The Best Translation
I have certain sayings that I like to repeat when the subject comes up. "There's no such thing as a famous translator," is one of them. If you've ever been to the Lost in Translation panel at the San Diego Comic Con, you've probably heard my, "Three things, any two of which will allow you to survive in the manga industry," speech (which wasn't even mine! I stole it from a panel of comic-book editors I attended during the World Con in '84). But one of my favorites has to do with a truth behind translation.
The best translation is always your own translation.
A dirty little secret that the world naturally keeps hidden is that when we read something in English, a novel for example, even though we've read the same book, we didn't have the same experience. We all bring our own assumptions, experiences and prejudices to any novel we read, and what we imagine as we read that novel can be vastly different from person to person. The same is true for manga.
What you read when you get a translation is manga filtered through a mind. If you read manga that I translated, you are getting my interpretation of what the characters are saying and who they are. If you were able to read the manga for yourself in Japanese, it's possible (even likely) that you would get a different interpretation and have that character say the dialog differently in English.
It's one reason why no two translations of the same material are exactly alike.
So if you know Japanese (to any extent) and have read a work before in the original language, then if you read a translation of it, odds are you will have anything from quibbles with the other person's translation to a pull-out-the-pitchforks-and-torches-and-lynch-the-translator attitude. In fact, a while back, a poster on the Anime on DVD forums made it clear that he still hadn't "forgiven" me for an interpretation of Video Girl Ai dialog that I was responsible for in 1998. That's a better part of a decade that someone's been holding a grudge over an interpretation choice.
So here's a piece of advice. If you really want to enjoy a translated work, don't read the original. If you really want to enjoy the original, then avoid the translated version and translate the original for yourself. Your mind works differently than the translator's, and the translation will just make you frustrated.
On the other hand, if you're mining someone else's translation for interesting word choices, that can be a different story -- and I'll get into that in a future column.