I recently had the opportunity to do another bit of translation for an artist I follow: this time a six-page mini manga drawn for a Persona 5 anthology a few years ago.
This was a very interesting project. I originally offered to simply send the translated dialogue to the artist, but ended up doing the lettering myself as well — originally with pages I cleaned by myself, and then ultimately with clean pages directly provided by the artist. I’m very glad it worked out this way; the original manga featured several different fonts which were used to great effect in order to give character and flavor to each scene, and I imagine that selecting corresponding English fonts would be difficult for someone without experience doing so (Japanese typography is, of course, very different from English!).
As I’ve grown in my ability to fluently understand Japanese material, I’ve also grown less tolerant of literal translations. Persona Problems is a site devoted to explaining some of the errors that were made in the localization of the original Persona 5 (of which many were fixed for P5 Royal…though unfortunately Royal also introduced a fair number of its own issues). There’s a quote from this page which has stuck with me whenever I think about how to approach a translation project:
Poor translators worship words.
Excellent translators respect words, but worship ideas.
My translation of “Just the way you are” is a pretty liberal one, to be sure. Indeed, if the title itself was translated literally it would be called “Be the way you are right now”, which I hope we can all agree is a terrible title in English.
One interesting decision I had to make was how to translate the third-person pronoun あいつ (literally “that guy”), which is used frequently in the Japanese version of Persona 5 in order to respect the protagonist’s player-entered name. Simply using “he” in the English translation would be awkward, so I opted to go with “Ren”; the canon name which appears in P5: Dancing in Starlight and the manga series Mementos Mission.
Yusuke’s dialogue was particularly tricky; if handled poorly he could easily come across as bullying or domineering in his request to Futaba. He’s very serious but also a total blockhead, so I needed to come up with phrasing that would symbolize his total dedication to cheering Futaba up, while also conveying that he is totally out of his depth in trying to do so. Yusuke also speaks in a rather literary style, which I took advantage of to sneak in a stealth Lord of the Rings reference (from Théoden’s speech to Éowyn when he says “I would have you smile again”).
I labored over every line of dialogue in an effort to inject as much characterization as possible, and I’m very proud of the result. I’m very grateful for the artist’s enthusiastic response and hope to be able to work with them again in the future.