– Discussions with people in the
Japanese media localization industry –
Can you tell us about yourself?
Hi, I’m Yuji, and I’ve been in the Loc industry for about four years. I love music, play guitar, and dabble a little more than the average gamer in fighting games. Part-time cosplayer, coffee addict, and most likely a cat reincarnate.
How did you get into localization?
It was a little bit of effort and a lot of luck.
Long story short, I met a person through cosplaying, who happened to know and introduced me to members of a small localization agency located in L.A that works with Japanese game publishers and developers.
One of their clients was Arc System Works, who produces the Guilty Gear fighting game series: the game from which my friend and I were both cosplaying when we met. I had been (and still am) a huge fan of Guilty Gear and always wanted to work in the video game industry, so I jumped on this opportunity.
After meeting and working with Strangely Compelling Multimedia, Inc. at EVO 2017 (a fighting game world championship tournament series), I was invited to join their team in Los Angeles, so I did.
What were some of the biggest challenges moving into localization?
I think the biggest challenge for me was adjusting how my brain works while translating or interpreting.
Prior to entering the Loc scene, I had worked as an on-site translator/interpreter at an automobile manufacturing facility owned by Toyota. My job there was primarily to assist Japanese advisors communicate with the local staff on the production floor and in meetings and such.
The most important aspect about translating and interpreting in this field was accuracy, as misinforming someone—even in the slightest—can lead to serious issues like production slowdowns or even injury. A large chunk of the brain processing went toward memorizing an already standardized language within the company and making sure I translated information accurately.
However, in video game localization, a greater emphasis is placed on how someone’s intent, energy, and character can be best conveyed or presented in the target language. I find this much more challenging (and fun) because there is no right answer, whereas in the previous job—where the accuracy of facts and figures were more important in most cases—was more black-and-white.
This forced my translator brain to work in an entirely new way, as I am no longer able to rely on an established glossary of terms and vocabulary. Every project I work on is like entering an entirely new world, with their own terms, concepts and laws governing that universe.
It’s not the accuracy of individual translated words that matter, but rather how the overall message or intent is conveyed to the audience. It takes a lot more creativity and I think I enjoy this aspect of my work the most.
You’re incredibly versatile, being able to translate into Japanese and into English.
Thank you. Although, I must admit that I am not as well-versed in Japanese as I am in English. I always find E-to-J translation harder than the other way around. This is because, although I am a native speaker of Japanese, most of my schooling took place in English-speaking institutions, which is where I get my English from. So, I still have a lot of catching up to do.
How does working with movies/TV/anime differ from video games?
I don’t feel there’s a huge difference working between the two realms, probably because every project we work on is so different from each other, even within the same category. Obviously, there are things like the debugging process in video games—which we may or may not be involved in depending on the project—that does not exist in TV, but I think it’s similar to any sort of proofing or review process in TV.
Having said that, we, as a team, were able to build a reliable and repeatable system that we can apply to just about anything that comes our way. Whether working in TV or video games, we follow a basic structure and team pipeline that has been giving us consistent results.
One unique and unexpected challenge I faced while working in the TV realm was for a Netflix series that involved translating the actual script of the show. It seemed like a typical translation project at first. But I soon discovered that movie scripts are written in a very specific way: just bare bones information of what the camera is capturing and what the characters are saying.
It’s supposed to read like a laundry list of actions, instead of a well-written, artistic piece of literature that you would find in a sci-fi book or a fantasy RPG, for example. The less words used, the better. There are lots of rules and conventions to follow. I had to learn how to write movie scripts on the fly, which was not something I ever expected I would need to do working in Loc. Thankfully, we did have experienced filmmakers on our side to assist us with this project.
Things totally out of left field like this happen whether we’re working in TV or video games, and we try our best to adapt to every situation.
– Your Loc Work –
What do you enjoy working on most?
Anything that gets me away from the usual desk-and-computer work, I’m all about it.
One of the coolest things we get to do as an agency is to produce English dubs for games. We primarily work with fighting games (my favorite genre) currently, which is like a dream-come-true for me. After translating the material, I get to cast, and direct for ADR, and when it’s all said and done, wait for the final release and see how everything turned out.
This review process is probably my favorite part, not only because it’s an opportunity to learn and improve for the next project, but it’s also rewarding just to see how everything turned out. Since we rarely get to conduct any tests or reviews of the voice implementation on our own prior to release, it’s like opening a big birthday present with everything you wished for inside it, but you don’t truly know how they turned out until you physically hold them in your hands.
The sense of adoration that grows for the characters as I see them move, attack, emote, taunt, react and interact in all sorts of crazy ways is always a heartwarming and satisfying experience.
I also was involved in the localization of Hironobu Sakaguchi’s latest RPG from Mistwalker: Fantasian. As a part of this project, and the team knowing I have been a huge fan of Final Fantasy music, I was tasked to handle the English adaptation of the lyrics to the game’s ending theme: composed by none other than Nobuo Uematsu.
