My friend Dave threw me a behemoth of an idea my way last night as I was searching for a blog idea that would strike my fancy. He suggested that I explore the evolution of manga editing, which honestly sounds more like a research paper than a blog post. It would cost me a lot of time and money in order to fully explore the evolution of manga editing, but here’s my go at the idea with only a few series as examples and my own experience under my belt.
So far I have been an editor on little over a dozen manga. As far as manga editors go, I am pretty sure this is a pretty paltry number, but I kind of, sort of just hit the one year mark of working in the manga industry (if you count internships.)
These days, manga editing is really streamlined. Each major company has its own style book and rules to follow and more likely than not, more than one editor reads a manga before it goes to print. Then again, most of the manga publishers these days have been around for years or have other publishers backing them with expectations, rules and editorial talent. There aren’t too many start-up companies around either.
Less than ten years ago, however, it was a bit of a different story. It was only seven years ago that TOKYOPOP first published Kare Kano (His and Her Circumstances) by Masami Tsuda. Since there are only two names I recognize on the credits page (the COO and the CEO), I hope no one takes offense to me picking one of my employer’s titles or that the company doesn’t take offense to my criticism of an old series. (Although senior editor Lillian Diaz-Przybyl tells me that all the mistakes I pointed out were corrected to the best of TOKYOPOP’s ability in the omnibus editions.)
I’ve been slowly re-reading Kare Kano over the past few weeks and the first few volumes were utterly painful. There are many things where I’m surely one of the very few who noticed, but there are numerous instances where Japanese text wasn’t erased before the English text was put over it, where the artwork or tones were erased and never replaced properly (or at all) and text intruding awkwardly on artwork, amongst other things. Sure, the editing improved after the first few volumes and I’m more than sure many things were corrected for the omnibus edition of the manga, but I have to say-no wonder legally published manga had/has a reputation of lower quality when compared to scanlated manga! Not that I think it’s true anymore…That was seven years ago, when TOKYOPOP hadn’t even been around for seven years yet! And now, I know for a fact that TOKYOPOP editors are aware of these past mistakes and know what to look out for. You won’t easily see any garish use of photoshop to replace screentones that were erased in the lettering process or an aside comment that never got translated. The company has sharper editors and sharper touch-up artists these days, but back then they were still learning the ropes.
Viz, however, had nearly 20 years to perfect it’s editing craft when it made (what I think) is a fairly big mistake of a different kind. In the first volume of From Far Away by Kyoko Hikawa, someone left the word “hella,” a Northern California slang word, in a line. When I first read From Far Away, it struck me more because I really dislike the word (being from Southern CA and all), but now it just seems like an amateurish error that they left it in there when the character never ever uses similar slang past the first chapter. (There is an instance of “omigod” in the first chapter, but I feel that it’s more forgivable because it’s just a slight variation on a very common phrase.)
Is this “hella,” however, as grave a manga-editing offense as messing up the artwork and forgetting to remove Japanese text under the English? Yes, because editing manga in the U.S. isn’t just about making things look just as shiny as the Japanese edition, it’s also about creating an ease of reading for the audience. Editors don’t want readers to be caught up in trying to understand a phrase and it’s important to keep a character’s voice sounding consistent to the readers, so using a fairly local slang word is likely to bother them and create confusion when the character does not continue to speak that way. Is it worse that they didn’t continue to use slang to make the character sound like a young girl through out the volume or worse they left in this one inconsistency? I don’t know, but either way it’s an error.
What I watch for in my editing process is a long list. Basically, I look for mistakes that have been made in the art after the manga has been lettered, I look for all the grammatical and spelling errors you would expect, I look for ways to re-write lines so that they sound smoother in keeping with the manga and the character saying them and I look for other things such as making sure the text doesn’t stray too far out into the bleed zones, making sure the size and format of the text conveys the mood and feel of original and making sure words are hyphenated properly. If there are lines that have not been translated into English, I translate them myself or get the help of someone more fluent than I am. If the translators or re-writers have left multiple choices for me to use in the script, I choose which one is the best and/or write in an explanation of some kind. I never catch every mistake that’s been made whenever I edit, but I figure that will improve with time and, in the mean time, I have other editors supporting me and finding what I missed. It’s a tough process and I’m 100% sure that other manga editors have let mistakes slip through and go to print. For example, Del Rey’s version of Mushishi regularly has text cut off. Either half a sentence will disappear at the ends of a page or you’ll have to seriously crack open your manga’s spine to get at it.
Even so, the way manga is published in the U.S. has improved greatly. There is little or no fear of reading a book right-to-left, which not only makes things more authentic to the reader, but easier for everyone who’s ever had to face changing dialogue because a character is now on the left side instead of the right! While there is major censorship around at some companies (and by censorship, I mean someone has a pair of pants on that they didn’t have before), no one is re-writing entire manga with American names and American references anymore. I’ve no doubt in my mind that what I’ve learned as an editor is based on years and years of figuring out what works, what doesn’t and finding the little things that no one caught before. I believe that the editorial process will only continue t0 improve the quality of manga as we editors work on more and more titles. The mistakes that I found, made long ago, are already obsolete in the manga made by those companies as it is!
Geez, Dave. Thanks for the great topic.