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.
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…).
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.