Saturday, January 06, 2007

Manga and Scanlation

There’s been a lot of positive feedback on Dygo Tosa’s translation of “Snowfall” from Kazuhiro Fujita’s Ushio to Tora Gaiden. Several folks have written in to tell us more about scanlation, in which amateur translators "dub" the scanned pages of a manga with new text; the product is distributed by the same file-sharing techniques employed by music fans to download illicit tracks.

Manga publishers are not meeting the market demand for translation; fans who’d like to get their hands on a particular title are forced either to learn Korean or Japanese or turn to underground sources whose reproduction of source texts is illegal under current copyright statutes. The language barrier discourages Asian publishers from printing English-language editions; yet surely they can’t be content to watch their copyright be disregarded by eager scanlators! Readers with legal perspective are invited to share their two cents on this dynamic literary situation.

Mr. Caxton – an online persona of veteran manga translator Toren Smith – argues in his blog The Dead Zone that scanslation is not a benign form of reader enthusiasm:
I know from talking to many folks in the industry that scanslations DO have a negative effect. Many books that are on the tipping point will never be legally published because of scanslations. This is not only unfair to the honest fans, it is robbery from the very creators the otaku profess to love.

And yes, the neo-otaku (my neologism for the new generation of entitlement-minded and puritanistic manga and anime fans) have mutated into a truly awful bunch of people, which is part of the reason I dropped out of the biz. Why work twelve hours a day, seven days a week for such an audience?
Scanlation ProcedureAlthough they scanlate at their own risk, this fan community is thriving and well-organized, with devoted Spanish-language and German counterparts. The German site Eyeshield21 uses a flow-chart to illustrate their scanlation process (translated here for the convenience of monoglot readers).

The globe-spanning technology that allows the easy interchange of foreign language literature also enables piracy. Or should we consider scanlation a new form of samizdat, being fundamentally a response to the lack of access to literature? Though of course this lack is caused not by censorship but by the laggard pace of publishers in keeping up with their web-savvy readers. As with illegal music downloading, as bandwidth increases so does the tension between publishers and consumers ready to turn to alternative sources for their favorite manga. It’s my opinion that cease-and-desist orders and the threat of lawsuits are not the right way to resolve this burgeoning conflict. After all, authors and artists should be delighted to have readers so eager for the story that they to their own scan optimization, image retouching, research and translation! Let us see.

Turn to The Comics Journal for a discussion of the scanlation phenomenon from July 2005. Blumies who want to learn more can explore tags on the subject or can visit MangaBlog for a good introduction to all things manga.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

"Snowfall": An Original Manga Translation

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"Snowfall" from Ushio and Tora Gaiden
A Manga Translation by Dygo Tosa
Original Manga (c-Japan) 1996-2003 Kazuhiro Fujita

I've spent the past two weeks translating one of my favorite mangas, "Ushio and Tora." I started reading the series back in middle school and I've loved it ever since; while the series ended years ago, I am still trying to collect all of the episodes. To my knowledge, none of the printed manga have ever been published/sold in the United States. Here, I've tried to put together points about translation and other notes so that reading the translation will both be more enjoyable and meaningful. Let me know if you have any further questions -- or even "worse" -- translation requests! My email for this project is Thanks for reading!

An Introduction to Manga
You are about to step into a dark, scary and also very cheerful world of Japanese manga, but there's always something to be gained in seeing the world through another man's (or woman's) eyes. Mangas are Japanese comics and cartoons; the different genres and characters of manga are as diverse as what you might find in the Sunday newspaper to the cult follower's comic shop. I grew up with mangas and Japanese so reading them is no difficulty for me, but it takes a lot of learning for a gaijin ("foreigner") to pick up on reading a manga to the fullest. First of all, Japanese mangas are very much like their American counterparts in that they draw upon both common and obscure references. Many translated mangas will need to either omit or explain seemingly strange facts and behaviors which would be perfectly normal for a Japanese person. One memorable scene comes from the popular children's show "Pokemon," when the Pokemon pets are chewing on onigiri riceballs. The translators adeptly called them "jelly-filled doughnuts"; a clever translation that neatly explains the red center (onigiri are filled either with salmon or pickled plum). Since Japanese culture has embraced much of American culture (and not as much of the other way around), it's difficult for me to find a good reverse analogy; perhaps American Revolutionary and Civil War references would require some level of explanation for a Japanese audience. Pokemon being an example, many Americans are more familiar with "anime" than with manga, but most if not all anime originated as manga. There are some exceptions to the rule, such as Miyazaki's feature films like Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Some differences with American comics include the fact that most manga in Japan are published as weekly collections rather than single issues. In the U.S., the imported and translated Shonen Jump Magazine is representative of a number of weekly manga publications in Japan. But like American comics, the episodes are collected by series and later published as anthologies in bookstores. More translations of manga and comics are appearing in American bookstores these days under the category of "graphic novel" which is a more correct term for the longer and more serious works. While I suggest a "try before you buy" approach (try borrowing from a friend!), since manga appeal to different tastes, if you've never read a manga series, I hope this encourages you to start.

