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Monday, May 29, 2006

Editorial: Why the Bum Deal for Manga Fans?

Note: I've been holding off on writing about this for a while, just because when I think about it I get riled up and start rambling. But since the exchange is still down, and I just spent $500 on a shipment of manga, now's as good a time as any to get this off my chest. Hopefully I don't spin out of control.

When manga is translated for a western audience certain things are to be expected. Just like the transition between manga to it's anime counter-part or a book to a movie, when Japanese manga undergoes an English adaptation certain concessions have to be made. Some of them okay. Some of them less than.

Maybe it's an obscure Japanese play on words or catchphrase turned into "A stitch in time saves lime." Maybe it's a wacky variety show being referred to as Celebrity Squares, for American localization. Maybe onii-san becomes brother. Perhaps even the main character's name switches from "Raito" to "Light". And fair enough, a company's gotta make some money. You gotta make things a little easier for the mainstream audience. And I expect a US publisher to do this sort of thing. What I don't expect however, is for them to violate my grandmother. Yet this appears to be considered fair business practice for some reason.

Crap adaptations make Yomiko cry.

You could be talking about CMX's Stalin'esque editing/censoring of Tenjou Tenge's artwork, Del Ray's blatent disregard for Negima! (oh I'm saving a special post for you guys, but let's just say that "lazy editing" and "loose translating" would be a generous way to describe your work), or ADV's minor localization of a gag which later screws up an entire chapter of Yotsuba&! I picked those off the top of my head, but with just a bit of searching on your favourite forums you'll most likely be able to find problems of the "And you guys are a business HOW?" variety for many other series.

But even let's just say it was only the above titles. CMX is obviously making enough money to justify the ongoing censorship of TenTen, and Negima! usually hits pretty well on the bookscan chart from what I recall. What's crazy is partially that publishers are forging on ahead, carefree, riding on the waves of payola. The other craziness is that, aside from censorship which will get anyone worked up, many manga fans seem to just accept adaptation work which can only be described as "sloppy" as ain't no thang.

If an Anime company was to pull off the same kind of stunts, they'd find themselves drawn, quartered, and laughed at naked by raging otaku. Doesn't seem to be that kind of fervor in the manga community from what I've seen.

So what's the deal, I got a lot of questions here. Exactly why is it that anime gets a more respected treatment? Do the hardcore manga crowd not bring in enough money? Are more people familiar with fansubs than they are scanlations? Are we just not vocal enough? Are we so happy to see titles being licenced that we just don't care? Is editing manga just so easy for a publisher that it's practically impossible for them not to try? Or is it just a matter of time, and companies will eventually give us a respectable level of quality once manga is past it's infancy, like it did with anime?

I'll be the first to admit, I'm no manga expert and I don't own thousands of tankubons, so perhaps I'm reading the community and publishers wrong. But when you still have a forum dedicated and regularly updated with manga edits I would go out on a limb and say that us manga fans are not in an ideal climate right now.

Also, what else is that because of previous experiences I've had and how I see other people's series getting treated, I know that I'm scared shitless to buy english translated manga. That is definately not right.


Anonymous Maestro4k said...

I think the main reason companies get away with this is because Manga seems to have been picked up and adopted by non hardcore fans much quicker than Anime has been. I don't have any actual statistics but I'm fairly certain that well past 50% of all Manga sales go to non hardcore fans who don't know or care about the changes that have been made. If most of your market could care less, you can stay in business and continue pissing off the hardcore fans.

Hopefully more of those non hardcore fans will find the online Manga community and find out about scanslations and the censorship/butchering that titles have gone through and start demanding changes. If that happens (and I'm afraid it's a very big if), companies will start trying to do better.

Negima's driving me nuts, it's been so inconsistan it's not funny and now that they finally settled on one person to do the adaptions they had to go with someone who I know from their work at Viz who are horrid about over Americanizing things. I'm still ticked about the whole "boya" thing. Come on, it's pretty obvious she's saying BOY! :P Oh well, not much I can do except never buy any titles at full price. I get them used where possible and wait for good sales otherwise. I doubt that Del Rey's making much money off of me and they have themselves to blame.

I do have to give Del Rey credit for including translation notes in all their titles that I've looked at. ADV does this haphazardly (have they gotten better?) at best and I know there's been a LOT of times I flipped back looking for a translation note for something only to find there weren't any. I wish Tokyopop would start doing this, I can't think of any of their titles that have had translation notes so far.

