Become a Manga Translator! An Interview with the Manga Translation Battle Winner (Part 1)

Japanese comics have become so widely loved around the world that they are often referred to by their Japanese name, manga, regardless of the language. However, the manga translators that work behind the scenes to bring these beloved series to foreign audiences, often go unnoticed.

The Manga Translation Battle is the first official translation contest directed specifically at manga translators. This year will be the third time the contest is held. It’s the only official manga translation contest held by the Digital Comic Association, a group started by Japan’s major publishing companies, to support the discovery and growth of manga translators. Tokyo Otaku Mode will be managing the contest for the second time this year.

In this interview, we’ll talk with previous winners of the contest about their past and what lies ahead for them as manga translators.

Part 1: Sarah Kim Perry (2013’s Contest Winner)

Born and raised in America, Sarah Kim Perry moved to Japan several years ago and was working at a company that manages English conversation schools for children in Himeji. What has she been up to since winning the manga translation contest?

━━Why did you decide to participate in the contest?

I was browsing an anime news site when I happened to come across a notice about the contest. From the works that were presented, I was particularly struck by Koi to wa Yobenai. There were less words in it compared to the other works, and some pages consisted only of images, which really made the emotional impact quite strong.

━━How did the translation go for you?

The language used is very clear and precise, so I was able to come up with corresponding English phrases quickly. However, there was some specialized terminology used in Japanese offices that was difficult to translate. Up until the end, I particularly wrestled with whether or not the main character’s cat was male or female (laughs). Because in English we need to use pronouns like “he" or “she" when referring to people and things.

━━Had you been aspiring to be a manga translator since then?

No, not at all (laughs). I liked writing novels, so I had confidence in my English writing ability. But with translation, there are plenty of other people out there who love anime and manga, so I didn’t think I would be able to translate particularly better than anyone else. From the beginning, I probably thought it would be impossible.

━━How did you get interested in Japanese manga?

In middle school, I often watched Sailor Moon and Inuyasha on cable TV, but I didn’t really get into it until high school. My boyfriend at the time was really into Japanese games and manga, so I was greatly influenced by him. By that time, Japanese manga were gaining popularity, and so it was relatively easy to find them at bookstores. I liked series such as Banana Fish and Vampire Princess Miyu.

━━In the translation contest, you translated the boys love manga Koi to wa Yobenai. Have you liked the boys love genre since you started getting into manga?

Yes. I particularly like romantic series. More than the sexual elements in these types of works, though, I’m captivated by the emotional and psychological aspects that are portrayed. Once I read Gravitation, I was hooked.

━━How did you study Japanese?

I took Japanese classed for 2 years in school, starting junior year in high school. My Japanese teacher was a really funny person, and so I came to like Japanese as a language. During the summer, I also participated in a cultural exchange program in Kofu city in Yamanashi Prefecture and attended a Japanese school.

━━Were you self-taught after that?

No, I actually majored in Japanese in college, and also studied abroad at a university in Kyoto for about a year and a half. I was really inspired by a class by a professor there studying Japanese folk monsters and shojo manga. During that time, I translated part of a manga about child abuse called Period for a scholarly magazine, so that was my first real experience with manga translation.

━━So by the time you were in college you had a good grasp on Japanese.

That’s right. By that time, I had passed N1 of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, and I was able to read novels like 1Q84 in Japanese. I was a fan of Murakami Haruki, so when I was able to complete the novel, I was really moved. But as I was taking reading- and writing-centered Japanese courses in college, I realized that what influenced my Japanese ability the most was anime and manga. I think that they were more effective than studying grammar.

──After graduating, you apparently worked for an English conversation school in Japan, but after winning the Manga Translation Battle, did your life change at all?

It completely changed. I was given the chance to translate all three volumes of the work I translated for the contest, and, of course, made my debut as a manga translator. But I was also invited to work for Tokyo Otaku Mode, which managed the event, and have been working there since this summer.

━━Are you glad to have participated in the contest?

Yes, of course I am. Because of the contest, I was able to enter into the manga and anime industry, and I am truly thankful for that. To be honest, I’m considering recommending this contest to my college professors. I want my juniors to try their hand at it as well.

<The Manga Translation Battle is being held this year too!>
This year’s works are, Kamakura Monogatari, Museum, Nichijou, and The Crown of Thorn. Why not take part in the translation contest and test your ability as well?

Apply here!

This is a Tokyo Otaku Mode original article.

Become a Manga Translator! An Interview with the Manga Translation Battle Winner (Part 1) 1
Become a Manga Translator! An Interview with the Manga Translation Battle Winner (Part 1) 2
Become a Manga Translator! An Interview with the Manga Translation Battle Winner (Part 1) 3
Become a Manga Translator! An Interview with the Manga Translation Battle Winner (Part 1) 4
Become a Manga Translator! An Interview with the Manga Translation Battle Winner (Part 1) 5
Become a Manga Translator! An Interview with the Manga Translation Battle Winner (Part 1) 6

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