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MH Translation Tips Issue #1 - Characterization Part 1

+ posted by njt in Quality Control on Mar 18, 2010 04:13

Greetings! Today we're trying out a new column that I've been wanting to start for a while now. This column will be mostly beneficial for translators, but even if you're not, it might provide some information that you'll find interesting.

Ever since I started checking translations way back last year, I've seen a common trend with translators: the difficulty of breaking away from literal translations and heading more towards naturalization. So with that in mind, I'll be writing a regular article with another translator, Amzy, to hopefully help share some light on various techniques.

As more translators get involved, we hope to gather their experience into one place to help share the knowhow they've gained through their trials and errors in translating. We have so many talented people here that there's no reason it should be limited to just a few people. Get involved and help others in areas you wished you had known when you started.

With that said, a key part in making a manga sound natural is characterization. This is where literal translations, while correct in meaning, can actually do more harm than good. Observe the following 4 scenes of a basketball manga that consists of students in school, followed by a more mature setting (from a different manga) and how the tone of voice changes.

Let's check it out!


----------------------------Scene 1
Japanese: (If you can't read, just skip to the Version A part)
ー このスーパースター三井がいる限り!!武石中は絶対勝ァつ!!

ー 三っちゃん!!

ー はははは、三井め!!また、でかいこといっとるわ!!だが、そのバスケットセンスは本物!!三井寿!!彼は我が陵南がいただく!!安西先生、横どりしないで下さいよ。

ー イヤ、うちは公立だから。

ー ふっふっふっ。3年...イヤ 2年後!!陵南の時代がくる!!

Version A:
- As long as I, Mitsui the Superstar, am here, victory will belong to Takeshi Middle School!

- Mit-chan!!

- Hahaha...what an arrogant kid that Mitsui is! But that is the style of a true basketball player! Hisashi Mitsui...I definitely must have him in Ryonan! Anzai-sensei, don't compete with me!

- Don't worry. We are a public a school.

- Hehehe! In 3 years...no, in 2 years, the world will belong to Ryonan!

Version B:
- As long as Mitsui the Superstar is on the floor...Takeshi will triumph!!

- Mit-sui!! Mit-sui!!

- Ha ha ha! That kid talks a big game! Hisashi Mitsui! He's got talent, though. He'll fit right in at Ryonan! You wouldn't steal him from us, would you?

- Heh. I wouldn't worry. We're a public school.

- Heh heh heh... In three years--No in two years--I'll have a perfect team at Ryonan.

----------------------------Scene 2
ー 三っちゃんは強豪の海南大付属とか翔陽とか陵南とかからの誘いを断って湘北を受験したんだ。特待生の話をけって無名の湘北を受けるなんて、できないよな、ふつう。

ー ハッハッ。あんま、おだてんなよ、おめーら。

ー 天才はちがうよ、やっぱ。湘北の先輩たちきっとビックリするぜ~~中学MVPが入部だもんな!!

Version A:
- Mit-chan rejected invitations from famous schools such as Kainan, Shoyo, and Ryonan and went for Shohoku High School instead. A normal person wouldn't have given up the status as a special student, and choose the less-known Shohoku!

- Haha! Stop Kissing up!

- That's what a genius is. Shohoku's seniors will be enlightened by the arrival of a middle school MVP!

Version B:
- Mitsui turned down scholarships from powerhouses like Kainan, Shoyo, and Ryonan so he could come to Shohoku. Who turns down a scholarship to go to a public school? No one, that's who! Not until Mitsui!

- Heh. Go easy, guys.

- Geniuses play by different rules! The upperclassmen are gonna freak! Here comes the MVP!!

----------------------------Scene 3

- またオレたち、3年間脇役だよ。木暮君もそうだぜ。

ー え...

ー 何いってんだ、おめーら。いい脇役がいないと主役も生きないだろ!!オレたちで湘北を強くしようぜ!!今度は全国制覇だ!!

ー おおう!! さ---体育館へ行こうぜ!!

ー 全国制覇...ウチの中学のキャップテンの口グセもそれだったよ...

ー オレが湘北を強くしてやる!!やってやる!!

Version A:
- Looks like we are gonna be the supporting characters for 3 years again...Don't you think so, Kogure-kun?

- Hmm...

- What are you guys saying!? How would there be a main character without good supporting characters? We must work together to make Shohoku stronger! And then conquer the nation!

- Yeah!! Let's go! To the arena!

- Conquer the nation... My captain from middle school also says that often.

- I will make Shohoku a strong team! I must!

Version B:
- Looks like we'll spend three more years in your shadow! You too, eh, Kogure?

- Eh?

- Aw, come on, now! What good would a star be without his supporting players? Together, we'll make Shohoku the best team in the country!!

- Yeah!! C'mon! Let's hit the gym!!

- The national championship... He sounds like my junior high captain...

- I can make Shohoku strong! I know I can!!

----------------------------Scene 4

ー バッカじゃねーの!?何が一緒にだ、バァカ!!バスケなんてもうオレにとっちゃ思い出でしかねーよ!!ここに来たのだって宮城と桜木をブッつぶしに来ただけだ!!いつまでも昔のことをゴチャゴチャゆーな!!バスケなんて単なるクラブ活動じゃねーか!!つまんなくなったからやめたんだ!!それが悪いか!!

