“Leveling Up” Presentation PDF

Thank you to all the attendees who came to my “Leveling Up” presentation at IJET-27! You were a great audience, and I loved hearing your comments afterward. As promised, here is the PDF of my PowerPoint slides.

If you attended and you have suggestions for how I could improve the session, please feel free to comment or drop me a line.

If you weren’t able to make it to this weekend’s IJET in Sendai, you can catch the Level 2 version of this presentation at ATA57 in San Francisco. The specific examples will still be in Japanese, but I’ll be presenting in English, and about 80% of the content will apply to practitioners in all language pairs. The ATA version be 15 minutes shorter, but I promise I’ll try not to talk any faster. ^_~

“Pictures and Sound” Presentation Slides

As many of you know, last month, I gave a presentation at the 55th annual American Translators Association conference called “Pictures and Sound: Translating Television and Other Audiovisual Media.”

After the presentation, a few attendees asked me for copies of the slides. At the time I replied that I had no plans to release them, due to the fact that they contained video clips which I had copyright concerns about distributing.

However, I’ve now decided to release a PDF version of the slides, so that no video will be distributed but you can still see some of my notes, including parts of the presentation that I did not have time to get to. Just click here: ATA55prezi.

This is my work, so please do not distribute this PDF, but feel free to give anyone who might be interested the link to this blog post.

Thank you to all who attended the session, and especially to those who’ve reached out to me since then to share your thoughts about it! When I heard from two people that it was their favorite presentation of the conference, it made my year. :)

Pictures and Sound: Audiovisual Terminology

Click to learn more about the ATA Annual Conference!

Tomorrow November 8th, I’ll be presenting my first-ever American Translators Association conference session. If you’ve ever wondered what translating audiovisual content is all about, come join me for session T-10: “Pictures and Sound: Translating Television and Other Audiovisual Media” from 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

So that attendees don’t have to give themselves hand cramps scribbling down new vocab or carry around yet another sheet of paper, I want to make a short list of the medium-specific terminology I use here. Please enjoy!

  • Dubbing/ADR吹き替え – Recording over a source for which audio has already been recorded, but is unusable or in another language.
  • Recording – アフレコ – Though the Japanese comes from “after recording,” this is recording voices for the first time to a video source (think cartoons in their original language).
  • Lip flaps (or “flaps” for short) – 口パク – The movements of the characters’ mouths onscreen. This term is mainly for animated video.
  • Subtitles – 字幕 (**Caution: サブタイトル in Japanese often refers to an episode title in a TV series or the secondary title/”sub-title” of a work.)
  • Script/screenplay – 台本/脚本 – We’ll be talking lots more about this in the presentation!
  • Dialogue/lines – 台詞
  • Licensor – English term for the rights holder of the TV or film. Licensors license distribution rights to other companies.
  • Licensee/distributor – The entity to which the licensor grants rights to distribute the film.

I look forward to meeting many of you. And if you translate from Japanese, Korean, or Chinese into any other language, don’t forget to bring your business cards!

Recommendations: Anime on Sale

Yoinking a great idea from the Fandom Post: Why not recommend some DVDs/Blu-rays that are on sale right now, so you can discover new things on the cheap?

Right Stuf, one of my favorite online retailers due to their friendly customer service, is having a 40% off sale until May 19th on DVDs and Blu-rays from FUNimation. (Full disclosure: that’s the company I work for. But there are great titles from other companies, too, so I’ll post those recs as I find out about sales. Also, please note: the content of this post represents my personal opinions, and in no way represents any statements or opinions of FUNimation’s.)

So, here are some 40%-off recommendations from various genres: Continue Reading →

New Simulcast: Ping Pong

©Taiyou Matsumoto, Shogakukan / PingPong The Animation Committee. Licensed by FUNimation® Productions, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

©Taiyou Matsumoto, Shogakukan / PingPong The Animation Committee.
Licensed by FUNimation® Productions, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Well, I’m a little late posting it this time, but yep, I’m doing another simulcast this season: Ping Pong the Animation.

It’s based on the 1990s manga Ping Pong, which was popular enough to get a live-action movie you may have seen (I’ve read the manga in Japanese, but I’m waiting to watch the movie’s English-language release until I’m done with the TV show, to avoid accidentally copying it). Like many sports anime, it’s a coming-of-age story about high school boys, but it’s got some intriguing differences as well.

First and foremost, the art style. It’s an unusual one: stylized rather than realistic, but not in the overly pretty way you so often see, and not in the cartoony way either. It’s simultaneously colorful and washed-out. And above all, it fits the original story more perfectly than I could have dreamed. The manga has a very sketch-like, rough quality that’s hard to maintain the feel of in animation. This really works, and at the same time its unreal components lend themselves well to the “hero” daydreams the main character has. It’s not a style I’ve liked much elsewhere, but I’m enjoying it a lot here.

