The Evolution of Manga Editing

My friend Dave threw me a behemoth of an idea my way last night as I was searching for a blog idea that would strike my fancy.  He suggested that I explore the evolution of manga editing, which honestly sounds more like a research paper than a blog post. It would cost me a lot of time and money in order to fully explore the evolution of manga editing, but here’s my go at the idea with only a few series as examples and my own experience under my belt.

So far I have been an editor on little over a dozen manga. As far as manga editors go, I am pretty sure this is a pretty paltry number, but I kind of, sort of just hit the one year mark of working in the manga industry (if you count internships.)

These days, manga editing is really streamlined. Each major company has its own style book and rules to follow and more likely than not, more than one editor reads a manga before it goes to print. Then again, most of the manga publishers these days have been around for years or have other publishers backing them with expectations, rules and editorial talent. There aren’t too many start-up companies around either.

Less than ten years ago, however, it was a bit of a different story. It was only seven years ago that TOKYOPOP first published Kare Kano (His and Her Circumstances) by Masami Tsuda. Since there are only two names I recognize on the credits page (the COO and the CEO), I hope no one takes offense to me picking one of my employer’s titles or that the company doesn’t take offense to my criticism of an old series. (Although senior editor Lillian Diaz-Przybyl tells me that all the mistakes I pointed out were corrected to the best of TOKYOPOP’s ability in the omnibus editions.)

I’ve been slowly re-reading Kare Kano over the past few weeks and the first few volumes were utterly painful. There are many things where I’m surely one of the very few who noticed, but there are numerous instances where Japanese text wasn’t erased before the English text was put over it, where the artwork or tones were erased and never replaced properly (or at all) and text intruding awkwardly on artwork, amongst other things. Sure, the editing improved after the first few volumes and I’m more than sure many things were corrected for the omnibus edition of the manga, but I have to say-no wonder legally published manga had/has a reputation of lower quality when compared to scanlated manga! Not that I think it’s true anymore…That was seven years ago, when TOKYOPOP hadn’t even been around for seven years yet! And now, I know for a fact that TOKYOPOP editors are aware of these past mistakes and know what to look out for. You won’t easily see any garish use of photoshop to replace screentones that were erased in the lettering process or an aside comment that never got translated. The company has sharper editors and sharper touch-up artists these days, but back then they were still learning the ropes.

Viz, however, had nearly 20 years to perfect it’s editing craft when it made (what I think) is a fairly big mistake of a different kind. In the first volume of From Far Away by Kyoko Hikawa, someone left the word “hella,” a Northern California slang word, in a line. When I first read From Far Away, it struck me more because I really dislike the word (being from Southern CA and all), but now it just seems like an amateurish error that they left it in there when the character never ever uses similar slang past the first chapter. (There is an instance of “omigod” in the first chapter, but I feel that it’s more forgivable because it’s just a slight variation on a very common phrase.)

Is this “hella,” however, as grave a manga-editing offense as messing up the artwork and forgetting to remove Japanese text under the English? Yes, because editing manga in the U.S. isn’t just about making things look just as shiny as the Japanese edition, it’s also about creating an ease of reading for the audience. Editors don’t want readers to be caught up in trying to understand a phrase and it’s important to keep a character’s voice sounding consistent to the readers, so using a fairly local slang word is likely to bother them and create confusion when the character does not continue to speak that way. Is it worse that they didn’t continue to use slang to make the character sound like a young girl through out the volume or worse they left in this one inconsistency? I don’t know, but either way it’s an error.

What I watch for in my editing process is a long list. Basically, I look for mistakes that have been made in the art after the manga has been lettered, I look for all the grammatical and spelling errors you would expect, I look for ways to re-write lines so that they sound smoother in keeping with the manga and the character saying them and I look for other things such as making sure the text doesn’t stray too far out into the bleed zones, making sure the size and format of the text conveys the mood and feel of original and making sure words are hyphenated properly. If there are lines that have not been translated into English, I translate them myself or get the help of someone more fluent than I am. If the translators or re-writers have left multiple choices for me to use in the script, I choose which one is the best and/or write in an explanation of some kind. I never catch every mistake that’s been made whenever I edit, but I figure that will improve with time and, in the mean time, I have other editors supporting me and finding what I missed. It’s a tough process and I’m 100% sure that other manga editors have let mistakes slip through and go to print. For example, Del Rey’s version of Mushishi regularly has text cut off. Either half a sentence will disappear at the ends of a page or you’ll have to seriously crack open your manga’s spine to get at it.

Even so, the way manga is published in the U.S. has improved greatly. There is little or no fear of reading a book right-to-left, which not only makes things more authentic to the reader, but easier for everyone who’s ever had to face changing dialogue because a character is now on the left side instead of the right! While there is major censorship around at some companies (and by censorship, I mean someone has a pair of pants on that they didn’t have before),  no one is re-writing entire manga with American names and American references anymore.  I’ve no doubt in my mind that what I’ve learned as an editor is based on years and years of figuring out what works, what doesn’t and finding the little things that no one caught before. I believe that the editorial process will only continue t0 improve the quality of manga as we editors work on more and more titles. The mistakes that I found, made long ago, are already obsolete in the manga made by those companies as it is!

