For a month and a week or so now, I’ve been working on a project intended to highlight people working in the manga industry and how hard they’re working to bring forth quality manga (well, that’s one of the things). When the project started, I intended to highlight three of more known positions in manga. I did:
- Advice on Manga Lettering, From Manga Letterers
- Advice on Manga Translation, From Manga Translators
- Advice on Manga Editing, From Manga Editors
But, in all honestly, those were the three I had actually known about. But very early on in the project, I learned about another position that I had no clue what it was. That would be an adapter:
…I know a few others in the industry and can ask them if they’d be interested in chatting/emailing with you for your project. Are you focusing on just letterers for now, or looking for translators/adapters too?
So, after asking Lys Blakeslee, Yen Press’s letterer who participated in the project and the one who sent the quoted text above, about what a manga adapter is, her response back implied that it was essentially just like editing. That was what I thought for two weeks or so. Then I finally started getting in contact with as many industry folk as I possibly could for editors, and I went back to the first person Lys gave me contact info for.
This was the response:
…And I’d be delighted to contribute, but I’m actually an adapter/rewriter, not an editor, so I can’t answer this specific set of questions. If you have a similar set of questions about adaptation, I hope you’ll send them my way!
So yeah, I had no idea what a manga adapter/rewriter was. Now, I had seen something like “adaptation” in certain manga series. If you check the credits page of most Seven Seas and Viz Media works, I’d see “adaptation” listed there. I didn’t find much information on it. I decided I wasn’t going to worry about it then.
But flash forward back to a few weeks ago, and now I’ve run into a dilemma. It’s not something I planned to do. I could just turn down doing the last project on manga adapters and call it a day.
Well, that was until I did a search on Google just to find information on what a manga adapter was.
Thanks based Google! So with Google being relatively useless, and my curiosity of finding out what an adapter actually does to a manga series tempting me, I took the plunge. I now plan on asking manga adapters advice on manga adapting, which will be up in two weeks, potentially.
But after I got this response back when I decided to ask what a manga adapter is:
What the hell? A manga adapter? I never heard of this. That sounds like something an anime studio would use.
-Manga blogger I keep in touch with
It became clear that it needed some explanation, so now I’ll talk about manga adapters. So, I guess the basic question is:
What is a Manga Adapter?
Well, from what I gathered from asking around, the job of a manga adapter is to take the translated Japanese script done by a translator into English, and make it sound like words you commonly see on a day to day basis. They normally receive the Japanese manga and English translation in a Word Document, and would adjust the text so it fits the bubbles and reads well in English. “Sometimes a rewriter does very little other than restructure sentences so they sound clear in English,” Lianne Sentar, who happened to be an adapter/rewriter for TOKYOPOP for years before they shut down the manga division in 2011 and is the adapter for Seven Seas’s Alice of The Country of series, said via email. “But rewriters can also do a more deluxe adaptation–adding lines to help clear up ambiguous sections, making connections in dialogue to stitch together ideas that were vague in the Japanese, replicating Japanese speech patterns with distinct English speech patterns.”
Even with this description, I was still mostly confused. Actually, it wasn’t her explanation that was wrong. It’s more or less my line of thinking. My thought was that the translator would already be writing it in proper English form. And if there are any glaring errors or in need of some things that needed smoothing out, the editor would take care of it. So what’s the need for an adapter? Ysabet MacFarlane, who happens to be adapting/rewriting manga such as Haganai, Mayo Chiki, A Devil and Her Love Song, and Strobe Edge, gave me a reason why to think that with this comment: “If someone can translate accurately, for example, but isn’t necessarily a great writer, we can compensate for that.” What this reminded me was that, hey, not everyone can write. And some of the people translating manga might not even be native English speakers. Of course, even some English speakers can have trouble writing, but whatever the case, there can always be a third eye looking it over. I now reflect back to the Manga Editing advice piece, where Daniella Orihuela-Gruber’s had answered my question on what her biggest challenge is when it comes to editing manga. Her answer involved the tone of a manga series, and this particular line implies a few things:
It’s easier if there’s a rewriter on the manga, though. That way there’s three of us trying to get the language right. However, I don’t always get that privilege!
- It would be great to make sure we make this manga good, so having an extra set of eyes would be nice.
- As you can also tell, it depends whether or not an adapter/re-writer will be assigned to the project for an editor, probably by publisher.
Clearly, the tone of a character, story, and how it’s shown is important. So…what happens when it goes wrong? Well, I finally understood it by reading Sensei’s Ramblings on this very subject. This is actually a post done by translator William Flaganan, who explains what they do, and explains it simply: “The most vital domain of the rewriter is characterization. If the characters sound like the characters, then the rewriter is doing a good job. If all the characters sound the same, then there’s a problem.” Here’s the example he gives which finally made me understand the role of an adapter:
Let’s take the line:
I’m going out with friends. Do you want to come along?
Me and the guys are goin’ out. Comin’?
I gonna meet up with some friends! You coming too?
Some of the guys and I are hitting the bars. You coming with?
A few of us are getting together. Do you think you can come along?
Several of us are going to paint the town. Do you feel like joining in?
A few of us had plans to go out. I do hope you can accompany us.
Plans are afoot for a group outing. Your presence is requested.