The part that’s great except for how rough it is on me: it is really hard-core about its sport. Two episodes have aired so far, and both of them required me to learn a lot in a short time… which has been especially challenging in the case of table tennis, because to my surprise, there is evidently no Japanese<>English table tennis glossary in existence. ;_; So, you guessed it, I am having to learn the game in two languages and then try to figure out what corresponds to what, plus what’s unique in each language and doesn’t correspond to anything. After the relaxing Nobunagun, this is a far more difficult project. (If any of you are table tennis experts, let me know!)

Episodes 1 & 2 are up now at the FUNimation site, and Episode 1 is up on Hulu’s Ping Pong the Animation page. If you’re a paid member of funimation.com, you can watch each week’s episode subtitled day and date with the Japanese broadcast. If not, you can watch the episodes for free starting one week after that. These one-week delayed episodes are free to watch both on FUNimation and Hulu’s sites.

FAQ #2: What About Scripts?

Time for a couple more frequently asked questions! Two that I get often are about scripts for the anime shows/films that I translate.

When you do an anime do they send you a script or do they send you the episode?

The short answer to this one is “yes.” Or rather, yes, the licensor sends the video (hopefully final!), and if it’s available, they will send the script. However, scripts are not always available, so I have certainly translated episodes without scripts before.

I have heard of script-only translations, but I’ve never been asked to do one and I don’t believe in them.

Do you translate from the script or from the video?

Best practice is to translate from the video, using the script for reference. Wondering why? If you’ve ever read a screenplay for your favorite movie, you may have noticed that it didn’t quite match the movie you saw. What the audience sees is the final movie, and your job is to convey the final movie to the audience, not to convey a script that may or may not match.

Hope that makes sense!

New simulcast: Nobunagun (FUNimation version)

© Masato Hisa/ EARTH STAR ENT./"Nobunagun Committee" Licensed by FUNimation® Productions, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

© Masato Hisa/ EARTH STAR ENT./”Nobunagun Committee”
Licensed by FUNimation® Productions, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

A new year, a new anime season, a new simulcast. Just started my new show, Nobunagun.

If you’re thinking, “That sounds like it’s probably about Oda Nobunaga’s soul being turned into a semiautomatic machine gun”… yep, that’s pretty much right! But wait, there’s more: it’s also about Oda Nobunaga teaming up with Gandhi and Jack the Ripper to save planet Earth. No joke.

I’m finding it restful after some recent intense projects—it’s nice to kick back and do a little zaniness for a change.

Episode 1 is up now at http://www.funimation.com/shows/nobunagun/anime, with launches on third-party vendor sites to follow. (Note: FUNimation’s version is different from Crunchyroll’s version, so you’ll get a version by a different translator on that site. If you watch via third-party vendors like Hulu, iTunes, etc., those will carry the FUNimation version.)

Life Dreams (Translator-Goggles Edition)

I expected my next post to be about ATA 54 from a freelancer’s perspective, but a recent Intralingo post spotlighting literary translator Peter McCambridge sent me in another direction.

Mr. McCambridge, a Canadian translator, mentions a specific moment with a specific book—Bestiaire by Eric Dupont—where “as soon as I put it down, all I wanted to do with my life was translate it.”

Reading that, I felt such a jolt of recognition. Yes, that’s what the world looks like through Translator Goggles! You may not even realize you’ve put on the goggles, but from that moment on, an almost visceral urge to translate certain works you’ve experienced is inevitable. You see a work of art through those goggles, and you realize you’re seeing what you need to be doing. It’s happened to me a few times over the last 15 or so years, but perhaps the very first life dream the goggles gave me was a dream I knew deep down could never come true.

…Until it sort of did.

Continue Reading →

The Nameless Terror


When is a personal name more terrifying than a word? I’m sure most teachers taking attendance on the first day of school have stories about name-terror… and so do translators, sometimes. For a Japanese-English translator, the terror can go beyond a simple “How do I pronounce this?” to “How do I spell this in the Latin alphabet? Because I have three equally valid guesses that are spelled absolutely nothing like each other.”

That’s right: in languages that share alphabets, names are (allegedly) easy to “translate” because you simply copy and paste. Your name is your name is your name. But put it into another alphabet–like Japanese, in which the same sounds have different characters and the same characters have different sounds–and it all goes downhill fast.

“What’s this name written here?”
“I don’t know; I don’t know that guy.”
“But I thought you could read Japanese.”
“Oh, I can read it; I just don’t know what it is. I can give you a guess, if you want.”
“Should I ask a Japanese person?”
“Sure; they’ll give you a guess too.”

