Somewhere in Translation: 06

Literal vs. Liberal
Pt. 1 - Context

Heya, manga-fans!

DzyDzyDino here again! Back with another little blog entry about translation, localization, and Japanese.

The purpose of these blog entries, apart from sharing with you a little behind-the-scenes glimpse, is to hopefully also show you what goes into localization and a bit of how the Japanese language works.

Because no translation is ever perfect, especially for a language so fundamentally different even in syntax from our own, we're always left choosing between something more direct and literal that reads awkwardly or something that reads and feels smooth and native in English but takes some liberty with the Japanese.

Either way, I think knowing a little about the source material helps to enjoy both methods of translation a bit more, and that's what these blog posts hopefully help to do!

The Literal vs. Liberal translation / localization is one that usually divides fans and translators alike. Sometimes there are more direct cases, like... do you want honorifics like -san, -kun, -chan, -sama, do you want them localized on a one-for-one basis to things like Mr. and Sir, or do you want it omitted based on context as to whether or not it's even important to the story?

I think most of us here at mangastream prefer a context-heavy localization (at least I do!). In other words, one which prioritizes getting the "meaning" and "feel" of what the original Japanese is across into a way that feels and means the same thing in English. Oftentimes choosing a meaningful translation over one that might be "by-the-book" or correct on a "word-for-word" basis with the Japanese.

There's a Japanese saying that gets used in a lot of manga: "百年早い"(hyakunen hayai) which literally translates to "100 years too early." - meaning "you're way too inexperienced/amateur for this, try again in 100 years." But unless there's like some specific plot device circling around 100 years or time-power or something like that... (lol), nothing is meant by the 100 years. It's simply a saying, and one that does not exist in English. So every single time someone says that, regardless of context, should it really be translated as "You're 100 years too early!"?

Many would argue, "Yes!" and when I first started translating 10-ish years ago, I'm sure I felt the same as well. But over time, I began to value really getting into the character and thinking about how that character would talk, what he would say and how it would come across in English.

Idiomatic Expressions (or "sayings") are one thing, and some people can draw a line in the sand with those. But what about everything else? 

Here's a good example of over-literal vs. context. A line that happens nearly every week in every series we do, "来るな~!” (kuruna~) If we were to translate this absolutely literally, it'd be "Don't come!". Sometimes I see other groups decide to blur it just a tiny bit and go "Don't come here!" but Japanese is a context-based language. 

This line, when it appears, appears by itself in a bubble with nothing else around it - so no pronouns, etc. A literal translation would be "Don't come!" 100% of the time, but that phrase can be interpreted differently based on the setting and whoever's saying it... and it should be! "Stay back!" "Don't come any closer!" "Get away from me!" "Stay where you are!" all the way to "Look out!!" and "Don't touch that!!" 

This line could be someone running away from a killer, it could be someone holding off a horde of beasts, telling their comrades to stay away and save themselves, it could be someone warning his friends that a trap is right in front of them, it could be someone that just doesn't want to be followed. With all those possible situations and all the different characters that could be in them, is "Don't come!" really the right translation in each and every case?

Our hero's sister has been kidnapped as bait in a warehouse. The villains have set a trap right next to the door. The sister sees the hero running up to the building and shouts "来るな!" - This is a total classic movie trope, and if you imagine any western movie, the line here would be "It's a traaaaap!!!" and that's precisely what would be meant contextually there.

This is a topic that sparks a really long debate, and to be honest, what I really wanted to talk about this week (profanity in Japanese and translations) I could hardly start without laying some groundwork down first.

In the end, there is no completely right choice, and any choice you make ends up leaving something out. Something invariably becomes "lost in translation." We do our best to mitigate what gets lost and look at every series and every instance on a case-by-case basis and often have team discussions on how to handle certain ones.

The most important thing is to have intent behind what you choose, and at least here at mangastream, we really care about what we're doing, we love these series, and we've put a lot of thought behind all of our decisions in order to try to bring you something we're proud of releasing and that we'd be happy to read.

We can't always please everyone and we're also not perfect either, but we're always open for discussion and always listen to your feedback! 

After all that, if you're still dedicated to not missing a single thing out of the original Japanese... well... there's a lot of resources out there nowadays to learn the language on your own!

Anyways, I did want to get into profanity this time, but with how long just talking about the basics of context and liberal/literal got, it looks like it'll have to wait till next time, so until then, thanks for supporting us!

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