cnet128 July 2009

cnet128, or Carlos Net, is one of the most popular "public translators" to emerge from the scanlation community since 2006. The emergence of these public translators, whose translation scripts are used by many different groups, is directly tied to the rise of scanlation community sites like MangaHelpers. cnet128, one of the more well-known public translators, shares his translations on MangaHelpers to be used by speedscan groups like Franky House (in February 2009, MangaHelpers's Lingwe conducted another interview with cnet128 as part of MangaHelpers's special Translator Interview series).

Please introduce yourself!

cnet128: Name's cnet128! Also known as Carlos Net, but nobody actually calls me that, and it sounds silly anyway. Obviously that's not my real name, but hey, what're you gonna do? I'm living in Kyoto, Japan of this writing, on a study year abroad, but I should be heading back to my good old homeland of England on the 6th of August.

I'm a public translator; I work on a number of shonen and a few seinen series, both weekly and monthly, and post my translations for free use on MangaHelpers and Franky House. If you read Ao no Exorcist, Claymore, D.Gray-man, Fairy Tail, Hunter x Hunter, Ice Revolution, Katekyo Hitman Reborn, Mahou Sensei Negima, One Piece, Sket Dance, Soul Eater, Tsubasa, xxxHOLiC, or non-official versions of Kyoukai no Rinne... you've probably been reading my translations (Some newcomer is trying to steal my position as the primary One Piece translator, but I assure you I'm having none of it!).

I also translate Bleach, Gantz and Naruto, but I have more competition on those, and scanlations use other people's work more often than not. Past projects include finished series Hatsukoi Limited and Hitomi no Catoblepas, as well as a number of volumes of Kekkaishi (I originally intended to catch right up to the current chapters, but I got sidetracked, and it looks like someone has just about done the job for me in the meantime. I may catch up reading and start working on the current chapters at some point.) Oh, and I've also translated the first chapter of an ecchi series called Onii-chan Control; I didn't include that in the list of current projects because there's only one chapter as of this writing and it was released back in April (The second is due out on 22nd July!).

I used to translate pretty much every series I read, and I still do mostly, but since I'm overloaded with series to translate these days, that's likely to become less and less true.

How did you get into the translator business? What was the community like when you first entered the scanlation scene?

cnet128: I got into manga translating the way I figure most people do... by being an avid reader who learned Japanese, and just decided to give it a shot. Started off translating a few odd chapters of series I read just for the heck of it (Tsubasa, D.Gray-man), but the real start of my 'career' as a translator was when the RAW of the first chapter of Hitomi no Catoblepas came out, in May 2007. I translated it, and immediately got a request to join a group to take on the project. At the time, joining a group and having my translations actually used in scanlations seemed like an incredible opportunity, so even though I wasn't too confident in my abilities, I bit the bullet and joined Phase 3 Manga.

Translating a series every week was a new experience, and kind of thrilling at first, but being tied down to a group could be a little frustrating. I wasn't too upset when Phase 3 later decided to drop the project, and I kept translating the series weekly and posting my translations for public use. By that point, though, the turning point had already come; a few weeks into translating Catoblepas, shortly before Phase 3 dropped the project, in a mad flash of inspiration one week, I posted translations for every single series I read. Before then, I was still reading the scanlations weekly for a number of series... it was only then that I fully graduated from being a reader of scanlations to translating them myself. (Though admittedly, for quite a while afterwards, I still read scanlations when reading through the archives of series; it wasn't until about a year ago that I transitioned to reading RAWs for that purpose as well.) I've been translating the series I translated that week every single week since, and obviously the list has grown significantly in the meantime.

As for what the community was like back then... well, I'm not a very community-sensitive person, so I'm not really sure how to judge that. I suppose it was pretty similar to how it is now, really. People and groups have come and gone, and the MangaHelpers site itself has certainly changed a lot, but there hasn't really been all that much change in how things work that I'm aware of.

Do you belong to any groups in particular or do you translate freelance? It seems your scripts are used by multiple groups.

cnet128: I think I've pretty much covered this in my previous answers, but I don't belong to any groups. The only group I ever really belonged to was Phase 3, and that was a long time ago. My translations are free for public use, with very few exceptions. You can see my Guidelines for Using My Translations over on MangaHelpers; it lays out the spiel.

Have you ever been offered or considered a job in the manga industry?

cnet128: Never been offered, no. I'd certainly like to go into translating professionally some day, though.

What were some of the biggest roadblocks you faced as a translator?

cnet128: Roadblocks? I don't know; it's been a relatively smooth ride. Obviously there are times when something in a chapter just stumps me, but they've always been few and far between, and I usually manage to work around them one way or another. The only exception is a project that I worked on privately for Phase 3 briefly after they dropped Hitomi no Catoblepas—namely, Majin Tantei Nougami Neuro. I translated a few early chapters of that for them, but I don't think I was really ready to take on a series like that quite yet, and a passage I just couldn't translate eventually led me to abandon the series altogether.

