A “Negima!” Manga Conversation With Alethea and Athena Nibley

A “Negima!” Manga Conversation With Alethea and Athena Nibley

Negima!As many of you know, I’m a big proponent of retaining a Japanese perspective (including the use of Japanese honorifics) when it comes to anime subtitles and manga adaptations. While this idea has its share of naysayers who believe that this should not be the case (for various reasons), Alethea and Athena Nibley proved that doing just what I want can result in a best selling manga series, namely Fruits Basket — TokyoPop’s cash cow. Because of the care Alethea and Athena gave to that series, I became a fan of theirs and have enjoyed other manga titles which they’ve worked on (such as Ai Yori Aoshi).

With volume 22 of Negima!, Alethea and Athena Nibley take over the reins of my favorite manga as both translators and adapters, something which pleases me greatly.

I recently had an opportunity to communicate with the twins about Negima!


AstroNerdBoy: I see you guys are doing “Negima!” and I can’t tell you how happy this makes me!

Alethea & Athena: We’re glad you liked our “Negima!” translation.

ANB: Were you fans of “Negima!” before this?

A&A: We weren’t fans of “Negima!” before we were given the project, but now we really like it. It’s quite a challenge to translate, though, so it makes us a little crazy sometimes, and we could do with a lot fewer panty shots, but we’re always excited to get the new volume.

ANB: *lol* Yeah, so could I. Unfortunately, Akamatsu-sensei is long known for not only his panty shots, but for finding any number of excuses to get his girls naked. There’s a lot of bathing that goes on in his manga. ^_^;;;;

A&A: Yeah, in one volume they note that they’re getting a lot of fan art from elementary school girls, and it looks like it’s been toned down a liiiiiittle bit since then. But Akamatsu-sensei always manages to find something ^_^;

ANB: How did you two get in this project? Did Del Rey approach you or what? (Assuming of course this question doesn’t violate some non-disclosure agreement or the like.)

A&A: We don’t think this is a breach of confidentiality… And hopefully it’s not too much more information than you wanted.

Anyway, this might be different for some translators, but usually it works like this: The translator will contact a company (conventions are really good for this kind of thing) and say, “Hey, I’m a translator and would like to offer my services!” The company will then put you on file and when they have something for you to work on, they’ll contact you. (If we don’t get something right away, we like to e-mail them occasionally to remind them we exist.) They usually don’t give new translators big important projects (at least that’s what we think; “Fruits Basket” was an exception, and we’re still not sure why we were blessed with that one as our first professional job, but we’re very grateful nonetheless), so we did a couple of more minor things for Del Rey, and then they liked us enough to give us things they knew would sell, like the “Ace Attorney” manga. Come to think of it, we have heard a lot of people talk about “My Heavenly Hockey Club” (the first title we did for Del Rey), so maybe it wasn’t that minor, but it’s certainly more minor than “Negima!.”

At some point they offered us “Negima!? neo.” They sent us all the manga that they had released up to that point so we could familiarize ourselves with the series, except they were missing volume six and fifteen. That didn’t matter too much at the time, because our deadline was coming up and we’re not the fastest of readers, so we only had time to read about three or four volumes before we had to get to work anyway. But we were interested in the story, so we got our own copies of 6 and 15, to fill in the gaps when we got that far. (We got those in Japanese, because we just prefer reading our manga that way.)

Soon after that, Del Rey said they needed a style guide to help with consistency in both Negima series, and they wanted us to make it. They sent us the English copies of 6 and 15 so we would know how everything was translated and spelled and everything, and we spent several hours reading through the series as fast as we could. Then we typed up a list of all the character names, places, spells, martial arts moves, extracurriculars, etc. And when we finished it and turned it in, our editor said, “Now you’re ready to translate “Negima!” proper, since the old translator is quitting!” And now here we are! And we’re honored to be trusted with another popular series.

We hope that answered your question without too many unnecessary details!

ANB: It was great. Thanks. By the way, I think you guys made a small assumption error in volume 22 with the “Aegis-kan” as “Aegis” is a weapons platform placed on modern-day heavy cruisers for multiple nations. It isn’t the name of a ship, but cruisers equipped with the Aegis system are often called “Aegis Cruisers.” I think that’s why in the Japanese, “Aegis-kan” is used to denote an Aegis-equipped warship.

A&A: We actually did realize, but only very very recently, that we had gotten the Aegis thing wrong. I think we were watching a movie or a TV show or something, and they mentioned Aegis Cruisers, and we were like, “Dang, it’s a real thing.” It was too late to change it by then (which is why we promptly forgot), but now you’ve reminded us and we can at least e-mail our editor about fixing later references to it. It is sad though, since 22 is the volume where they just won’t let it go. Yet again, we learn never to assume that anything was made up.

