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