Probably the biggest "roadblock", if you can call it that, is the fact that I tend to bite off more than I can chew, as you can probably tell from my huge list of active series. I translate so many series right now that it takes up a ton of my time, and sometimes it feels like I barely have time to do anything else. This is also, naturally, the reason why I've been known to fall painfully behind on series in the past (Sket Dance, I'm looking at you), which makes catching up a nasty little endeavour...

How do you usually go about translating a chapter of manga? Tell us about your workflow. Are there any specific tools or software you like to use?

cnet128: My method of translation is simple; I translate it as I read it. Page by page, line by line. Perhaps it would help me translate a little better and avoid some silly mistakes if I read through a chapter before translating it, but that would take all the fun out of the process, and make it take longer to boot.

Likewise, my tools of the trade are about as simple as they get. As a Mac user, I use Preview to read the RAW, and a TextEdit window beside it to write the translation in. That's really it. Incidentally, when I'm just reading manga rather than translating it, such as when I'm working through the archives of a series, I don't tend to use Preview, because it doesn't let me choose a single level of zoom and stick to it, so I'd have to fiddle around with the zoom controls for each individual image. An application called Microsoft Expression Media has become my preferred tool for that task; it's not perfect (well, it's Microsoft, what can you expect?), but I find it works well enough. I originally downloaded the application to help me organize a different kind of image, but let's *ahem* not go into that...

In your opinion what are your most popular or influential translation projects?

cnet128: Most popular? Well, the most popular series I translate are obviously Bleach and Naruto, but my translations aren't the most popular for those series, so I guess that's not the answer. The most popular series I translate where my translations actually get used in scanlations every week is probably One Piece (And with good reason... it's an incredible series!).

There are tons of translators out there, what do you feel distinguishes good translation from bad translation?

cnet128: Natural, well-written English. Good Japanese comprehension. Both of these are essential for a good translation. Even if you understand everything the original text says, if the translation is stilted and unnatural to read (or worse, just plain ungrammatical), then you're doing it wrong. Particularly when you're translating something like manga, for someone else's entertainment, you've got to produce something that they can enjoy, not struggle, to read. Likewise, even if your text reads like a professionally-written novel, if you've failed to understand what the original text says properly, you're just going to end up conveying the wrong thing to your readers, and subtracting from their experience.

I like to think that I have both good writing skills and good Japanese comprehension, though I have more confidence in the former than the latter. But I've seen translations in scanlations and fansubs that fall all over the spectrum, including some truly painful-to-read English, and some basic comprehension mistakes that make me wonder whether the translator really knows Japanese at all.

What were the easiest and hardest series you had to translate and why?

cnet128: The easiest is probably Bleach. Chapters are short, usually very light on text, and what text there is is generally incredibly straightforward. Certainly the quickest series to translate most weeks; I don't recall it ever giving me much of a problem. Other simple shonen series, such as Fairy Tail and Soul Eater, can be similarly simple to translate, but Bleach generally has far less text per chapter than any of them.

Most difficult is trickier to pin down. There are a few series that have elements that make them rather irritating on occasion. One is Tsubasa, which, despite being down there with Bleach when it comes to quantity of text a lot of the time, can really frustrate when it does decide to go into explanations, because the storyline is so confusing. Whenever there's exposition, it's cryptic, vague, misleading, and likely to be re-examined at a later point to the effect of changing its meaning entirely. As such, not only is it a headache trying to figure out what they're saying, I also have to be extremely literal and avoid interpreting anything, no matter how natural it may seem. This also means that my translations for Tsubasa generally end up in much less natural English than my translations for any other series. (And even with all the care I take, it's not always enough.) xxxHOLiC, with its ties to Tsubasa, can have similar issues, but perhaps surprisingly (this is supposed to be the seinen series of the pair!) is generally much less confusing.

Hunter x Hunter, meanwhile, can be similarly difficult (when it's actually running, of course...) because the author delights in packing each chapter with in-depth exposition and play-by-play explanation of all the characters' complex scheming and highly unique abilities. It's not the most straightforward stuff in the world. Generally easier to understand and less likely to betray your expectations than Tsubasa, but very unlike Tsubasa, each chapter contains an absolute ton of text, so it adds up.

Negima is another candidate; it's another series that packs its chapters with text, though thankfully that text is mostly pretty straightforward to understand. Keeping track of the cast of characters can be difficult at first, though (I think I've got the hang of that now), and keeping track of the politics and fictional history that sometimes crops up can be more so. But the real headache is the magic; when characters battle, each spell has a long incantation entirely in Latin, or worse, Greek, and I have to figure out how to spell it purely from the katakana and the kanji gloss. Thankfully, I have a very useful dictionary to help me with the Latin, but when it comes to Greek, things get extremely hit-and-miss; since I can't read the Greek alphabet and am not particularly familiar with romanizing it, I have to rely primarily on what little resources I can find on romanized Greek. Other series that use obscure katakana terms can be frustrating from time to time as well; Reborn's Italian and even Bleach's Spanish can occasionally be difficult to work out, and I can tell after only four chapters that Ao no Exorcist's demon names are going to be killing my brain for the forseeable future. But Negima takes the cake.

