Will you translate [thing]?

Short Answer: No.
Long Answer: …

Perhaps the silver lining of having a blog that updates rather infrequently, with a focus mostly on older anime things (i.e. cel-era stuff from before I was alive), is that I have a much lower readership than places which focus on the current crop of the season. At least, I’d imagine this is the case — no single episode reviews inundated with screen caps of the latest hot show over here!

“Wait, you don’t want people to read the articles on this site? Even though you keep saying you hate translating?”

Don’t get me wrong, of course I appreciate that anyone else out there even cares about this old nerd garbage. In the first place, this entire blog was pretty much an accident. Originally I was just going to dump random nonsense from my headspace, and then I just happened to be curious enough about GoShogun: The Time Étranger at some point and wanted to know more about who created it. This led me down a rabbit hole into looking more into its screenwriter, Takeshi Shudo, and I was quite moved by his words on the movie. I felt it would be a shame for his words to remain inaccessible locked behind the oh-so-infamous language barrier, so I translated it. I didn’t know where to put it and decided to just shove it onto this blog since I had it handy.

Against my better judgement, for some reason I decided to translate a few other things. Then out of left field (to me), Thaliarchus over at (the now-inactive) Anime Redshift Chronicle actually added a link this blog here. This actually set me off into a mild panic because back then the title of this blog was in Japanese — I don’t remember exactly the wording I used, but it was along the lines of a very literal rendition of “Theoretical 80s Nostalgia.” This is how little I was even thinking about the actual readership of this blog. In a rush, I came up with the terrible name Heisei Etranger, and let him know so he could update the resources page on Anime Redshift Chronicle. At the very least, I didn’t want the ARC readers to just see a string of indecipherable Japanese on his and his co-writer’s otherwise entirely English-language blog.

Given the majority of the content on this blog, it probably comes as no surprise then that I’ve gotten numerous translation requests over the years. Okay, I say “numerous,” but again, my readership isn’t that large so it’s not that much. But after recent renewed interested in my blog, I’ve been getting a few requests again, hence why I’m writing this wall of text. I guess there’s a dearth of translators who have an interest in the same general area? I honestly don’t know because I don’t keep track of other translation efforts out there. That imaginary quote earlier about how I hate translating? That’s not facetious; the great irony of this blog is that I genuinely do not enjoy translating at all. I also didn’t enjoy learning Japanese at all — and had I never bothered to try, I would have probably saved myself a lot of self-loathing misery and disappointment at my own personal failures in language learning — but for whatever reason I seem to have this masochistic tendency to persevere through pain. The translations that appear on this blog are almost like a mediocre consolation prize from my perspective, relative to the goals in learning Japanese I never reached. After doing something you don’t enjoy long enough, you just get numb and the feeling gradually shifts towards something more neutral, I suppose.

For the entire existence of this blog, there’s literally only ever been two people I would even consider accepting a translation request from. One of the two even asked and offered to compensate me, and I still turned down the request. I turned it down because I don’t feel like I’m a particularly good translator, and I take forever to do translations — probably because I never studied Japanese with any intention of doing translation. With this blog, I’m really only accountable to myself. Someone else depending on my work and paying me with any kind of expectation of timeliness would just stress me out too much.

As for the rest of the requests… I once heard that in the past, there’s been instances of anime fans asking Japanese convention guests, “I have a great idea for an anime, can you make it for me?” (Did this ever actually happen? Good lord.) The general answer as far as I understand it is pretty much, no one is going to make your anime for you, and people in this notoriously cruel industry already have a ton of their own ideas for projects they’d want to do. I have no shortage of candidates for content I could translate and put on this blog. It’s just, there’s only so much I can put myself through something I don’t like doing and take forever to do. Did I really just compare my inconsequential suffering to the inhumane working conditions of the anime industry? I really have gone off the deep end.

I dunno who even bothered to make it all the way down here, but while I’m at it, how do I decide what to translate? What goes into a translation?