So, what’s the issue you ask? Well, they all sound the same. For a manga series, it’s possible they can use the first, neutral sentence. The problem? “The experience,” says William, “wouldn’t be as rich as is could be, and worse, wouldn’t be as rich as it was for Japanese readers when they read the original book.” And that’s a big no-no. As expressed by the adapters themselves and William’s article, nobody will ever notice the rewriter made a mistake, which means they’ve done a great job. They will notice when they make a big one like that, and that would be an issue. Now, here’s the full answer from Daniella on tone in a manga series:
Trying to catch the right tone for the series is probably the hardest for me. The copy-editing, the formatting, and the quality control aspects of the job are all pretty easy, but finding language that fits the book the best is always a challenge.
You have to find the right balance of language befitting a character and the overall tone of the manga. This is less about localization or writing the character like they’re speaking in an accent, and more about making sure a trendy teenager in the 21st Century isn’t speaking like they’re a Victorian aristocrat. Unless the manga tells us that’s their thing.
It’s easier if there’s a re-writer on the manga, though. That way there’s three of us trying to get the language right. However, I don’t always get that privilege!
So look back at those lines again, and you should get the point. It’s obviously something we don’t keep in mind when we’re reading a manga series, but that’s what the industry people have to deal with. If we do notice an issue like that, then that means the Adapter has failed. And…apparently we need to bring pitchforks and stuff.
But ok, I think I’ve explained what an adapter is. I sincerely hope you’ve got it.
…So why adapter/re-writer? Why are there two names of these? Who coined the term?
“I don’t know.” That was the answer from Lianne. She then explained that they are used differently:
- Within the industry, it’s referred to as a rewriter.
- But in manga books, it’s “adaptation” or “adapted by”.
And yes, Ysabet was not sure either.
I don’t know, but I think that should get figured out. Or explained. It’d be nice to know who coined the names in the first place actually…
So what happened to Manga Adapting?
“it’s a dying art–” Lianne said.
“the job itself is disappearing”
As you probably figured out from the start, manga adapting is…not exactly popular, it seems. Back in the early days of manga, a lot of people could be adapters.
“My impression,” Ysabet said, “is that adapters were more common back when manga was becoming a big thing in North America, especially because the early licensed titles tended to get more heavily localized than most things do now. I’m pretty sure that most or all of the VIZ series that I was familiar with back in the late ’90s or so had adapters.” So for a good chunk of time, there was definitely more of a usage for them.
“When manga first started to be published, all of my friends who loved manga but didn’t know Japanese wanted to be rewriters,” mentioned William in his article. He added that you didn’t have to take the years of Japanese to actually become a part of the manga industry.
Of course, back then you can consider that a problem. In anime (especially 4kids, poor them), there was a lot of changes that as a kid you wouldn’t know or care about, but you then realize that they effectively changed the original intention of the work itself, and that, with only a handful of exceptions (think of Dragonball Z of course. Then think of Ghost Stories!), is bad.
That’s how manga was back then too.
“There used to be WAY more of a push to ‘Westernize’ scripts before the manga was released to North American bookstores,” Lianne said. “Names were changes to Western equivalents–Yamato became “Matt,” for example–and references to Japanese places, foods, and culture were removed or replaced with Western equivalents (onigiri became donuts). This was really ethnocentric, obviously! And bizarre at times.” But it was thanks to having the manga kept in its original form (right to left) that eventually this type of thinking slowed down. And has remained so for the most part nowadays.
But, as that change occurred, well, so did the number of adapters in the manga industry.
Needless to say, having the manga in its original form was not the reason adapters started to die down. There were a lot of factors. Of course, the manga industry going downward when the economy went south in 2008-2009 is a big factor. But mostly, translators and editors assumed the role of re-writing. As I explained at the start, only Viz and Seven Seas currently use adapters. With tighter budgets and a more targeted approach to what manga is licensed, as opposed to licensing just about everything, other companies might not need an adapter.
Another thing that I think contributes to a lack of adapters in the industry is learning Japanese. In doing the manga advice series, it’s become extremely clear — though not a surprise — you need to know some Japanese, whether it’s Hiragana/Katakana, to actual words, etc. As already mentioned, you didn’t have to know Japanese to be an adapter. But with more of a focus on maintaining the original work as seen in Japan as best as possible, knowing the language is important.
So…what’s next for adapters?
Hard to say definitively, though it is bleak from what I can tell. Viz and Seven Seas it seems will continue to rely on adapters for their manga, so for current adapters, things should be good. It’s just you can probably expect to be doing other things.
“It’s really a part-time freelance position, and most rewriters do other jobs in the industry as well (editing, proofing) to supplement their income and get more work,” Lianne said. “Rewriters are generally hired by the series, so you have to constantly apply for new series to add to your current ones or take the place of series that end.”
But as for anybody who would want to get into adapting…it…looks impossible right now. That said, it doesn’t mean there’s no chance. You’ll just have to be incredibly fortunate. That and if I can get in touch with any other manga adapters, we’ll see their take on the industry in some time. So there may be a way to break in. We just don’t know how.
So did any of you know about manga adapters/rewriters before reading this article? Do you understand what they do now? If you have any thoughts, feel free to reply in the comments below.
Justin is the Editor-in-Chief of Organization Anti-Social Geniuses, a Japanese Pop Culture blog. Even with all the time in the world, he’s almost certain to still be behind in anime and manga. You can follow him on Twitter (@Kami_nomi)