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Interview with the Visual Novel Translator

March 3rd, 2010, by zalas
Posted in Interviews

We had a nice chat with one of the vampiresvisual novel translators from MangaGamer. In this interview, he details the translation process at MangaGamer and provides advice for budding translators. He also drops some hints along the way about possible future MangaGamer game releases. We’d like to thank him for his time in this fairly long interview.

Q: For the benefit of our readers, could you please introduce yourself and talk about your role at MangaGamer?

A: Certainly. My name is John, though most will probably recognize me by online name, either Kouryuu or Kouryuu9 depending on the location. I work with MangaGamer primarily as a translator, but I also provide consulting and editing, as well as maintaining a public presence through the Staff Blog and on the forums. So far the projects I’ve worked on are Soul Link, Edelweiss Eiden Fantasia, and Kira Kira Curtain Call. I was also responsible for rewriting the Catalog Entries for our older games when I first started working with the company (so all the Catalog Entries for the games which were released prior to Shuffle, Shuffle, and the games I’ve personally worked on).

Q: How did you get interested in working for MangaGamer and how did you manage to land a job with them?

A: I actually found out about MangaGamer when I was searching for a job shortly after graduation. Before I looked at MangaGamer I had put in my application with several other game companies and the government, but I never heard any word from any of them—a problem that a lot of my fellow graduates are still experiencing. When I found MangaGamer’s website, it was shortly before Otakon 2009, and they were looking for people to help them run the booth. I then volunteered to help, so me and several of my friends worked the booth at Otakon. It was a lot of fun for us, and really gave us a different feel to attending conventions, right when we were starting to grow a little bored with them. As we were working the booth, there were big huge banners for Shuffle behind us, so I realized they had a connection with Navel. That’s why I broached the topic of working with the company to the boss who was working the booth with us. I told him about how I had already done a lot of work towards translating Soul Link as it was, and that opened the discussion between us. The conversation was held in Japanese, of course. So after the convention I was hired to work on Soul Link, and between suggestions I made and other translation projects they decided to give me, my responsibilities just expanded from there.

Q: What format are the scripts that you get for translation? Are they plain text, text with control codes, or do you use a special program to edit the scripts?

A: So far, the format is generally a Word 2003 document. I’ve worked on a few minor bits here and there which were in a Notepad text document, but I usually transferred those to Word when I worked on them. The scripts typically come with a variety of simple command lines like “FadeAllBustshots( 200, FALSE );” which would be interpreted by the program, as well as simple commands like “//” indicating a line commented out, or a similar two-character command to indicate line breaks, or click-for-text breaks.

Soul Link was an exception to this, however. Since I had previously started working on Soul Link as a fan-translation, I continued to use the tool provided by zalas, which had no ability to spell-check.

Q: Ooh, I feel the burn ;) Yeah, I’m too lazy to implement user interface niceties which is why I’m turning away from using that tool anymore. Anyway, going back to the method, it is surprising that this tool was still used. Did the programmers complain about having to work with an external tool/file format when inserting the text?

A: As a matter of fact, I sent them a sample of the .ns1 that your program produced, and they said the programmer could work with it. Since he had no problems with it, they told me to just keep sending them in that format for the game.

Q: What is something you do during translation that you would’ve never thought you would need to do until you started actually translating?

A: I think the one thing I do most often that I never thought I would ever do, would be cross-referencing words. Before I actually started translating, I never thought I would look up a word in more than one dictionary, but in fact it’s quite common that I’ll look up a word in each one of the three dictionaries I use. I used to think—or should I say trust?—that a dictionary would know how a word should be translated, but that’s not the case at all. They never give you an incorrect answer, but each dictionary will also give you a different set of words that overlap with each other to varying degrees. By referencing a word in multiple sources, I can get a much clearer image of what a word is supposed to mean, the different meanings it can convey, as well as suggestions for how to convey that same image in English.