1:05 AM

Blogger Crayotic Rockwell said...

I do love me a good lexicon.. course what I did find amusing in at least the early Negima is that they give you translation notes at the back, but at the same time provide you with an explanation in story

eg. Kaede: "Check me out. I'm a "Sessha," the samurai who assists hard luck women."

Isn't the point of translation notes, so you don't have to burden the story with that kind of awkward dialogue?

Ah, I told myself I wouldn't get into Del Ray until later, but since you brought it up... :)

BTW if you want a good english translation of Negima that's not scanlated, you'll find that the versions published by Chuang Yi will give you pretty good value (they're not without faults, but they're very minimal in comparison)

And good point with the market split. What blows my mind however, is that the companies want to have their cake and eat it too. They'll claim that they're all for the pureists and preserving the original intentions of the source material, but then they'll turn around and do something that makes you shake your head in bewilderment. As if the fact that they left in the original SFX gives them free reign to change everyone's name to Steve Smith and draw towels over every potentially offensive image.

1:35 AM

Anonymous ixthedamned said...

Just a short comment:

I really don't think the manga translations of Negima are that bad..though I am biased as a massive fan of the series, and was initially disappointed with the first couple of volumes, I believe you are wrong when you say that manga isn't hung drawn and quartered like anime is by fans.

Sure the inital volume of Negima was jam packed with errors (My favourite is when DalRey translated "Nodoka" as "Negi"), but in subsequent volumes they did improve a LOT: I assume from listening to feedback from fans

I am very pleased that they have liner notes for the spells, including translations and background research into the mythology, as well as leaving a lot of the japanese in and including translations and explanations in the notes at the back (for example "O-miai"), and I now avidly collect them since the translations are now very good.

And you have to admit that anime has its fair share of awful translations as well. I quote the lack of notes for Osaka's lateral thinking jokes in Azumanga as prime example.

The problem is that anime and manga companies are producing things for a larger, non-otaku-centred audience and so things do have to change...however, to say they don't listen to the fans at all is a bit harsh

4:19 AM

Anonymous Maestro4k said...

I can't remember for sure but I think some of that was just over compensating, that basically the original explained the term in story and then they added a translation note as well to add more depth to the explanation I guess.

The first few volumes were inconsistant but not overly Americanized. I'm a huge fan of Negima but I'm getting more and more fed up with the Americanization of the translation, as I noted I'm at the point I won't buy them at regular retail price because of it. (And before I was buying them all at regular retail.) The latest volume I have, Volume 9, really gets me in Hakase's huge spiel where she uses the word "bloody" (a British cuss word essentially, not many Americans use it), and then throws in some Valley Girl slang towards the end. That was just.... bad.

The translation notes that are included are mostly decent yes, but they miss out on a lot of things that need explaining in each volume. Sometimes the explanations aren't so hot, I thought I knew what paipan meant until I read the translation notes on it which muddied the waters considerably. I ended up having to ask a friend who speaks Japanese to find out for sure what it meant. They're already selling the things shrink-wrapped to prevent kids from reading them in store, they could include a more straight forward explanation that isn't offensive easily enough (but they didn't).

It's interesting that your example of Anime with bad translations comes from ADV. By and large their Manga have had the same failings of not explaining things that desperately needed explaining.

Things don't have to change drastically to bring in the "non-otaku-centered audience". You can keep things mostly authentic and still do well. Manga sells like mad at bookstores, and readers, by and large, are a far more literate and intelligent group of people in society and generally don't mind having new terms introduced into their vocabulary. And what's up with changing a title to "Chibi Vampire" when that title doesn't even really convey what the story's about any better than the original title did? (To be fair now we're talking Tokyopop, not Viz or Del Rey.) That's an absolutely pointless move, unlikely to help sell it to the mass market (how many non-otaku know what chibi means?) or the hardcore fans (do any hardcord fans like it when a title is changed?)

The problem with Negima is the current adaptor's background in adapting anime at least leaves a lot to be desired. I've seen that name on some of Viz's titles that were notoriously hideous in their Americanization. (I remember one Ranma 1/2 episode where in dub Ranma and Akane's fathers are talking about how they've still got it and in the SUBS they're singing Camptown Races. The subs mind you, not the dub. And while I don't speak Japanese it was very obvious they weren't singing Camptown Races. :P) There are times when the dialogue as adapted makes me cringe, it's not even in character for crying out loud!

