And now, a follow-up post on what we were talking about yesterday. I realized that, while we've talked about the dangers of over-literal translation about a million times, we haven't ever really discussed the dangers of over-liberal translation. I think we assumed it was a given, after all the fan outcry about Negima! and stuff. We also heard that TokyoPop got a lot of flack for their adaptations of Battle Royale, and blah blah blah, it goes on.
I think there are two things that, if we were forced to choose literal or liberal translation, make it difficult for us to go ahead and choose liberal. First, we've seen some adaptations of our manga (and other manga, like Negima!) where the writers took the whole "liberal" thing too far. Second, we know of at least one translator who seems to think that it's impossible to translate Japanese humor, as if nothing that's funny to a Japanese person could ever be funny to an English speaker.
It really does all come down to humor. Ken Akamatsu mentioned in a Love Hina interview that it's easy to fall into the trap of wanting to use a joke or story element so badly that you disregard the fact that the characters would never, ever do that. I think it's even easier for translators and adapters to fall into this trap, because their connections to the characters aren't as deep as the original creator's.
Let's take DN Angel volume one for example. There's a scene where one twin tells her sister, basically, "I know we're twins, but that doesn't mean our notes are the same. Stop taking my notebook." We will take some of the blame for this, because we first translated it when we were less experienced, so I think what we had was, "Don't think you can take my notebook just because you're my twin." I still don't think that's so bad, or that it misses too much of the nuance, but--and we might have fixed this before it got to print--the adapter had it as, "You're so dumb I can't believe you're my twin. Don't take my notebook."
When we saw that, it was hard to swallow on many levels--as translators, as purists, as lovers of the characters, and as twins. It's true the twins in DN Angel don't always get along, but Riku is not that mean. For the most part, they do get along, and if anyone's going to be mean, it would probably be Risa first (although Riku might say something out of exasperation), and it would be something about Riku's fashion sense or the lack thereof. Plus, it completely loses the nuance of the whole "twins getting mixed up all the time and not being sure if the people around them can recognize that they're not the same person" thing. As the series goes on, you learn this is a big concern of Riku's, which is why DN Angel is another good example of why it's a good idea to keep Japanese titles.
Anyway, another reason it's risky to be too liberal with translations is foreshadowing, and the fact that you have to keep a lot of information in your head in order to stay consistent. If you make up new stuff, you have even more information to keep in your head, because you have to compare it to the original stuff.
Here's another DN Angel example. In the very first chapter, Daisuke talks about how depressed he is that his love confession didn't work out, because he's never really liked himself, and that was supposed to be the first step to his transformation (into someone he likes better). The word "transformation" is key, because later, he literally transforms into someone else. Maybe something like "the first step to a new me" or something would be okay if you really don't like that transformation word. We also may have been able to fix this one before it went to print (there were a few things that got fixed; we don't remember what they were, it was eight years ago), but the adapter took out the word transformation. It's possible that "new me" was in there and we were being extra picky back then, in which case, our apologies to the adapter.
This is what I was talking about with "keeping information in your head." After changing that line, the adapter would have gone on to read what happens, and learned that there was a literal transformation. If she had kept the information in her head, a little bell could have gone off saying, "Oh hey, there was that 'transformation' word back there. Maybe that really was important after all, and I should go check to make sure everything works out." That happens to us while we're translating all the time. "Oooohhh, that's what that meant. We should go back and make sure it adds up." But we've seen a lot of times where it seemed like a translator or adapter didn't make the connection.
(Not exactly the same thing, but an example along those same lines is when, in Negima!, someone tells Evangeline that she needs to stop throwing a tantrum or she'll "reopen her wounds," when the wounds in question were bruises and broken ribs.)
Okay, now my train of thought is completely derailed, but I think we've covered the important parts. Except for character voice. When you tell a translator or adapter they can be as liberal as they want, you tend to get different characters in the English version than you found in the Japanese version. Find an ADV dub directed by Stephen Foster and compare it to the subtitled version and you'll see exactly what we mean. (Saiyuki, School Ghost Stories...we know he also worked on Angelic Layer, but we haven't checked out the dub on that one.) Alternatively, compare the first Del Rey Negima! translations to the omnibus. The differences are probably pretty subtle, but it should be fairly evident in how Ayaka talks.
...That should do it. Of course feel free to ask questions if we didn't make enough sense.
Today I'm thankful for dark chocolate Fudge Stripe cookies, getting another visit from the neighbor's cat, the butter landing mostly in the lid of the butter dish (as opposed to the floor, when the neighbor's cat knocked it all over), Kodansha letting us adapt our own translations, and it being time to eat chocolate.