(Update: Good news! Sort of. We told our boss about the Aegis Cruisers thing and she said they can fix it in reprints!)

ANB: You mentioned “Negima!” being a challenge to translate. I’m guessing one of the big translation challenges for you would be the Latin and Greek usage at times. How do you both handle this?

A&A: Actually, that can be pretty easy. Usually the Japanese lists the spell in Japanese with the Latin or Greek as furigana, so we just need to translate the Japanese into English as for as knowing what that means. Usually the Latin spellings are in the lexicons, so we don’t have to worry too much about them, but the Greek can be a little hard, since we don’t know how to read Greek (but we’re definitely learning now!). Fortunately, we’ve found a Greek dictionary online, but it doesn’t always have the words we need.

Our personal preference is to provide a Roman spelling of the Greek spells so the readers can “hear” what it sounds like, but it’s looking like the people in charge of the final version prefer to just leave the Greek letters in there. But that’s fine, too, because the Greek alphabet looks awesome.

It did cause problems for us with the latest translation, though, because there was a Greek spell that hadn’t been in the lexicon anywhere, so no Greek letters were provided and we didn’t know how to spell it in either alphabet. As it turned out, the spell had shown up once before (it’s the spell Asuna used to dispel the illusion of Takahata-sensei in volume 16), and they used Greek letters for it, but they spelled it wrong, using lambda and kappa when they should have been using rho and chi. (Can you tell we’re language geeks?)

It’s actually a pretty easy mistake to make based on how Japanese works, so the lesson we learn here is to always check a dictionary. Or Greek Google (if you make up a spelling and it gets no hits, it’s probably not a word).

ANB: While I’m thinking of it, since you both are new to this manga, have you figured out where the Magic World is? Akamatsu-sensei hasn’t come right out and said, but if the Magic World map is inverted and overlaid on a topographical map of Mars, they match up perfectly. Also, the places on the Magic World match up with the named places on Mars. Further, Chao always said she came from Mars and that would make sense if Mars is in fact the Magic World.

A&A: We didn’t know the maps matched up! But when we translated the names on the map, we would look up the katakana, because almost everything in the series is named after something from mythology or somewhere and we wanted to make sure we got the right reference and spelled it right. After a few times of getting websites about Mars, we remembered what Chao Lingshen said, and now if we don’t recognize a name from mythology, we’ll check the Wikipedia articles about Mars to see if we can find it.

ANB: Do you keep current with the “Negima!” manga as it comes out of Japan (whether through the magazine or latest tankoubon release)?

A&A: We have so much manga to read that when we translate manga professionally, we usually just wait for the company to send us the volumes. That got to be kind of hard when we were working on “Fruits Basket” and suddenly we kept meeting people who had already read the
end of it.

We’re sort of almost current with “Negima!” though. I think 26 came outsoon after we turned in the translation to 25.

ANB: Have you read any of the “NegiPa” books from Japan (the official Negima fan books where Akamatsu-sensei often puts new art and some nifty information)? Also, do you read Akamatsu-sensei’s blog?

A&A: That’s a no on both counts, but now that you mention it, we probably should look into the NegiPa books. We did go to Akamatsu-sensei’s forums once, to check the reaction to a chapter to make sure we weren’t interpreting things wrong. It was a big enough potential error that there would have been a fan reaction to it. There wasn’t, so it’s a good thing we checked. Otherwise, all the American fans would be like, “What!? They’re actually…!?” only that wouldn’t really be true, so we would have been misleading them.

A.I. Love YouANB: Have you read “Love Hina” or “AI Love You?” If so, any thoughts about those two series since elements of both appear in the “Negima!” manga?

A&A: We started to read the “Love Hina” manga because we’d seen the anime and really liked it, but when we were in college, we could only get manga during the summer, so we got the first two volumes and read them, then went back to school, where we got distracted by new, girlier anime.

Athena read the first two or three volumes of “AI Love You” when we were interning at TokyoPop. One of our jobs was to read manga and summarize it (it was a dream job), but there was so much that we didn’t have time to both read everything. But Athena liked it!

Unfortunately, all of that was so long before we got into “Negima!” that we couldn’t really say we have any thoughts on how they relate.

ANB: I REALLY hope that you two will be on the “Negima!” project until it ends because IMO, it couldn’t be in better hands. This is the only manga that I “double dip” on, owning both the Del Rey volumes and the Japanese tankoubons as well. It may be a shounen manga, but IMO, it is one of the better-crafted ones in terms of writing.

