Highlighting New Publications – The Task of Manga Translation

The question of how exactly to refer to anime/manga studies – as an academic discipline, a field, an area of interest – is easy to ask, perhaps even inevitable. And it certainly puts “anime/manga studies” into good company – this same kind of question has come up time and time again in relation to topics as diverse as knowledge management, “public diplomacy”, popular music studies, and even film studies.

With this in mind, it is particularly interesting to compare “anime/manga studies” to another area that it is very close to, and in fact, that it can be said to overlap with – comics studies. More specifically, what does “comics studies” have that “anime/manga studies” does not?

At this point, English-language comics studies is characterized by several features. Classes on different aspects of comics/graphic novels are common at colleges and universities around the U.S. and in other countries; in fact, the Department of English at the University of Florida now offers a “comics and visual rhetoric” track in its PhD program, while the University of Oregon allows undergraduate students to pursue an interdisciplinary “comics and cartoon studies” minor. Comics scholars can also present their work at events such as the Comics Arts Conference and the sessions at the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association Annual Conference that are sponsored by the PCA’s Comics and Comic Arts Area, and receive formal recognition for it, for example, via an Eisner Award in the “best scholarly/academic category”.

Another important feature for any academic field/discipline/area is a set of journals that are considered crucial as venues for producing and sharing new knowledge. In comics studies, these include the print-only International Journal of Comic Art, the subscription-based Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics and Studies in Comics, and the open-access Image [&] Narrative and ImageTexT: Interdisciplinary Comics Studies.

And it is clear that comics studies is a field that is very much expanding and growing – as can be seen in the recent launch of another similar publication, The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship. Interestingly, it originally existed as as a blog-based “platform for a comics scholarship of the so-called digital age”, but in 2013, converted to a more traditional “fully-fledged open access journal” format. Since then, it has published almost 40 articles on different aspects of comics, including one on Japanese comics, and has now opened its 2016 volume with a second.

de la Iglezia, Martin. The task of manga translation: Akira in the West. The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship, 6.

“Translated editions of Katsuhiro Ōtomo’s manga Akira played an important role in the popularisation of manga in the Western world. Published in Japan between 1982 and 1990, editions in European languages followed as soon as the late 1980s. In the first US edition (Epic 1988–1995) the originally black and white manga was printed in colour and published in 38 issues, which were designed not unlike typical American comic books. The first German edition (Carlsen 1991–1996) marked the beginning of Carlsen’s manga publishing efforts. It was based on the English-language edition and also printed in colour, and combined two American issues in one.

This article analyses the materiality of these two translated editions with a focus on three main issues – the mirroring (or ‘flipping’) which changes the reading direction from right-to-left into left-to-right, the colouring of the originally black and white artwork, and the translation of different kinds of script (sound effects, speech bubble text, and inscriptions or labels).”

This is certainly not the time a scholar has looked at the process of translating and presenting Japanese comics to Western audiences; in fact, the author specifically cites to – and expands on – the work of Peter Howell (Strategy and style in English and French translations of Japanese comic books), Heike Jungst (“Translating manga”, in Federico Zanettin (Ed.), Comics in translation), and Casey Brienza (Books, not comics: Publishing fields, globalization, and Japanese manga in the United States). Other similar recent essays on this general topic include Fluidity of modes in the translation of manga: The case of Kishimoto’s Naruto (Visual Communication, 13:4, 471-486, which compares that manga’s fan and official translations), “The Christianizing of animism in manga and anime: American translations of Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind” (in A. David Lewis & Christine Hoff Kraemer (Eds.), Graven images: Religion in comic books and graphic novels) and particularly, “A textual analysis of Japanese and Chinese editions of manga: Translation as cultural hybridiziation” (International Journal of Comic Art, 8:2, 34-55).

But this specific essay, with its focus on how the process of translation and its result differs when an original work is translated into more than one foreign language does an excellent job of demonstrating how good scholarship draws on previous methodologies and uses them in a new way. And, as more and more manga are translated and published outside Japan, and as publishers return to “rescue” manga that had already previously appeared in translation (such as, for example, Chobits or Fruits Basket, originally published in the U.S. by Tokyopop, then republished by, respectively, Dark Horse and Yen Press) it presents a very good model to use for comparing these translations to each other.

Textual analysis and close readings of course have an important role to play in anime/manga studies. But, as “The task of manga translation” demonstrates, they are not the only ways to look at Japanese comics, to ask particular questions, and to strive to provide answers to those questions.

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