We recently sat down with MangaGamer translator John Pickett and talked about the future of bishoujo games, MangaGamer and Anime Expo. Here’s what we found out:
Please introduce yourself and a little bit about your company for our readers.
My name is John, though most people online probably recognize me as Kouryuu. I currently work as Head Translator for MangaGamer and I also do some marketing/public relations work as well. Our company is focused on the localization of Bishojo games, Visual Novels, or Eroge as they’re sometimes called.
Bishoujo games could easily be called the origin of moe, and served to help several companies such Konami truly get started several years ago. They’re the source of anime such as Shuffle, Chaos; Head, Rumbling Hearts, Koihime Musou,Fate/Stay Night, and many, many more. Like the name Visual Novels suggests, the games are often very text heavy like novels, and just as novels cover an array of genres, some Bishoujo games are romantic, focusing on the development of relations between two people; some are filled with suspense, focusing on the struggle to survive a desperate sensation; some are filled with mystery, focusing on the solution to various crimes or murders, and so forth. However, as the Visual part of Visual Novel suggests, these games are enhanced with voices, sounds, music, background illustrations, character illustrations, special event illustrations, and more. All are interactive, with choices made by the player determining the outcome of the game. Anyone who’s played the Atelier Series, the Persona Series, the Ar Tornelico series, or games like Record of Agarest War is probably already somewhat familiar with the idea of Bishoujo games, since all of those games draw upon many of the elements and play styles that make Bishoujo games fun.
Can you explain how you became involved with MangaGamer?
I started as a ‘fan translator,’ translating Soul Link in my spare time as sort of translation practice, before I graduated. Then after graduation, I saw that MangaGamer was looking for people to help out at their Otakon booth, so I sent an e-mail to see if I could help, and after many conversations in Japanese with them during the convention, I was hired on as a translator.
What is the translation process like?
The process has actually changed a lot since the time I joined as a translator and since I became able to direct it closer. At first, the translation was done by teams of commissioned freelancers, and while there would be sheets listing terms that needed to stay consistent, it was ultimately the old editor’s responsibility to make sure they were.
Now we’re using better translators, and are shifting to a one-translator-one-game model, with the editor being able to communicate more openly and more frequently with the translators to ensure a higher quality. I also make sure to play each game through before I begin working on them.
What’s the longest script that you’ve had to work with?
If we’re talking the longest single script file, it was probably this one in Kira Kira Curtain Call which was over 125 pages long. If we’re talking longest script in terms of the whole game, I’d say it’s probably Koihime Musou for me.
I’d imagine that Koihime has been the hardest game for you to translate given the amount of Chinese names for people and places. Can you please explain to us how you prepared yourself mentally for such a task?
Well, I liked games like Dynasty Warriors, and anime like Ikkitousen, so that has really helped me keep track of the each character’s 3-4 different names and combinations thereof.
When it comes to keeping track of the Chinese places, Wikipedia has been a godsend. Just about every day I’m so happy that I can paste kanji into the English Wiki and pull up City/Country names. Likewise, it’s also been extremely useful in collecting information on how weapon names and character names have been translated in other translations of or works based on the Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
Maybe I’m just unique, but I always enjoy looking up how words have changed and how they compare from one language to another, so research like this has a least been a fun part of the job to me. Likewise, researching all the biological terms needed for the Professor’s explanation in Soul Link was a lot of fun for me too, though not at as much as trying to derive an English technical term for something which was entirely fictional and unique to that game.
What tools do you use to help you translate?
As I just mentioned, I often use Wikipedia and other sites to help with quick research for some things, but other times, I’ll still have to do research the hard way, just like most college and grad students have done often enough in their career.
I often use a site called WWJDIC to quickly look up words I know, but want to see a few more possibilities for. Likewise, I often use dictionary.com and thesaurus.com for quickly double checking my choices in diction. When I have to actually look up a word I usually turn to either Kanji Sono Mama Rakubiki Jiten (A DS cartridge that has served me for many years as a reliable and less expensive electronic dictionary) or to my Kenkyuusha’s New Japanese-English Dictionary, which I swear is bigger than my Webster’s English Dictionary.
As for programs I use, I usually do all of my script translation in Microsoft Word.
What advice would you give someone who is hoping to break into the translation industry?
My first bit of advice is to try and get some study abroad in. I learned so much more in my year studying abroad than I ever did in the classroom, and without the experience of being in Japan and interacting with the Japanese, it can be hard to grasp the nuances of cultural behavior, something you need to know to be able to actually localize a game more than simply translate it.
Second piece of advice would be to shoot for JLPT 1 certification. Having the certification helps prove your ability, and in many places it’s a requirement to have at least JLPT 2 or 1 in order to translate.
Lastly, for those who are still considering going into translation, take some time to practice. Grab a manga, an anime series, or a game, tell yourself ‘I’m going to translate this by this day,’ and do it. It’s a good way to determine whether or not you have the patience and determination to finish a translation project, it gives you practice in doing so, and it will also help give you an idea of your own translation pace. If you can’t finish in time, it’s important to find out what, and see what you can do to improve it. If you find you can’t stand it anymore, and abandon the project, then perhaps translation may not be for you.
What’s your favorite game in the MangaGamer library?
Well, every one of the games I’ve worked: Kira Kira Curtain Call, Edelweiss Eiden Fantasia, Soul Link, and now Koihime Musou, has a bit of a special place in me because of all the effort and work I’ve put into it. So asking me to choose between them is a really hard decision to make. But, if we’re excluding the games I’ve worked on and their forerunners, then I’d say my favorite game is the Higurashi series. Ryuukishi does a great job at keeping the suspense running, and keeping everything a mystery until the right moment, and I love his writing; though admittedly, I’m not too fond of his artwork.
