- Manga Translation and Interculture
Because comics and manga combine images and texts, their translation encounters a range of problems. Translators confront combinations of pictorial and linguistic elements that work together to tell the story, such as reading direction, page layout, speech balloon shape, and onomatopoeia. Images both complement and accommodate the source language on every level. The interaction and interdependence of image and text create difficulties for translators that differ greatly from purely linguistic translation, such as the translation of a novel, and yet translating manga is also very different from translating audiovisual media.
Japanese anime and manga were introduced outside of Japan through grassroots fan trading and, in many countries, were initially linked with the subculture of science fiction. They have since entered the consciousness of mainstream culture and have become firmly established commercial products; no longer limited to specialist bookstores, they are now stocked in high volume by general bookstores and libraries. And yet, the social aspects established during the initial period of reception remain strong.
Fan groups that translate anime and manga have had a strong influence on the evolution of commercial translation strategies for the medium,1 [End Page 93] and anime clubs and conventions often develop symbiotic ties with industry retailers.2 As inferred by the terms "group" and "club," manga and anime consumption is often viewed as a social activity. "Scanlations" (fan-made translations of manga) and "fansubs" (fan-made subtitled anime), which are produced for and distributed among fans, also often entail group effort. This direct involvement by fans in the introduction of the source material into the target culture allows them to be not only consumers but also distributors and producers. Furthermore, commercially translated manga tend to be consumed as overtly foreignized texts, with their readers well aware that they are reading translations,3 and this encourages the fanbase to appropriate the texts as more than foreign import products, establishing them as cultural possessions in the minds of the fanbase at large.
One recent example of such appropriation, which is becoming increasingly common, is the creation of original non-Japanese "manga," that is, manga produced in languages other than Japanese around the world. Such manga are created by artists outside of Japan and inspired mostly by the corpus of translated manga, to which the artists have easier access to than the original Japanese texts. These new manga are sometimes called Original English Language (OEL) manga, or Amerimanga or Euromanga for manga produced specifically in those regions. As is evidenced in these terms, the language or region of origin are the two main defining characteristics that separate the new (nontranslated) manga from translated Japanese manga. In this essay, however, I will refer to them collectively as Original Non-Japanese (ONJ) manga,4 in order to encompass those texts produced in languages other than English, even though my discussion will largely address issues regarding Japanese-to-English translation and the works inspired by them, with some additional reference to texts produced in Germany.
ONJ manga texts have been received with mixed reviews worldwide. They are sometimes seen as shallow copies of foreign cultural objects. It has been suggested that they "imitate"5 or "mimic"6 Japanese manga, and that they are "pseudomanga."7 However, Anthony Pym's theory of interculture suggests an alternative view.8 Pym argues the existence of spaces where two or more cultures overlap and can then form an identity of their own. He theorizes that translations both create and strengthen such overlaps, which allow for the creation of new texts to develop from within the interculture. His approach makes it possible to consider ONJ manga as evidence of an established intersection between cultures and that, as such, they may be defined as intercultural texts.
The marketing of translated manga as foreign texts presents them as [End Page 94] part of a cultural package, which also conveys neighboring cultural elements to the source culture. A manga set in a Japanese school, for example, will include references to the Japanese education system, fashion, food, and pop culture, in its cultural package. Polysystem theory, as developed by Itamar Even-Zohar outlines a theoretical framework for this situation.9