Version A:
- You think I am stupid? Only idiots will play with you! Basketball to me, is only a memory! I am here to beat up Miyagi and Sakuragi! Don't bring up what happened in the past! Basketball is just a club activity! I don't want to play anymore, you got a problem with that?

Version B:
- You think I'm stupid?! Play basketball again?! Yeah right!! Basketball is nothing more than a bad memory to me!! I came here to kick Miyagi's butt!! What's past is past! Basketball is just another dumb club! I'm glad I quit! I was getting bored, anyway. You got a problem with that?!

----------------------------Our thoughts

Njt says:
I really enjoyed version B. Not only does it have English that I could see HS students using, like in scenes 1 and 2, it takes out the "-chan" to make it fully translated. Another thing to note is that Version B took off things that are already understood like "middle school mvp" to just "mvp". Now I wouldn't suggest you should suddenly start cutting out various words here and there, I'm just suggesting that you should use good judgment and take both flow and accuracy into consideration as you try and give the translation characterization.

I especially liked the translation here for 何いってんだ、おめーら in scene 3. While "What are you guys saying!?" is the literal translation for it, "Aw, come on, now!" sounds a lot more natural and fitting for the situation. The other line, "Looks like we'll spend three more years in your shadow!" was very, very nice. I probably wouldn't have come up with something like that. Very impressive English skills right there. ^^

In scene 4, I'd like to point out an important part of version A's translation. Sometimes when you don't contract something, it gives it the sense of being "polite." Like in Japanese, the general rule of "If it's longer then it's more polite" fits for the English here. The longer the English phrase, the more likely it comes off as being polite. You then must remind yourself of the setting, the characters, and the language used. Is it ok to be polite here? Also be careful of the words used like "beat up" vs "kick~~'s butt." There is an ever so slight difference, but the negative nuances in a high school setting could be pretty big.

Amzy says:
While the accuracy in version A is fine, the speech style is awkward, particularly when the high school characters are speaking. As njt said, various lines sound too polite because of word choice and syntax e.g. sentence length, contractions. In general, version A's speech style just sounds of out of place in high school context, even for the adult speakers who briefly show up in scene 1.

Version B's characterization is more appropriate and the English just flows. It broke free from the literal Japanese to spice up the dialogue by tweaking or omitting things here and there, but without losing the meaning the Japanese was trying to get across. Version B also altered the English translation to make it tie into the basketball context more. Note scene 1's " Ha ha ha! That kid talks a big game! Hisashi Mitsui!" and scene 2's "Geniuses play by different rules! The upperclassmen are gonna freak!" It's not hard to imagine those involved with the basketball world using sports terms every now and then when they're talking.

----------------------------More mature manga

ー 見ての通り、あなたのご同輩ですよ。薬売りをしているんですがね。客の一人に怪しからん奴がおりまして、売った丸薬がまったく利からへん、詐欺だなんだと難癖付けて来ましたね。 大体、薬に頼って直そうっていう心根が気に食わない。利かぬのは貴様の信じが頼りぬからだ。目刺しの頭のたとえもあるじゃないか...と言い返したら、金を返せと騒ぎ出したんで、番屋に駆け込んだところ。逆に、私がこの有様で全くの所...お?鰯の頭だったかな?

- As you've likely surmised, I am a fellow prisoner. I am a medicine seller by trade. I had a rather rude customer, you see. He said that the pills I sold him did nothing for his condition. He came at me with accusations of fraud and the like. Personally, the very belief that medicine alone can cure one's ailments does not sit well with me. An ineffective medicine is rendered such by one's own lack of belief. They are held together by a common thread, like sardines hung out to dry. When I told him that, though, he screamed at me to return his money. That's when the authorities arrived on the scene. I'm most embarrassed that a customer should put me in such a situation. Wait, or are sardines dried on sticks?

Amzy says:
I really just like how the translator characterized this particular person. It felt appropriate for the context and character. And from the Japanese, you can tell the script was tweaked accordingly to make it work in English.

Let me elaborate on the setting a bit so you can see just why I think this particular translator did a good job. The speaker here is a medicine seller, a businessman if you will, in old Japan. He's a calm and collected man who gives off a mysterious vibe from his behavior, clothing, and appearance. It's almost like he's a character straight out of a fairytale. Considering his personality, looks, profession, and the time during he lived, I'd expect him to speak more formally, which is what this translator delivered. The literary nature of his speech (i.e. words and sentence patterns people wouldn't normally use in colloquial speech) evoked and emphasized the "olden day" feeling of the story. It made me remember those really old books written by even older people that I was forced to read in high school. Plus, it also made the speaker sound wise which further added to the character.

Njt says:
Compared to the voice of the other manga, you can clearly see the character consists of an older person. The way that is achieved is simply choosing words that would fit that age range like "surmised, accusations of fraud, cure one's ailments". If a HS student were to say something similiar, they'd probably use "guessed, called me a liar, make them feel better". See how considering your word usage makes all the difference?


