Manga, Manga March, Sensei Sunday

Sensei Sunday: Manga 101!  Testimonials, Timelines, and Translation

This week we’re exploring the Manga industry, and its bridge between Japan and American releases.  There’s a lot to cover, so I’ll openly admit: we’re linking EVERYTHING because there’s tons of great content out there about the manga industry and citing’s the right thing to do anyway. 

Manga, in Japan, is often a serialized fiction story in graphic novel form.  If you’re familiar with Manga, it reads right to left instead of left to right in its original format. 

Multiple importers such as Viz have adopted this format as well, as flipping the text bubbles and images adjusted the way the original artist intended for it to be viewed.  (Readers in the early 2000’s, during the beginning of the up-tick in Manga imports, cited this as one of the things that could be improved at the time, and Viz picked it up in 2006.  If you have a copy of the first-print run of Ranma ½, it actually reads left-to-right instead of right-to-left.  The following printing was a bit smaller in scale, but was printed the opposite way, in the original formatting.)

Traditionally serialized in magazines with single or multiple chapters in a release, one of the most popular imports is Japan’s Shonen Jump and Shojo Beat.  Shonen Jump launched multiple manga series including My Hero Academia, Naruto, One Piece.  After enough issues are released for a volume, they’ll bind them in what we traditionally see on store shelves, a Tankonbon.

Manga creation starts with an idea or pitch.  Some artists may find a “once in a lifetime” chance if they win in an art contest to pitch, but most will start from someone within the industry.  Once the concept is accepted, building the story begins.

In Japan, some artists will hire an assistant to prepare food, tidy, and so forth.   Assistants will also sometimes do artwork if the artist has enough to hire one, but the artists are the principal one who works the closest with the manuscript, save for the editor of the story.  The creation process varies a bit depending on who you speak to, but Felipe Smith described the process of chapter serialization in a 2014 Panel at San Diego Comic Con:

“If you’re going to be putting out a monthly or a weekly, then you’re having your meetings where you decide on your story, and changes that need to be made… In a seven day week, it will take four days to write the script, write it out, have your editor tell you to rewrite it. That just happens. Maybe you’ll have a fight with your editor. It gets really personal. You see them more than anyone, unless you’re married., You’ll have just as many drinks and meals… My editor once told me, “Don’t think of me as a human, think of me as a crow. I’m a savage. I need to eat.”… He’s a great editor; I learned a lot, but I got phone calls after meetings that we just had. We’d have meetings at 8 PM after dinner, and we’d sit down and we’d figure out pages… and he’d say, “Okay, we’re done, go home. Do these pages.” …I’d leave, draw a little, and get a phone call saying that he’d thought about it some more, and we should have another meeting.”

After the artwork is drawn, it is published in a serialization and later as a single volume.  Serialization may begin with a One-shot.  Usually between 1-12 chapters, One-shots have been known to either showcase a potential series, or to blossom into an OVA or feature film (Like Studio Ghibli’s The Cat Returns, which was tested as a one-shot spin-off first).

In order to get from Japanese viewership to American customers, stories are published as single volumes, collected in translated magazines (Like Shonen Jump), or will sometimes make their debut in the United States as completed volumes (if the entire series is acquired after its original run).

Some volumes will receive fan translations (a great article by VICE here, if you’re interested) before they ever hit the hands of an official English release translator, but translating is often one of the most contentious part of any import. (There are still arguments today about how “Dante’s Inferno” should translate from its Italian to readable English, for example.) 

Translating is more art than science – some jokes will not translate directly, so creative license will often come in to play to keep certain puns or jokes intact, even though the original words are sometimes lost in the process.  Certain sounds are translated literally (like “zaaaa” for a light rain), but most words will go through an internal rewrite with the translator before making it to the page.

The translator typically passes their work to the letterer, who breaks down the pages by removing the previous text completely, and rebuilds then with English text.  The translator chooses the words, the letterer chooses the layout, the font, and the overall look of the page.  The goal is to protect the original look and feel of the Japanese release, while still carrying over the English text.

Five years ago, I would have likely mentioned print editions of Shonen Jump that were circulating the anime and manga community.  Viz discontinued the paper format around 2012 to switch to digital releases instead – which does have its perks: It’s a more direct format, it doesn’t kill any trees to make, and the pages are essentially as large or as small as you need them to be.  

Today’s Manga recommendation:  Go read Bakuman.  (Thanks Quora!)  It’s by the same team that launched the thriller “Death Note”, but takes on the life of two would-be mangakas and their trials and tribulations


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