After attending this panel, I can't believe that anybody would actually want to translate manga for a living. The pay sucks and there's no job stability. Worse yet, you're a freelancer, so you don't qualify for company sponsored benefits, you know, like that all important, but increasingly unaffordable, health insurance. Here is a summary of the translating manga panel:
Ms Ledoux also has an extensive background in the industry. At one time she was working on voice acting, editing, video scripts, and manga, and touched almost every title that came out of Viz. The two of them, for better or worse, helped to set the tone there. Currently, she's working on Eureka Seven, in addition to teaching high school.
They immediately starting taking questions from the audience, and someone asked how you get a job translating manga. Trish responded that first you have a job that pays all of your bills. Toshi pointed out that with the mass market appeal of manga, translators are actually being paid less than they were 10 years ago. He is currently paid less per page than he was in 1992. Trish pointed out that it is easier to get a job now because of the demand, and as a result, the quality isn't as good.
To be a translator, you really need to have a solid background in Japanese. Mr Yoshida said that he would like to think that most companies aren't willing to hire scanlators or big fans of the manga that will be happy with $2 a page. He used an example of an error in Negima!, where the Thousand Master was translated as the Southern Master (I don't read this title, so if I have this backward, please forgive me). He wasn't saying that they didn't make mistakes, but he hoped that they weren't such simple ones. Another example was from Dangaioh, where a finishing move, the Psychic Wave, was translated as the Side Kick Wave. Dangioh was one of the first professionally released titles, and it was peppered with errors. They were asked to work on volumes 2 and 3 after making their displeasure with the translation known.
Someone asked if companies hire two translators and keep them separated from each other, and then compare the translations?
Trish responded that most companies are too cheap to hire two translators, though it might be a good idea. Someone pointed out that they might not know that there are other translators
Someone asked about the problems with translating jokes Mr Yoshida responded that there are two schools of thought with jokes and in-jokes:
You can make it literal and hope the reader understands Japanese culture enough to find the translated joke funny, or you can rewrite the joke and make it work with the scene so a mass audience with get it.
Being at an anime con, he understands that we prefer a more literal translation of the joke. But the mass market reader that goes to Borders has never been to an anime convention and might not even know what anime is. It depends on the title what approach to take. With something like Negima!, the mass market reader has to understand it, but you have to leave the in jokes for the fans.
Ms Ledoux added that it's a trial and error process as a translator is learning the character's voice. Jokes are meant to be funny, and a really good translator can tweak them enough to keep some of the Japanese stuff in, but make it understandable in English for a larger audience as well, and that takes time to learn. Translators are constantly fine tuning the character's voice. She commented on Rumiko Takahashi, and how brilliant a creator she is. Her characters are so solid and they never do anything out of character. The goal is to get to where you are in sync with the creator, to get to the point where you really understand the characters and what they are going to do and say.
Another question concerned recommending reference material for starting out translating (You'll have to forgive me, because I couldn't hear the entire question)
Trish said that like anything else, you need the proper training. School is important, and if you can immerse yourself in the language, all the better. She joked about her mother-in-law and how fast she speaks, faster than any anime character, and about the day she finally understood every word she said. It was like someone put a babel fish in her ear. She asked the questioner what they are doing to learn. The response was using manga. Trish told him he really needs to take formal studies, and recounted her own Japanese language learning in college. She emphasized how important classes are, so translators can learn sentence structure, conjugation, and verb patterns.
This lead to a question about what college Trish studied at? She went to San Francisco University. Her professor told her that she should really be an English major, so she double majored, working full time during school. They then listed off some schools that offer Japanese majors, including Ohio State, but they forgot to mention University of Michigan!
Q: Someone asked about getting a Masters in Japanese, and Trish said that was a good idea, because then they could teach in college, instead of being stuck teaching in high school like she is. Toshi pointed out that not everyone wants to teach!
Another query was whether the companies look at your background before hiring you? Trish said nope, if you tell them that you speak Japanese, they'll believe you, until you do such a bad job that they have to fire you. There are lots of people translating that don't know what they're doing. There's a team of three people that usually work on any book - the translator, the rewriter and the editor. Usually one is stronger than the others and pulls the rest along. Things are really bad when all three are weak. With the two of them, Toshi is a hard core otaku who really knows and understands the stories and the back stories, and Trish knows the English stuff and the grammar, and they fix each others' mistakes. Toshi commented that if they were one person, they'd actually make some real money. (laugh)
Someone wanted to know how many volumes the companies will let you read before having them work on a title. Sometimes none! Toshi said in that case, you have no idea where the story is going, and you hope that you don't make a translation mistake that will come back to haunt you, which happens a lot. The best hope is to do what Toshi has done - read as many volumes as possible, and keep up on the chapters as they're released in Japan.
The next question would seem to make sense - why can't you get more familiar with the actual production team? Toshi reads the chapters weekly as they come out in Japan, because he's finding out stuff early than anybody else. With Key the Metal Idol, they had some difficulties with the director. He asked the director about the creepy background music, but the director won't tell him anything about it! He refused to tell him ANYTHING about the story to help him with his translation. He was completely stonewalled by the director
Someone asked if it's easier with series that are already complete. Trish pointed out that this leads to another problem - the fans have already formed an opinion of how the translation should be, what the dialog should be like, and what the voices should sound like. And they make their displeasure known when it's not the way they expect it to be.
Another question was: When you major in Japanese, what should you follow up that up with? The questioner is majoring in Japanese and French, and Trish commented that the French manga market is much larger than the US market, and she shouldn't have any trouble getting job over there. Writing classes are good. Toshi has been translating for a long time but would never consider himself a rewriter - he'd rather work with a rewriter than come up with the final dialog by himself.
Another member of the audience wants to be an editor and wanted to know what exactly do editors do? Trish asked if she had any mad editing skills? Start as a copy editor and move your way up. You have to really know your English, and you have to be prepared to back it up. Why is something right or wrong? You have to able to defend everything you do. Even as a translator or rewriter, sometimes it's a fight to get things the way you think they should be. Sometimes you win and sometimes, editor changes things to the way they want.
Someone else asked what the starting salary is for translating manga. They both laughed. The problem is the word salary, which implies that you have regular work and regular pay. With Negima!, they get a book every two months, but other titles might not be so regular. They discussed the reality of being a freelancer. The fact that Trish teaches allows Toshi to be a translator.
Someone asked where in the process does the censoring happen when they change the visuals. Trish replied that it can happen in a couple of different places, sometimes fairly high up if the image is especially in your face, and they know it's going to be offensive. Wal-Mart didn't want to carry Dragon Ball with naked Goku, which she didn't find offensive, but they kowtowed to their dictates to get the book in their stores. Retailers have a lot of say in what images are acceptable. It's a production issue, and they were holding a panel later about production issues.
Near the end of the panel, there was also some discussion about onomatopoeia and how important sounds are in manga. Toshi thinks it's cheating when companies use real words for sound effects, like "pour." Trish said that as a writer, sometimes you have to use words, but she tries to avoid it.
This was an interesting, rather lively panel. I found the realities of translating, especially the pay, a little sobering. With pay rates like these, you would really have to hustle to make a decent living - or just live in the basement of your parents' home like a true otaku! I guess I'm glad I stuck with my accounting degree. And if you read this far, you qualify as a true otaku!
This panel report was written by Julie for the MangaCast.
X-posted to Manga Maniac Cafe.