BP and J Discuss Localization and Sidekick/Sister!

Jane: Welcome to a very special edition of BP&J Discuss! You might know that my good friend Bishounen-P, who occasionally collaborates with me on blog posts, is the developer of the visual novel Strawberry Daiquiri, and has also lent a hand in various roles on several of my own visual novel projects. But what you might not know is that she’s more recently become involved in localization of Japanese media, serving in editing and quality assurance roles for various companies including J-Novel Club and Kagura Games. Volume 1 of a light novel series she’s editing, The Sidekick Never Gets the Girl, Let Alone the Protag’s Sister!, has now been released across multiple ebook platforms, so I thought it would be a great time to invite her for an interview about the book and her experience in the localization industry in general.

So Bish, why don’t you start by telling our readers a bit about volume 1 of Sidekick/Sister? How would you pitch the series to someone who hasn’t heard of it? And what are some things that make it a fun editing experience for you?

Bishounen-P: Well, the first thing I’d ask is, “Do you want to read a book that sets up the dumbest premise imaginable, then takes it completely seriously and delves way deeper into it than you ever expected?” And then I’d tell them to take a look at the tags on J-Novel Club’s website: meta-isekai, romance, trauma, ultimate wingman, etc. The translator and I came up with those ourselves, and absolutely none of them are jokes.

Thanks to all that, it’s a total blast to work on. I’m always getting excited at the new plot developments as the chapters progress, and discussing it with the translator (who enjoys hearing my reactions). Oh, and the translator himself—Tristan K. Hill—is a fantastic writer on his own merits, so it’s a joy to edit his writing.

J: Absolutely! I feel like the writing in the book flows really well, and it’s funny too, which must be especially difficult to translate! I was especially impressed with Tristan’s work on the puns, like the whole bit about pi. I imagine that was a big challenge. Are there any other points in the series where you and he had to get creative with the localization choices?

BP: Yes, more than you’d think! As you might have realized from reading the book, Kunugi Kou references all sorts of obscure stuff that your average English-speaking reader wouldn’t have a clue about (including me for several of them). There was one instance in particular that I remember specifically:

Towards the end of the book, there’s a reference to the legendary Chinese tactician, Zhuge Liang. It took Tristan over an hour alone just for the quick few lines of text, and then I ended up substantially changing it from there. So basically, in the Japanese, they weren’t just referencing Zhuge Liang. In fact, they were referencing a series of commercials for a Japanese newspaper. Now, if we did that 1:1 in English, it would have seemed weird and made absolutely no sense at all. What I did instead was find war quotes and military wisdom attributed to Zhuge Liang that would keep the reference and meaning in without being direct quotes from something that no one’s ever heard of.

It’s just a small thing, but it just goes to show that a lot of things in Japanese get lost in meaning, and it’s our job to make it flow as naturally as possible without losing the author’s intent.

J: J-Novel Club initially releases ebooks episodically for subscribers to read chapter by chapter on their website, before releasing the full ebook for purchase elsewhere once they’ve reached the end. How has that format affected your experience of editing? What’s it like to get reader reactions in the middle of the story?

BP: Personally, I love having weekly deadlines. It helps me stay organized and makes it easier to get ahead on work. The amount of parts each volume is divided into is decided ahead of time, but the translator is the one who decides where each part ends, as long as the page count is consistent and even. Tristan was very particular about each part, putting care into making sure they always ended at a natural point and often with extra suspense and anticipation for the following week. 

As for the reader reactions, we love engaging with our forums. Every Thursday at 3PM EST we’d run over to our forum and refresh the page while waiting for them to pop up. We’ve got some regulars that always have insightful and interesting comments, and we adore reading them.

J: Were you happy with the way people reacted to the end volume 1? Have they made some fun predictions for volume 2?

BP: Hell yeah to both! Some people had some interesting insights into what it all means, and there were even some new fans who hopped in at the very end just to tell us how much they loved it! Made us all warm and fuzzy inside.

J: I also want to ask a few questions about localization in general. For one thing, I know you’ve worked in both editing and quality assurance. For anyone who doesn’t know, what exactly is the difference between the two? Can you give some examples of what the process is like?

BP: QA and editing might seem similar on the surface, especially when it comes to books, but there are some subtle differences that some might not know about. The editor has a vast amount of responsibilities, from following a company-specific style guide to making sure that the text makes sense to an English-speaking audience. There are constantly things that don’t translate 1:1 from Japanese, and depending on how the translator handles it, might come across as nonsense in English when translated. So it’s my job to go “Hey, what is this supposed to mean?” and assist in coming up with something that keeps the original intent of the author while also being readable. 

The QA’s job is to catch the smaller things that the editor might have missed. Generally, QA doesn’t touch specific word or phrasing choices, but if it’s confusing enough we would leave a comment for the editor’s review. The first thing I do when I QA is run a selection of regex commands I have saved to check for formatting errors, then run a search for other common errors such as double spaces, and then I read the book from start to finish.

J: So editors are more creatively involved in making sure the translation is well-written and understandable, whereas QA is more like double-checking that it’s all properly formatted for publication?

BP: Yep! Both are important to the whole process. Even though I check over the parts multiple times to make sure there’s no typos, it’s really helpful to have another set of eyes because I always miss something! *shakes fist*

J: Are there any other roles you’d say are important in localization that not everyone outside the industry knows about?

BP: Hmm, I’d have to say programmers and letterers are definitely underrated! I don’t know too much about the specifics of those jobs, but those people work super hard! Some work that programmers do includes removing any bugs or crashes from the English build of the game; I’ve done some work with them as well to implement changes suggested by QA! I haven’t worked on any manga, but the work I’ve seen from letterers is nuts. It’s a lot harder than you’d think picking out fonts and making it all match the original Japanese sound effects.

Oh, and project managers! Project managers often juggle several different projects at once and help make things go smoothly for everyone involved.

J: Sounds like it’s definitely a team effort! Finally, what are some projects you’re looking forward to in the future? And is there any particular untranslated media that you’d love to work on if you got the chance?

BP: My second series at J-Novel Club just started streaming on their website: Chillin’ in Another World with Level 2 Super Cheat Powers! It’s closer to a standard isekai than Sidekick/Sister is, but still has that sort of comedic, snarky feel to it. It’s really fun and I can’t wait to see where this series takes itself! Aside from that, pretty much everything else I’m working on is a secret! You can check my Carrd or follow me on Twitter, because you better believe I’ll be promoting it the second I get the chance. 

I have a wishlist of projects I really want to work on someday, but I can’t say what they are or I might jinx it! What I can say, however, is that I want more comedy! I’m at my best when I get to be silly and laugh about the stuff I’m working on. I’d also love to work on BL projects, whether they are books or visual novels or whatever else. I’m pretty open to anything, though, because I love my job and this industry!

J: Thanks Bish for taking time out of your busy editing schedule to answer my questions, and thanks everyone else for reading! If you enjoyed reading this interview, you might like the collaborative reviews Bish and I have written in the past for Nurse Love Addiction, Verdant Skies, and ChronoClock. And if you want to get the latest news about Bishounen-P’s localization work, make sure you follow her on twitter.

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