The Necessity and Role of Comic Localization

Comic Localization Requires a Depth of Understanding and Sense

January 19, 2015

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Comics/manga and anime are part of the "Japan pop culture" that Japan projects to the world. This has served to establish the "cool Japan" image and has drawn the eager eyes of the world to Japan.

With the latest digitalization trend, they are beginning to expand overseas, such as translated comics being made available to the world online. However, many of the original works were created with a Japanese readership in mind. Consequently, translating them requires some adjustment so that the target language readers can also enjoy them.

What is "Localization"?

Localization means translating a work produced for a particular country in such a way that it can be understood in other countries. Whether it be manga or product manuals, much of the content is based on the cultural background of the country in which it was written. "Localization" is processing these in such a way as to be relevant to the customs and cultural background of each country or region, rather than simply translating them.

For example, suppose the line, "nama-mugi, nama-gome, nama-tamago!" appeared in a comic. A literal translation of this would be, "raw wheat, raw rice, raw egg!" An appropriate localization would be to use the English tongue twister, "She sells sea shells by the seashore."

The Comic Translation Process (for Japanese to English Translations)

There are three main processes for translating Japanese comics into English.

1. Translation by a translator selected based on content, etc.

2. Proof checking to see if the source text has been translated correctly

3. Localization for readers in the target country (North America, United Kingdom, Australia, etc.)

The final form of the target text is achieved through these three processes. For example, if the translation is done by a Japanese translator, the English would tend to be unnatural, so a native English speaker takes charge of the proof checking and localization. Conversely, if the translation is done by a native English speaker, some of the meanings may be mixed up, so it is vital to have it checked by a Japanese proofreader. Continued careful and conscientious work in this manner is a mainstay for Japanese pop culture.

Comic Localization Comes Down to a Depth of Understanding and Sense

Comics often feature casual spoken language and abbreviations, as well as puns, popular buzzwords of the day and expressions peculiar to the characters that appear in them. Japanese comics also make use of onomatopoeic and mimetic words. As a result, localization requires a depth of understanding that goes beyond translation. The "shuwa-shuwa", "chiri-chiri" and "juwā" sounds made by sodium carbonate in Japanese all translate simply to "fizz" in English. While this is a natural and useful style of expression to the Japanese, care must be taken when translating it. Another important point is the sense of the text - providing the target text with the appropriate subtle nuances that make the comic funny. An important factor in making the most suitable word selections is conveying not only the linguistic sense, but also the sense of humor.

Localization Undergirds Japan's Pop Culture

Localization is a chance to show how well original shades of meaning in character lines, names, etc., as well as the ambient feeling of the source text can be reflected in a translated work. Let's keep focusing on expanding Japanese pop culture overseas, led by good localization!

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