Translating mangas


Well-Known Member
Oct 17, 2020
I am following the Beastars manga (in English translation). What happens when a one word word balloon requires a fifty word article to translate into English? Doesn't that ever happen with a culture as different as Japan's? I am impressed by how well the translation goes in Beastars.
A good translator came make a visual tale. They have to understand the meaning, the sub-meaning and even the rhymes and wordplay that was in the original and get the same feel in the translation. It may not be all that close as a word for word comparison, but it has to have the same effect.
I've got three different translations of Beowulf. word for word they are very different. some on prose, others in verse but they all feel the same [give or take].
Translators will also often have a style or aspect that they latch onto when translating, so sometimes they will pick a means to translate which conveys a theme of the original which matches it as close as possible. It can mean that some stories might lose a subtext of understanding when translated and which are hard to impossible to understand unless you are fluent in its native language and read the original material.

With comics its more complex because you've only a very limited window of space to write in. Plus for comics written and translated as they go this can be difficult as a subtle element in an early story might be very important in a latter one. However if that latter story is as yet unwritten, a translator might not be aware of it and thus might translate the subtle element away by accident.

Animation is the same, though there are tricks used such as recycling the same speech frames and quite a lot of modern animations (esp anime) often make use of scenes where almost nothing is happening, its just scrolling across a high resolution image, which lets them fill in loads of introspective words which are easily translated.
That said if you look at some of the documentaries on things like the early Ghibli film translations (I believe there's been a book published recently on this topic) then in that market it wasn't just translation they were after. Many big Hollywood producers were up for rebuilding entire stories. Essentially getting the images, reordering some events and telling an entirely different story with the same animation work. This is often cited as being done due to cultural differences and this does happen from time to time, however often as not cultural differences are a lesser beast compared to "marketing research" whereby the firm uses studies and theories to create stories that they think will sell without any nod to the original work.