To recap & tips to remember:
  1. Remember to keep in mind how the character talks. Are they a robot? Student? Doctor?
  2. Did you read it out loud?(seriously, voice it :D) Can you imagine your character saying that?
  3. Are the words you're using above or below what a typical person that age would use?
  4. Have you taken into consideration the length of your translation? Too long can often mean too polite. Is your character supposed to speak politely?

Further beneficial reading:
Matt Thorn's Post on Translation (Read the comments too^^)
Pomax's article on the art of translation

That's it for today's little session. Let us know what you thought of it. Well, in particular, I'd like the following to be answered: (answer in the comments, or send me a pm.)

  1. Was it too long? Too short? Hard to understand?
  2. Which of the translations above did you like, and why. Try to include your thoughts on the characterization. (The more you talk about it yourself, the more you'll become aware of what you're doing in your own translations.)
  3. Do you know of any other examples of great characterization? Can you link us or tell us where to find it? We're talking about something that stuck out to you as really nailing a character.
  4. Do you have any suggestions for making this column more valuable? Like, is there something in particular you would like to see?
  5. Do you know of any sites that offer great advice to translators?

  1. Was it too long? Too short? Not worth it to read for you?
  2. Which of the translations above did you like best? As someone that doesn't know Japanese, what do you look for in a translation to know if it is "better" than another one? Often people state (without knowing Japanese) that ~~'s translation is better than ~~'s. We'd like to know why. What makes you think that?
  3. Do you know of any other examples of great characterization? Can you link us or tell us where to find it? We're talking about something that stuck out to you as really nailing a character.
  4. Do you have any suggestions for making this column more valuable? Like, is there something in particular you would like to see?

This is for your benefit. If something is missing, let us know. We'll be happy to shed light on anything that you're unsure of or have been struggling with.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.

Have you shown your appreciation today? Click the thanks button or write your appreciation below!

#1. by Galooza ()
Posted on Mar 18, 2010
I don't believe believe it was too long, it gets the point across. I probably liked version B of scene 3 the best. Growing up in the states, I can tell you that's exactly how it sounded in gym class or on the court in junior high and high school.

Thanks for doing a lesson on this, definitely needed imo.

Forgot to address the sentence about being in his shadow for another 3 years. I definitely haven't heard that a whole lot myself. I'd put it more like "It looks like we're gonna be on the back burner for another 3 years. You too, Kogure?"
#2. by raize ()
Posted on Mar 18, 2010
This article makes a lot of good points. Direct translation is fine for getting the job done, but it strips characters of personality and robs them of humanity. They get more two dimensional than the page they're on.

I'd like to add though that I think we as translators, editors, etc. also need to be aware of combinations of words, expressions and phrases we use together.

The first thing that caught my eye was:

- またオレたち、3年間脇役だよ。
- Looks like we'll spend three more years in your shadow!

Everything's fine, but I just can't imagine saying something like that simply because spending time is typically not a bad thing, but being in someone's shadow isn't often anybody's ideal. Even natural English can be rendered unnatural by small minutiae like this.

The expression(s) here are more practical in situations like this:

He sat down and they came to spend time in his shadow, hoping to learn from him.
In a lot of cases I'd almost say if you understand exactly what's being said, retain the important elements and the gist of it, throw the rest away and write then what you think a character of that type would say.

Would I ever actually say "spend time in someone's shadow" without an extremely specific set of circumstances available for me to use it? Probably not. How about the circumstances here? Not me, personally.

But I'd definitely say something like:

Looks like we're here for another 3 years.
Simple, to the point, without anything to complicate it. It flows and the reader will read and digest it without their brain subconsciously saying "Huh? Well.. I guess it's normal..."

Finally, I'm not trying to pick apart the translation job, it's not bad at all. But it's a good example on the subject of natural translations where I think consideration needs to be given first to the question, "what is natural?"
#3. by cookie_on_fire ()
Posted on Mar 18, 2010
While all of the points are good, there are of course exceptions.

For instance, it feels like you've picked out the two ends of the spectrum, and didn't mention much about all those in between. A lot of characters do end up being rather neutral, so sometimes it's not good to force them into roles.

Also, sometimes a series would have way too many characters to keep track of, so it's hard to keep track of who gets what kinds of voices :p

Ah well, I'm tired, so I could have missed something in the article.
#4. by njt (Last Boss ♪~( ̄。 ̄))
Posted on Mar 18, 2010
Nice comments guys :D. I know it's quite a broad topic so not everything was included (thus the part 1 ;) ) But if you could provide links to examples of such things I can include such examples in a follow up :).

Though i was thinking, the way you had it translated at the bottom you're missing an important part of the translation - the fact that those characters are overshadowed by the main character.

Thus why the original had it that way. The main character being extremely popular (in the spotlight) so they're stuck in his shadow~
#5. by Name-Undecided ()
Posted on Mar 18, 2010
I really hate version B of all of them. It's too "dumb American slang" for me, even though I get the thought process behind it.
#6. by Name-Undecided ()
Posted on Mar 18, 2010
"Do you know of any sites that offer great advice to translators?"

