Manga translation is an interesting job. It involves a lot of creativity as you create discourse which reflects the individual characters in the appropriate setting.
One great example of this is YenPress’ publication of the popular manga Black Butler. Set in a slightly fantastical Victorian-era London with aristocratic characters. The original Japanese is pretty much standard Japanese for the characters. The butler, Sebastian, uses keigo and the protagonists, Ciel, uses very standard Japanese. But the YenPress version has them using very flowery British language to reflect the time and setting. And it works great! Adding to the atmosphere of the story.
Manga are unique in that they’re books with a lot of dialogue but they can go on for many, many, many volumes. Sometimes 10 or 12 books, sometimes over 100! If a manga is being translated early on, the next volume may not be released for several months! That’s a lot of language and terms and style a manga translator needs to keep track of over a long time.
The most similar medium to manga I can think of are video games. But video games are different in that translators will have the source Japanese on their computer. Video games are massive and most are translated through computer aided translation tools (CAT tools). These already have built in termbases and translation memories (TMs) to keep terms standardized through a text and between translators.
But manga is often translated by freelancers, by themselves. Not every manga translator keeps a termbase though. Some don’t even think about it. Then 6 months later, when they get the new volume, they have to waste a lot of time looking over previous volumes to find out how they translated one particular term.
So here are some tips and tricks to making a termbase for manga translation.
How To Build a Termbase for Manga Translation
As I mentioned termbases can be incredibly easy and simple to make, but incredibly useful.
The basic termbase will consist of the source text (Japanese) and target text (English).
My basic termbase for manga consists of Japanese, the Japanese reading of kanji, English and notes. Then the same on different tabs for character names and SFX.
But each manga translation is different and as a result each termbase. So when needed I will add an extra column.
Such as my translation for Little Devils where there was additional information for each character within the manga. This meant I had an additional column for the additional information in Japanese and it’s English translation.
Terms in the Termbase
Although tempting to do otherwise, it’s actually best to keep the terms you enter completely neutral. Both in Japanese and English.
For example, instead of entering 「根絶しよう」 just enter 「根絶」. The same as the English translation, to “exterminate” rather than “let’s exterminate” or “extermination”.
This is because it makes it easier to search for terms later on. Either using ctrl.F to Find a term. Or ordering the column by alphabetical order.
This is the same for particles! You don’t need to include particles in the Japanese.
Saying that it’s fine to enter set phrases. For example, one character in one manga kept saying 「お言葉ですが」 . This was entered into the database along with a note for when it was used. (These are called “complex terms”, where single words are known as “simple terms”.)
Also, it’s important to make a separate term if there is a similar term in English or Japanese, or if there is an acronym.
Such as in the below example where the Japanese 根絶 and 殲滅 can both mean “exterminate/eradicate”. Another example is the word “goal” which could mean 目的、ゴール, etc. depending on the context. Which is why it’s important to have separate entries for terms which may have the same word but different translation (because the concept is different!).
Notes are fantastic to remind your future self of something important. Especially in SFX.
I find that for each manga the SFX will be slightly different. Sometimes more onomatopoeic sounds suit the manga better, other times words that describe actions. But in each one there are SFX that come up again and again. Either because the mangaka really likes the sound, or because it’s associated with a particular character.
And often something really simple might come up again in the future. As a general rule if you think “should I put this in my termbase?” then yes, you should. Most often these will include:
- Proper nouns – character, place, object names etc.
- SFX – even alternatives of the same SFX with notes of their use is incredibly useful!
- Odd words – ones that are hard to read or particular to that particular setting. (I.e sci-fi or sports terms)
- References – if there is a reference to something obscure in JP culture and you translated it a certain way having a note of that somewhere may be useful in the future.
I’m not saying to enter every single word you come across. But words or set phrases which are particular to this manga, or that you thing future you would appreciate knowing about.
Termbase Formatting Tips and Tricks
The most useful tip someone’s ever given me is the “Format as Table” button in Excel.
It’s incredibly useful for a termbase. Not only because it automatically formats the rows but also creates an arrow to sort each column. If you add any additional information the program automatically includes them into the formatting of the previous rows! (This may sound very simple to many people but this was a life saver for me.)
Spell check!!! Make sure you check your spelling for your termbase! In the future you may try to find a term, see it’s not there, then re-enter the term because you spelled it wrong!
Check alphabetical order! If your termbase has gotten really big it helps to order it by alphabetical order. That way you can quickly check if you have already entered a term or not.
Speaking of, using the find tool is probably a little self-explanatory but it’s good to remind yourself to do a quick search before entering a new term.
Termbases are super simple and super easy to create as you work! They can save so much time down the road as well!
All you have to do it:
- Identify source terms.
- Extract identified terms.
- Find target equivalent (English translation).
- Record/maintain result in database.
Create a termbase with all the information that’s useful to you. And keep notes to remind yourself why you made a certain translation choice.
You’d be surprised at how quickly the information can build up and how useful it will be down the road!
Bonus: Make sure you backup and keep track of all your previously translated scripts and termbases. If need to look back at a previous translation, or your computer crashes and you get a new one, having it all backed up can be a lifesaver.