A&A: We plan to stick with the series as long as we can!

ANB: Great news about planning to stick with the series as long as you can. I don’t know why this series has had so many translators and adapters, but some stability would be nice.

A&A: Yeah, we made the style guide for the series, too, so we saw firsthand what can happen with no stability.

ANB: One last thing — I enjoyed your most recent article in Manga Life (*)about spelling. It is a shame they don’t have all your articles tagged for easy access but at least they are named now. ^_^

A&A: Yay! We’re always glad when people like our articles! We’re not in charge of the web design at all (and we know next to nothing about it currently), but maybe some day they’ll make each article easier to find.

Thanks for letting us talk!

(*) — The MangaLife website is now defunct.

Negima Group (early)

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29 Responses to “A “Negima!” Manga Conversation With Alethea and Athena Nibley”

  1. orion says:

    Wow! That was a really interesting interview! It’s cool to know that the translators are people who genuinely want to get the manga translated the best they can. Rock on, A&A and ANB!

    PS: that first collage was an excellent find! *save*

  2. Anonymous says:

    With all due respect, one would imagine Fruits Basket had quite a few factors making it a best seller. It’s rather far-fatched to claim that it was all about the translators doing “what you want”.

  3. AstroNerdBoy says:

    @orion — Thanks!

    @Anon — True there are other things that make “Furuba” a good manga, but when “Furuba” first hit the market, there was still a general idea that having honorifics in the adaptation of a manga title would mean the manga title would not be accepted by the general public. “Fruits Basket” proved that idea to be incorrect. “Fruits Basket” is a manga done the way I like and it is TP’s best seller.

  4. Anonymous says:

    What you said just now shows no causal relationship between the translation style of Fruits Basket and its popularity. What you said at first heavily implied that such a relationship existed.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I for one am glad that A&A have taken over. I think they did a fantastic job on Fruits Basket. Thanks ANB!

  6. Kisama says:

    I hate to break it to you, but they aren’t so perfect. They used used spellings like Kyo and Tohru in FB, that’s not authentic at all. Spelling a Japanese long ‘ou’ or ‘oo’ as a short ‘o’ or worse as an ‘oh’ has always annoyed me.

  7. AstroNerdBoy says:

    “What you said at first heavily implied that such a relationship existed.”

    I can see how you could read that into it, especially if you are one who is opposed to honorifics in adaptations. Maybe I could have worded it better but oh well. ^_^;

    @kisama — unfortunately, there is no standard for Romaji, especially for denoting long vowels. For example, which is correct — “Tokyo” or “Toukyou?” Gatoh-sensei uses the “oh” as his official Romaji spelling rather than “Gatou.”

    I don’t think TokyoPop makes use of diacritical marks but Del Rey does and that’s what the twins use in their adaptations to denote long vowels.

  8. Nice interview. How’d you manage to land it? Did you just email them?

    In any case, I’m glad to see the Nibley sisters seem to care a great deal about accuracy in their translations, even if they haven’t really gotten into or kept up with a title. While I haven’t got around to reading FruBa yet, as I mentioned in a reply to your review of Vol. 22, the Nibleys’ translation was spot-on and functionally identical to Enigma’s scanlations. I also like how they managed to get Del Rey to fix the whole Aegis thing in future reprints of vol. 22. I’ve also gotten up to vol. 8 of Ai Yori Aoshi, which is great. Also, I’m glad to hear they’ll be sticking with Negima for as long as they can. At this rate, it won’t be over for at least another year if not longer (hopefully the latter), which means it could extend to around 35 volumes or more. Fruba is 23 volumes long, so if they manage to stick with Negima for half that long, that’d be awesome.

    As for the discussion whether accuracy in translation affects sales, I think a manga being true to the original helps more than it hurts. I know I’d be less inclined to buy a manga if the translation was poor or an out-and-out rewrite (Tokyopop’s releases of Yuji Shiozaki’s manga are a good example; the art is nice, as is the fanservice, but the fact that they’re rewrites grates on me).

    I’d imagine there’s some people who don’t care one way or the other, and even a few that might actually prefer an inaccurate “Westernized” translations. However, if my interactions with the typical fans (online and IRL) is any indication, I think most of us prefer translations to be accurate to the original, and that people who don’t care about accuracy are people too young to care or appreciate artistic integrity (small children who watch monster battle shows like Pokemon or Bakugan).