There's an interesting blog I read a while ago about life as a translator, called The Translation Dojo. This article about rewriting/adaptation was particularly interesting and its relevant to this thread because talks about characterization: http://translationdojo.com/blog/2006/06/what_a_rewriteradaptor_does.html
#7. by Transfade ()
Posted on Mar 18, 2010
Nice article. I often find myself conflicted on whether or not to para-phrase certain dialogues or just translate it as literally as I can. It's good to know that literal isn't always the best way to go.
#8. by Twar ()
Posted on Mar 18, 2010
A worthwhile read, good job!

In my opinion, Japanese tempts beginning translators into translating literally much more than English due to the lack of general availability of the cultural context present in many aspects of Japanese everyday life.

In order to carry the "feeling" instead of the "meaning" into another language, you really need to be versed in two contexts - on the sending and the receiving end. You can't get this from grammar or even just by pumping up your vocabulary to include various complex expressions. It takes time and practice to realize which situations implicate that a certain phrase could be used.

Then again, the characters, plots etc of J-manga originate from another culture and thus could only rarely reach the same effect on the reader after being translated, as the relativists would say. Some people, such as Name-Undecided up there, actually want to keep the foreign/exotic sense of dialogue as they feel like applying something culturally different that was not there in the beginning would only cheapen the end product. Of course this is usually the case with people versed in the original language.

All this talk on characterization is heating up a discussion on the transparency of the translator inside me -- but that's for another day. :D

Keep thinking of things we might want to know, I have nothing else to suggest.
#9. by Gennosuke-sama ()
Posted on Mar 18, 2010
in practice, when complete text is read it sounds a bit plastic, seems a little static, but it's very useful for beginners in ranobe world xD
#10. by fosskers ()
Posted on Mar 18, 2010
This is a serious struggle for all translators. As Twar pointed out, lack of cultural knowledge can be a serious detriment to language learning (and by association, translating!).

A (fairly?) famous ESL teacher in Alberta, Canada named Olenka Bilash indicates the following aspects necessary to successful language learning:
Written Comprehension
Written Production
Oral Comprehension
Oral Production
Cultural Knowledge
Cultural Experience

For a translator to start and end their Japanese learning at translation, they are only covering one of these six categories: Written Comprehension.
Written Production is not covered, as the literature produced is (in the case of J-E translators) written in English.
Suffice to say there is no oral comprehension or production in manga translation.
You may get 'some' cultural knowledge out of just reading manga and watching anime. I can't tell you how many people I've met claiming they were "really into Japanese culture," but when it comes down to it, until those people actually ship themselves off to Japan to see what all the fuss is about for themselves, they have no tangible Cultural Experience.

I would argue that certain connotations (deeper meanings) in the lines of Japanese literature cannot be caught without sufficient Cultural Experience. Note that I'm not referring to not understanding an obscure reference to culture or history - those would be Cultural Knowledge - but the ability to relate to your characters past the idea of these-are-characters-on-a-piece-of-paper-saying-words-at-me to the point where you can feel what they're experiencing, and you know what that implies at a societal level.

It might sound like I'm suggesting that one cannot be a good translator if they don't up-heave their life and move to Japan, but that's not the case. I merely aim to get across the idea that in giving your characters a voice of their own, it's important to know who they are and what kind of lives they have.
Understanding your characters is the most important step in writing words on their behalf.
#11. by come come paradise ()
Posted on Mar 18, 2010
Nice article. It's good to see that I'm not the only person who leaves out suffixes when they just aren't necessary, that is either when the nuance is equivalent in English, or if the suffix doesn't add anything if untranslated.

While I fully agree about characterization being necessary, I think you went a bit overboard with the high school talking. It's actually not immediately comprehensible to non-natives like me, maybe it's too American. I really like the 'mature text', though, great job to whoever translated it. :)
#12. by Raichu ()
Posted on Mar 18, 2010
Which version I prefered:

Scene 1:A;Why?Because of some others said,it sounds a bit too American like and yeah...Remember that people who read doesn't always have English as their first language...

- As long as Mitsui the Superstar is on the floor...Takeshi will triumph!!

I didn't like this bit very much,the literal version sounds better because of...he sounds more pretentious(I didn't read the manga but I find that the version A suit the case more...(And using Ehh to replace Hmm... doesn't sound really similar...Ehh sounds more surprised while Hmm... is more reflexion like)

Scene 2:Let's say it's about a tie but some parts of version A were better in my opinion...will be stated below.

- Heh. Go easy, guys.

Kissing up:Adding stuffs/compliments
Due to the understanding,not everyone will probably know what Go Easy means,maybe if they do they might interpret it in the wrong way,if I didn't read version A of it,I'd think that they'd be talking about something else instead...(It gives the feeling of Don't Do It but if you don't know the context well you probably wouldn't have guessed...)

- Geniuses play by different rules! The upperclassmen are gonna freak! Here comes the MVP!!

Didn't liked the part of The upperclassmen are gonna freak! ...American-slang?Not really my style xD.When I hear the word Freak,I shiver.

Scene 3:For this one I liked version B a bit better...