Q: For the typical game translation project, how many people touch the script and what are their roles? (e.g. translator -> rewriter -> editor -> proofreader)

A: For a typical project at MangaGamer, our boss sends the translator(s) the script files and a copy of the game. Once a translator finishes a script file, the file is sent off to our editor for review and edits, and then it gets sent off to the proofreader. Once the script is deemed complete, it gets sent to the programmer who codes the new script into the game.

The process has been slightly different for each game though. For the ones I’ve worked on so far, I was the sole translator working on the project. When I finish a script, it’s sent to the editor who checks and proofreads it, and then the changes he makes are generally sent back to me for a final review before it’s sent off to the programmer. This lets us catch each other’s mistakes as well as check whether or not something was done intentionally.

A lot of our older games were translated by a group of Japanese translators who were contracted to work on the scripts in tandem, with each one in charge of a different group of story routes. Unfortunately, a lot of these older translations did not go through as many passes or people as the scripts do now.

In the case of Koihime Musou, the script has gone through the translator, editor, proofreader, and I’ll be giving it one final editing pass before our release of it, so I certainly hope it sells well enough to reflect the extra work we’ve put into it.

After I finish work on Koihime Musou, I’ll be editing work done by a few new translators for a game by Circus. If their work on this new game proves to be good enough, then we may be keeping them. We might also be picking up a new editor as well.

Q: Are you allowed to tell us what this new game is? I heard D.C. IF was dropped due to exhorbitant royalties, so is this Da Capo II, AR, or something else?

A: Yes, Da Capo I.F. was dropped for now, but the new game is one in the Da Capo series. As for which one, I’ll let that be a surprise for later.

Q: Approximately how many lines do you have to translate for a full game?

A: Ha-ha, I’ve never actually counted the lines in any game I translated since the thought of how many pages they were was already daunting enough. To give an example though, Kira Kira Curtain Call amounts to approximately 805 pages at Comic Sans 10.5 font.

Q: When you first get assigned to a game, what do you do to prepare yourself for the translation?

A: If I’m simply given a couple pages to look over, I usually don’t do anything special. If I’m assigned to the full game though, I usually play through the game first before I start translating. With Edelweiss Eiden Fantasia and Kira Kira Curtain Call, I played through our original English Release as well so I would have an idea of terms, themes, and ideas that were likely to be shared between the two and would need to be kept unified.

Q: What external resources do you use in your translations?

A: Most of my external resources are various dictionaries. I often use WWWJDIC as a quick reference, and I also use Kenkyusha’s New Japanese-English Dictionary 5th edition as a dictionary and for cross-reference. I also use Nintendo DS’s Kanji Sono Mama Rakubiki Jiten as an additional dictionary, but mostly to look up the Japanese definition of words. I also use Wikipedia as a reference for things that require more than a simple dictionary and also as a means to determine whether a word like “zazen” or “unadon” is acceptable as a transliterated term and easily referenced if it is. Lastly, I’ll often use dictionary.com to double check the word I want to use in a sentence, and thesaurus.com to try and fish out a better word than the ones I have in mind.

Q: Approximately how fast do you translate and is your work for MangaGamer your only job?

A: Yes, MangaGamer is my only job. I can usually finish about 20-30 pages, depending on how much code-line is interspersed, in an 8 hour work day in which translation is all I handle.

Q: What did you feel was the most important thing you did before working as a translator that prepared you for the job?

A: Aside from the obvious work of Majoring in Japanese at college where I studied the language, history, linguistics, and literature of the Japanese, and the practice I got translating Vifam as a fan-translator, I would say the most important thing that helped me was studying abroad in Japan. Not only did my year abroad drastically help improve my understanding of Japanese, but the immersion really helped me develop a deeper understanding of both cultures. I got to see the places that often come up in the material I translate, hear how the nuances and flow of their speech differed from ours as well as their own written style, and experience what certain behaviors are supposed to mean and suggest.

Q: If you could give one piece of advice with regards to translation technique, what would it be?