    @Kisama

    If you want to get technical, in Hepburn romanizations (the most commonly-used system since it best represents English phonology), long vowels should be represented with a single vowel with a macron, e.g. Tōru, Kyō. So, non-standard romanizations of long vowels (e.g., “ou,” “oh,” “oo”) are all equally acceptable. If we accept any one of them, we should accept all of them.

  9. Looks like ANB beat me to it. Anywho, I forgot to mention that it’s traditional and Revised Hepburn that use macrons to denote long vowels. Modified Hepburn simply doubles the vowel (e.g., “ii,” “oo,” “uu”), which most of us do, except in the case of the long “O,” which many of us use the non-standards “oh” and “ou.”

    Of course, this all ignores non-Hepburn romanization systems, but I don’t care for those since they really aren’t accurate for translating from Japanese to English writing (for example, “Kannaduki no Miko” instead of the more phonetically-correct “Kannazuki no Miko”).

  10. CynicalGamer says:

    Looks like I have to keep a lookout and buy Vol. 22 again when I see the text change. lol

    I’m (finally) collecting all the volumes and I noticed that Vol. 1 still has all the rewrites. Should I just give up and buy it?

  11. AstroNerdBoy says:

    “I’m (finally) collecting all the volumes and I noticed that Vol. 1 still has all the rewrites. Should I just give up and buy it?”

    The rewrites are not going to be removed. What Del Rey will do is correct small mistakes. For example, I bought the “Negima!” manga volumes when Del Rey released them. As such, I have the volumes that have the errant “Southern Master” rather than “Thousand Master.” After enough outcry, Del Rey said they’d fix that in the future printings and I’m told that Del Rey did fix the “Southern Master” error.

  12. AstroNerdBoy says:

    “Nice interview. How’d you manage to land it? Did you just email them?”

    Yeah. We’ve e-mailed each other before and this sorta just fell into place. ^_^

  13. mastermack0 says:

    very interesting

  14. Anonymous says:

    “I can see how you could read that into it, especially if you are one who is opposed to honorifics in adaptations. Maybe I could have worded it better but oh well. ^_^;”

    What I’m opposed to are poorly substantiated statements and implications, such as your initial one and also the ones here about me being opposed to using honorifics and about me reading “into” your statement what I think you actually implied.

    Regarding what ShadowOfTheVoid said, I don’t believe I said anything about translation accuracy not affecting sales. Word travels fast and most fans are not keen on product they know is badly translated or substantially rewritten. What I was talking about was translation style, which is not the same thing. For example, while I’m not in any way opposed to having them, I don’t consider not keeping the honorifics in as being inaccurate, except perhaps in some rare cases where what they convey can’t be adequately expressed by any other means.

  15. ThatOneGuy says:

    Has Anyone Else Notice That In the Last Pic in this Bulletin, The circus Girl (Seat No. 31, I Believe). She’s In The Center, She Has CLAWS!

  16. Kisama says:

    You guys don’t need to insult my intelligence just for expressing an opinion you don’t share. Don’t you think I know something about romanization if this sort of detail bothers me, dagnabbit?…

  17. @Anonymous

    Assuming you’re the same anon from earlier, you said there was no causal relationship between Fruba’s popularity and it’s translation style. That’s an implicit if not explicit statement that translation style has no effect on sales. Style and accuracy do have a not insignificant degree of overlap. For example, there is some information in Japanese honorifics that is lost when they are omitted or replaced with English honorifics. They don’t always translate accurately between each other. Also, as Del Rey mentions in the prefaces to the manga they publish, it is significant when a Japanese speaker doesn’t use an honorific at all.

    Of course, this is just one way accuracy is lost when translators do things with their own “style” instead of simply trying to translate things as accurately as possible and not add their own flair to it.

    @Kisama

    Get angry, much? Neither I nor ANB insulted your intelligence. In your post, you seem to accept “ou” and “oo” as acceptable romanizations of the Japanese long “O” but not “o” or “oh.” All I did was point out that all of those are non-standard and therefore are all equally acceptable if we allow non-standards, and that in the Revised Hepburn system, which is a standard, long vowels are always denoted by a macron. If you did already know this, then perhaps you should’ve said so, then nobody would be tempted to point things out, which you apparently consider a personal affront. A three-sentence blurb stating your dislike for two particular non-standard romanizations of a long vowel isn’t enough for us to determine how much you know about the Japanese language.

  18. orion says:

    @ThatOneGuy: That would be Zazie Rainday, the most Mysterious girl in 3-A (in my opinion). I noticed that too, and how she has magicky seeming stuff like being able to see Sayo, all those caped “friends” she has, or even that weird dragon thing she gave Chao as a going away gift.

