– Discussions with people in the
Japanese media localization industry –
Can you tell us about yourself?
Hi! I’m your friendly neighborhood translator, Molly. Sorry you haven’t seen me for a minute. I’m still alive, I’ve just been on deadline. :(
I have seventeen pound cat named Saya, who I rescued from a local shelter five and a half years ago. I’m a Sagittarius, and born in the year of the rat. I speak four languages (two fluently, two dormant).
How did you get into localization?
Honestly as a child I always had a huge issue with language and communication. I grew up in a polyglot/academic family, so my mom encouraged me a lot and was generally very patient with everything when it came to language learning.
Because Japanese wasn’t an option high school and I already knew Spanish, I decided to go with French as my second language option. In my final French 3 class, our final project was translating The Little Prince completely from scratch. If we looked at the English edition we’d be failed for the whole year. I managed to get an A+ on it, and that’s when I figured out I wanted to go into localization. But I wanted to do it with Japanese, not French. And from there I planned the rest of my schooling.
Luckily my school during my time abroad (International Christian University) had a fantastic translation sub-department and very strong psycho/neurolinguistics program as well, and that definitely helped me learn!
What did you wish you knew before becoming an established translator?
Just how terrible our conditions are, for one. Between sometimes brutal deadlines and pay as little as 1y per character… I was not really prepared for that. I’d heard rumors, and I was there through the Great Tokyopop Crash of 2008 as it happened in real time. But I wasn’t aware of how systemic these issues are, and how very pervasive they are. It was a minor shock, honestly.
What’s been the biggest challenge establishing yourself as a translator?
These can be completely arbitrary, and because there’s no industry standard as what constitutes a “fail” or a “pass” for work purposes, it can be so absolutely gutting to see the results. While I understand why they are there, I do feel that if your applicant has enough of a body of work to show that yes, they have been doing this a suitable amount of time, I don’t really see the point of them. Especially if you have checkers.
However! I do understand companies with novel/light novel properties wanting to make sure if someone who’s only done manga is suitable for a project. But in that case, they absolutely need to give feedback in the case of a failing grade to help that person grow. That shouldn’t take much time to do give, either. So everyone would benefit, in the end!
Also, 2008 in general. I graduated right as both the economy and the J-E localization industry fell apart, so I was hit doubly hard by that in terms of finding work. I took a very nontraditional path to get here, but in the end, I ultimately made it. It just took a lot more work than it would have now, I think.
What does it mean to be neurodivergent?
It means that you understand systems work, because you are one of the few that can see outside of themselves on a day to day basis. We are an integral part of society that is constantly overlooked, and I wish more people would utilize us for work like that.
Of course, the other side of that is just as painful: because you see and understand how things work, you see the flaws, and you can be driven crazy by seeing pervasive issues within systems’ structures that aren’t being fixed.
It also means you are constantly learning how to “behave” in polite society, and it is exhausting. You are constantly told you are broken in accordant with neurotypical standards, and you are reeducated. It’s very all stick and no carrot, and while it’s definitely gotten better in recent years, we still have a long way to go towards treating neurodivergent people with just as much respect as neurotypical people.
Wonderland (Seven Seas) translated by Molly Rabbitt
How does this impact your work?
Because I’ve seen a decent enough amount of how this industry works, it can be hard working on a project where you don’t feel appreciated, when you’re aware that you are disposable and can be changed out for someone else. I’ve seen the pervasive systemic issues plaguing this industry, and it’s frustrating when you know that you don’t have enough power to start implementing real change to make access open and fairer for all involved.
In terms of in actual work? I would say sometimes subtext is hard, because neurodivergent people, for the most part, aren’t too good with that. It’s something we have to learn, not something that we’re born with, and it can be really hard to adapt things that way. I’m constantly learning how weak I am in that area, and while that’s good in that in helps me learn and grow, it injures my ego in the process pretty badly. Japanese is a language where subtext can be hard to figure out even if you’re neurotypical, so that absolutely can compound the issue.