I always credit Anime World Order for having the greatest influence on my development as an anime fan — it’s very likely I would never have discovered Osamu Dezaki, or even be watching any anime at all anymore had I not come across that podcast. But as far as the strongest influence on the direction of this blog is concerned, I’d like to quote a portion of the pitch guidelines over at my favorite and only blog I regularly read, Zimmerit:

  • Your pitch should have some connection to Japanese subculture fandom of the ’80s or ’90s
  • Article pitches should be research-based and approach the subject matter in a way that hasn’t been covered elsewhere, while still remaining consistent with the themes of this site
  • Subjects that have never been covered in English or are not well known among English-speaking fans are preferred

Now, it’ll be pretty obvious to any reader of Zimmerit that the coverage of topics here is not the same, but that third point is probably the most important one for me personally. It’s why you’ll never find a piece on here primarily about Hayao Miyazaki or Mamoru Oshii, for instance.

With that in mind, these are the general guidelines I go by in no particular order — although, as Dezaki says, there are no hard-and-fast rules:

  1. Subjects that have never been covered in English or are not well known among English-speaking fans are prioritized.
  2. It must have some connection to anime/manga/Japanese-subcultures from the early 90s or earlier.
  3. If I don’t translate it, no one else will.
  4. I must comprehend very close to 100% of the source article.
  5. Try and recreate the experience of reading the source article in the original format.
  6. Avoid leaving in Japanese terminology when possible.
  7. No translations of anime, manga, drama, or other commercial fictional work in and of themselves.
  8. I must lose money on operating this blog.

Perhaps ironically, a lower readership helps inform me whether or not I’m abiding by the first point, haha. Honestly, my expectations are so low with the stuff I put out that I consider getting 5 views on an article a success. Most translations have gotten over 100 views though, primarily thanks to others with far more Twitter followers than myself — this is the actual reason anyone even finds their way here.

The second and third points are easy enough, since my interests lend naturally to them. Although, I don’t pay attention to other fan translation projects and I don’t talk to other translators. I was actually wrong on the third one once, if you count a DeepL translation effort — I never ended up doing that one and probably won’t.

The forth point is important to me, and is also partially why I am not keen on taking translation requests. If I don’t understand the entire article, then I just won’t translate and put it on here. One of the hard realities I had to face after many years of Japanese study is that fluency is not at all a binary switch — as is the case with many things in life, it’s more akin to a scale or gradient.

Years before this blog, I pointed a friend over to https://jisho.org/, a J-E dictionary I do not use, to encourage them to learn Japanese as they had expressed a budding interest. They immediately took the resource and started fan translating stuff with little to no knowledge of Japanese grammar — I guess it was like “here is the string of English words that come out of this dictionary and I will try and interpret something out of it.” When I asked them whether or not they were concerned about mistranslating something into factual inaccuracy and spreading this information online, they told me they simply didn’t care. I found this response alarming and irresponsible. This is why if I don’t feel reasonably confident in my comprehension of the source text, I try to be open about it, like in the Makoto Yamashina interview, and am open to anyone asking for the source text if they want to verify my work — no one has tried to my knowledge. I rarely do this, but in the case of that one, I asked a native Japanese speaker about the sections I wasn’t confident about and he told me it was straight up incomprehensible. I am honestly still unsure what to do about this situation, where sections of the source text are incomprehensible even to native speakers.

On the fifth point, readers will notice that the physical layout and text styling of the articles differ from one another. I realize it’s a fool’s errand, but I spend way more time on this than is worthwhile because I’m trying to recreate the experience of physically reading the source article. When I read them, I think about things like how my eyes move across the page, when I hit a page break and have to turn the page, when I glance at accompanying pictures floating aside the text, and how my attention changes when the font gets larger, smaller, bolder, or italicized. It’s honestly hopeless because of differences like how Japanese text is almost always laid out vertically in these source texts, as opposed to how you’re reading this horizontally. I also always have to fight the WordPress editor to get it to lay out text and images the way I want. It’s a lot of effort for something any non-masochistic reasonable person would just not bother with and restructure the layout into something readable. I don’t know why I bother.