About "Ushio and Tora"
"Ushio and Tora" by Kazuhiro Fujita is a epic series centered around an adolescent boy (about 14 years old) named Ushio who stumbles across a monster living in the storehouse basement. The monster, named Tora, happens to be a demon who had been sealed there a few hundred years ago. Did I mention Ushio lives in a temple with his dad, who's a exorcist priest? The story takes place in modern times though, and with Tora's awakening, other demons in the area start to appear and their adventures begin. Ushio must team up with Tora to protect his classmates, friends and even strangers from the paranormal. While typical of manga to be centered around high school age kids, the people they meet and the monsters they defeat are by no means ordinary. What sets "Ushio and Tora" apart from other manga is a brutal bluntness and sincerity, as well as wholesomeness, of Ushio and his allies. In the late 80's to early 90's mangas were plagued with depressing storylines and twisted perversities, and Fujita's style attempts to visually and literally destroy these perversions. The manga itself is visually R-rated for excessive violence, lots of blood and ink smears, nudity, and in translation, language.

The "Ushio and Tora Gaiden" is an epilogue written by Fujita to explain some of the untold stories in his series, exploring characters' pasts in the context of Japanese historical and literary tradition. For example, one of his tales borrows a chapter from the classical "Tale of Heike", that of the story of Tomo-e, the only female warrior remaining with the Genji warlord Yoshinaka in his final stand. I do not know from which classical story "Snowfall" was adapted but the reader should be aware it may not be entirely in keeping with the original. "Snowfall," by the way, is my own title to the story.

Opening Notes
Japanese is read top-to-bottom, right-to-left. Hence the pages in translation have been mirrored so that a reader can follow the story left-to-right as with any conventional English language comic book. I regret having whitebox lettering since it obscures some of the art, but this was easiest for me to get all the text in. Again, the following content is R-rated for graphic content and some language.

Links to pages (hosted by Photobucket):

Translated Page 01 Original
Translated Page 02 Original
Translated Page 03 Original
Translated Page 04 Original
The additional pages have been translated, but are currently unavailable pending copyright/distribution permission. I apologize for this delay.

One of the biggest challenges in bringing Japanese manga to English is translating onomatopoeias. Sounds common to Japanese readers can be alien and difficult to express in English, for example: the howling of the wind ("go!"), the murmur of the crowd ("zawa-zawa", "hiso-hiso"). In each of these cases it made more sense to write up a description rather than attempt to reproduce the sound. Explosions had to be changed; in Japanese, "don!" represents an English "bam!". And Japanese can describe footsteps ("dodododo" and "tototo") but English lettering just doesn't seem right. Even musical sounds, such as those of a lyre (which is the traditional koto for those more knowledged), I couldn't use the Japanese sounds: "jyonnn" may be closer to the actual instrument's sound, but "bing" will sound truer to the English-speaking reader for a string-based instrument. I've seen translation of Japanese Noh-genre plays that retains the phonetic spelling of the original Japanese, but for my own translation I opted for familiarity. I tried to make the manga as a comic book, since I thought that would relate best to an American reader.

Recreating the distinct voice of each character is a huge challenge in any translation. I admire Fitzgerald's Odyssey for mastering this challenge, allowing Nausicaa's pouting and gradual maturation speak as vividly about her character as does the Cyclops' bumbling care for his sheep. In my effort to carry over the unique voices of the original, the monster (who is actually Tora from the series) should have a bad-ass attitude, while Mumio retains the sincerity and wholesomeness that is found in the series' Ushio. A lot of the dialogue in the original manga is written in a slightly archaic dialect, but conveying this without caution could have laden my text with a clumsy, anachronistic tone. In several places I experimented with "thee" instead of "you" but for the most part "you" had a more correct sound without being unduly modern, and I changed them to the "you" translation.

The texts of the Japanese Buddhist religion are written in ancient Chinese, just as Christian bibles and chants are chock full of Latin. To ensure that even arcane references would be somehow accessible to my English-language reader, I have used Latin equivalents for the three spells that appear in this story. The first was the easiest; I replaced "Koku" with "Victanda," a gerundive neuter plural (for the curious, my reasons were that the neuter gender would give a sense a generalness and the gerundive is slightly substantive). The second spell, Kamo's rune, is a fictional mishmash of Chinese characters and brush strokes. Hence the Latin includes gibberish as well as some real words. The last spell, the Zodiac sign, plays on resemblance of the Chinese "gon" with the English "begone." The twelve Zodiac signs are thought to be imbued with magical powers; the character "gon" is a north-eastern direction between the sign of the bull (Ushi) and tiger (Tora). The "Ushio" and "Tora" names are probably not a coincidence!