Geez, Dave. Thanks for the great topic.

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “The Evolution of Manga Editing

  1. Yan

    A big, BIG sigh of relief as to the current state of the industry compared to just half a decade ago.

    Still, I feel works like “A Drifting Life” actually worked better going from Left-to-Right.

    Interestingly enough, censorship is easing up with big ol’ Viz’s monthly pubication, too. If you compare the first Shonen Jump of the year to the most current one, the censorship previously seen is just about non-existent this time around. In fact, there are even “breast mountains” left in in a large colorspread for Genkaku Picasso. Bravo, Viz.

    • >A big, BIG sigh of relief as to the current state of the industry compared to just half a decade ago.

      Seconded!!

      I read Paradise Kiss for the first time just a few months ago, and volume 2 (the copy that I have, which I believe is from the first print run of the series) is missing a page from the middle and instead has a page from Initial D, with the text from ParaKiss slapped over the top of it. Thank goodness they don’t make mistakes like that anymore, I would go crazy. XD

      …Oh, wait. I forgot. They do:
      http://www.tokyopop.com/Robofish/tp_article/2975043.html

      lol.

      • OK, that was NOT an editing error, that was a printing error. I’m 100% sure that my superiors at TP would have caught that error had it been in the files that they checked. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t there.
        They graciously replaced every single volume with the mistakes as it is, probably at a high cost to the company.

    • It’s certainly not awful to put things left-to-right, but I do get bothered by it sometimes… It’s just a relief that we don’t feel the need as an industry to be forced to do left-to-right anymore in order to bring in readers. :P

      I think everyone is lightening up a little and a lot of things are able to be published these days, except for the hetero-erotic manga market. Apparently that doesn’t sell well not matter what you do.

  2. If “hella” means the same thing in CA that it does in TX, then that’s not even remotely a “local” slang word. But the fact that slang usage is inconsistent with the character is certainly an issue.

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  4. Daniel Hamman

    I’m not sure if you would count this as ‘editing’, but I find the way artwork is butchered still in US English adaptations shockingly slap-dash.

    VIZ is the worst culprit. There seems to be no pride in the efforts to translate and edit sound effects. SFX in manga are added at the inking stage by the artist or their assistants, unlike in mainstream US comics where they are added at the lettering stage usually just in photoshop using stock ‘comic sfx’ typefaces. Most mangaka draw SFX in similar rhythm to the action, especially shonen guys like Oda or Kubo, SFX can often make entire splash pages. VIZ consistently manages to break this rhythm by lazily slapping on photoshopped SFX or dodgy hand-drawn ones that somehow manage to spectacularly break the rhythm of the rest of the artwork.

    For this reason, I can never agree with the pricing of these flimsy books. They are poorly printed and bound, and there is no consistency with quality. Shueisha’s books, in comparison, are cheaper yet better printed, bound, lighter, smaller, easier to hold and have attractive dust jackets. Similar format books are available for translated manga in Europe, how does the US manage to screw up so badly? The worst thing is, buying manga seems to have become so expensive it’s more akin to the collector’s market and mentality, something elitist, especially when collecting entire titles. In Japan manga isn’t an elitist thing, normal people can afford to have complete collections. It is REALLY any wonder people prefer to read ‘pirate’ scanlations than the ‘official’ tacky crap churned out by US printers?

    • I can understand feeling dissatisfied with the way certain companies handle SFX. I know TOKYOPOP’s method pisses off some people, Yen Press’ method doesn’t sit right with me and so on and so forth. However, I do know a touch up artist at Viz and her work is quite good. One of her titles (Solanin) even got nominated for an Eisner award! Thus I feel that calling all of Viz’s handiwork shoddy when it seems like Bleach and One Piece seem to be the focus of your attention is a little rash. Have you looked at their Signature titles at all? Anything outside of Shonen Jump?

      As for the second part of your comment, may I remind you that both Japan and Europe have a more successful market for comics than the US has ever had? One Piece is reaching printings in the 3 million mark and even the most popular of American comics barely hits 300,000 if they’re lucky. That is a pretty large difference there. For that reason, it’s hard to have a sustainable industry at Japanese prices. To my knowledge, prices in the UK (your location) are also driven up (sadly) by the cost of importing the manga. Luckily, digital would solve both your qualms about print quality and price and many many publishers are heading into the digital market at all. I would suggest supporting publishers with digital manga efforts instead of illegal scanlations. I believe some companies even have manga up for free, although I couldn’t tell you if they’ve put restrictions on which countries can view said manga.

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