over the head with their Japanese-ness (unless it's appropriate, such as with use of honorifics in a clearly Japanese setting) nor doing so much rewriting that the original author's intent is muddied.
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TheObserver99



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PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2018 2:58 pm Reply with quote
I think it's important to note that translation and localization are two different things. Good translators shouldn't be localizers - accept the Japanese cultural context for what it is.

That said, I'm definitely not a translation "purist." Languages don't map onto each other perfectly, and "literal" translations (that is to say, translations which are obsessed with replicating every Japanese word and sentence with its English "counterpart") usually do more to undermine the original than to help it. I agree with what others have said here - good translation should be natural, and you shouldn't see the translator in the work.

But to do that, you need a translator who can replicate the meaning and impact of the original author's work in the new language, which means occasionally being creative with word choice and prioritizing aesthetic and contextual mimicry over dictionary-matching. What's more, they have to do it while fully preserving the unaltered cultural context of the original, which is an inherently hard thing to do.

Of course, this debate didn't start with manga or anime. It's been around as long as people have been translating novels (ever read the translation debates over Beowulf?). I'm personally a BIG fan of including a "translator's notes" section at the beginning or the end of the book - not just to explain the cultural context, but also for the translator themself to explain and justify the choices they made. Just because it's an art doesn't mean it can't be transparent.
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SolHerald



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PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2018 3:10 pm Reply with quote
TheObserver99 wrote:
I'm personally a BIG fan of including a "translator's notes" section at the beginning or the end of the book - not just to explain the cultural context, but also for the translator themself to explain and justify the choices they made. Just because it's an art doesn't mean it can't be transparent.


^ This right here, I love it when manga has translator/footnotes at the end. I really wish more had them.
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jenny10-11



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PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2018 4:56 pm Reply with quote
I prefer a more natural translation, one that sticks to the spirit of the original Japanese, and doesn't twist itself into knots to try and directly translate. There's nothing worse (in my opinion) then coming across a clunky translation and being pulled out of the story to wonder what the the original Japanese was. Good translation notes can also help balance the difference between literal and poetic translations.
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Zerreth



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PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2018 5:19 pm Reply with quote
It's probably a non-debate that everyone would like the cleanest, most natural sounding translation that fits as close to the original language as possible, so I'm gonna push the edges a bit and state my opinion between overly-literal translations vs. complete rewrites.

And in that instance, it's hard to say. I've seen some really frustrating literal translations to the point where mannerisms and onomatopoeia were flipped letter to letter. It was pretty cringey and often difficult to take seriously. On the other side of the spectrum though, there are also complete script rewrites and headcanon written in over the original text. Original Ideas and settings are scratched out in favor of the localizer's own concepts.

Given a choice between the two extremes, I'm going to say that I would actually lean towards the literal translation. It's bad, and there are most definitely times where there's going to be some major headscratchers, but I would argue it's a closer attempt to the original than simply writing what you like for the work. Perhaps it's because I understand Japanese, Korean and a bit of Chinese that I may have a bias and am able to convert literal translations in my head and deal with them slightly better, but I cannot tolerate rewrites even if it's "for the sake of fluidity." It's a poor excuse for "translators" to believe they are above the work and decide they can write better material, and more often then not, it backfires later on when the part that was previously written out becomes the core piece for an arc.
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Fluwm



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PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2018 5:23 pm Reply with quote
No reputable translator would ever leave "nakama" as-is.

People ask this question to me all the time, especially when I occasionally go on short tirades about poor translations (context: I work as a translator and editor; no, not in manga). Part of it depends on the medium you're working with, but for the most part I think the most important thing to keep in mind is the author's intent. A good translation is about replicating not simply the literal meaning of the original text, but also the tone and rhythm. Herman Hesse, for example, writes with a very fluid syntax, characterized by long, rolling sentences, punctuated by short, clipped fragments. This creates a very distinctive kind of melody to the language -- even someone who does not speak German can listen to Hesse's prose and discern their rhythym. Hesse also frequently uses anachronistic vocabulary (for one of my translations, I had to hunt down a German dictionary from the 1880s to translate one word, because it fell out of use so long ago). The challenge in translating Hesse, therefore, lies not so much in accuracy as in faithfulness--in replicating his syntactical style in English, in choosing anachronistic English words that match even more anachronistic German words. This is why editing a translation can often take much longer than the initial act of translating.


So, blah blah blah, obviously my experience isn't 100% completely applicable to manga, as manga typically lacks the literary complexity found in pure prose. But I think the primary component--faithfulness--still holds true: what the author means to say, and how the intended audience would perceive what the author means to say, is just as important (sometimes even more important) than what is actually said.
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Gina Szanboti



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PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2018 6:20 pm Reply with quote
nobahn wrote:
I am reminded of a story I heard regarding President Jack Kennedy. He was giving a speech in West Germany (Or was it West Berlin? I forget.) and he wanted to say, "I am a Berliner" in German. So his staff transliterated it from English to German to get "Ich bin ein Berliner." Problem was, because of a quirk of German grammar (don't ask; I don't know) the usage of the word ein caused that sentence to translate as "I am a jelly donut."

The line was written by a native Berliner and respected translator, and run past Willy Brandt in practice prior to giving the speech, so this is not true. Snopes has the whole explanation why it's false, as well as how the false story got started.
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TsukasaElkKite



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PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2018 8:39 pm Reply with quote
A good translation sounds natural. Take for instance the new Eternal Edition/kanzenban for the Sailor Moon manga that just came out. For this edition, they're using an entirely different translator than for the 2012 shinsouban release that Kodansha originally did. By having a more liberal translation for the newer editions, it reads much more smoothly than the literal translations that were done in the shinsouban, which were awkward and made the characters sound very old fashioned (e.x "putting on airs" was used quite a bit, as was the now infamous quote "you should live your life more nervously", which makes honestly no sense), instead of the 14 year olds that they actually were. This time, by translating the way an actual teen would speak, it keeps up the suspension of disbelief, which the shinsouban translations completely ruined. I for one vastly prefer the new translation.
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nobahn
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2018 8:52 pm Reply with quote
Gina Szanboti wrote:
nobahn wrote:
I am reminded of a story I heard regarding President Jack Kennedy. He was giving a speech in West Germany (Or was it West Berlin? I forget.) and he wanted to say, "I am a Berliner" in German. So his staff transliterated it from English to German to get "Ich bin ein Berliner." Problem was, because of a quirk of German grammar (don't ask; I don't know) the usage of the word ein caused that sentence to translate as "I am a jelly donut."

The line was written by a native Berliner and respected translator, and run past Willy Brandt in practice prior to giving the speech, so this is not true. Snopes has the whole explanation why it's false, as well as how the false story got started.

Pity that I can no longer look up that instructor. You learn something new every day..... Embarassed
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