It has been many years since I was actively involved in the scanlation scene, and there is a lot I could say about it, but what I wanted to talk about is sound effects, more specifically the translation of Japanese sound effects to English. When it comes to translating sound effects, different scanlation groups and even the licensed English translation companies have different methods of translating Japanese sound effects:
1. Do nothing
Ignore the sound effect altogether and leave them on the page as they are. Sometimes licenced companies include an index at the back of the book with a list of sound effect translations (which I found inconvenient and pointless).
Transcribe the Japanese script into English script. Example: ゴクン would be written as *gokun*, and バタン as *batan*
3. Literal description
Using a word or phrase that describes the meaning of the sound effect. Example: ゴクン would be written as *swallows*, and バタン as *impact*
4. Use an English equivalent or approximation
Use the equivalent or closest approximation to English onomatopoeia. Example: ゴクン would be written as *gulp*, and バタン as *bam*
There are also visual variations: some write the translation in small text next to the original Japanese sound effect, while others put the translation on top of or completely cover up the original Japanese text.
Personally, I think number 4 is “true” and “ideal” translation, while 1 to 3 are just lazy. Visually, I prefer the small text next to the original Japanese because most sound effects are drawn to be part of the illustration. While searching for “Snow White With The Red Hair“, I came across a scanlation for it and what I noticed immediately was they way they had chosen to translate sound effects. The words “commotion”, “puts down”, “suddenly”, “huge mouthfuls” appeared on the page as literal descriptions of what the original Japanese sound effects represent, and the original Japanese sound effects had also been completely removed from the page making it almost indistinguishable from the characters’ dialogue (most groups use ** or a different font to indicate sound effect translations, but this one did not).
“commotion commotion” Example of the “Snow White With The Red Hair” scanlation.
In my experience as a translator for scanlation groups, many novice translators did not bother with sound effects at all. The groups I worked for did require sound effect translation, and I often found myself translating just the sound effects for projects because the translator who translated the dialogue did not know how to translate the sound effects. When I first started as translator, I was given a .PDF file containing suggested translations and explanations for common Japanese sound effects, this was used by many translators. A quick Google search shows that there are now many online resources such as The Jaded Network.
Many translators used these guides word for word and got stumped when they came across a sound effect that was not listed in the file, but I mainly used it as a guide and drew on my own experiences in reading English comics to choose suitable translations. I was reading English comics long before I read my first manga, and I noticed that there are differences between sound effect usage in manga, and sound effect usage in Western comics.
For example, Japanese artists sometimes use “niko” for smiling characters (perhaps as emphasis that the character is happy?), while Western comics don’t use any sound effect, I’m guessing this is because it’s obvious from the illustration of a character smiling that the character is happy. Another example, when a character is rolling, Western comics use lines in the illustration to represent the rolling movement, while manga does the same but also adds written sound effects like “koro koro”.
Basically, the Japanese tend to use a lot of onomatopoeia for various situations, whereas in Western comics, sound effects are primary used for actions involving sound (hence the term “sound effect”). This makes choosing a translation difficult because there are many Japanese sound effects that don’t have an English equivalent. In cases like this, I have two methods of choosing a translation:
1. Make something up
If the effect involves sound, imagine what it sounds like and then try to put it into letters. For example, “goso” (rummaging through a bag of items), I might use *swsh*.
2. Describe it
Primarily used when the (sound) effect involves no sound, such as the aforementioned “niko” which I would just translate as *smile*. Another common one is *ji…* which represents intense staring, I would write that as *stare…*
I believe translators should strive to translate all written text in manga, this includes all written sound effects. The text is there to convey a message, and it is a translator’s job to convey that message in a language that the target audience understands. A capable translator will give you the meaning of the message, and a good translator will give you the meaning and the feeling of the message.
An old example of my translation work (I did the translation only, the image editing was done by someone else).