If you could work translate any company’s game, which game would it be and why?
Personally, I would love to work on Seinarukana by Xuse. It has a vast battle system with forts and other devices, a story I loved, and the challenge of capturing all the different styles of speech, as well as the challenge of localizing a lot of terms derived from mythology. I also absolutely love the artwork and the voices for it. The music too.
Now that the final chapter of the Higurashi was just released a short while ago, are there any plans on working with 07th expansion on trying to acquire the Umineko license?
I don’t know of any plans for MangaGamer to work on Umineko, but I hear some fans have received Ryuukishi’s blessing and are nearly finished with their translation of it.
MangaGamer has been around for three years, do you think that there’s been any change in the general acceptance of visual novels overseas? I imagine that with recent releases like Sakura Wars, Ar Tonelico and the Record of Agarest Wars that they’re becoming more mainstream now.
Yes, and no. The release of games like those have certainly made it much easier for us and for fans to talk about visual novels, because now there’s something to compare them to in order to get the interest of those who don’t know about them. However, there’s still that line of ‘text heavy’ that many haven’t crossed yet, and don’t feel like crossing. Rather than a truly engaging story, they’d rather have game-play. It’s quite understandable, and why we’re trying to bring out more games with game-play to help bridge this gap, and attract more people to the Bishoujo Game format.
To give you an example of the situation, Bishoujo Games are constantly ported to various consoles in Japan, including the PSP and PS3. However, as reported in an interview with NISA (source=Siloconera), their attempts to bring Sakura Wars 1-2 to the PSN were rejected “because they’re novels”, so there’s still a lot of resistance in the western market to these games.
Has there been any increase in the amount of sales ever since you guys started introducing the ‘all-ages’ brand?
Not particularly. Our all-ages version of Kira Kira didn’t sell much more compared to the adult version, but Higurashi, which doesn’t have an adult version has sold comparably to the rest of our catalog. I think it’s simply a matter of people wanting the game in its fullest form—if there was no adult content, they don’t seem to mind not having it; if there was adult content, they want it. It seems like that’s all there is to it.
Though one could also say this means we’re fulfilling the demand for non-adult titles as well, something our competitors have refused to do in the past.
Do you know if your company has any plans on translating any yaoi-centric games?
We don’t have any plans for them currently, but BaseSon’s sister brand has created some before, so it’s possible we may localize them one day.
What’s your take on the accusations made by Japanese companies that Americans are responsible for increasing internal pressure to regulate their work and industry?
Well, to be fair to the Japanese companies, it is a well-founded complaint. The games were made for the Japanese audience, with Japanese rules and regulations in mind. The person who decided it was a good idea to try and resell his imported copy on Amazon should have thought twice about it.
I also think the human rights groups should have focused their efforts on better, more pressing issues, like the treatment of women in Africa and the Middle East, rather than focusing on fictional women who are not suffering any harm or rights violations in any way. In the many years of pornography and literature, far worse has been published, distributed, and enjoyed by the masses than anything in the ECOS regulated Japanese industry. Furthermore, the media simply exacerbated the issue for little reason.
Lastly, while I understand the rationale for the reactions of the Japanese companies, I do believe they could have handled the issue far better than they did.
In short, I think it’s been a lot of misguided fuss over a sleeping dog that should’ve been left to lie, but now the dog is awake and everyone is being forced to take responsibility for it somehow.
What did you think of Anime Expo 2010? Did you partake in any of the festivities?
I actually spent most of Anime Expo going around and talking to different people from different companies, but I did partake in just about every one of our concerts, and I certainly came back with a lot of stuff and a lot less money.
While I appreciate the fact that Frontwing was invited to Anime Expo, and I know the rationale behind your twitter tease, on behalf of bishoujo fans everywhere I thought that I’d go and tell you that you’re still a jerk. Anything to say in your defense?
Well, to be fair, when I started those hints, I had absolutely no idea how I was going to do it without giving away the big news a day early. As I was scouring their catalog, I saw people were already jumping to conclusions, when lo and behold, I realized games with similar features were in Frontwing’s catalog, so I just went with it. That’s why I like to think the ‘tease’ was fan-guided. In honest defense though, those hints got us a lot more followers on twitter, so a lot more people were able to stay updated on our AX events, as well as catch our live streams of the concerts than there would have been otherwise.
Speaking of Frontwing, we didn’t hear much about them at the MangaGamer panel. Any ideas on whether or not MangaGamer will be working with them on translating any of their titles in the future?
Yes, Frontwing unfortunately, did not join us for the panel so they were unable to present their input. I don’t know if there are any plans in the works yet, but Frontwing did previously license one of their games for localization with Hirameki, so I imagine they are interested in localizing to the English market.
As a bishoujo collector, I love the fact that MangaGamer finally released games on hard-copy at Anime Expo. Can you explain how that came about and does the company have any plans on distributing them like this online?
Well, we’ve been receiving a lot of requests for hard-copies of our games, so we’ve been looking into venues for that to help satisfy customer demand. The print runs we had at AX, were a bit of an experiment done with cooperation from Hobibox and OVERDRIVE. We’ll also have part of the print run available at this upcoming Otakon for those who couldn’t make it to AX.
Lastly, anything you want to tell our readers?
For those who already fans of our games, thank you for playing them, and I hope we can have your continued support. For those who haven’t yet tried playing a Bishoujo game, I welcome you to visit our website at MangaGamer.com and take a look at one of our trial demos. I’m sure there’s a Bishoujo game that’s right for everyone.