– Discussions with people in the Japanese media localization industry –
Tell us about yourself!
Hello! My name is Anne Lee. I’m a Japanese to English translator and editor, writer, academic, and blogger! I’ve been a freelance translator and editor part time for over six years, and full time for one year.
I also hold a PhD in Japanese cultural studies, have been running the Japanese pop culture website Chic-Pixel.com for 8 years. But also write about Japanese video games and anime freelance occasionally for sites such as IGN and Waypoint.
I started studying Japanese when I was 13, but I’m still always learning!
How did you get into translation? What led you to your specialization(s)?
When I started my undergraduate degree in Japanese, I didn’t really have an end goal… I just wanted to continue studying the language.
Translation was an option repeatedly recommended to me early on. And since I also love writing in my native language of English, it seemed like a natural fit for me.
I started translating materials for individual collectors of niche fandoms through Livejournal. And it turned out to be a great way to practice my language skills and make a few extra bucks throughout college.
Since I love manga and video games, I naturally gravitated towards those types of jobs as opportunities arose.
Your website Chic-Pixel.com focuses on manga, video games and other Japanese media. But how did it start and has it helped (or not) with your localization work at all?
I started Chic Pixel as a place to write about my interests. This was mostly because I love talking about the things I like! I had just moved from the US to Australia and was rather lonely, so it was a great way to connect with like-minded people online.
At the time I didn’t realize how important the site would later become, but over the years Chic Pixel has been instrumental to getting me localization work! My first professional jobs were all through word of mouth from relationships I built from writing about games, manga, and anime on my site.
I also regularly discuss my academic work on boys’ love and shojo manga on Chic Pixel. Which helped set me apart from others in the localization sphere. I’ve been approached to work on projects specifically because of my familiarity with boys’ love manga. That never would’ve happened if I hadn’t built a platform for sharing my interests and expertise over 8 years!
What did you wish you knew before becoming an established translator?
One of the things I really wish I was able to tap into earlier on was finding other freelance localizers to form a support network with!
When you’re freelancing, you often have no idea what kinds of rates other people in your field are getting, and it’s very easy to undervalue your skills. I did some googling, of course, but nothing beats talking to an actual human being about their experiences setting rates and negotiating with clients.
Along those lines, if I could go back and talk to newbie translator Anne, I would’ve told her not to undersell herself! I definitely undercharged for translating services for a very long time. This was mostly under the assumption that I wasn’t established enough to ask for more. It’s never too early to ask for what you think you deserve!
And as many wise freelancers have told me… What you think you deserve is nearly always less than what you actually deserve! So don’t be shy about aiming a little higher.
What’s been the biggest challenge establishing yourself as a translator?
If I’m being completely honest, probably the crippling self-doubt!
I have a constant fear of not being “good enough” to do certain work or apply for certain projects, but I don’t think there’s any magic project that would suddenly make me feel like I’ve “made it.” Imposter syndrome certainly isn’t a condition exclusive to localizers, but it’s especially easy to feel as a freelancer when you work alone in your apartment and barely have any contact with other human beings.
I constantly need to remind myself that I’ve done good work in the past, and that my continuing to get work is not some kind of fluke!
It’s also very easy to feel like you’re not translating fast enough or your Japanese isn’t good enough, but I try to remind myself that no one is perfect, especially not at the beginning of their career. I’m going to make mistakes and learn and grow, and that’s all part of my journey to become a better localizer!
What are some differences between working on a translation and working on an editing project?
It really depends on the project. In some cases, I have essentially been both the translator and editor because my translations weren’t being run by a separate editor. Of course, that’s not ideal for a lot of reasons. It’s really important to get a second set of eyes to look at your work to get that added perspective.
When I translate knowing there will be a separate editor, I also have to take into consideration the time constraints I have. Sometimes, I have to make a very quick translation pass for a fast turnaround and then will work with the editor to polish it up. When I have more time, I have more leeway to carefully consider the best way to convey each line in English. Of course, that’s my favorite way to translate!
Whether or not the editor knows Japanese, it’s also helpful to leave notes. This helps the editor understand any additional background or nuance a line might have. Sometimes I will also leave alternative translations for certain phrases.
On the editing side…
Being a bilingual editor means I have the ability to check translations for accuracy. As well as looking out for grammatical errors and polishing up lines for readability and flow. This is not always the case. Not all editors of translated texts know the language being translated from. I generally trust that my translators have a strong grasp of the language and only compare the Japanese to English in certain cases. Such as when something doesn’t really make sense to me in the translation.
One of the more time-consuming things I do as an editor is make sure terminology stays consistent. This can be hard when working on a big project like a game that may have multiple translators. This is where term banks are really useful! That way I can quickly refer to how a certain word is being translated for each of my projects.
Terminology is not the only thing that needs to be consistent. Does this rustic, farmer character maintain his gruff style of speaking throughout the whole project? Is “yolo” the kind of thing this middle-aged teacher would say? These are the kinds of questions I find myself asking as an editor.
Translating and editing have some similarities, but are still quite different beasts! I enjoy doing both equally.
What have you been most proud of?
My longest professional relationship as a freelancer has been with the Japanese indie game company Lifewonders, LLC. Which is the developer behind the LGBT mobile game Tokyo Afterschool Summoners (on iOS and Android).
I started working with them on their first project, Fantastic Boyfriends: Legends of Midearth, and it was my first time translating on such a large scale. (The game had an Indiegogo campaign a few years ago and unfortunately did not reach its funding goal…)
Now, I’m the editor for Tokyo Afterschool Summoners, and as of 2019 have been involved with the company for four years.
To watch a small indie developer grow over the years and be involved with that, even in a small way, has been really special! I’m proud of the relationship I’ve built with them and the skills I’ve improved along the way (including my business Japanese, which I don’t get many chances to use often!).
What do you think people don’t know about the localization industry that you wish would?
So many things! Unfortunately, I think there are a lot of things people don’t know about regarding translation and localization in general.
Probably the biggest thing I wish more people understood is that even if you’re a translator for a project, you don’t usually have a say in the final text.
On top of that, one translator probably isn’t going to be even personally in charge of every little bit of text that needs to be translated, especially when it comes to video games.
Game projects are so large that they often have multiple translators. These are people who may or may not see what the other translators have done. Once it goes on to an editor, it may or may not be sent back to the translator to review. This depends on things like time and resources.
Also, sometimes things are out of the hands of both the translators and the editors. Changes get made for all kinds of reasons! I wish fans would consider that more before they say things like “I hate how that translator translated x as y!”
If you could do anything what would you love to do or try out?
Translating or editing an otome game is definitely at the top of my list! It’s one of my favorite game genres and I would love to have a hand in bringing one to an English-speaking audience.
I have a deep respect for the Ruby Party team at Koei Tecmo for helping create the otome game genre with their first title, Angelique. And would love to have the honor of working on a localization of that*. [*Anne interviewed Ruby Party Director Mei Erikawa on making otome games.]
I also hope to start translating for an academic audience in the near-ish future. There are a lot of academic articles available only in Japanese that would I think it would be great to make available to English-speaking scholars.
Oh, and translating works that appeared in my PhD thesis such as Kaze to ki no uta by Takemiya Keiko and equus by est em is definitely on my translation bucket list, too!
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