– Discussions with people in the
Japanese media localization industry –
Tell us about yourself!
I’m Jenny McKeon, a Japanese to English translator of manga and light novels!
I have a BA in Japanese and Linguistics from UMass Amherst, and have been a full-time freelance translator for three years now.
I mostly specialize in comedy, slice-of-life, and romance, but I enjoy working in other genres too (my light novel projects include fantasy and sci-fi).
How did you start translating manga?
I’ve been a nerd since childhood, and I always loved learning languages, so naturally I was interested in manga, anime, and video game localization. After I studied Japanese in college, though, I had no idea how to go about getting into those industries.
Eventually, I entered the Third Manga Translation Battle for Nichijou (My Ordinary Life), one of my all-time favorite series. I managed to win first place, which meant I got to translate the series! I’ve always loved puns and enjoy the challenge of coming up with a fun translation for them, so I guess you could say I found my niche…ijou. (sorry)
In the meantime, my experience on Nichijou helped me apply to other manga companies. This eventually led to doing more comedy series for Seven Seas (starting with Please Tell Me! Galko-chan and Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid—I’ve been very lucky!) And later on down the line I started working on light novels for Yen Press as well.
What did you wish you knew before becoming an established translator?
I definitely had to learn a lot about scheduling, pacing, and burnout (which I’m sure a lot of fellow translators also learned the hard way).
When you’re just starting out, it’s hard to get up the courage to ask for more time. But I think it’s better to be up-front about the time you need than to have to ask for an extension right before the deadline! (Though I’ve been guilty of that once or twice myself, and editors have been very understanding.)
And it’s so important to take days off if you can!
On a more practical note, I also wish I’d known about the program Calibre when I first started working on light novels.
A more experienced LN translator taught me how to use it to convert ebooks into searchable, copyable text, which has made my life infinitely easier.
What are you most proud of?
I’m actually very proud of my work on So I’m a Spider, So What? The narrator’s voice in Japanese is hilarious, so I have a lot of fun trying to match her off-the-wall tone in English.
And of course, I’m extremely proud that I’ve gotten to work on some of my favorite series, like Nichijou and now Blank Canvas. I hope that I’ve done them justice. I’d like to think that my love for the source material shows in my translations!
If you could do anything what would you love to do or try out?
When I’m not translating, I also draw and write comics of my own (you can see some on my website).
Writing and publishing a graphic novel is definitely high on my bucket list! Working on light novels have definitely given me the itch to work on my own prose, too.
Is there anyone or anything you draw inspiration from?
Ursula K. Le Guin has always been an inspiration to me, and I think her book Steering the Craft is a great read for any translator; especially if you’re working on light novels or interested in doing so.
Having a good command of your target language is just as important for translation as the language you’re translating from. So I try to read a wide variety of books!
What do you think people should know about translation that they possibly don’t?
Translation isn’t decoding a cypher – it’s making decisions about how best to convey the author’s intent, and every translator does so differently. In my opinion, it’s an inherently creative process, so the idea of a “one-to-one translation” is a myth.
On the flipside, translators aren’t single-handedly responsible for all of the decisions in a localized work.
The client, the publisher, the editors, even the creator – they all have a say in how things are done (especially names and titles). In spite of the fact that most of us work alone without much interaction with the rest of the team, it’s a collaborative effort.
And for me, at least, the excitement of seeing the finished product never gets old!
You can find Jenny McKeon here!
From Licensed to Translate by Jenny McKeon