So you would think that the easiest thing I translate would be staff lists, because they’re just people’s names. Instead, they’re difficult and rarely satisfying, because you want everyone to be credited correctly with their actual (romanized) name, but unless you’ve met the person or they have their own website or you can find someone who knows them, there’s just no way to be sure. You see, when you fill out paperwork in Japan, next to your name there’s always a space for “how to pronounce your name.” This is because two people could have the same Japanese character as their names, yet the names could sound completely different: 真 could be “Shin” or “Makoto.” They don’t even share the same number of syllables, let alone any sounds! So it’s a language where you have to routinely tell other people how to read your name.

Sometimes an anime licensor or business client will be able to check each name on the list and let you know if anything is incorrect. But other times, they’ll be able to look it over, but there might be people on the list who worked out of house and are not available anymore, and nobody is actually sure. So it’s just you and your best strategies… and when all else fails, your best guesses.

These days I give all my clients this disclaimer:

Since not all translation companies deal with Japanese regularly, my policy is to always advise my clients that on a legal document, you will need to confirm the name spellings with your client before considering the product final. Name spelling confirmation on other documents is also advisable. Japanese names are written using Japanese characters, and English spellings for the “same names” in Japanese can vary wildly based on individual preference (example: “Kosuke” vs. “Kousuke”). In addition, wildly different names can be spelled the same way, giving the entire name an unknown status (example: the given name 昌 could be either “Akira” or “Sho”).

Otherwise, what do you do with names in other alphabets? A few approaches I use:

1. Google the name to see if the person happens to have their own website or blog, and if so, whether their name is spelled out there in your alphabet or at least given a pronunciation.

2. See if the person has an account on a social media site like Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter, and ditto. (Warning! There are always many accounts for different people who happen to have the same name, so in this technique you have to make sure it’s really and truly the person you want.)

3. If you know or can discover a company the person works for, check the company’s website to see if their name appears.

But sometimes, it will sadly come down to “This is my best guess based on statistical averages.” We always want to do right by everyone on that list, but it’s just not always possible.

And then there’s birth certificates, where making a mistake or bad guess is NOT a good thing! You better bet every client gets this disclaimer when I do a birth certificate!

The Curse of the Unfunny Joke

“Children always know when company is in the living room—they can hear their mother laughing at their father’s jokes.”  —Source unknown1

One of the questions I get the most as a TV translator is, “Isn’t it hard to translate the jokes?” What they mean is, “Isn’t it hard to translate the jokes so that they’re still funny?”

And it is hard sometimes, of course. Humor doesn’t always translate across cultural lines or language lines. But over the course of my career, I’ve built up a system for myself to handle wordplay and such–I even made it one of the topics of my Translation Tricks panel at Anime Central this year, which I actually think was the topic the audience got the most engaged in. So although each case is different, and sometimes you do hit an impossible one, at least I’ve got a bag of tricks that I can try on a joke to try to carry the funny over. Most of the time it works out.

What are really difficult, at least for me, are the jokes that aren’t funny. Something you never think about until you actually become a translator: how do you translate a bad joke? A joke that’s sort of funny, but mostly lame? A joke that’s actually designed to fall flat? It’s incredibly challenging to walk that line between “this is a joke that tried to be funny and failed” and “this is a joke that is genuinely funny.” Because if the joke isn’t funny in the source language, but my translation is funny, to one degree or another my translation has failed. And if the whole point of the joke is its unfunniness, then I’ve failed completely.

So okay, then: the translation shouldn’t be funny. But in that case, how do I get across to the audience that the non-funny dialogue I just wrote is a joke? Somehow I have to encode a “should have been funny but wasn’t” signal into the dialogue without actually producing funniness. I have a few vague theories, but I’m still not quite satisfied with any of them. Often I second-guess myself: Will the audience really get that joke if it’s not funny? Will they think it was a funny joke that got translated unfunnily? Will they even be able to tell it’s a joke at all?

It’s times like this that make me realize how lucky I am to have grown up in a sporadically funny family. My father and many relatives on his side of the family seem to embrace the philosophy of “Tell all the jokes as they occur to you, just in case.” A joke never had to be a good joke to get told by my dad or my uncle. Funny jokes are the best, of course. Ideally the joke should be funny… but if it’s discernibly a joke, then funny or not, you might as well tell it. And often they got equal pleasure out of the horrible ones, and even tricked me through some sort of osmosis into doing the same. My mother and her siblings tell their own jokes, of course, but they don’t seem to take the same primal glee out of it, and they seem to value funniness as an essential component of joking. Even as a young child, it was pretty easy to discern the stupid jokes from the clever ones by whether or not Mom would laugh.

Now, as an adult, I’ve come to respect that sometimes the stupid jokes take their own brand of cleverness!

1Fun fact: in Japanese there’s a term specifically for jokes somebody’s dad would tell: oyaji gyagu, or “Dad joke.” It’s that particular brand of joke that only your dad or other men your dad’s age tell, but which they seem to universally love. My personal theory is that when you become a dad, you activate a special part of your brain that produces that specific flavor of humor. But even if you’re not a dad, if you’re like me, some small part of you secretly enjoys it.