Don’t Criticize Rubbish Translations!

Don’t Criticize Rubbish Translations!

I have a few hot button topics. One such topic are rubbish translations/adaptations. I despise the term “localization”, even though it has become an official translation term. But folks in the business who are putting out garbage translations, or who are rewriting stuff wholesale ’cause “reasons” are angry at fans who’ve noticed their trash. Naturally, when someone smashes my buttons, I have to respond. (Though I did wait a bit to not be a total smeg head. 😅)

TONIKAWA: Over The Moon For You 06

What Brought This Up?

Recently, a British website wrote a piece called “Stop being an asshole to translators“. Apparently, some hentai visual novel is being adapted into English. However, it is being massively changed so that it is no longer a porn title. Western fans were very angry over the sheer amount of changes to characters and story, to say nothing of removing the hentai stuff. The fans also took issue with the localization done to the series, even though the Japanese authorized it so that they could sell it on Steam.

However, the author of the piece then went on to justify a translator being creative with their translations ’cause (1) a translated work isn’t the original, no matter how faithful and (2) sometimes, translated works are better than the original Japanese work! Yay!

My own philosophy as always been that a translated work should be “accurate but readable”. And that was the approach I took when I adapted the True Tenchi Muyo! novels.

What is “Localization”?

On paper, localization simply means “the process of adapting a product or content to a specific market or geographical location.” As such, the act of turning Japanese into English for and English audience is localization. In theory, localization is just to make things “accurate but readable”, in this case, from Japanese to English.

So for example, the Japanese term urusai literally means “noisy” or “annoying”. But in English, we don’t shout “NOISY!” at fools who are being loud. Instead, we tell them to “SHUT UP!”. Therefor, the term urusai gets localized to “shut up” rather than translated to “noisy”. I don’t think anyone has an issue with that level of change.

Full Metal Panic

Today, localization has been interpreted by many translators/adapters to be a creative writing exercise. As such, changes are made to the source material to inject political beliefs, to insert topical humor, to remove “problematic” materials that might offend the terminally offended, or to otherwise modify things to be hip, cool, etc. As long as adapter thinks that what they write near the ballpark of what the Japanese author wrote, there’s no real harm in the rewrite.

Because of this, I’ve come to loathe the term “localization”. And the more someone squawks about localization, the more I think, “This person is desperate to rewrite something a Japanese person wrote in order to do it ‘better’.”

Criticizing Rubbish Translations

Translating something from Japanese to English is not an easy job. If it was, Google Translate would be able to do it. (Though to be fair, Google Translate is a ton better than what it used to be.) And if you give a room full of translators a page of Japanese text to translate to English, no two pages would be identical. A good example of this would be the accurate but readable fan translation of a manga scene and its official anime adaptation not being identical, but having the same flavor and flow in text.

In this same scenario, if the official manga translation of the scene is done in such a way so as to change the personality of the character saying it, then said adaptation is rubbish. At a sheer technical level, all three adaptations may put out the same information. But if you change a character’s personality to make short, snappy sentences when in fact she does no such thing, that’s trash and worthy of criticism.

As an aside, other than Peter David, I have never called out a translator or adapter. And I shouldn’t have called out Peter David by name as I don’t want to encourage folks to attack him personally (such as on social media, for example). That aside, if a translator or adapter is rewriting stuff so that it is egregious to behold, then the work is fair game for criticism.

What Most Fans Want

I’ve often used this comic to illustrate what most fans want in terms of translation/adaptation. I’m sharing it again. (If you know the artist, let me know so I can give them credit.)

Adaptation Comic

In my opinion, the loudest folks screeching “LOCALIZATION” are the one’s who think there’s nothing wrong with the far right comic strip. (And subsequently, the ones who label anyone who disagrees with them as a “weeb”.) After all, it is technically saying the same things. Sure, the characters have been changed, and profanity added for good measure. But “localization demands this level of creativity!” 😑

Were it up to me, translators and adapters would be accurate but readable in the adaptation of a Japanese work. They wouldn’t insert things into the English that weren’t there in the Japanese text. But that’s not how the world works. Nevertheless, when a translator/adapter goes off the deep end with their work, they should expect criticism. (But no personal harassment.)

As always, feel free to weigh in with your thoughts on the topic.

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2 Responses to “Don’t Criticize Rubbish Translations!”

  1. Rascal says:

    Great post. I’ve always said that “localization” is really just another term for censorship and a desire to normalize changes so that something can be understood by the biggest morons in society.
    And usually the people who are for such changes are also pro-censorship. I hate that kind of mindset. Why even read or watch something completely outside your cultural bubble in the first place if you can’t accept it as it is.
    By the way, English manga publishers are great anyway (well, excluding Viz) if you compare them to these in my country. I’ve never seen anything that caused a cringe in English translated manga. Polish manga publishers on the other hand are… as if to put it, imagine Viz only a few times worse. Recently they even censored Juju from Sono Bisque Doll wa Koi wo Suru! And of course it doesn’t stop there, as there are plenty of dialogue changes, altered jokes, inserted local memes (even there where there was no joke in original script), forcefully translated and completely removed honorifics, switched culture and even changed nicknames or straight mistranslations. What is happening in our market is one big disaster.
    Regarding this picture above – I would personally leave the bento as it is (as other words like moe, tsundere etc.). But I know what you mean.

    • AstroNerdBoy says:

      Great post. I’ve always said that “localization” is really just another term for censorship and a desire to normalize changes so that something can be understood by the biggest morons in society.

      Haha! I hear ya. Though I honestly think publishers and adapters grossly mistake the anime/manga audience as dumb.

      By the way, English manga publishers are great anyway (well, excluding Viz) if you compare them to these in my country.

      I have been told by other European anime/manga fans that adaptations in whatever European language often are rubbish. As such, many European fans who are fluent in English import the English titles. Really sucks and I am sorry for you fans over there.

      Anyway, thanks for writing!

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