Yeah!! C'mon! Let's hit the gym!!

- The national championship... He sounds like my junior high captain...

The thing I didn't understood much on version A is...To Conquer the Nation...Then when I looked at this version,I was like...what?But Conquer the Nation sounds more grandiose in a way,but being put this way isn't bad either.And now,to the Middle School/Junior High...I sincerely prefer Middle school than Junior High...Just personal opinion xD.

Scene 4:I liked B better,yes version A did sound awkward XD.But...

- You think I'm stupid?! Play basketball again?! Yeah right!! Basketball is nothing more than a bad memory to me!! I came here to kick Miyagi's butt!! What's past is past! Basketball is just another dumb club! I'm glad I quit! I was getting bored, anyway. You got a problem with that?!
This one's pretty good IMO,but I didn't like this part:
I came here to kick Miyagi's butt!!
American slang style,and I've read in version A Sakuragi something...Maybe version B's missing it?
And excessive abuse of !! and !? (lol,that I didn't like it very much,I know it's to make him sound mad,but it's grammatical incorrect with double !! but for the !? I'm not sure though)

I'm all right with the Mature manga's translation though xDDD But after the Wait, if it was me I'd preferred Wait...*it shows a bit of sign of hesitation.
#13. by unok-kun ()
Posted on Mar 18, 2010
... Is this article supposed to mean that non-native English translators won't ever be able to translate well?
#14. by Galooza ()
Posted on Mar 18, 2010
It'll forever remain a fact you need to have a good knowledge of both languages rather than one. I don't think there's enough emphasis on that. You can only be as good a translator as you know the language you're translating to, not just from.
#15. by fosskers ()
Posted on Mar 18, 2010
#16. by js06 ()
Posted on Mar 18, 2010
Nice article.
This is exactly what I was talking about in my interview about making your translations sound natural. Nice to see a more in-depth explanation.
#17. by raize ()
Posted on Mar 19, 2010
@njt Thank you, I agree completely, and you are right on the money.

Which is why I included the "something like this" part before I translated it, and all the stuff about specific circumstances, etc.

Actually, my original translation WAS "Looks like we're stuck..." but I didn't want to assume anything about the characters or the story. So I took it out in one of my 5+ edits! :D

And exactly as you said, and we both thought, "stuck" fits in far better than "spend time", given the these particular circumstances. So, that's why I think we need to first understand "what is natural?" and what expressions/phrases fit well together and for the situation as we would naturally say them?

Interestingly, yesterday I watched a movie from the 90s or late 80s or something, and sure enough the dialogue was just loaded with things I wouldn't ever say today. Not JUST out of date words or expressions, but even ways of choosing words and forming sentences. I just wouldn't speak like that anymore.

So, how much of natural is me? How much of it is our environment? The time and place we live in? It changes so often...
#18. by zilch100 ()
Posted on Mar 19, 2010
I'm a non-translator, but a proofreader (my first language is English).

1) The post is not too long, but if it was any longer, it would be too long.
2) I am not a grammar expert, but I do read the translations aloud. This helps determine whether or not the translation flows and helps pinpoint the problem areas. The other aspect I've I noticed when proofreading translations, is that the subject (or main point) of the sentence is often at the end or near the end of the sentence. Like this last sentence that I wrote. This is okay every once in a while, but not the majority of the time. English is an active voice language: Subject-Verb-Object.
4) a. Perhaps you can do a section on slang. When it's appropriate to use, when it's not. I'm not a proponent of it, because it can change rapidly and can vary across different English speaking countries or within a country. Even the meaning of slang words can change underneath you. But that's my opinion. It would be interesting to hear what others think about it.

For example, in Scene 1: "That kid talks a big game". The phrase "talks a big game" is slang. There is probably a way to get the same meaning across, using a voice that's appropriate, without using the slang.

b. Also, a section on passive vs. active sentences would be good. I see a lot of passive sentences in translations. The majority should be active sentences.

Note: I think Scene 2 was the best. Scene 4 & the text for the mature manga (the medicine seller in prison) were okay. Since you commented that many don't explain why one translation is better than the other, I proofed Scene 4 & commented on why I made certain decisions:

"You think I'm stupid?! Play basketball again?! Yeah right!! Basketball is nothing more than a bad memory to me!! I came here to kick Miyagi's butt!! What's past is past! Basketball is just another dumb club! I'm glad I quit! I was getting bored, anyway. You got a problem with that?!"

"Do you think I'm stupid? I'd never play basketball again! I'm glad I quit! To me, it's in the past and is nothing more than a bad memory. It's just another dumb, boring club. What I came here for is to kick Miyagi's butt!! You got a problem with that?