The names have not been retained exactly by the standard of Roma-ji, that is, the conventional system for transcribing Japanese phonetics into the Roman/English alphabet. Where I use "Fuvuki," "Mumio," and "Shiba Kutime," a stricter adherence to the Roma-ji system would form "Fubuki," "Mumyou," and "Shiba Kuchime." I hope my renderings are more stylized and easier to reproduce the sound of the original. I especially thought about Mumio's, since Mum-you doesn't really sound too tough. Lady Fuvuki's name also doesn't exactly mean "snowfall" but rather "blizzard." I've compromised the exact literal meaning of the word, since in my own reading the gentle nature of the character (although she seems at times emotionally callous) would be distorted by the name "Blizzard." Mumio's name means "without light." I was tempted to change Shiba into Shiva to invoke the Hindu goddess, but decided that would be taking far too much liberty in association. Kutime means "rotten-eye." These names could be Latinized like the spells, but that's a direction that I didn't take here.

In addition to any comments you'd like to share here on Boston Translation, I invite you to send any questions and inquiries to

Some Further Links
Wikipedia reports an anime version that was released in the U.S. The overall reports are not very good, especially for excessive, unnecessary violence and I don't recommend it. I have not seen them myself, so I do not know how faithful they are to the manga. The Wikipedia article is here:
Japanese Wikipedia article on Fujita Kazuhiro:
According to the article, Fujita won the Shogakukan Manga award in 1992 for "Ushio and Tora", and later received a Seiun (Nebula) Award for the same series in 1997.
Lastly, here is a link to the Japanese publisher's profile on "Ushio and Tora" (Shonen Sunday Comics):

Again, thanks for reading!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Call for Submissions: "Translation"

Interdisciplinary Humanities Center
Translation, the new translation studies journal from the Translation Studies Research Focus Group of the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center at the University Of California, Santa Barbara, is now accepting submissions of poetry or short fiction translations into English and essays concerning literary translation. The following guidelines are taken from the journal website.
Only unpublished translations will be accepted. The journal is collaboratively run by graduate students and faculty, and welcomes translations from both new and established translators. Please email a brief bio of the translating author along with your submission to All submissions should use current MLA formatting where required.

Poetry submissions should be limited to 3 per entrant. Poetry translations may be to or from English and should be submitted along with the original text for side-by-side publication. For short fiction submissions, 7-10 pages is the preferred length. Translators should obtain necessary permissions for translating texts and will be expected to assist in obtaining permission for publication of originals in the case of poetry. As a non-profit scholarly journal, Translation does not offer payment for submissions. Submissions will be accepted no later than January 10, 2007.

Farsi Kafka and Hindi Brecht

The Goethe-Institut is Germany's state cultural institution. As part of its mission to "promote the study of German abroad and encourage international cultural exchange," GI offers grants to support the work of translators who translate German literature into other languages, a program that is only one of the reasons the Institut is a model for other nations that seek to integrate their national culture into the world community. According to the information available on the organization's website, for the nearly thirty years that the subsidy program has been active GI has sponsored the publication of nearly 4,000 books in 45 languages.

In 2006 alone, GI funded the translation 236 titles including Nietzsche in Ukrainian and Polish; Goethe in Lithuanian, Indonesian, Albanian and Croatian; Kafka in Farsi; and Brecht in Hindi. Contemporary writers are support as well, e.g. the translation of W.G. Sebald into Brazilian Portuguese and Galician, and acclaimed author Ingo Schulze into Rumanian, French, Greek, Italian and Dutch.

Translators interested in investigating this funding opportunity should be advised that the program supports book-length projects only. Information about conditions, application, and contacts can be found online.

Helpfully, the Goethe-Institut has assembled a directory of links to other grant sources for translators. Readers in the Boston area can join the GI mailing list so to be notified when the Boston branch office is hosting another of its many cultural events. Of course, not all of our readers are in Boston; luckily GI has locations all over the globe.

Is there an agency of the US government which has taken up the banner of cultural diplomacy? The clearest analogue I see -- and my knowledge of the federal bureaucracy is acutely lacking -- is the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, a unit of the Department of State, specifically the Cultural Programs Division. I invite readers with greater knowledge such programs to share what they know. Is there a Henry James Haus in Berlin? Are there government-funded Twain Institutes? It's not unlikely the US government balk at the likely criticism of its ostensibly hegemonic aspirations. The Cold War era Congress for Cultural Freedomwas arguably a very successful program, but the backlash against state intervention in the arts surely still stings. I fail to think of any credible way to be similarly suspicious of the Goethe-Institut; after considering the distasteful question of the policy being GI, I conclude that it is a politically benign effort if it is at all political.