December 1, 2021
Industry Novels

German Fans Are Disappointed That Tokyopop's New Light Novels Are Translated From English, Not Japanese

  • October 19, 2021
  • 4 min read
German Fans Are Disappointed That Tokyopop's New Light Novels Are Translated From English, Not Japanese

Tokyopop Germany General Manager Susanne Hellweg revealed in an interview with the Manga Passion German news website on October 9 that the publisher’s recent light novel lineup, which includes The Rising of the Shield Hero, Konosuba – God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World!, and Overlord, is translated from English instead of Japanese. The move represents a departure from Tokyopop‘s previous strategy in the German translation sphere; the publisher’s manga releases are advertised as “translated from Japanese.”

According to Hellweg, the decision was made to “provide the fans with the best quality translation.” She claimed that if the novel was already successful translated into English, then creating a German translation from the English version may be a better choice than translating from Japanese, because translators may “not be comfortable” with handling the content or format of a Japanese light novel, or may lack the appropriate “background.”

German fans have reacted to the news with disappointment.

Dave, a fan who runs the Light Novel Dungeon German light novel news website, told ANN that it was “basically unheard of” for modern German translations of anime, manga, or light novels to use English rather than Japanese as the base. He said he was “not necessarily surprised” to hear that Tokyopop had adopted this strategy due to the company’s lack of transparency. “It was already speculated before that the translation may have been from English, as the lack of language in the translation credit was noticed fairly quickly.”

The use of a “pivot language” (that is, basing a translation on an intermediary translation instead of the original language) is controversial in the German literary scene. A common complaint for pivot language translations is that they can tend to lose more in translation, because any misinterpretations or ambiguities introduced in the intermediary translation will be passed on to the next translator in line like a game of Telephone.

Japanese-German translator Berlitz von Mandelbrot cited the early translations of Haruki Murakami’s novels, which were based on the heavily abridged English versions, as a prominent scandal in the early 2000s. He also noted that although there are still examples of German translations of Japanese fiction and non-fiction that use a pivot language, Japanese is currently the third most popular source language for translations in Germany after English and French.

“It’s not some obscure ‘exotic’ language, and you can find works of Japanese authors in most bookstores,” he said.

The issue is also one of marketing and transparency to the audience. For German fans who can also read English, a pivot language translation is a betrayal because they could have simply read the English version instead. Fans of anime, manga, and light novels are particularly sensitive about authenticity in translation. For them, these stories are gateways into Japanese culture, and so a translation that has already been through the filter of an (often America-centric) English localization rings false.

Why resort to a pivot language translation, then? According to von Mandelbrot, it’s a matter of time and money.

“Light novel [translators] are paid far worse than manga [translators] if you consider the work that goes into it. But translations from English can be done quicker, which is why some translators might accept those offers more readily,” he said. “What scares me is how a publisher didn’t hesitate to throw their own translators under the bus to avoid direct criticism, making them responsible for the decision for not feeling ‘comfortable’ with translating light novels. Even if that was the case, even if there was no capable translator in the whole German-speaking world (or rather, no translator who would work for the pay), it does explain neither Tokyopop‘s lack of transparency nor the wording of the statement.”

ANN reached out to Tokyopop for comment, but did not receive a response by press time.

Update (11/19): Further clarification has been added to the summary of Hellweg’s interview in the second paragraph. The article previously stated that Hellweg said that translators may “not be comfortable” with Japanese; this has been expanded to “may ‘not be comfortable’ with handling the content or format of a Japanese light novel, or may lack the appropriate ‘background.'”

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