The last sentence, "You got a problem with that?" seemed to be connected with the character's reason for coming there, so I moved that sentence "What I came here for..." to be right before it. Else the reader will have to stop to think or reread to figure out that the speaker is saying. Also, a couple of of concepts were repeated separately, that basketball was in the past/a memory & that it was dumb & boring. So I lumped the concepts together. It helped reduce the number of short sentences (and thus reduced the excessive exclamation marks) & helps the reader follow the speaker's train of thought: he doesn't want to play basketball, it's in his past, it's boring & dumb, and he's there to beat someone up. It's fast, flows and keeps the momentum of the challenge.
#19. by oldgringo2001 ()
Posted on Mar 19, 2010
I'm in favor of the middle route. Giving up the Japanese personal-suffixes is wrong for any Japanese character; it's an integral part of the way the characters think. When in doubt, go with a literal translation and a footnote that says you're not sure what it means. Otherwise you might as well write a parody like "What's Up, Tiger Lily." (That's a really awful Japanese B-movie Woody Allen redubbed with comedy dialog in the 1960s.) After all, if we were professional translators, we'd be getting paid for it, and probably hiring lawyers to go after amateurs taking bread from our plates by doing our jobs for free.
#20. by Laika ()
Posted on Mar 19, 2010
Mature translation sort of seems to not really capture the play on words for 目刺しの頭 & 鰯の頭 though. The whole, "They are held together by a common thread, like sardines hung out to dry" doesn't really make much sense when contrasted with the meaning of the idiom either. It's not the common thread linking belief and how effective something is, it's the elevation of belief in something (possibly to a superstitious level) that exceeds what it actually is. Seems like you would get more mileage if you abandon the literal imagery in the idiom for something that would've fit better / made more sense in English.
#21. by Stiluz ()
Posted on Mar 19, 2010
Looking forwards to more of these, thanks tay.
#22. by Name-Undecided ()
Posted on Mar 19, 2010
Just for the record, Twar, I never said Version A was the way to go. I'm just saying I don't like Version B, not that scripts should be kept literal. -_-
#23. by ecks ()
Posted on Mar 19, 2010
Good article, I love this type of discussion.

As a translator, I agree, I like the B versions for sounding much more natural overall. The A versions, despite being "literal" were at times so stiff they sounded just plain wrong. I generally follow the rule of keeping a character's meaning and tone, and rephrasing the rest to fit. Keeping the right "tone" includes keeping a feel for the character.

At the same time, I'm still uncomfortable rewording the text too much, leaving things out or adding things in. Name suffixes are a notable problem, because sometimes Japanese characters can get into whole chapter-long discussions on how they refer to each other, and then how do you translate that if you've been leaving the suffixes out? You can come up with English-equivalent names and nicknames, but that can sound even more awkward. In Viz's translation of Ranma 1/2, "Ranma-honey" instead of "Ran-chan" rubbed me the wrong way every damn time, and that was before I really even began learning the language.

Dealing with suffixes alone could be the subject of a whole article, (hint.) But there are plenty of other situations where a translator might want to stick to more literal translations, just to cover one's ass against double-entendres in later chapters. Manga translation can be an imperfect art since one often can't look too far ahead.

But as for characterization, I do think there's room to keep a cutesy-sounding character cutesy, and a rough character rough, or mature, formal, old, etc. A good translation should definitely manage that.

PS. my 2 cents on the "three more years in your shadow" line: I think I would've used the idiom "playing second fiddle to you." :)
#24. by Name-Undecided ()
Posted on Mar 19, 2010
I think I would have kept that translation closer to the original, since the characters are clearly supposed to be breaking the Fourth Wall in those lines.
#25. by Galooza ()
Posted on Mar 19, 2010
I agree with ecks. I prefer to read a more natural reading, but there is a limit to when it becomes too much.
#26. by Amrai ()
Posted on Mar 19, 2010
Personally, I find the B's a bit too much. While it does get the message through loud and clear, I thought the characterization didn't exactly match what I got out of the original text. Of course, that depends on the original manga itself. I'm assuming the basketball one is a comedy-sports manga, which allows for much more leeway in the use of slang, but the "upperclassmen are gonna freak!" made me laugh and shake my head at the same time. As for the 'shadow' comments, I quite like the 'back-burner' translation that came from Galooza, but I think "I guess we won't be in the limelight the next three years either" might be a better translation. 'Back-burner' implies that they won't be showing up for a while, which wouldn't necessarily be the case, as they might be in every other scene.

My issue with using slang is that it really dates the translation/scanlation. If we read this post again in two years or so, some of B might be more unnatural than the direct translation. I'm currently trans/scanlating P.A., which started in the early 90's. The use of recent slang would not mesh with the style at all, and using slang from back then would just alienate the audience even more. While I am guilty of falling on direct translation to get through a section, I think that it really depends on your audience and the manga. Is it a popular trendy manga like Gintama, Beelzebub, etc., or a more subdued time-period manga like Emma/Otoyomegatari?
If someone translated Victorian-era style Emma with 21st century slang, I would probably stop immediately and erase it from my memory and my hard-drive.
#27. by Laika ()
Posted on Mar 20, 2010
>> If someone translated Victorian-era style Emma with 21st century slang, I would probably stop immediately and erase it from my memory and my hard-drive.

You mad.
#28. by Arth ()
Posted on Mar 21, 2010
This is pretty much what my teachers tell me in my translation class.
Thanks for the great tips!

