– Discussions with people in the
Japanese media localization industry –
Can you tell us about yourself?
Hi! I’m Katrina, professional weeb and overenthusiastic nerd.
Right now, I wear a lot of hats, depending on the time of day. From nine to five, I work as a jack-of-all-trades translator, editor, project manager, and localization engineer for SEGA of America. I have credits on games like Persona 5 Royal, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, and Yakuza Remastered.
Before or after my full-time hours, I translate anime for Funimation and Sentai Filmworks. Most recently, I did the subtitles for Horimiya and Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Gou.
About one a month, I put on my manga translator hat for Seven Seas for titles like Super HXEROS and Arifureta ZERO.
How did you get into localization?
Like lots of people in our industry, I started off as a fan translator; scanlator, to be precise.
I began on shojo manga when I was in 11th grade, which then lead me to expand into other genres and a bigger team of fan translators. I ended up adding a double major in Japanese in my second year of university. But it wasn’t until I studied abroad in Japan for 6 months that I realized that translation was what I wanted to do with my life.
After a year on the JET program, I attended Kent State University to get my Master’s in Japanese Translation. Between my first and second year, while looking for internships, I landed a paid contract job with Sentai Filmworks, and the rest is history!
While I did a bit of medical translation (mostly public health research proposals) in the interim, 95% of my career has been in entertainment. Between streaming work for Netflix, subtitles and special edition interviews for Sentai and Funi, and now, of course, with SEGA full-time.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
Funnily enough, I don’t wish I’d done anything differently!
Everything fell into place for me so perfectly that I can’t describe it as anything other than being in the right place at the right time. Landing the job at Sentai opened up a hundred more opportunities in games and anime–just having some relevant work on my resume put me above all the other applicants.
What have been your biggest challenges?
One of my biggest challenges in the beginning was my long history with fanwork. Though I’d stopped scanlating as soon as I landed my job with Sentai, there were plenty of people in the industry, usually older folk, that were extremely uncomfortable with my history. Especially since the group I founded was pretty (in)famous.
It took some time gaining those colleagues’ trust, which put me at a disadvantage for a few years. Sometimes I wish I could’ve been a bit more blunt and honest: “You really think I’ll do this for free when you’re paying me $[amount] per volume and doing it for free would jeopardize our working relationship? Do you think I’m stupid?”
How do you juggle your work at Sega and translating anime and other mediums on the side?
Very carefully, haha! It helps that my work at Sega is very different from the work I do outside of ‘my actual work’.
At Sega, I’ve been transitioned into more of a translation management and engineering role. Most of my day is spent meeting with devs or vendors, managing string deliveries between projects, and coding custom tools in Python to handle the massive amounts of data between our developer’s systems and memoQ. If I were spending my whole day at Sega translating, then had to come home and translate, I’d burn out super quick.
I do have to be careful not to take on too much work, which I’ve definitely done in the past, much to Past Katrina’s chagrin.
Typically, I’ll do one volume of manga per month and two simulcast anime. For simulcasts, I’ll draft the episode scripts over the weekends, then wake up early on their due dates to edit them to the final video. For manga, I’ll pound through those either on the weekend or take a few mornings before work to get through them. I’m a morning person, so I get my best work done between 6 AM and 12 PM, haha.
You post really interesting Twitter threads about translation best practices and theory. What made you decide to do that?
Translation theory was my favorite class in grad school. I actually almost considered going for a PhD (and Dr. Angelone would have loved that!) but I held off because I was pretty done with school at that point, haha.
My grad program was centered around theory and how to use it to explain and justify your own translation choices; this is what our graduation theses were all about. Being able to explain why I’m translating something a certain way not only improves the quality of my translation, but gives me the confidence to point at work I’ve done and go “this is good, and here’s why!”
Most people, even translators, are fairly unaware of the fact that the field of translation theory and philosophy exists. I’ve been to professional conferences (such as the ATA Conference) where I run into translators who’s been doing this for 40+ years, and their minds are blown when they hear a featured speaker using linguistics to explain why we do the things we do.
While I definitely started posting about translation theory just for my own self-satisfaction (it’s super cool, dangit!), now that I’ve seen so many people, translators and fans alike, comment on how cool it is. I feel especially driven to post more analysis threads, if only to shine a light on the ‘black box’ of translation.
There’s a reason shows like How It’s Made are so popular: we all want to know how the ‘mundane’ things in our lives are made!
What do you enjoy working on most?
Anything where I can get really invested in the characters or plot. I’m picky when it comes to my media, so it’s rare that I not only find something I love, and I get to translate it! Having that emotional connection to a character whose dialogue I’m writing, or plotline I’m adapting, makes it all the more fun to work on.
Most recently, I’ve been obsessed with working on the manga Kageki Shoujo!! and fell in love with Interspecies Reviewers and Higurashi GOU.
I also like to have a little bit of challenge, though not too much (Armed Girls Machiavellism, I’m looking at you and your obscure-ass swordsmanship techniques).
Fantasy worlds are great because I usually get to work out the terminology for them on my own, and that’s always an extra little treat.
What have you been most proud of?
