AnimeNEXT 08: Translating Manga 101 - Points and Pitfalls Panel


Hosted by Mari Marimoto, with Steve Bennett popping into the panel, this one was of particular interest to me. I've spent about three years now trying to learn Japanese, and of course, translating manga and anime was on my list of "possible careers outside of college."

The panel was really informative, and thankfully, Mari Marimoto was really blunt in how she talked -- she's a freelancer for Viz, Del Rey, Tokyopop, and just about everyone else, so she doesn't have any loyalties.  Let's get into what the panel had to say.

[Lead image from AnimeAlmanac

[Within the audience, I'd say a dozen or so had about a year's worth of experience, the rest were either in their first semester, or hadn't done any formal study yet -- but only three of us had been to Japan already for study abroad or such. So, that's the sort of crowd that everything was directed at.]

While you're in college, go study abroad. There's really no excuse not to if you want to be a translator. You can only learn so much from anime and manga, and what you do learn is going to be an incredibly skewed perspective. There are so many things in terms of cultural nuances, proper use of vocabulary, etc. that you'll never learn just from reading manga. Steve talked about the fact that he learned Japanese from his aunts, and so when he would speak Japanese, he would end up using extremely effeminate language, making him seem gay -- the same happened to many men who tried learning Japanese back in the early 90s from Sailor Moon and such.

Once you've gotten yourself out into the real world, breaking free of the shackles of college, shop around for a job. Many companies are moving to contracts for their translators. So that means you'll get different pay rates from Tokyopop than you would from Viz, and so on. Oftentimes, pay rates are by the page or by the volume, so know whether or not what's being offered is a good deal. One of the important things to remember when you're applying for a job in anime/manga translation is that you should be enough of a fan that you know the industry, but don't make it painfully obvious. Both Mari and Steve said that if you say that you really like anime and manga as the first thing in your interview, you've pretty much doomed yourself.

If you're really looking to make a living in translating, though, don't just stick with anime and manga. Many times law firms, ad agencies, or other corporate places will need documents summarized from Japanese, and you can do that work even without a full grasp of the language. If you go this way, make sure to practice your business Japanese. You don't want to have your specialty be in Osaka-ben, you want to be able to deal with formal documents and legal terms. It'll take some extra studying, but if it's to get a job that'll pay $40,000+ a year, it's worth it to dedicating that extra time to.

While you're working yourself up to a professional career, Mari suggested working at guest relations at your local cons. At first, you'll just get some basic interaction with the Japanese guests who come in, but you'll at least get to hear them talk, and get yourself attuned to their way of speaking. Plus, when it's a band that's coming over, they'll usually be using some of the newest slang that's happening in Japan -- something that can be invaluable. Eventually, you can work your way up to being a translator for interviews and events within the con, provided your skills improve. Hey, the sky's the limit.

For me, this was a really big boost in my want to use my Japanese skills professionally. Listening to these two talk about what the industry was like was sobering, but gave me some confidence. While I don't have perfect skills -- far from it -- I can still make a decent amount of money searching for translation jobs. I just need to keep myself active in translating work. One activity Steve suggested was to try translating something from Japanese to English, then back to Japanese again. It gets you more used to a natural form of speech, so that you're focused on getting it across properly. Oftentimes, there will be a native Japanese speaker who will do a literal translation, and then have someone come in and rewrite it to sound proper in English -- a common practice done by Viz, apparently.

Mari seemed to hint at avoiding doing fansubs or scanlations, simply because they're breaking copyright laws, and are technically illegal. That's your own choice, but I certainly wouldn't list my scanlation work as examples on a resume. Who's to say, though. Just be sure to check the list of people who worked on the scans. They do hard work.

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Brad Rice
Brad RiceFounder   gamer profile

Brad helped found in 2006, and currently serves as an Associate He's covered all aspects of the industry, but has a particular preference for the business-end of things, more + disclosures



Filed under... #AnimeNEXT #manga



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