A: My one piece of advice would be to make sure you understand the material you’re going to translate. If it’s a legal document, medical report, or crime report, then you need to understand that so you can use the proper terminology and make it sound like one. If it’s a piece of comedy or a joke, then you need to understand the joke and what makes it funny in order to localize it properly. Phoenix Wright would not have been as enjoyable as it is if the translators didn’t understand the wordplay comedy that makes the game so enjoyable and produced a good localization of the jokes. Likewise, when translating any work of fiction, it’s important to understand the themes of the work, the underlying and overlapping ideas, as well as the terms that repeat and have a later impact or a unique meaning to the story. Without that understanding, it’s hard to create a translation that will accurately convey those same things.

Q: Is there a particular direction that you want MangaGamer to go in?

A: Ever since I started working for MangaGamer, I’ve been pushing the need for us to improve the quality of our translations, and changes are finally starting to be made, so I’m quite excited. My hope is that our sales will greatly improve to reflect this as well. As it stands, they’re nowhere near as high as we wish they’d be. If our sales could reach those goals, it would be much easier for us to license some of the games that are out of our reach right now.

That said, I also wish less people would pirate our games. For a multi-million-dollar console game developer, a few hundred or a thousand copies lost isn’t very significant, but for a small company like ours, every single loss hurts. As it stands, our best seller, Shuffle, has still only sold half the copies we’d like it to, and our next best sellers, Da Capo, Higurashi, and Kira Kira, have sold even less. People have asked us about whether or not we would ever publish hard copy print-runs, but the fact of the matter is that those are impossible if we can’t anticipate sales equating our current goal.

Q: If you could get MangaGamer to license any game, what would it be?

A: Company-wise, and considering the companies we already have arrangements with, I would love to see us start making enough sales so that we could license games like Da Capo I.F. and more importantly, Mai-HiME. These are all games that I think would have great response, but the costs are too high for us if we can’t anticipate a certain level of success.

Personally speaking, I would love to see an arrangement with Xuse. For all I still haven’t finished it, Seinarukana is one of my favorite games so far, and I’ve thought about how I would translate it more than once. It would also be a great honor to have a chance to work on Saihate no Ima, one of Tanaka Romeo’s scenarios. The company also has a wide variety of games that I think would be welcomed by fans of every different genre.

My second personal choice would be Leaf/Aquaplus, though I only really like their catalog of RPG games and Comic Party.

Q: I suppose the super short game developed by CIRCUS that came with a volume of Welcome to the NHK would also be out of the question due to royalties?

A: For now, yes. However, if we can start making enough sales to where we can work out the arrangements necessary with Sunrise to license Circus’s Mai-HiME game, then I don’t see why we couldn’t work something out for Welcome to the NHK’s game. The demand for it would certainly have to be present before we began, though.

Q: Is there anything else that you would like to tell us?

A: We recently met with some of the companies to discuss the next titles coming out in our lineup, and I’m certainly looking forward to them. We have a few more sex-romps from Nexton that are already in the lineup, but we’re also likely to get an Ojou-sama game that the folks at BaseSon developed prior to working on Koihime Musou. We’ll also be getting another game from Overdrive, but not until they actually finish development.

Lastly, the companies we’ve been working with have been talking to a certain other company, and they seem quite interested in working with us. We haven’t started anything official with them yet, but I certainly hope that all goes well.

Q: Ah, so it’s a possibility that MangaGamer’ll get Harukoi Otome ~Otome no Ryou de Gokigenyou~. The premise of the game is pretty funny, and I guess it’s a way to get a main character into a situation with tons of girls. And I guess your other statement indicates that Dear Drops is a possibility in the future as well.

A: Yeah, I’m hoping Harukoi proves to be a lot of fun to work on too. As for Dear Drops, yes that one’s almost certain. What with Kira Kira, Kira Kira Curtain Call, and Dear Drops as well, I’m beginning to wonder if Overdrive hasn’t jumped on the whole music bandwagon that’s been sweeping the states since Rock Band, ha-ha.

