William Flanagan
Elements in Manga Translation
William Flanagan

There are some considerations within manga translation that are unique to fairly unique to manga due to manga's methods of story telling and readership. This article introduces a few areas that a manga translator should be aware of during the translation.

There are quite a few challenges that make manga translation unique. Some derive from the fact that western manga readers are looking for a reading experience as close to the enjoyment the Japanese find in their manga. Others come from story-telling techniques developed over years by professional manga artists and editors.

Include a Humorous Tone when It's There in the Original.

Thetone of a manga is important. Professional manga artists and their editors put well-honed techniques to work when plotting their manga. Not only that, but the fans aren't buying the English version hoping to read the translator's story. They want the manga artist's story. When the tone is serious, your translation should be serious. And when the original is humorous, then you should translate the tone to match.

The translation of a humorous scene should take a lighthearted tone.

And a serious scene should convey that too.

Not Adding Humor when it Isn't There

Given that you should match the tone, you shouldn't try to add humor when it isn't there in the original. Other areas of translation, such as game localization, may additional creative input from their localizers. But manga readers want as much loyalty as possible, so get as creative as you can when there is a pun in the original, but when there isn't, restrain yourself.

Manga readers may not welcome a translator's puns, especially when they aren't in the original.

Look for and Keep the Callbacks and Repetitions

Storytellers will often bring back the same words or phrases spoken early in the story to use later in the story for either dramatic or comedic effect. As a translator, it is your job to pick up on these, and make sure you translate the words or phrases the same way for both (or all) instances. If you know a word or phrase will be repeated, it also helps to use slightly unusual words or phrasing so that it sticks in the reader's minds. (If you can do this subtly, it works even better.)

In Deaimon, two of the finalists used the word, "composure" in the main character's thoughts. Then the same word was used by the high-school girls later to comedic effect. In Japanese the same word was used in both word balloons as well. "Composure" was a good word choice since it's meaning is familiar, but it isn't very commonly used. So when it's repeated, it'll be memorable.

Unfortunately, one translator either didn't recognize the repetition or didn't prioritize the repetition of a particular word to get across the meaning.

As one gains experience in manga translation, one starts to see patterns in words and phrases that will be used as callbacks or repeated in the future. But it's important to start working on this skill early.

Think Like a Non-Otaku, and Include Gutter Notes & Translator's Notes

As translator, you can't assume that everyone reading your translation has as sophisticated a knowledge of Japanese culture as you do. It's a judgment call, but it's best to assume your audience isn't very familiar with it. It does little harm for a sophisticated reader to glance at a gutter note and see information they knew already. But if readers with less knowledge suddenly come upon a word or concept they have never encountered before, it breaks the spell ofthe story for them. If the original story is aimed specifically at otaku, you may assume some knowledge of your readers. But if it's a mainstream title, you will want to explain a lot more of Japanese culture as your average reader will most likely be less informed.

This is a good example of a translator's note. But in a normal manga translation (as opposed to this contest), a note this long and detailed should probably be saved for the back of the book.

On the other hand, the same translator didn't make of note of the plaque in the household shrine. The other two finalists did, and provided an explanation,

And when you can fit some necessary info into the word balloon without it seeming unnatural, that can also be a good thing.

Although publishers differ on whether they allow for translator's notes at the back of the book or not, the best rule of thumb is: When information is vital to the plot, put it in the gutter or into the balloon itself. And save any long explanations, information readers may find interesting, info that adds a layer of understanding, or explanations of tough translation choices, for notes in the back of the book.

These are just a few of the many unique challenges in manga. Being aware of them may give a translator a head start in their career.