June 30th, 2011

mondainai

Sound effects revisited

We emailed the guy who asked us to write a column for Comics Bulletin and said that we're not confident that we can come up with new and original things to write, but we'd be happy to do a guest column or something if there are questions people want answered. Come to think of it, that same guy lived in Japan himself, so if there are any questions, he'd probably want to answer them himself, unless they're specifically about titles we translated. Anyway, we haven't heard back from him, but we don't know if we will.

So in the meantime, I guess I can talk about what I was planning to talk about yesterday, and if they convince us to write a column anyway, we can just recycle. The topic is sound effects. It's true we've talked about sound effects before, but we recently read something about translating sound effects in manga that had never occurred to us before. Some translators translate all the dialogue, and then go through and translate all the sound effects.

Well, that explains the one format one of our clients asked us to use. Actually, what happened was we had just started working for them and we said, "Is there a specific format you'd like us to use?" and they said, "We like this one," so we copied it. It was unusual to us, because it had all the dialogue, and then all the sound effects and signs and stuff. We'd always been used to translating the sound effects and signs as we go, so it would sometimes cause some trouble, because we'd finish all the dialogue on a page, and then we'd forget to go through and do the sound effects. (It was especially a problem when the last line of dialogue caused us to stop and look things up.)

The reason the other translators gave for translating the sound effects last is that it takes them out of the story when they have to stop and figure out what something sounds like (I would like to argue here that they know what it sounds like (it's right there in katakana), but they have to figure out how to "translate" it), so they end up with choppy dialogue. That makes sense if that's what works for them, but here's why it doesn't work for us.

First of all, not only are sound effects just as much a part of the story as the dialogue, sometimes the sound effect is exactly what moves the story along. For example, we recently translated a scene where a character started to say something, but stopped suddenly, and the next line wasn't cutting them off. Not only that, but the next line has nothing to do with what she started to say. So when we read through the scene again (without looking at the pictures (and therefore the sound effects) as we went), we were a little confused, until we remembered, "Oh yeah, she starts snoring. She's asleep."

Second, if we have to stop and look up a word or a phrase, that's just as likely to take us out of the story as stopping to figure out how to English-ify a sound effect. We do sometimes get hung up on sound effects, but more often than not, we get hung up on long sentences that we have to rearrange to make sense, or an idiom that we're unfamiliar with. Or worst of all, something that makes perfect sense in Japanese and yet is nigh impossible to render into natural-sounding English.

Finally, since we've learned the value of rereading an entire script before turning it in, having the sound effects after all the dialogue takes us out of the story even more. It's like, when we're translating something from Hana to Yume, and there's a cute little comic strip by Higuchi-sensei telling of her exploits in Tokyo in an attempt to find resources to help her draw elementary school children, it interrupts the flow of the story and takes up space. By the time we're done checking to make sure everything sounds good in that cute little comic, we forgot what was happening in the story, so we have to scroll up and down real quick to make sure the dialogue flows. With this format that happens (though to a lesser extent, of course) on every single page. ...Okay, not every page; some of them actually don't have any sound effects. But anyway, often it's just enough of a disruption that we're out of the story groove.

Maybe it wouldn't be a problem if we went and checked all the dialogue and then did all the sound effects, but that seems even less efficient somehow. Anyway, it's not really that big of a problem, or we would have complained about it long ago. I think it was just especially challenging with this last translation, because there was a lot of fighting, and therefore a lot of sound effects. And besides, we don't hate it nearly as much as we hated TokyoPop's format.

Today I'm thankful for getting a bit of a day off, being all caught up on Tiger & Bunny (only problem being now we only get one episode a week), Mom calling to make sure we're not starving, having plans to go shopping (and to Gamestop, but not for us) tomorrow, and still having the miniature Twix pack we got at the 99 Cents Only Store.