– Discussions with people in the Japanese media localization industry –
Can you tell us about yourself?
My name is Nova Skipper, and I’ve been a professional Japanese to English translator for four years now. I’ve been a fan of anime, manga, and video games for most of my life! Currently, I’ve localized several mobile otome games, and I’ve translated a few manga as well.
When I’m not translating, you’ll find me busy with some craft or another. Drawing, painting, sculpting, knitting, crocheting, composing, plamodelling, pixel art, quilling… If I’ve run across it in a story, you can bet I’ll probably adopt it! Same goes for books and any new subjects I’m learning. (That’s one of my favorite things about translating: being exposed to new and interesting ideas!)
How did you get into translation?
It was always my dream to work on video games, and someday make my own!
Growing up, I was told I couldn’t get into the video game industry without being in Japan, so I decided to learn Japanese! …Which I did by combing through import manga bought at an Asian grocery store with nothing but a paper dictionary in hand. Those were dark days!
After college (where I rounded out my self-taught Japanese with some classes) I dabbled in hobbyist translations for a time. I got my start in professional translation thanks to a recommendation from a translator friend of mine who knew I loved otome games.
What led you to translating otome games?
As for my specialization, I really didn’t think I’d end up translating romance games!
I love history though, so the more classically-styled isekai romance games (think “Vision of Escaflowne” or “Fushigi Yuugi“) were a perfect fit for me!
And the humor? I’m told my sense for comedy is innate.
Is there anything you’ve particularly struggled with as a freelance translator?
This is one I’m still struggling with, but we contract translators have to make our own hours, right?
My brain translated that into “I should be working every hour of every day, from the moment I wake up to the moment I fall asleep, seven days a week!” …Surprisingly, working yourself that hard doesn’t actually improve productivity! You might get a few more lines in, but they’re not going to be your best lines.
You have to take care of yourself. You’re both your most precious resource and your best ally.
Speaking of allies, sound-boarding translations with friends and family is a good thing! It’s altogether possible you’ll lose your sense for what sounds natural when you spend all day working in a second language!
What are some pre-assumptions about translation that changes after becoming a translator?
My deepest darkest secret is that I used to be one of those people who would complain about official translations and how they ALWAYS had to change things! Grr! …Boy, have I changed my tune.
Not to say we professional translators take gleeful pleasure in localizing things! But there’s a certain sense of responsibility that kicked in when I became a professional. I imagine it’s a bit like being a parent.
You’re running around trying to balance the author’s intent, communicate relationships between character solely through dialogue, make it readable, balance the impact of two different cultures on the work, visualize how different audiences in different countries will read the story, and of course, find out if all of that will even fit in the text box! (Answer: It never does!)
What’s been the biggest challenge establishing yourself as a translator?
I get anxious being thrust into social situations, and I’m not always comfy reaching out to people, but independent translators need to do that to get jobs. (I still don’t have a website!)
The other hurdle is, of course, imposter syndrome.
The first game I was lead translator for ending up becoming a big hit, but I was still looking at (rather I was looking FOR) any and all criticism, and I was giving it more weight than the praise. When you only listen to the criticism it can increase stress, make you doubt yourself, and make translation painful. (I do much better work when I’m not in pain!)
What have you been most proud of?
Probably my growth as a writer.
It’s easy to look at translators as the person in the hypothetical Chinese Room (who simply produces language output through a formula), but our experiences and our knowledge absolutely influence our translations. We can’t help it. So in order to provide the best translation I can, I study my source and my target language daily. I also read a lot!
It’s a little sad to go back to your earliest translations and groan at what your younger self wrote, but the flip-side of that comes when you write something really good. There are times when I’ve looked at something I translated that I haven’t seen a few months, and I’m blown away. “…I wrote that?” It’s a powerful, emotional moment; to be so deeply affected AND be the person who caused that effect.
Is there something you worked hard on that you think no one noticed?
I’ve gotten permission to work discarded planning material back into the finished translation; I’ve corrected history stuff in certain stories; and I’ve narratively tied up loose story ends that didn’t always get resolved at the end of games. When those changes aren’t pointed out, I tend to believe that’s because they were implemented so seamlessly. And that makes me happy! Though I like it when fans who are aware of the changes are pleased with them too!
Particularly, in otome games, the romance requires a lot of rewriting to make it appropriate (and sexy) for different cultures. So really, making changes as invisible as possible is in my job description!
What do you think people don’t know about in translation that you wish would?
John Dryden wrote on the topic of translation…
“…that what was beautiful in the Greek or Latin (…) would not appear so shining in the English.“
The debate of how literal is too literal and how much localization is too much is one I expect to continue for some time.
But all translators have translated things literally at some point in their lives! So when a professional translator localizes something, they’re coming at it from a place of experience; they know the benefits and disadvantages of both a highly literal and a very loose adaptation. (And sometimes, it’s just company policy as to how literal or how localized a work is.)
If you could do anything what would you love to do or try out?
Romance games are wonderful, but I’d love to work on a big, sweeping, military-fantasy story!
I grew up adoring books like Glen Cook’s “The Black Company,” and I’ve always wanted to translate something like that. (I’d love to help bring “Venus & Braves” to English one day! It’s quite old now, but thanks to various digital distribution platforms, there’s always a chance…!)
As far as otome games go, it’s a dream of mine to work with Koei and Ruby Party on their “Harukanaru Toki no Naka de” series (known in the West as “Haruka: Beyond the Stream of Time.“) Those were the games that got me into otome and Japanese history in the first place!
And I still dream of writing my own game, one day!
Is there anyone or anything you draw inspiration from?
My wonderful and loving family is a constant source of creativity and support for me. (Thanks, Mom! Sorry it’s not an Academy Award speech like I promised.)
Also, my friend who got me into professional translation in the first place is the same person who encouraged me to stretch my writing wings, and I wouldn’t be half the translator I am without her!
You can find Nova here!