– Discussions with people in the
Japanese media localization industry –
Can you tell us about yourself?
Hi! My name’s Gavin, and I’m a freelance Japanese to English translator and interpreter. I’ve been living and working in Tokyo for the past decade or so, and spending the vast majority of that time translating video games. I also help organize indie game events like Tokyo Sandbox, BitSummit, and Tokyo Indies, and dabble in a bit of acting on the side.
In recent years, I’ve transitioned more to the role of localization producer, and I spend a lot of my time organizing multilingual teams to handle games of all stripes and sizes.
On a personal note, I have far too many hobbies, and spend my free time playing video games, reading books and manga, watching anime, playing music, practicing martial arts…ahhh! I need a hyperbolic time chamber!
How did you get into translation?
Cutting out most of life’s twists and turns for brevity’s sake, an unlikely opportunity to study abroad in college made me fall in love with Japan, and ever since then I had wanted to do something with language.
Finding a way to pay bills with “something with language” basically equated to “translation” in my brain, so I managed to snag a position as a JET after college with the aim to get my language ability up to snuff. I spent two years doing that, finished my contract and left the country, then immediately returned on a tourist visa hoping to land a job.
Three months and a lot of rejections later, I managed to impress a Japanese printing company, and suddenly I was a technical translator working on manuals and software for printers and other devices.
What led you to game localization?
It was a good job, and I learned a whole lot about the process of localization, but I’d always loved creative writing and the dream was always game translation. I had been rejected by dozens of game companies during my job search for my total lack of experience at the time, but after two years in-house, I figured I might as well give it another shot.
Honestly, I was inspired a lot by Andrew Dice and Robin Light-Williams of Carpe Fulgur. An article came out after the fantastic Recettear was released that described how they decided to get into localization, and I remember reading it and thinking “You can just do that?!” A year or so of planning later, and I quit my job and went full freelance.
Starting from zero in the game industry was really, really hard. I had no idea who to talk to or where to go, so I plunged into every group, event, and meetup I could find. This led me to volunteer at the second BitSummit, which was an amazing experience, and gave me a lot of direction on where to look and who to talk to.
In the end, however, it took me a full year before I started making real inroads into various game-centric localization agencies, but things ballooned from there.
What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
The absolute biggest challenge I had was breaking into the industry. When I went freelance, I honestly had no idea who to talk to or where to go. I was trapped in that horrible all-too-common cycle where most jobs demanded years of experience in the industry, but the only way to get that experience was to have one of those very jobs.
I worked far too much during my first couple of years, and this definitely took a toll on my health, social life, and, well, everything. I’d loved to have not had to do that, but I also think I would have had trouble finding opportunities and earning enough to live if I hadn’t.
I think there’s a lot more information out there now (like Jenn’s amazing work with these interviews!), and that the industry has grown enough so that there are avenues that exist now that didn’t then. If I had to do it all over again I would definitely try to utilize these amazing resources to point me in the right direction from the get-go.
– Personal Questions –
You have a lot of really interesting hobbies, would you mind introducing some of them and if they have (or have had) any impact on your translation?
Ooo, this is hard! I suppose one of the hobbies I’m most passionate about in recent years has been acting. I’ve played B movie type roles in the past, but in recent years it’s mostly been live events.
I love fantasy, roleplaying, steampunk, and all that good stuff, and there are a few groups/organizations out here that host these sorts of themed events. The group I’ve been most active in lately is Life is Fantasia, which hosts huge fantasy events built on a bedrock of love for JRPGs.
This is actually a lovely feedback loop for my translation work, since I’ve ended up playing dwarven clan lords and evil demi-human rabbit warriors and so forth. Nothing gets you in the mindset for translating JRPGs than having to stage act and/or improv a dwarven accent in Japanese for 8 hours!
I also start a lot of hobbies to understand the games I work on more, and then end up getting obsessed with those.
I recently led the localization effort for Laid-Back Camp -Virtual- (an IP I love!), and drove out to Lake Motosuko and Fumoto to do a mini camping trip with my laptop to kick off the translation. It was incredibly fun, and I think I’ve caught the camping bug now. I’m seriously considering getting a moped so I can follow in Rin’s footsteps…
You also interpret, how does this differ from translation?