As for companies not listening to fans... well I've seen companies refuse to listen for literally years then suddenly decide to do what fans had been asking them to do all along and find out that it actually works and makes them money. (Tokyopop's move to do 100% Authentic Manga would be one such occurence.) I don't count ignoring your fans for years as listening, more like having to be beaten senseless with a clue-by-four. :P

4:59 AM

Blogger Crayotic Rockwell said...

"And you have to admit that anime has its fair share of awful translations as well."

It's true that they do have their fair share, although it is far considerabley less from my experience, and aside from translations anime seems to have better QC on it. For instance, manga you're more likely to get large errors such as empty speech balloons, people saying the completely wrong things (and not from adaptation), or continuity being thrown out of wack. And when you do get such mistakes in anime, they're usually rectified once the problem is discovered. A lot of times it seems as though manga publishers just shrug and say "Hey, we're done with that volume now. Please look forward to the next, only $9.95 at your local retailer."

That's not respectful nor professional. That's just blatant money grabbing, and it bugs me that these sub-par efforts will be the only versions I'm ever going own.

Presumably re-printing is more expensive and they're running on a smaller profit than anime companies, but that's just even more reason why they should make sure the job is done right in the first place in my opinion.

"I quote the lack of notes for Osaka's lateral thinking jokes in Azumanga as prime example."

I've got Azumanga on DVD and I can't recall if every Osaka'ism is in there, but I'd say each disc has pages of exhaustive translation notes, however.

"Things don't have to change drastically to bring in the "non-otaku-centered audience". You can keep things mostly authentic and still do well. Manga sells like mad at bookstores, and readers, by and large, are a far more literate and intelligent group of people in society and generally don't mind having new terms introduced into their vocabulary."

I couldn't agree more. I was questioning one company about a couple of odd translations ("Sake" became "Sweet Wine" even though there were more obscure terms left untranslated) and lack of honorifics (I don't require them, but it is nice), and they said it was because it would turn off the casual reader.

The thing is, while they did that, they left SFX intact (good) without any translation anywhere (not so good). And I just think that if a non-hardcore audience isn't going to be turned off by that, then they're most likely going to be able to accept a couple of -sans and -chans in their reading.

10:40 AM

Anonymous jpmeyer said...

1) Tenten's style was done because DC thought that they could lure people in with their manga and get them to buy their American comics, which failed miserably because of the very different audiences for both.

2) Karen was changed to "Chibi Vampire" because Tokyopop already had a manga named "Kamichama Karen".

3) Azumanga Daioh DOES have liner notes. The thinpak, however, does not, IIRC.

4) I really liked Tokyopop's handling of Sakura Taisen, which I felt nicely juggled accesibility with jargon.

Or are these really just isolated complaints that only a handful of hardcore manga fans have? I've been very pleased with just about every manga that I've bought. The closest thing to a "butchering" in one of the mangas that I've bought was Battle Royale, which I was sorta put off by at first until I read some of it in Japanese and saw that the Japanese version is really, really stale.

10:46 AM

Blogger Crayotic Rockwell said...

I'm not trying to indicate that all series are getting butchered per se, and like I said, I may be reading the landscape wrong, but from my experience it does seem as though many manga titles get handled much more loosely and/or lazily than your average anime series nowdays.. and this gap was sorta my point (I know I didn't do a very good job conveying it) and that's what really puzzles/annoys me.

Another thing that I also failed to mention while trying to be brief, is that in regards to adaptation, it also most likely depends on what genres you're picking. A title like Monster, I wouldn't be too worried as you could handle it pretty loosely and still hit all the right beats, but then something like Yakitate! could leave you flat on your face if not handled deftly. Some manga gives more leway, while others don't.

Of course a lot of complaints also wouldn't exist if there was nothing to compare a US publisher's efforts to, but then fansubs also exist and I'm very rarely left displeased with the DVDs I purchase.

And it baffles me that TenTen is still being censored despite having "failed miserably." Surely you may as well try the other tact, unless the we-like-our-stuff-unmessed-with manga community just factor that little into the equation?

Hopefully I've made sense, coz now I've got to go try to fix this damn computer. Fingers crossed that I don't go MIA.

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