Originally posted 04/30/10 in my meta/review blog.
From what I’ve heard (and seen), in the early days of manga and anime coming over to the US, the official translations tended to be very poor, incredibly inaccurate, and on occasion the “translators” would completely change the story line. (As evidence of this, think about Warriors of the Wind , an early English dub of Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaa.) So I can more or less understand where the “fan translation is the only one true way, all official translations stink!” crowd are coming from. But…
I have seen some fan translations that have made my eyes bleed. I have seen bad grammar, bad spelling, and a very obnoxious tendency to stick (inane) notes into the page. I have been told however that even the worst fan translation is far superior to any, any official translation. Apparently by virtue of the fact that the person doing the translation loves what they’re doing and therefore will put a great deal of effort into translating, so everything will be perfectly accurate. Except for the part where their Japanese grammar might be pretty good, but their English grammar (or whatever language they are translating it into) is incoherent.
From chapter 44 of Chrono Crusade
Duke Duffau: Sinners…what you take is not enough, those who have committed treason, the reason you have been able to survive on this filthy Earth is, because you are not worth me coming personally to stop you.
Official Translation (ADV):
Duke Duffau: Sinners. You worthless traitors. You’re no better than animals scuttling along with your noses in the dirt. Frankly, I didn’t think you were worth my time. It’s what’s kept you alive this long.
I’m told that ADV did only a “so so” job of translating this manga, but which of these two translations has better flow and impact? Hint: it’s not the one where the translator doesn’t know what word means, “someone who has committed treason.” Also, “what you take is not enough,” might have been an “accurate” translation of whatever term or phrase used, but it’s meaningless/confusing/without context in English.
This particular instance is actually pretty mild. It’s clunky, but still readable. I have seen some bad word choices, and some really awful grammatical errors. Such as: “I’m sorry to made you wait.” And then there was this a bit later for the special effect: “wind howing” “wind howing.”
(Yes, I do read fan translations; I also buy official translations as soon as they’re out/I can afford them. I don’t have an objection to fan translation, I have an objection to the “fan translation is pure and perfect because of love,” meme.)
The thing about translation? It is never one hundred percent accurate. There are words that don’t translate, common phrases that have no context or meaning in another language. You can have a “bad” translation by either the company publishing it or by the fan translating it. (A difference between the two would be that the official translator presumably has someone to proofread/correct the grammar involved in the work. This does not seem to be the case for several manga I’ve seen where there were lots and lots of spelling/grammar problems.)
On the other side of the fan translation/official translation argument is that a lot of really good (or really good but minor) manga never get translated/get a wide publication. Reading a fan-translation might be the only way you can read something that hasn’t come to your country yet. (For instance, there are several manga I follow that haven’t been published in English yet, or are only at volume one.) I consider fan translated works to be a quick and easy way to get into a series before buying it, or because it’s not available. With all that in mind, I can’t help but get just a wee bit irritated/frustrated when someone tells me that the only good translation is done by fans. It’s a knee-jerk response, and it doesn’t actually reflect reality.