PS. Also, Slam Dunk is awesome :D
#29. by Axeder ()
Posted on Mar 21, 2010
It was a very interesting read. I prefer A myself actually; the colloquial dialect used in B could be overwhelming for some, plus the direct translation feels more original in my case — perhaps as I'm now moving onto 3rd year university courses in Japanese (maybe I'll become a translator, who knows). I'm unable to read raws without furigana though (heavy use of a dictionary is a given), otherwise I probably wouldn't be talking. Now translation A definitely has some problems of it's own, I get the thesis of the argument and the direct translation could certainly be improved, perhaps just not stretched as far as B goes. Either way, I may be of only a small minority who favours A; can't please everyone hey?

#30. by Name-Undecided ()
Posted on Mar 21, 2010
I haven't done a count, but I think the majority favors A (with some modification) over B (too slangy).
#31. by Aisushi ()
Posted on Mar 21, 2010
As a reader:

1. Nope, it wasn't too long.
2. For the majority, I liked version A better. For example, I prefer that name suffixes be kept. Also, A because ... with a few word substitutions here and there, and syntax-tweaking, it's actually a better read for me. My problem with slangs and Americanisation is: I know I'm reading a Japanese comic and it's just weird when they speak slang - especially when the characters are Japanese. When something doesn't really translate well into English, well, I like reading footnotes. ^^
#32. by nukumi ()
Posted on Mar 21, 2010
As a translator
1. It's never too long when it's an interesting read.
2. Between A and B somewhere, but closer to B than A. I try to write for my Mom when I translate things. In other words, every time I've finished something I re-read it, and ask myself "would my Mom understand that"? B just had a little bit too much slang in it for my tastes - however, if the character was really that kind of person then you could probably swing it, as long as it comes off as that character's personal tone.
3. It's hard to say, but a translator can only be as good as the character they're portraying in the first place.
4. I think it would have really helped to have the manga scan attached as well. I don't think there's much point in translating manga without actually looking at the images that go along with the text. Often I'll change the wording of certain set phrases because of what the character is doing/about to do, or where they are at the moment. (ex-eating out with friends v. eating out with family/sempai)
5. No, but I'd love to hear of more - I loved the links they were really interesting and I had been looking for something like that to read.

Also, I liked these points.
Did you read it out loud?(seriously, voice it :D) Can you imagine your character saying that? <I always do this no matter how stupid I look. Sometimes I catch things I didn't the first time around. XD
Too long can often mean too polite. <I hadn't really thought of it this way before.
#33. by Unproductive ()
Posted on Mar 22, 2010
1. Longer might be better.

2. In general, B was more natural but it lost some of the meaning and continuity. In many cases, the word selection for specific ideas was more appropriate in version A and quoting a character was actually quoting a character. However, Version A is completely off on speech style and misses in several spots on content, too.

3. Characterization is usually the last of the refinements that a translator should focus on. The translator has a lot of freedom to be creative and should draw on his own background to create colorful scenes. It's entirely acceptable to come up with scenes that feel different.
#34. by Name-Undecided ()
Posted on Mar 22, 2010
Scenes that feel different from what?
#35. by Unproductive ()
Posted on Mar 22, 2010
Well take scene 1, in Version B, the excerpt ends with "I'll have a perfect team," but the idea of "My team will be invincible" is better expressed in Version A. This difference is no big deal. This sort of change in feeling in the translation is acceptable.

But characterization while difficult is less important than organizing the key ideas correctly. It's especially important when characters are trying to quote each other or when the dialogue is playing off a juxtaposition.
#36. by njt (Last Boss ♪~( ̄。 ̄))
Posted on Mar 23, 2010
Laika wanted me to comment on mature manga comment so I'll do that now and comment on the other comments a bit later ^^;;

An ineffective medicine is rendered such by one's own lack of belief.

So he's saying because the person doesn't believe the medicine will work - it's thus less effective.

They are held together by a common thread, like sardines hung out to dry.

Here he's saying (from how I read it)
That through one you get the other. Believing = the medicine working. Not doing so = it not working. Same thread - common thinking.

However he made a mistake in how he phrased it. Saying 目刺しの頭 instead of 鰯の頭 so he says that final line "Wait, or are sardines dried on sticks?" to point that out. - the point of it was to point out that he phrased it wrong.

Then you have the meaning of 鰯の頭 which is from the proverb 鰯の頭も信心から "Anything viewed through the eyes of faith seems perfect".

So here we have the same "Believing = the medicine working" meaning that the above achieved... at least- from my perspective I got that ^^;.
#37. by nukumi ()
Posted on Mar 23, 2010
After re-reading the mature translation, and it's various comments, I'd like to point out that it's the English that left me with a bitter aftertaste. (I'll admit I had to read it about 4 or 5 times, before I figured out what it was trying to say.)

This kind of says something, as English is my first language, and I've had a hobby of reading books my entire life. It doesn't flow - at least in English. I'm sure the Japanese flows perfectly fine, but when I read the English (using a Japanese-flow style), I have to stop multiple times and reread because 1 isn't connecting to 2 naturally.

