Translating Anime (Shirobako Style)


I’d like to take a step back from the anime for a moment to share with you something that many of you might not be aware of regarding the anime/manga you enjoy. It goes without saying that before you can even engage with the media, you need to understand it — and that’s where translators come in. Yes, I’m a translator. I’ve “worked” as a freelance translator in the “scanslation” scene for nearly a decade before going professional on a per project basis. Since I work full-time as a medical professional, I can only offer my services whenever I have the time, so this arrangement of working whenever there’s an opening works for me. And that means most of the time, I’m doing translation checks or other small bit translations (i.e. sign boards, SFX in manga, etc.). So chances are, you might have come across something in animeland that was translated, in part, by yours truly.

It sounds cool and all, and true — it does feel good being able to bring stuff out for other people to enjoy. But being on the supply side of the equation does have its downsides. And much of what I’m referring to is the backlash that you’ve probably heard of in the form of complaints in localization. Ew, the dubs suck. Subs were better. They changed the script so much, they totally re-wrote everything! Where are the honorifics? They’re whitewashing my anime, wtf!? 

Sound familiar? There’s a whole discussion behind preferences in localization and how a sort of heirarchy of anime supremacists have come about — the upper echelons of which are occupied by long-time “veterans” in the hobby who bemoan the degradation of anime into an industry of mass-production catering to “lesser” individuals that were “late on the bandwagon”. But I’m not here to talk about how a fragmented fanbase of anime/manga enthusiasts describe the media they consume. I’m here to give you an idea of what it’s like to be a translator, and perhaps give you a little insight as to why the media you enjoy (or loath) so much is in the form it is today. Continue reading