Should Translator Visibility Matter?

There’s this concept called “the visibility of the translator” in translation studies. Certainly, people like us anime and manga fans, who consume translations, would be more aware of this concept, right?

The question is, after you take into account what I said above the cut, is why aren’t we more aware of who’s translating the content we love? If we get up in arms about the translations we love because of the translators (enough to attack translators about the same content, in some cases), then certainly we should respect translators more and be more aware of who they are…?

Answers may vary, but I think I have a few ideas on this.

Credit

To start with, translators hardly get credited for their work and – like basically the rest of the industry of translation – the best translator is an invisible one, who you can’t detect the touch of. In a scanlation or fansubbing team, you can expect a bit more visibility, but it’s probably not much of an improvement unless the translator makes their name visible (see, for instance, Slug Translation, which is named such because the translator goes by the name “Slug”).

“Not reading like a translation”

A translation, in terms of anime and manga content, generally doesn’t read like a translation – an anime will read like a natural version of the subbing language if it’s subbed and sound like a fluent version of the language if it’s dubbed, while a manga’s dialogue and text boxes, at minimum, are expected to read like natural English (even if the sound effects and little side dialogue bits can be treated more like a translation). To make matters worse, when the fans think about bad translation choices by localisation companies, they don’t have anyone specific to shoot their complaints to and so they go for the closest thing they can associate with those choices – the company responsible for putting out the translation, because then they know they’re at least…sort of…going in the right direction. Looking at the company as a whole to blame ignores the fact only one translator (or one translation team) made this funky choice – which may, indeed, be a perfectly acceptable choice if you consider the Japanese source text/dialogue and it might just be that you disagree with it for some reason.

What’s the point?

The main point of translating anime and manga at high speeds and high volumes (typoes and some genuinely awkward translations be damned) is to entertain, not to teach – although teaching people about things may be a secondary aim of some series and doing background research of things in certain anime can also teach you things – and that’s why people don’t want to have to decipher translations that look like the infamous Duwang translation of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure on a regular basis (…although trying to decipher those can be fun…at times…).

Exceptions

That said, we anime and manga fans are more used to doing the legwork to better understand the culture, history and whatnot that has spawned the works we love, whether it’s for fanfic, trying to get your head around how facts would line up or just trying to learn the language and using whatever resources can make that learning fun. A lot of fans are inspired to learn Japanese to access more content and parse things that wouldn’t be understood otherwise because some translations – typically amateur ones, but also some professional ones due to space and/or time constraints – have left certain things in Japanese.

Also, in recent digital translations on Manga Plus and Viz, there has been a marked increase in seeing a translator’s and/or letterer’s credit on the first few pages, as well as the usual credit on a front or back page of the translated tankobon. This helps to bring that aforementioned visibility up.


This is not a topic that gets talked about a lot in our circles. You probably think “the only ones who really care about this stuff are the actual translators, right?”, but putting a name to the translations you like could mean you might have an inspiration from beyond the borders of time and space…well, even if the situation is not as interesting as that, you still need to know who your money is going to and that doesn’t always involve looking at it from the animation or creators’ perspective.

So do you think we need to start seeking out who was responsible for memorable translations?

Update: Minor edits, plus added a bit about scanlation and fansubbing.

10 thoughts on “Should Translator Visibility Matter?

Add yours

  1. Pay the translator a fair wage. Credit them for the work they do, then they can fuck off.

    This is something that has annoyed me for a while. People seem to have taken the relationship between creator and audience too far. When I read a book, or watch an anime, or enjoy a voice performance. I am just enjoying that. I don’t have any attachment to the creator of that. It is a transactional relationship. I like this, person gives me this, and then we go about or lives.

    There are many voice actors I really admire. Brittney Karbowski, Jad Saxton and Josh Grelle. They have given me oodles of laughter over the years, but I don’t want to know anything about them as people. That’s none of my business. To me, they are a product. I consume said product and then wait for the next helping.

    Same for translator. I just want them to translate the work, do the job right, and then enjoy their work. I don’t need to know them as people. Frankly, if a translator for a popular series is talking about that on the internet in this day and age, your just asking to be devoured by dogs.

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  2. I’d like there to be more visibility if only to show how important it really is. There are series that I love subbed because the nuances are captured well in their subtitles. Especially since it usually validates my understanding of certain words/phrases in Japanese so perhaps that’s bias kicking in. Other times I look at the subs and wonder who the person in charge was because while the wording isn’t wrong per say, the way the character is speaking in Japanese (accents, formal v. informal) isn’t being conveyed the way I would have thought. I’m glad we aren’t in the world where we just kinda make stuff up and hope it’s right like the early days of dubbing anime. Reading about how the original run of the Speed Racer anime went down in America is always a trip.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. This “true to the original” business is why I try to take a look at the original if I know how to do so. (Sometimes a source language text isn’t as widely available as its translation, even after you take into account paywalls, exclusivity and the like, and there’s nothing you can do about that.)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think more visibility is good but I’m inevitably biased. Translation is nuanced and full of compromises between meaning and effect. There are times when I’d marvel at a cleverly translated joke, and times when I’m pissed that what I’m reading in the subtitles is criminally untrue to what is spoken. It’s not something that most people are going to care about, but I think it should be easier for those who do care to access translator information.

    Liked by 1 person

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