On the positive side of things, while it helps me grow, it also helps me find flaws within the system that I want to help fix one day. If I help make things better, it means whoever comes after me won’t suffer as much, and will have a healthier work-life balance. I want to help nurture new talent, and in order to do that, I must know what needs to be fixed.
What do you enjoy working on most?
I enjoy working on new areas of localization that I haven’t yet encountered, like games or now, light novels.
Learning new things! I want to learn subtitling in the future, and ultimately, I would love to move more into production and licensing so I can actively be part of the process that helps decide and advocate for whatever gets to be brought over.
As an interpreter I’ve also worked with some amazing people in the past, and I love doing that! While for me interpreting is very energy and spoon-consuming, I’m really happy that I’m able to be the voice of some amazing people doing great work in the industry, too.
What have you been most proud of?
I am proud of how two of my manga projects forced me to hit the ground running with regards to how deadlines are paced, and in terms of the huge amount of research I’ve done for both.
I’m proud of the fact that I’m actively trying to develop different tools in my toolbox; like right now, I’m working on descriptions in light novels! I’m weaker in those than I am with dialogue for sure, and I definitely want to get better at that. It’s hard on my ego but it’s been very worth it so far.
Is there something you worked hard on that you think no one noticed?
Only my games that I’ve worked on, and only because they’re under NDA. It would be Super Nice and Cool if we could stop abusing NDAs to bind and silence people who work on those properties. Especially if those properties are infinitely delayed or just are never released.
I do understand the needs for NDAs! But I also do absolutely feel that they are being abused at the moment within localization and development as a gag. It’s ridiculous.
What do you think people don’t know about localization that you wish would?
BANGING POTS AND PANS.
LITERAL TRANSLATIONS ARE NOT GOOD TRANSLATIONS.
THAT’S NOT THE WAY THAT WORKS.
ALSO OUR EDITORS HAVE THE FINAL SAY IN WHATEVER WE SUBMIT SO IF YOU DON’T LIKE A TRANSLATION.
Those are all things I wish people knew and understood.
Also, the final thing is this (and please excuse the pun): every translation is an interpretation. No two people have the same translation for something, and that’s the beauty of it. That’s what I love the most about my job, is how much I can learn from others just by looking their translations of the same things. I wish more people appreciated that.
Also, I hope one day we can set up programs for fledgling translators or translators still in school. I want to help develop new talent, because we badly need it. I hope I can help out with that one day. Open access! We’re stronger together than we are apart.
If you could do anything what would you love to do or try out?
I’d love to try subtitling, and perhaps move into non-creative work as well. As I said before, I’d also love to work more directly with licensing and production, and I might have a few irons in the fire with regard to that where I can make that a reality soon.
I also want to do more interpretation work, and branch out into more medical stuff too maybe. Public health as a field definitely has an allure to it, and I’ve been considering branching out into that field as well.
I also tried my hand at teaching this summer at UCSB, and I had a blast. While I’m not into it enough to get post-grad education in teaching, I still love developing intensives for students. I’m currently trying to develop one for next summer!
Ultimately I want to go to grad school, and do more education. I hope I can one day!
Is there anyone or anything you draw inspiration from?
Everyone else I work with is working just as hard, if not harder, than I am. I appreciate them so much, and I am very inspired by them.
My friends in the industry really inspire me, and I am further inspired by how I’ve found such a good group of people. Also, I feel very blessed by that and that alone some days can keep me going if it’s a Bad Day. We’re all in this together, and it’s important to remember that.
What is your vision for the future of localization?
Everyone is paid fairly. Can make a living doing localization alone. Is hired on directly. Everyone is working together, helping each other learn and grow. We have a union and will not be demonized for it. We are happy and healthy and thriving.
I also want more universities and colleges to talk about the process of translation and localization. I want that information, as well as linguistic learning, to be more available directly, instead of behind locked doors and walled gardens. And I want to help make that information available to the best of my ability. I hope I can do that, and help people learn and grow. I hope I can make some of the changes that so badly need to be made both within this industry and the world at large.
You Can Find Molly Rabbitt here!
linkedin: Molly Rabbitt