This was totally unexpected, and aside from the honor and pleasure of working with my all-time heroes, I loved being able to apply my musical passion—one which is greatly influenced by Nobuo Uematsu himself—to work in a localization project.
What have you been most proud of?
I have so many things I can look back with pride, but I would say the most recent accomplishment that is near and dear to my heart was my role in translating, casting and ADR directing for Guilty Gear Strive’s English voice-overs.
This was quite literally a dream come true for me, but not only that, a life-changing experience for many who were involved. It was a project that I felt a deep connection with the community. It is these connections, more than anything, that I am proud of.
Is there something you worked hard on that you think no one noticed?
Probably the English lyrics adaptation of Fantasian’s ending theme. Many may not know that the lyrics is adapted so that it can be sung in English as well—not just a translation of the words. However, because there is currently no version of the song that is recorded in English, and the lyrics are only presented as a subtitle during the ending sequence of the game, I feel that many players won’t realize that it is actually singable in English.
If not for Sakaguchi-san or Uematsu-san being compelled to record an English version of the song one day, I hope a music YouTuber out there will take the helm of covering the song in English. We take those.
If you could do anything what would you love to do or try out?
Most of my major localization projects are J-E localizations, so one day, I’d like to experience what it’s like to localize a full-scale Western game for the Japanese market. And the number one game I wish I could work on right now is the Borderlands series by Gearbox.
Their attitude-driven language, character portrayal, and use of crazy names and terminology is so uniquely American and full of grit. I casually play Borderlands 3 in my spare time and am always imagining what the process of tailoring this unique style and attitude for the Japanese language is like.
– Study and Inspiration –
What tools/resources do you use (or have used) to learn new things and improve your skills?
I think I learn most from my senpai colleagues and real work experiences.
I’ve been fortunate to work with superstars in the industry, like Jessica Chavez, Kris Knigge, and most recently, John Neal—former Platinum Games localizer who joined our team to work on Fantasian—right from the get-go of my career. Also, shoutouts to Mikey McNamara, CEO of Strangely Compelling Multimedia, Inc. (my boss) who has taken me under his wing to work in this fascinating industry and has taught me pretty much everything I know about localization.
I also get to work closely with legendary ADR producers like Valerie Arem at PCB Studios, Inc. and Dani Hunt of Cup of Tea Productions, Inc. Their insights and knowledge of Hollywood’s anime/games ADR industry (and the politics behind it all) educate me greatly as a newcomer to the field.
Having good role-models and senpais is my number one resource, and I hope I can be that senpai to someone one day.
Is there anyone or anything you draw inspiration from?
My cat is my biggest inspiration. Okay, I know this doesn’t sound like a serious answer, but it is. Above all things, my cat is why I wake up in the morning.
Aside from that, anyone–whether that be a musician, artist, game developer or creator–that challenges norms and are not afraid to be bold, honest, or even controversial inspire me the most.
I try to be as honest and authentic as I can regardless of whether I’m in a work setting or not. I greatly dislike dishonesty, inauthenticity, and superficiality. People who can freely express themselves without fear of judgment are my biggest inspirations.
– The Industry in General –
Did you have any misconceptions about localization that have changed over time?
When I first entered the localization scene, I didn’t realize that there were so many layers to any given localization project. Even something as simple as translating PR material or social media blasts required not just a one-step translation process, and that it is important to cater the language to various audiences or the client’s needs. There is a huge difference between the initial translation and the final product.
How has the localization of Japanese media changed over the last few decades?
I have not been working in the field long enough to know what changed, but I do have some predictions about how it will change in the future.
I think localization services will continue to be more accessible and affordable for media producers worldwide as remote work is normalized and proven as a viable method to carry out projects. Members of our team, in fact, are also scattered all over the world, but we have a proven track record of delivering top-notch localization projects.
It will be interesting to see what sort of new technologies or services will emerge under this “new normal” to enhance the localization workflow.
What is your vision for the future of localization?
Localizers get paid more! Seriously. Pay us more.
It would be cool though, to see localization become a more mainstream career aspiration for students. I know there are currently a bunch of private and some public institutions that offer courses and training in the field, but they are still largely unknown, and many are meant for adults already working in the industry.
If Loc was taught in high school, for example, maybe those useless German classes may actually come in handy (no offense to all the kids out there taking German)!
But in all seriousness, I think localization would be a great first career for any foreign language student who is wanting to put their foreign language credits to work, especially if you’re not keen to traveling and staying in a foreign country. JET programs and other foreign exchange programs—although great for those who really want to do it–don’t have to be the only path for foreign language students.
And with that said, I would like to thank you, Jenn, for running this interview series as well as all the other amazing work you do to amplify visibility of the localization industry. We need more people like you to tell the world about the fun and exciting world of localization!
You can find Yuji here!