Fundamentally it’s all language, yes, but interpretation presents a unique set of challenges.
Language is the medium and the tool used for both translation and interpretation, but shifting the purpose in which it’s employed necessitates different skillsets. In this sense, I tend to think of interpretation as a branch of public speaking, much as translation boils down to writing.
There’s also a performative element involved as well. If you’re interpreting for someone whose goal is to make people laugh or to build excitement, you need to be able to not just use the correct words, but elicit those responses in the audience through body language or tone.
Has your interpretation work been impacted at all by the pandemic?
My interpretation work has been impacted by the pandemic. Without events like BitSummit or Gamescom, the demand for the sort of game interpretation I do has declined.
There are still meetings or remote events that require interpretation, but for the most part, there have been fewer opportunities.
That being said, I’m lucky that a lot of my work can be performed remotely, and thankful for any opportunity that I do have.
– Your Loc Work –
What do you enjoy working on most?
I got into this industry because I like writing. So I’m happiest when I’ve got a cool story in front of me that I can translate and no distractions. I have a soft spot for epic fantasy, so give me a complex tale of swords and sorcery and will happily shout out the lines I write as I pretend to hit imaginary orcs with an axe.
This is also a little uncommon, but I really enjoy writing descriptive flavor text as well. It lets you stretch a different sort of writing muscle than dialogue, and opens up avenues to use all those ridiculously cool adjectives that don’t often get to see the light of day.
What have you been most proud of?
This is a tough one! Unfortunately, I think a lot of my best work has been on projects that I’m under NDA for and can’t talk about.
Of the things I can mention, World of Final Fantasy was a joy. The stories were fun, there was a lot of creativity required, and my team members were role models and inspirations. I also remember major media sites writing articles pointing out text that I had worked on and feeling all warm and fuzzy inside.
Besides that, I’ve run a couple of projects (NDA/redacted) where the team pulled together really well and just knocked it out of the park, and I’m really proud of those.
Is there something you worked hard on that you think no one noticed?
I would love it if more people tried out the amazing little gems by Gagex!
They’re a small developer based in Tokyo that releases mostly narrative mobile games, and the writing they put into their work is fantastic! Wholesome and heartwarming, they have a cute veneer but don’t shy away from discussing difficult and emotional issues.
I’ve led the English translation for most of them to date, and the other translators and I put lots of love and effort into making the translations good enough to measure up to the source.
If you could do anything what would you love to do or try out?
Can I say “everything”? No? Awww, fine.
If I had to pick something, I’d say build a mountain forest hermitage and spend my days exploring the outdoors and my nights reading leather-bound tomes by a crackling fire.
…You did say “anything.”
– Study and Inspiration –
What tools/resources do you use (or have used) to learn new things and improve your skills?
I found the best way to keep myself motivated to study is to combine it with something I enjoy. So I spent a lot of my initial years learning Japanese by puzzling my way through cool fantasy books.
I’ve also used the flashcard program Anki to great effect over the years to improve my vocabulary.
Other than that, I tend to write out a lot of notes on musty ol’ paper, since things seem to stick better that way. Sadly, my handwriting is and always will be atrocious.
Is there anyone or anything you draw inspiration from?
Everyone, really. There are so many amazing people in this industry, and I’m constantly awed by all the talent I see around me. There are some industry senpai that I really look up to as well, and their skills and kindness really inspire me to improve myself.
Also, can I say Tekken’s Heihachi Mishima? I want to be ninety and able to punch a robot so hard it explodes.
– The Industry in General –
What is your vision for the future of localization?
I would love for the industry to be more open and transparent, for crediting to be more widespread, and for rates for everyone (especially for the work that pays pittances now) to be much higher. With the industry growing larger and more supportive, I see reasons to be hopeful that we’ll get there, too!
You can find Gavin Greene here!
I’m always happy to answer questions and offer advice! You can reach me via either my Twitter or e-mail, listed below: