Matt’s Under-qualified General Opinions and Thoughts on Translation

Omg I can add alt text to these I'm gonna have so much fun with this

Yo weebs, it’s me Matt. I’m the nerd who translated like 5% of Angel Beats 1st Beat (The Noda, Hinata, Fujimaki, and Ooyama map meetings, plus the Hisako mini-arc to be specific), as well as aaaaallll of Miazora Fine Days. So what that means is I have little authority on this subject, but I’m going to talk about it anyway because I love it. Also, who cares. I exist free of the shackles of this reality.

Anyway, I think a lot of skepticism about “liberal” translations comes from misunderstanding what that “liberal” means and overall distrust with translators. People associate “localization” with “meddling,” and that’s just not how things work, so I wanted to give my unwarranted opinion on this dead horse.

With that in mind, maybe I should start with what I think translation actually is. Well first, let’s define what it’s not: Word mapping. Many people, including myself in the past, believe translation to be like solving an equation where you plug in the variables to get the solution. It’s not. It’s more akin to copying a painting with a different selection of colors. Sometimes you can get clever and mix things into just the right color you need, many times you can’t and you have to approximate as best you can. Above all, though, your goal is to create a beautiful work. You wouldn’t just toss red where brown is now, would you? Dang, no green to mix? Well throw a bit of yellow in there and go with orange. Hell, maybe even a new color altogether. Whatever you need to do to make it look pretty while respecting the original.

Now what you’re left with is not an inferior work, but an adapted version that perhaps others with a different perception of colors might now be able to appreciate. Sure, there are colors you may be missing if you’re unable to perceive the original, but that is why you prioritize making it beautiful in and of itself. Otherwise, you’re robbing that someone of an experience, a story, they otherwise could have enjoyed.

Okay, stupid allegories aside, what all this means is translation is not mathematical. Translating every single “yoroshiku” as “please treat me kindly,” frankly, isn’t gonna cut it. That sounds odd in English, doesn’t it? Well “yoroshiku” does not sound odd to native Japanese speakers, so well what you’ve done now is altered the work. Not literally, but subtextually. What this needs is a dash of creativity and, say it with me now, C O N T E X T. The same goes for just about any stock phrase in Japanese. Basically, you really just shouldn’t assume ANY word in Japanese maps to any one English word.

Now if you really wanna get fancy, start reading between the lines. Seriously understand the text, try and find the themes or messages it’s trying to say, find the symbolism, the metaphor, the words you see repeated often, and remember this as you write. This is how, I believe, a great translation comes about.

Let me reiterate once more with feeling, I’m a novice in the biz here, so I’m willing to bet my understanding of translation is going to change, but this is what I’m striving towards in my improvement. KEY is a developer that loves their literary devices and I want to bring you guys the best that Summer Pockets has to offer, so I’ll be damned if I won’t do my best to bring it all in its entirety. There’s so much to dig into and experience. I’m hyped for you guys to read Reflection Blue and I’m very proud of the work I’ve done so far, so look forward to it.

Maybe I’ll get into more specific topics in later posts, but those are my general thoughts on the kinda work I do, so for now that’s all from me.

–Matt

7 thoughts on “Matt’s Under-qualified General Opinions and Thoughts on Translation

  1. PapaT says:

    Very interesting read. It’s definitely always been a hot topic in our small and niche community. You may consider yourself a novice, but i can tell you’re very passionate about what you’re talking about, and that is, to me, the best trait you could have in translations, and really anything in life.

    If you don’t mind me asking, since you mentioned you’re very proud of the work you did in Summer Pockets, how do you feel about the work you did in Miazora Fine Days? Obviously anyone who’s interested will find out in a few days on the 16th, but i was curious to hear a few more thoughts, if you had any.

    • Matt
      Matt says:

      I’m actually very glad you asked that, because I thought about talking about it, but didn’t want things to get off track too much. Though first let me clarify that the work on Summer Pockets I refer to is for Reflection Blue, not the original. Anyway, Fine Days was my very first real project of substance. I finished my Angel Beats work very quickly, so I consider that more of a trial run, than anything. As such, Fine Days is a lot of experimenting. It’s a lot of me finding what works, finding the balance between readability and accuracy. I hold that project very dear for those reasons, but there are many things I would do differently if I were to translate it now. It is work I’m proud of, for sure, but I’m constantly improving and Reflection Blue is kind of a playground for what I learned from Fine Days.

      • PapaT says:

        I’m glad i asked then ahah.
        It honestly brings a smile to my face seeing talk about your work like this, and of course i would imagine translating is something that really does improve with experience first and foremost.
        I’ll very interested in checking it out when it releases, that’s for sure.
        Keep that passion up, friend.

  2. Hopeful says:

    It’s always nice to see someone writing about what they love doing, so go ham, I guess.

    Your essay kinda reminds me about recent events; to be fair, as long as translators stay away from the two cardinal sins of Injecting Their Own Politics Into The Work (like Fata Morgana’s “male fragility” nonsense) and Including References To Current Events That Aren’t Already There (Kaguya’s “social distancing ” “joke”), everything else should be relatively okay.

    Things like translating “God Slash” into “Omnislash” and changing Pokemon’s EV boosting items into Vitamins are examples where liberties were taken well.

  3. MD. Nafiul Haque says:

    How do you translate? Can you please briefly describe the process? (I really don’t understand how it is done)

    • Matt
      Matt says:

      Very good question. One which, I’m sure, has different answers depending on who you ask (and one you’re bound to see expanded on in future blog posts). To give a super basic run down though: The very first step is understanding the Japanese. Again, this doesn’t mean mapping. It means understanding the Japanese as it stands, disconnected from English. What is the concept or feeling being conveyed? The next main step is “simply” conveying that same thing in English, writing it. Translation is just as much a test of your writing ability as it is a test of your language ability. Maybe more so. Without a doubt, most of the time it takes for me to translate is not spent deciphering meaning (though this does happen still), but figuring out how to properly get it across in English. The steps in between these two likely vary by person. Some people write a literal translation then edit it into natural English. Personally, I picture myself in scenarios. When a “yoroshiku” is giving me trouble, I imagine myself in this scene as an English speaker and ask myself what I would say. Sometimes I like to day dream and imagine a VA reading my lines. But that’s just me! Also, lots of dictionary usage and google. Looooots of google. Research is another important aspect of it, but that’s a topic for a whole blog post.

    • Ojive
      Ojive says:

      Not Matt but the other Alka TL, so I figured I’d drop in as well on this one! Pretty much what Matt said, but as far as the mechanical how-to of translation goes, the basic process for me is:

      -Play the game in Japanese, if I have time
      -Wait for the team techies to figure out how to drag the scripts out of the game files in an at least semi-readable state
      -Pull up the game on the left, the current script file I’m working on in notepad++ on the right, and a dictionary/browser window for reference lookup in the middle
      -Run through the file line by line, clicking through the game as I go to make sure I pick up on any voice acting/sound effects/musical cues that could influence how I’d choose to render each line
      -Spend endless hours crunching away at it until it’s done

      This can vary a good bit from project to project of course; Angel Beats’s progression was such a nightmare I couldn’t actually have the scene up in-game for context at least a good 20% of the time or so, and I didn’t do any pre-reading for my work on the Alka/Pocket routes in the original SP (don’t worry, will be re-reading and heavily editing them for the RB release)

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