The following are my answers to a recent questionnaire interview request. These are not common but we've gotten a couple of things like this over the years. I think once for a lecture at a major university, some other thesis projects like this one, and once a phone interview with a journalist who worked for NPR and the LA Times. Anyway, I've decided to make this thread public to share with any readers who might be interested.
1. What language(s) do you translate from?
My scanlation group translates primarily from Japanese, and from Chinese on occasion. 2. How/where did you learn this (/these) language(s)?
I’ve scarcely made an active attempt to learn to read Japanese or Chinese and am not literate in those languages.
I lead my scanlation group, which includes co-ordinating translators from various countries around the world. Besides managing the various staff and projects, my primary role is editing (which in scanlation means cleaning and typesetting). Being the leader of my scanlation group, I also get the final say in quality control and will edit translation scripts to some degree in the way that a publishing editor might. 3. How did you start to scanlate manga?
In the earlier 2000s, scanlation was a heavily IRC based scene where readers had to go directly to the scanlation group’s own website for updates and then the IRC channel to access releases. One of the groups I frequented was Be With You Scans, who in 2003/2004 was really getting quite a following for working on a wide range of CLAMP titles and making multiple releases a day. Having been a huge CLAMP fan, I decided to apply to join as an editor after almost a year of following them.
The reputation of the group factored into my decision to apply to Be With You Scans over other groups. I was already fluent with programs like Adobe Illustrator and Quark Xpress, and thought this would be a great way to indulge in my love for the fandom and practice with Adobe Photoshop at the same time.
A year later, I became the “Head Editor” of the group, and four years later in 2008 I took over as the leader. 4. How long have you scanlated?
Since 2004. I ran away from Be With You Scans for a year in 2006, I think mostly because I wasn’t honest about the fact that I really didn’t want to work on a few particular chapters. I just kept dreading and avoiding it. But I’ve otherwise been consistently involved in scanlation. 5. Do you have any previous experience with translation or have you ever participated in translator training?
No, I have not seriously attempted to translate anything beyond simple sound effects. 6. Have you studied (independently or otherwise) translation after starting scanlating, e.g. finding out about translation theories or strategies?
No, I am satisfied with my current level of engagement with scanlation and am not interested in learning to read the Japanese language beyond what I have to. That said, our newest translator has really been trying to push me to be proactive and learn more. 7. In case of a translation problem, like a culturally specific word or a proverb, what would you most likely choose to do?
a) Nothing – leave the word/proverb in the text in Japanese.b) Leave the word/proverb in the text in Japanese and explain its meaning in a translator’s note.
c) Delete the word/proverb from the text altogether.d) Try to find out the closest existing equivalent for the word/proverb in English.
e) Make up a new word/proverb for it in English.
f) Something else, what?
It’s a fine line between b) and d) and I try to walk the line. It really is situational and dependant on the title you’re working on though. For instance one of the projects we work on, March Comes in Like a Lion, regularly makes cultural references (sometimes behavioural) that are outside of the norm of things even frequent manga readers would be aware of. Because of that setting, I've tended to use "translator's notes" a lot with that series. If I were working on Victorian Romance Emma, set in England where the author is clearly striving for authenticity and realism to the setting, the d) methodology would probably be more appropriate. 8. What are some of the biggest difficulties in translation or the major translation problems for you?
The greatest difficulty is when the translators are good but not communicative or unreasonably stubborn and not honest with themselves—the ones that go MIA or don’t voice their frustration with a co-worker or a project, because that will always come back to bite you. If a translator is incompetent, that’s an easy problem to solve. You just end the relationship with them. 9. What kind of qualities or skills should a translator have in your opinion?
Common sense, good Google-fu, and willingness to reach out to the rest of the staff. 10. Can you name any rules of thumb a translator should follow in your opinion?
8thsin from gg fansubs says it best in his Fan Translation Guide http://8ths.in/?p=5157 11. What kind of a translation is a good translation in your opinion?
Yevgeny Yevtushenko once said that a translation is like a woman—she is either beautiful, or she is faithful. Well, I’m rooting for the average girl who has a beauty to her and is sufficiently faithful. 12. Do you feel that the dual role of a fan and a translator are in conflict, or do you feel that they support one another?
I don’t think you can have staying power in scanlation if you are not a fan first and foremost. If your primary reason is to learn and practice Japanese, you may have a few years when you are very productive at best, but I’ve been involved in scanlation for nearly a decade and I think you have to love scanlating on a personal level to stay committed and motivated consistently over time. From what I’ve seen, those who scanlate for ego, notoriety, or to feel needed for their generosity (like some kind of anime/manga philanthropist) all burn out eventually. There are a lot of those three types out there though.
While it encourages me to see people reading my work and responding to it, I think I would find adequate personal satisfaction from scanlating even if there were no internet distribution or accreditation. I love making stuff that I love. 13. What has scanlation taught you about translation?
Over the years I slowly realised the importance of script editing in the publishing sense. The flow of the writing is really valuable, and the meaning of the words is more important than the definitions of the words. But in the normal module of scanlation, this step is non-existant. Fan translators tend to translate more literally, then the proofreader confirms the accuracy of the translation (though this step is often omitted altogether), and quality control typically just combs through for grammar and typos. The quality of the writing itself is barely examined, and I think it can have a tremendous if more subtle impact in the reading experience. Have you ever been in a bookstore and compared the various editions of The Art of War by Sun Tzu? There’s a world of a difference between some of them, it’s an especially stark example.
That said, scanlation readers are used to and tend to prefer more literal scripts than when reading official manga, so I don’t exercise this kind of editing as much as I would if I were in the industry. It’s also hard to do that kind of editing without dialogue with the original author. 14. What kind of feedback do you get from the readers?
It depends on the time and project. In the heyday of our scanlation of Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles (2003-2005) reader-scanlator interaction was hyperactive and the IRC channel was hundreds strong, but the whole infrastructure of the fandom was different then. It was a major title from major authors and there was not yet competition from modern speed scanners. The divide between female/fujoshi-oriented scanlation and general/male-oriented scanlation was not visible whereas now they are largely segregated from one another. Manga Updates was an infant freshly spun off from Baka Updates, file lockers like Rapidshare or Megaupload (R.I.P.) had yet to be widely heard of, and the idea of online readers would have been unfathomable.
Today we still get particularly great feedback from people who read our releases of March Comes in Like a Lion. It’s not the big shiny numbers like Tsubasa in 2005 by any means, but it's not that kind of manga, and we’re a more mature group as well. Just the fact that in 2012 there are still people who come to our website and IRC channel at all, and some of them even take the time to say “I love this manga” or “Thanks” when they could have been totally detached and cut off from us and read it on whichever online reader is in fad right now, that is really heartening for us. Even those who only silently come into the channel to download it from the bot and leave, I’m just happy I can still get to be in the same space as the reader where we can see each other online and direct communication is possible.