Speaking of fool’s errands, per the sixth point, I try to make these articles as accessible to as many English speakers as possible; this means cutting out Japanese terminology. I just don’t like the idea of requiring people to know any Japanese to read these articles. This is why I don’t leave Japanese animation terms as-is and try to use English titles of shows and movies in the source text, although my life would be so much easier if I just left it all in romanized Japanese. Hell, I even insist on using the word “shot” instead of “cut” because it’s the established film term in English. Again, it’s a fool’s errand because no one is even going to find their way on here unless they were already deep down the hole of anime fandom. Even though a large portion of readers are sakuga fans — people interested in the technical aspects of Japanese animation — and they would probably prefer I don’t translate this way, I figure that they are hardcore enough that they can figure out what the original term was anyway — also, you can just ask me if you want the source text. All that said, I realize that even the translations of sakuga terms are not particularly meaningful to people unfamiliar with the technical aspects of Japanese animation. Seriously, how is anyone supposed to know that the “art director” refers to the person responsible for painting the backgrounds of scenes? All of it is art, goddamn it!

Regarding the seventh point, I’ve just never had an interest in actually translating the fictional works these articles are about. I can get over being a poor writer by the fact that the translations are most useful for their informational content. With fiction, I now have to figure out how to best render the personalities of fictional characters into English. It’s beyond my capacity. Compared to fictional characters, there’s less variation in personality between the human subjects of the articles I’ve put up.

Besides that, the goal of the site is not to translate resources in their entirety; putting aside the terrifying thought of all the work involved in such an endeavor, the aim is to give people an idea of what resources are out there and a sample of what’s inside. I wouldn’t translate an entire commercial work on principle. The source articles tend to be addendums or only a small portion of a product people purchase (e.g. a magazine, a blu-ray release with a booklet, etc.), oftentimes for a whole host of other reasons. That said, I acknowledge a fair argument can still be made against what I do: either way it’s unofficial translations.

This has gone on way too long, so to wrap up on the eighth point, yes, one of my guidelines is to actually lose money on operating this blog. I certainly do not plan on operating a patreon, because I would consider breaking even a failure (I also don’t want the added stress of owing people translations). As I said, these are unofficial translations. I didn’t pay the people who interviewed these subjects. I didn’t pay the people who edited these interviews. On principle, I don’t even want to come anywhere close to non-profit/profit boundary seeing as I did not invest any of my own resources into creating the source materials. The only entities who should be making any money off of this blog are the companies I pay for the domain name and hosting. Maybe in the future it’ll include people I pay to translate things for me — I’ve considered this many times because of how much I dislike translating, but I’ve never actually commissioned a translation for a bunch of reasons. Anyway, this is my compromise with respect to the unofficial nature of these translations. If I ever reach a point where I struggle to pay for the blog’s operating costs, it just means I spend less time on my hobbies and more time on my career.

These are just my personal principles. It’s not a judgement on other fan translation or translation-adjacent patreons; on the contrary, I think several of them are incredible. I could only dream of being as prolific as schmuplations (whose patreon is non-profit to my understanding), and I literally back the Zimmerit patreon. By the way, go back the Zimmerit patreon, so they can keep paying their contributors! They deserve it. As I’ve said, the spirit of covering topics not well known in English has been the strongest influence on this blog.

Okay, to get back to the original question… No, I will not translate whatever you’re asking me to translate. No, I will not teach you Japanese. I’m happy to receive resources from others that they think I’ll be interested in, but you should not expect me to translate them for you. Even if someone asked me if I was going to translate something, and I had actually been thinking about it or working on it — it hasn’t happened yet — I would still tell them no to not get anyone’s hopes up. I could change my mind mid-way, as I have done for several projects. Man, this would be much easier if someone else edited these articles for me.

Holy hell, did anyone really read the whole thing and get down here?

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