    (for something weird, check out this page: http://www.onemanga.com/
    Mahou_Sensei_Negima%21/175/13/ in period 175 and notice how that girl would’ve tripped on the robe of one of them. Ability to become invisible?)

    Sucks that Akamatsu cancelled the nightmare circus arc so we know nothing about her.

  19. AstroNerdBoy says:

    @Kisama and Anon — no insults or other objectionable stuff are implied. ^_^

    Regarding Zazie, I had forgotten she had a claw in this early manga image from volume 1. She had a bird back then too and that has since disappeared I believe. I don’t remember when it last appeared — Kyoto maybe?

    Regardless, she is a mysterious character and I get the feeling Akamatsu-sensei enjoys having her so.

    “…notice how that girl would’ve tripped on the robe of one of them. Ability to become invisible?”

    I think that those “critters” are incorporeal like Sayo.

    “Sucks that Akamatsu cancelled the nightmare circus arc so we know nothing about her.”

    He canceled it? I wasn’t aware of that.

  20. Anonymous says:

    hey anb! this was really interesting. i can now see why you like the twins alot. its nice to know that the translators are putting more care and work into manga

    im curious, since it sounds like they did a really good job, are they also revising old volumes too for translation mistakes, like in 21 with tosaka(i think thats his name) saying mistress instead of mama,etc.?

  21. AstroNerdBoy says:

    Since that wasn’t their work, I don’t know what say they have over correcting it. It is a mistake to use “mistress” instead of “mama” but the translator could argue that this was a translation choice made to not confuse the audience. *_*

  22. Anonymous says:

    @ShadowOfTheVoid

    “Assuming you’re the same anon from earlier, you said there was no causal relationship between Fruba’s popularity and it’s translation style.”

    Please pay more attention, as this is not what I said. I was talking about what ANB’s reply to me had said.

    As for your other views, we have little to talk about if you unconditionally believe that retaining honorifics automagically gives a more accurate understanding to an English-language reader. At the very least, this assumes the reader has in-depth knowledge of how honorifics are used, and that’s something your typical anime fan doesn’t have. Someone thinking they know all about honorifics doesn’t make it a fact.

    You seem to be operating under the assumption that retaining as many features as possible of the original language in a translation is typically the best course of action, something that would find you in opposition with a sizable camp of pro translators and translation theorists. Ask around in translation communities if you think I’m mistaken about how widely this view is shared. Anime forums aren’t the best place to get information on these topics.

    In the end, there’s nearly always something lost in translation, and you simply can’t fix that by undiscriminately porting features from another language that don’t exist in the target language.

  23. Kisama says:

    ShadowOfTheVoid, it’s nonsense to suggest that I should list everything I know or else face a tedious lesson for which a Wikipedia link would’ve worked just fine. Also I wasn’t angry, I just didn’t get why you guys had to lecture me like that. For your information, I don’t have a problem with ‘ou’ and ‘oo’ because they follow kana spelling and are used in wapuro. Are you trying to say most Westerners use macrons when they type these words using Hepburn online? Didn’t think so. For me, ‘oh’ is forced English BS that has no basis in Japanese and ‘o’ is simply very inaccurate. You talk a lot about accuracy yourself, don’t you?

  24. Shiroi Hane says:

    Good to hear that there is (finally?) a consistency guide. I gave up noting annoying inconsistencies a long time ago but they never completely went away.
    The “oh” romanization is not all that uncommon – you’ll see Keiji Gotoh written that way pretty much everywhere, including his published artbooks, and Katoh beats Katou in a google fight by a huge margin.
    The spelling may have been dictated by the Japanese or kept for consistency with Japanese material – see http://www.tv-tokyo.co.jp/anime/fruits_basket/naiyou/images/chara_tohru.jpg for example.

  25. junior says:

    I used to know the twins a few years back (albeit not very well), though I haven’t seen them since then. Both are very nice and friendly individuals, and I’m glad to hear that they’re continuing with their manga translation work.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Thought you might be interested in this, a seasoned pro’s and scholar’s take on translation in general and the current state of affairs in “professional” manga translation in particular. Check out his main site too, some interesting stuff there. This guy probably has more in depth knowledge of manga as a whole than 99.9999% of Western manga readers.

  27. AstroNerdBoy says:

    Thanks for the link. I’ll read this. ^_^

  28. Ariel says:

    nice interview. :]

  29. AstroNerdBoy says:

    Glad you liked it. ^_^

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