Q: Oh, and that last “certain other company” in your previous response sounds fascinating. Any hints you are allowed to drop on this?

A:Let’s just say I’d never want to eat their jam or their bread.


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  1. Pirkaf Says:
    March 4th, 2010 at 12:38 am

    I hope that some people wake up after reading this interview and start buying Mangagamer games instead of complaining about the quality of translation, the absence of physical copies and whatever the hell they can come up with. And Deardrops is certainly an awesome news!

  2. Fragrant Says:
    March 4th, 2010 at 1:34 am

    I am filled with fear at the possibility that the works of Key are to be tarnished by MangaGamer. Here’s hoping that their translation policies become acceptable should that situation arise.

  3. Aaeru Says:
    March 4th, 2010 at 1:50 am

    this is a really nice interview. super big props to John from mangagamer.com for such nice, well thought out answers.

  4. Interview with encubed « MangaGamer Staff Blog Says:
    March 4th, 2010 at 3:51 am

    [...] been, here’s your answer! I was interviewed by zalas from encubed. You can find the interview here at his website. Feel free to leave your comments and discussion [...]

  5. Pirkaf Says:
    March 4th, 2010 at 4:24 am

    Fragrant: Yes, this is exactly what I was talking about. You probably didn’t even read the article. And Key is out of Mangagamer’s scope anyway.

  6. Interview of Kouryuu from MangaGamer by Encubed « Cgland Says:
    March 4th, 2010 at 4:40 am

    [...] Here for the Interview [...]

  7. Shavelle Says:
    March 4th, 2010 at 8:52 am

    Pirkaf: Of course he read the article, including the part that hints towards Key.

    As for MangaGamer’s translation quality, their newer releases have vastly improved in quality. Now the main problem is in whether the fans turned off by their rocky start will give them a second chance.

  8. Omochikaeri Says:
    March 5th, 2010 at 3:19 pm

    The main effect this article had on me was making me annoyed that my Welcome to the NHK came with no game.

    That and, surprise that they aren’t using some kind of dedicated translation tool.

  9. MangaGamer Might License KEY Games « Opphiucus Says:
    March 6th, 2010 at 6:47 am

    [...] Delicious sauce [...]

  10. Ex Says:
    March 7th, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    If they don’t want people to pirate their games, they need to lower their prices. Who’s going to pay full retail for a ddl game when piracy is the exact same product for free?

  11. TenguSan Says:
    March 8th, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    Well, at least that have come a LONG way since the Edelweiss disaster when it comes to translation quality and grammar editing.

    That game still gives me nightmares ><;

  12. LoSs Says:
    March 9th, 2010 at 2:22 am

    1) Lower the prices
    2) Improve the translation quality

  13. Blick Winkel Says:
    March 10th, 2010 at 7:54 am

    3) Provide packaged versions, at double the price if needed

  14. Arraxis Says:
    March 10th, 2010 at 9:37 pm

    I must admit that while Higurashi no Naku Koro ni wasn’t up to the quality of the Sonozaki translation, it isn’t like it was horrible. Plus, this is actually out, unlike the fan translation. Yes, I would like it if the game were cheaper and lacked the spelling errors, but I’m just thankful that this was translated at all. As for the Mai-HiME game, I would definitely buy that – love the anime :D.

  15. CGLand » Interview of Kouryuu from MangaGamer by Encubed Says:
    July 19th, 2010 at 9:47 pm

    [...] Here for the Interview [...]

  16. CAPTURE 2010 – A look into the full breadth of the fan translation community | Visual Novel Aer Says:
    September 19th, 2010 at 1:45 am

    [...] 6th April, 2010 Kouryuu (http://novelnews.net/2010/03/03/interview-with-the-visual-novel-translator/) 3rd March, [...]

  17. Grtrudenskalala Says:
    June 29th, 2011 at 11:18 am

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    С уважением ваш друг Назар

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