I suppose my point is. The sentences are all well-formed and understandable alone, but together they make my head hurt. Also, the first 3 sentences all had a strong "I am/had" pattern in them, that reminded me of a first grade essay when I first read it. ("I am a girl. I watch tv after school. I like my family.") The following two sentences also follow the same pattern. ("He said" "He came")

I think I've only heard that sardines line maybe once or twice in my life too, which doesn't help it's case, but I'm definitely for using it - else the pun at the end would become pointless.
#38. by Laika ()
Posted on Mar 23, 2010
I think I've only heard that sardines line maybe once or twice in my life too, which doesn't help it's case, but I'm definitely for using it - else the pun at the end would become pointless.

I think that was really my point. Even if the line makes sense because we're looking at it from the perspective of understanding the original idiom and we can see how point A makes it to point B, it doesn't really make sense when you look at the English only. Why would the speaker make the connection between beliefs -> effectiveness and compare it to sardines being hung out on a line? The sardines link and subsequent pun makes sense in Japanese because the idiom exists in Japanese and because of the religious/spiritual connotations and custom referenced therein. Making a pun out of a literally translated idiom doesn't make sense when the idiom isn't translated into it's cultural context. Abandoning such a literal translation of the pun might render meaning closer to what the original idiom is going for unless you wanna leave a stack of TL note at the end of the chapter explaining why the hell a doctor is talking about fish when it comes to medicine and how hanging some sardine heads is gonna keep away demons.

Something perhaps like, "efficacy is in the eye of the beholder -> Or was it beauty...?" Perhaps a reference to placebo treatment, and then the speaker rhetorically questioning if perhaps he really did sell him sugar pills. You'd get the medical angle in there if you can work it around the time period the work's supposed to be set in. There's probably some idiom you can find about the power of fervent belief with some religious overtones. There's definitely a way to work around it to adapt the idiom and the pun into something more locally coherent. I mean there are definitely cases where there would be reasons to preserve the imagery present in that specific pun (idk maybe there are some motifs involving sardines or something in this mango,) but it doesn't seem to make sense otherwise.

Besides the nuance is still different. Linking through a similar thread makes me think of a more balanced horizontal relationship when the idiom definition I'm getting suggests emphasis on one more than the other. イワシの頭のようにつまらないものでも、信心する者には尊いものに見えること。 To a believer even trifling items such as the head of a sardine seems sacred. Belief here is what is being emphasized in the relationship as something that influences/changes ones perception (or in this case effectiveness) of something. Not believing in something therefore rendering it ineffective is something that you can infer from such an idiom, but not the main point. It even seems possible to go so far as to interpret it as: if the medicine wasn't effective in the first place, an effective treatment is still possible based on belief, which doesn't really mesh with the other view of things. Add to that the fact that the whole "linking to a similar thread" is only added there to attempt to make the translation and resolution of the idiom/pun work when the speaker rhetorically questions if they're hung or staked and really doesn't have much to do with the original idiom, and you end up with this imbroglio. Yes it's pretty much nit picking slightly different nuance, but nevertheless, in combination w/ the lack of cultural subjectivity in the translation of the idiom/pun I think it is worth calling attention to.
#39. by palmje ()
Posted on Mar 25, 2010
1) It was... interesting.

2) Version A wins easily - B is just plain wrong in cases.
e.g. changing "Hmm..." to "Eh?" is a complete change in the meaning.

Yes, a completely literal translation like A isn't what's needed, but B is over naturalised, and even then only to America, and is just plain wrong in parts. With version A, it can be edited to flow and sound natural, while B will, at best, give the general gist of what's going on.

Personally I'd like a more accurate translation that is a little awkward than something that is over naturalised (as version B is), though the flow should be good if you have a good editor/proofreader go over it anyway.
#40. by Y3llah ()
Posted on Mar 29, 2010
I'm still a novice here at MH, and I bumped into this article only by accident, but I am so glad I did.

1. The length of the article is just right. It may seem long, but it is really neatly organized, so that kinda evens it out.
2. Definitely Version B because the meaning is conveyed clearly through this choice of words and phrases, and the sentence structure. I had to reread the version A to understand what was said, and sometimes I understood it completely only after I read the version B (to put it simply, version B sounds more natural).
3. Hm... I'm not sure I can talk about specific character, but I know I really like SleepyFans' translation of Bakuman. I know there was one time when one of the characters, Miyoshi said "Oh, just adlib it." as in "Oh, just improvise." and I loved that (even though I had to look it up in a dictionary, but English is not my mother tongue, so it's no wonder. :))
4. Maybe you could do a bit of research on cultural compensation, like what to do when the things typical for Japanese culture are mentioned, but they are not relevant for the text (like Japanese dishes etc.), since I've noticed people's opinions can get quite different when it comes to this.

Thank you for writing this, it was great!
And I hope to see a new entry soon enough. :)
#41. by DJH4311 ()
Posted on Mar 31, 2010
Not being a translator yet (currently trying to learn), I don't have much of an opinion on this, but as an English speaker and a person who places himself into the mindset of the characters he is reading about, V: B flows better and suits younger people more, as the example gives us a teenage sports player who is used to being jostled about and pushed and shunted, probably won't speak with full honorifics and politeness.

great tip guys.

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