However, there's one last series that I think should be mentioned as being difficult to translate; I don't think I can choose one outright 'winner' here, but if I was going to, this one might well be it: Sket Dance. Tons of text per chapter? Check. Tons of pop-culture references and the like to be researched? Check. Humour, wordplay, riddles, mystery, all those kinds of things that don't cross the language barrier too easily? Check. I think translating a Sket Dance chapter probably takes me longer than any other series I translate, and it's probably left me stumped more times than any other series has as well. (I really do welcome the more serious arcs when they appear, not only because they're so interesting, but also because they are so much quicker and simpler to translate than the wacky, off-the-wall chapters. Though of course they also like to introduce twists and revelations later on that give earlier text from the arc whole new significance, so I have to be careful with them as well.) Basically, the series is a translation nightmare. But it's damned entertaining, so I do it anyway!

Were there any groups or individuals you particularly looked up to or liked throughout the years? What are some of your favorite scanlation projects you have followed over the years?

cnet128: Hmmm. Can I say "not really"? Apart from anything, I barely even look at other people's translations, ever since I started translating myself. When I do, it just tends to frustrate me, both because I spot things that are wrong or that I want to change, and at the same time because seeing different interpretations makes me feel insecure about my own translations. So it's difficult for me to look up to other translators, because I'm simply not familiar with their work. And when I do look at other translators' work (I'm thinking particularly in fansubs, which I do watch sometimes as a comprehension aid in series where the Japanese is a little too complex for me to follow comfortably), it's always the things that I think should be done differently that stick out, so it's difficult for me to see them in a positive light.

I don't really follow other translators' work anymore, and indeed I don't even tend to download scanlations of my own work these days.

Currently there are many small speedscan groups, and often we see popular series scanlated/translated by five or more groups/translators, what's your opinion on this trend?

cnet128: Wow, now I am getting déjà vu from the MH interview. As I said then, my basic view is that while it's not exactly an ideal situation, it's not exactly one that can be avoided either. If other scanlators and translators are anything like me, they work on series primarily because they enjoy them, and so it's only natural that series which are popular get a lot of attention. Likewise, since the quality of a lot of translations and scanlations is relatively low, it's only natural for people to want to try to do a better job on series that they think aren't getting enough quality applied to them. When people are doing this work primarily because they want to do it, the organization of it all is never going to be perfect.

...Of course, it does annoy me when people beat me to the mark, particularly since they're generally translations that I consider inferior to my own. But hey, what can you do?

What do you feel is the future for scanlation?

cnet128: Hahah, I have no idea. I can't really see the scanlation community just curling up and dying in the foreseeable future, but really, who knows? Perhaps if the time comes when all the series that people want to read are given official, simultaneous English releases (presumably online, because I can't see that ever happening physically), then scanlations will just become functionally obsolete. But I don't know how feasible that really is, particularly since, unlike anime, manga is a form of entertainment that people actually have to pay good money for in Japan rather than simply watching it for free, making the prospect of publishing it for free on the Internet a difficult one. And even in a best-case scenario, I can't help but think that the scanlation community will continue in some form, even if it's just translating obscure and controversial titles that the official routes won't touch... or even just hentai doujins(!)

What are some websites you like to visit every day?

cnet128: Every day? Well, MangaHelpers, obviously. Gotta check that every day at the very least, or I'd miss out on all the RAWs. Recently, I've also been obsessively playing MyBrute every day (yes, that's the obligatory link to my best character... she needs pupils!) I've also been reading the daily-updated, Vocaloid-based, outrageously-cute web manga Chibi Miku-san (link is to the pool on Danbooru where translations are added as necessary, though they're largely not, because the comic is mostly silent). Oh, and I've been visiting NeoGAF a lot recently for my internet inanity needs, though I think it may be physically impossible to get an account approved for that site. (I first attempted to do so in May '08, only to receive a notice in December that my account had been removed without ever, as far as I'm aware, being approved. I then registered again in January '09, and am still waiting less-than-hopefully for the approval.)

FOLLOW-UP: Spoke too soon! 7/15/2009: My GAF account was finally accepted! =D (Took them long enough...)

Thank you for your time! Any last words?

cnet128: Oh, I see what you're doing! You're trying to make me handle the awkward job of concluding the interview, aren't you?! Well, uh... I'd say I'm having none of it, but now that I've started talking, I guess I'm already doomed to tie this up somehow. Dammit. Why is it, anyway, that writing about 3,000 words for this was so easy, while writing even 1,000 words for an assessed report is a nightmare? I hate academia. *runs away*