There are always a few lines here and there that I’m mega proud of, but in terms of full shows. I think my best work (so far) has been on Interspecies Reviewers and O Maidens in Your Savage Season.
The former, I got to go wild with jokes, puns, and sexual innuendos, and I rarely get to go wild!
For O Maidens, the show threw a lot of challenges at me, but I was able to handle them in a way I’d describe as perfect. It’s a great show, too, so that’s just the cherry on top of the proud sundae.
While I can’t talk too much about it out loud, I’m extremely proud of a few of the tooling systems I’ve engineered at SEGA; specifically one I’ve named CONNOR. It’s changed the way we handle projects from a particular developer, saved tons of time for project management, and also has the ability to track progress and print out ridiculous amounts of statistics.
The fact that I went from knowing zero Python two years back to creating a fully automated object-oriented content management system now is something I’m really, really proud of myself for.
Is there something you worked hard on that you think no one noticed?
Always, ahahaha. There are plenty of older series that didn’t get too much love when they came out that required boatloads of work.
I did the subtitles for a show called Bakuon!!, which is basically K-ON but with motorcycles, and I did hours and hours of research to make sure I wasn’t screwing up the terminology (or understood why they were making fun of Ducati).
When it comes to games, pretty much anything I do engineering work on is completely invisible. It doesn’t help that most people don’t know what a localization engineer is!
While some developers and projects make engineering quite easy, there have been a few projects that were absolute nightmares behind the curtain. Ones that took up a few good months of my life wrangling uncooperative files and untagged strings to ensure that everything ended up in the right place.
So far, the most difficult project to engineer has been 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, if only because the time-traveling and constant references/alternate perspectives of scenes in other routes meant we needed to ensure that certain lines were localized the exact same way in multiple files and routes.
If you could do anything what would you love to do or try out?
After a good 3-4 month obsession with Detroit: Become Human last year, I’ve been captivated with mocap direction! It combines a lot of my favorite things: games, engineering, management, and theater. I’d love to sit in on a mocap session for a day, or even sit at the table while they’re deciding how to build out props and staging to capture a certain scene for animators. It’s really fascinating!
If I could redo my life over again, I’d love to get into musical theater. I’ve always loved stage acting and directing, and I love singing and watching musicals.
In my spare time, I direct the cosplay and skit competition at a few mid-to-large-sized cons in the L.A. area, which helps me live that life vicariously through the talented cosplayers, special guests, and celebrity hosts that I work with. But I’d love to get isekai’d to another world and live out my fantasy of singing out a character’s feelings to a crowd of teary theatergoers.
What tools/resources do you use (or have used) to learn new things and improve your skills?
I’m fairly active with the American Translators Association! Apart from their annual conference (which can be quite expensive to attend), I’m the editor for the Japanese Language Division’s biannual newsletter and participate in other JLD events.
ATA isn’t for everyone, and there’s plenty of debate about their certification exam, but in terms of continuing education, it’s got plenty of wonderful resources.
Apart from that, I like to play and watch a lot of content from Japan that’s been subtitled, dubbed, or localized. It’s interesting to see how other companies or translators handle certain lines, terminology, or challenges, as well as understand where they’re either excelling or falling short.
I also highly recommend watching Japanese dubs of Netflix Originals! Pretty much anything that’s been advertised by Netflix (Stranger Things, Bojack Horseman, etc.) will have a robust Japanese dub.
I love seeing how Japanese localizers tweak and rework extremely difficult jokes or puns to work in their target language.
Bojack Horseman is a great one just because of all the visual puns and animal-centric jokes they have to adapt. It’s given me lots of ideas on methods I can use in my own work from Japanese to English.
Is there anyone or anything you draw inspiration from?
The work Square Enix is doing on Final Fantasy XIV is incredible. I have so much respect for Koji Fox’s team over there. To process that much content, with that much complexity, in that short of a timeframe, is nothing short of amazing. And the loc is really great, too! I can’t say I agree with their approach all the time, but their consistency and dedication to the craft is so inspiring.
What do you think people don’t know about localization that you wish would?
Localization isn’t just one person translating an entire work/game/show anymore: it takes a full team of people working around the clock to get localized content out!
Translators work in tandem with editors, timers, engineers, project managers, and creator liaisons to craft the best possible translation within the time and budget for the project. There’s so much at work behind the scenes, and no one decision is the result of a single person’s whim.
What is your vision for the future of localization?
Across the industry, we’re seeing a shift into “sim ship” — meaning that content is released in multiple languages at the same time.
Depending on the medium (games, anime, manga), this is easier said than done, but we’ve made huge strides in making it possible. Look at anime simulcasts: two decades ago, you had to wait for a DVD to come out 4 years after it aired in Japan, and even then it’d only have four episodes on it. Now, a few minutes after it airs in Japan, you can watch the episode with professional subtitles on a variety of platforms!
There are so many barriers to effective sim ship, though, and I’m looking forward to seeing how we break down and/or mold ourselves around those barriers. Working closer with creative teams during the development of content is the best and most reliable way to make sim ship feasible–and of good quality, no less.
You can find Katrina Leonoudakis here!