– Discussions with people in the
Japanese media localization industry –
Can you tell us about yourself?
I’d love to! I’m Andrew, a Japanese-to-English game translator and editor originally from Portland, Oregon in the US. I’ve been bouncing around Kansai for the past few years, but am currently settled and working in Osaka, Japan.
I’ve been translating part-time since 2016, but only switched to full-time and broke into games loc a couple of years ago, so I still feel like a little baby in the scene.
How did you get into the translation industry?
I took a Japanese literature translation class in my last year of university that required me to translate an entire short story by Banana Yoshimoto for my final project. It was stressful, but I had a blast doing it.
I completely fell in love with the translation process. The way I viewed the Japanese language and my future with it sort of transformed overnight after that. Just sitting down and actually seeing a whole translation project through to completion by my own hand gave me the most unbelievable confidence boost. I wanted to do more!
This led to a conversation with a classmate who was translating manga at the time. They recommended I cold email some manga companies, so I drafted up a few emails and attached my Banana Yoshimoto translation as a sample of sorts. Like, “Hey, look, I can do the thing!” Not sure if that actually had any impact, haha, but those cold emails led to my first paid localization work ever.
I’ve done manga, tourism, tech, and advertising work since, but my holy grail, pie-in-the-sky dream was to do localization work for video games.
What led you to game localization?
And actually, my first step into the world of game loc was through this site!
I worked up the courage to reach out and connect with Kaylyn Wylie after reading your interview with them and discovering we lived in the same area at the time. We became fast friends and they were kind enough to invite me to loc events they were organizing.
I was able to meet people and make great friends locally that way. I guess this is called “networking,” but really, I just wanted to make some friends and learn from talented folks!
And I continue to learn so much from so many on a near daily basis. Everything I’ve been able to accomplish professionally since stems from kind industry folk giving me a shot, and really, happening upon this site. Thank you for all you do, Jenn!
What have been some of the biggest challenges for you?
In the beginning, I had no idea where to start. That was the hardest part.
Before ever taking that aforementioned class, I translated horror manga and bits of Japanese import games as best I could in notebooks for fun. It seemed insurmountable to get to that point of breaking into the industry.
And even once I started translating manga professionally, I had to learn on my own what companies and corporate practices were kinder than others (or rather, not evil incarnate). I worked for pennies doing work for predatory companies with wicked project turnarounds for some time, and I never even realized how messed up it was until I shared my experiences with fellow loc folk years later.
What did you wish you had done differently?
Back in university, I had an email draft saved for ages addressed to Zack Davisson (whose translations of Gegege no Kitaro and Showa I loved and still love) asking about manga translation and essentially begging him to let me be his “translation apprentice” or some similarly weird medieval concept. “Translation squire” maybe? I’m glad I never sent that email, but I wish I would’ve asked the questions at least! Not just to Zack, but to anybody.
That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned in the time since: localization folks are extremely online. I can’t speak for everyone, but I think many (myself included) are happy to field questions and help guide aspiring translators on their respective journeys. You don’t have to flounder alone in the dark, and we don’t want you to suffer the way we did!
Have there been any games in particular that have inspired you during your career?
There have been so many! Though I think the first game that really inspired me once I knew I wanted to translate, and essentially pushed me to aspire to work in game loc, was Lucia Ishii’s work on Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective.
I think that was the first time I sat back and fully appreciated the subtle nuances of characterization and style in game text. I stopped taking localization for granted.
Translated game text originally written in a language other than English became something more than just strings of words that magically plopped out of the ether to me. The text was nuanced and artistic expression crafted by a professional.
I’ve also gone back with fresh eyes to a lot of favorite titles from my younger years and can now appreciate how stellar their localizations are. Games like Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions, Katamari Damacy, and Parasite Eve are all just too good.
Silent Hill, particularly the first four entries, are a huge inspiration. Maybe the hugest. I never get tired of going back and playing those. The original Japanese scripts and the English localizations are all so methodically plotted out, and so much care is put into the weight and meaning of just about every line of dialogue and flavor text. They’re pinnacles of game writing and loc for me, from “Lisa… What’s the matter with you?” to “It’s bread.”
– Your Loc Work –
What do you enjoy working on most?
I love working on games! They’re such a thrill and a joy, even when projects are challenging for the wrong reasons (i.e. poor planning, scheduling, communication). But overall, I’ve had a positive experience on every title I’ve contributed work to.
My favorite game projects, putting genre or specific titles aside, are those where everyone on the team just clicks. The other loc folk are cool, the PMs are communicative, everything just meshes. Small wonder that work can be fun when everyone is friendly and talks with one another, I know, but still! A fun and open atmosphere really makes a project that much more enjoyable for me.
This was definitely the case with Ender Lilies, a game that released earlier this summer that I helped translate alongside my colleagues Daniel McCalla, Krystal Loh, and Kaylyn Wylie.
That was like a dream, because Daniel and Kaylyn were already good friends of mine, and I had gotten to know Daniel and Krystal while we worked together on Phantasy Star Online 2. That level of familiarity made the atmosphere really open and fun.
In the early stages of localization, Daniel, Krystal, and I had an hours-long conference call over Discord where we brainstormed ideas for world-building and lore terminology. It was a total blast!
What have you been most proud of?
I’m proud of the fact that I’m not perfect. Knowing that I’m imperfect makes me strive to better myself and my output, and I continue to learn more each day I’m in this industry.
I think it’s pretty common for translators to look back on certain selections of old work and sometimes shudder in horror at the sins their past selves wrangled into the world. I feel the same. But whenever I see a past line of mine that makes me wonder what on earth I was thinking, I get that brief moment of pause and clarity where I think, “I’m better now.”
In concrete terms of a specific project I’m really proud of, well, I definitely have one in mind. But I can’t talk about it yet! Well, okay, maybe I can drop a little hint but don’t tell any—*NDA has entered the chat*
Is there something you worked hard on that you think no one noticed?
One of my favorite things to do while working on a game is put in little flourishes (a.k.a. agonize over lines for an inordinate amount of time) where the language allows. But I kind of count on them not being found. If anyone noticed, I think I’d take that as me not doing my job effectively.
I never want to alter meaning or intent, so finding those few puns, jokes, or uses of slang in the source where an alternative take or approximation is necessary is a real treat.
There was a running gag around a character in a past project being frequently referred to as “inkya” (陰キャ), a slang truncation of “inkina kyarakuta” (陰気なキャラクター) which could refer to a gloomy loner lacking communication skills, or someone with a dark, brooding personality depending on context.
Well, neither of those fit this exact use, I found later. There was a stretch of dialogue where someone explained she was being called “inkya” because of her all-black fashion sense and penchant for pessimism, specifically tying it to the sort of moody youths that hang out in shopping centers and listen to a certain kind of melancholy music… They were calling her “emo!” I’m sure the word has had similar treatment in other works, but it was my first time seeing it used in the wild that way. It was so blatant, I could hardly believe it.
The following lines were short, standard back-and-forth bits of dialogue. I was so charged up on emo actually coming up in my translation work, though, I spent an embarrassing amount of time trying to work titles of American Football songs into what was being said. All told, I think I kept 2 or 3 of them in because they fit the meaning of what was being said perfectly in translation!
Moments like those are pure joy for me.
If you could do anything what would you love to do or try out?
Hands down: horror. I want to work on more horror games so badly. I love horror movies, graphic art, literature, games, anything spooky or creepy-crawly, I’m there for it. If all I ever worked on for the rest of my life was horror media, I’d die a happy man.
I worked on a horror game recently that I can’t talk about just yet, but it was so much fun to work in that mode for the first time in a professional capacity. I can’t wait to dive back in and do more horror work in the future!
Making a horror game someday would be so much fun too, and I have so many ideas. But I’m not a dev; I don’t know how to program and a monkey on MS Paint could probably create better assets than me. I can’t exactly Toby Fox-ify myself a new Fatal Frame.
So in the meantime I’m sort of flexing that creative muscle by giving longform horror story-telling a try via my Twitch channel and podcast Kowai High.
I would also love to try my hand at video game soundtrack composition at some point. It’s a toss-up whether or not I’d find a place in that mode, since I’m less digital and more of an analog musician, but it sure would be fun to try! I played in punk and hardcore bands for years before I decided to “grow up” and go to school, so it would be cathartic in a way to circle back and end up playing music again in the context of video games.
– Study and Inspiration –
What tools/resources do you use (or have used) to learn new things and improve your skills?
I still use workbooks and flashcards to study Japanese when I can, but in the past couple years I’ve started to try and up my Japanese reading game. Lately I’ve been doubling up by reading Otsuichi’s Shiraisan and a book about cursed spots and haunted locales in my area called Osaka Kaidan (because I apparently don’t want to sleep at night anymore).
It feels strange to call novels and story collections “tools” for study, but they’ve been working for me given the energy levels my schedule allows.
Honestly, that’s how I approach most of my studies these days: I learn and improve through studying the writing and translation work of others, be it in the form of a novel, a television show, a movie, a video game, or what have you.
I consume a lot of Japanese media in its original form and in translation to English, of course, but I also make sure to take in plenty of works originally written in English. This is an important part of translation work I think often gets overlooked: you have to regularly take in and learn from work in your native language. Knowing Japanese is important, yes, but a strong command of the target language and writing chops is a necessity for J-to-X loc work!
I also get a whole lot out of watching movies/shows in English with Japanese subtitles. Seeing how the E-to-J localizers make their choices, what they adhere to and where they stray, is a huge wealth of knowledge that I attempt to reverse engineer and use in my own work!
Most recently, I’ve been re-watching Twin Peaks with Japanese subtitles, and the way the translator handles all the unique quirks and uncanny dialogue often has me taking notes.
Is there anyone or anything you draw inspiration from?
Yes, I draw inspiration from so many people! Honestly, just about every localization friend and acquaintance I follow on Twitter inspires me to no end, aspiring and professional alike. The loc community on Twitter in general is such an inspiration and a great resource for anyone looking to get into or learn more about localization.
But to give a more concrete answer, here are three sources of inspiration at the moment (in no particular order):
I’ve been a fan of Jocelyne’s work for a long time and am always floored by her interpretation skill during interviews.
I recently read Junji Ito’s No Longer Human and Jocelyne’s translation of it, which was beautiful, stunning work on both their parts. The original Osamu Dazai novel is one of my favorite books ever, and they both did an incredible job of bringing that work to grisly, tragic life.
There are honestly just too many people to list, but I’m so inspired by so many FIGS+ translators in the community and all the incredible work they do.
Maybe this is just anecdotal or my own personal perception, but I feel like not enough praises are sung for localizers (especially in the Japanese media sphere) working outside the language pair of JPN-to-ENG. I really want to highlight the hard work and amazing job done by all the language teams on Ender Lilies in particular. Booting up the game and being greeted with 11 language choices is just so awesome!
A creator I came across on YouTube a few years ago who is just so genuinely full of talent and vision, I can’t help but want to get my own creative projects off the ground!
Thor is a musician who usually makes videos about niche retro games with a beautiful and unique aesthetic flourish, but recently they’ve started composing awesome soundtracks for really cool indie games, too (Umurangi, PRODUCER).
– The Industry in General –
Did you have any misconceptions about localization that have changed over time?
A major misconception I sort of invented for myself from the start was that localization professionals have to follow a sort of progression flow for translating certain types of media. Like, a translator has to localize manga for two years before they can translate anime, and then two years of anime before they can do games, etc. This is just…simply not true.
I made it up in my head and limited myself to only one medium at a time because I thought it wasn’t possible to do more than one for whatever reason. Really upset at the old me for this one.
In reality, anyone can translate whatever medium they want any time! With some experience and/or the chance to show you have the ability (via a translation test or similar), you can translate games, anime, light novels, literature, or wherever your interests lie!
Given, it might be harder to break into certain mediums or industries depending on a number of factors… But my point is, don’t be a fool like me and invent arbitrary rules for yourself and think they’re real for years! When in doubt, ask questions. The loc community is here to help you.
What do you think people don’t know about localization that you wish would?
I wish people knew more about the vice-grip of eternal NDAs and how lack of crediting effects many of us constantly.
A colleague once voiced to me that NDAs and crediting aren’t a big deal, essentially making it out as if lack of crediting only means we can’t brag at parties or to friends about titles we worked on. But the fallout of corporate practices like not crediting translators, or LQA folk, or letterers, or anyone who has a hand in bringing any kind of creative medium to life is so much worse than that.
Not crediting someone for the work they did and just slapping a big corporate logo over the names of people limits their ability to find more work. This is especially true for freelancers like me, whose ability to find work is infinitely bolstered by our past “mentionable” projects.
If you have X years of experience but were never credited once for anything you worked on, how can you market yourself or build a portfolio off of that experience? It’s stolen labor, plain and simple.
I’m so thankful for all the wonderful PMs I’ve worked with in the past that have pushed for crediting on projects. Without them and the slowly changing attitude companies are having towards properly crediting people who do work for them, I wouldn’t have been afforded half the opportunities I’ve been given.
What is your vision for the future of localization?
I’d like to see better business practices, a purge on predatory companies, and definitely more diversity and representation. The people who write and translate the media we enjoy matter, and there are voices that need to be heard and ideas that need to be expressed with proper representation behind them.
Beyond that, I just want folks to get the proper credit they deserve for the work they do all the time, full-stop.
I have high hopes for the crediting issue, actually. Recently, I’ve experienced real-world effects based on people raising a proper and righteous stink in the loc community.
You published an interview with the ever-wonderful Gavin Greene earlier this summer, who also brought up the crediting issue and had a lot of enlightening things to say about it. Almost immediately after you published that interview, I started to see people on Twitter bring up crediting and the discourse started up once again. Well this time people were really starting to listen, I think.
I tweeted a few months back that the company making the horror game I mentioned earlier had decided not to credit any of the language teams. It was a huge blow to me at the time. But shortly after the greater loc community’s discourse on crediting started making waves, I received a call from the project lead letting me know the company had reversed course and all localization teams were going to be given full credit. Coincidence? I highly doubt it!
You can find Andrew Echeverria here!
Professional Website: yaiaac.com
Kowai High: kowaihigh.com
More Interviews With Localizers Here!