Visual Cues and Panel Layouts

Manga combines drawings with text, so missing a visual cue can easily trip up your translation.
You also need to take panel layouts into account when translating certain types of spoken lines.
Here are tips on how to deal with these two issues.


Article written by Tomoko Kimura


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Manga tells stories using a combination of drawings, dialog and sound effects. Here’re tips on how to deal with two issues that arise from this visual storytelling medium.

(1) Visual Cues

Make sure you’re paying enough attention to the drawings so you don’t overlook information only the visuals provide.

Visual cues such as facial expressions and body language often reveal how a character is really feeling. If you miss them, your translation could be way off the mark.

Here’s a scene where girl A and boy B are talking. A eventually gets up and says

行きましょうか
(Ikimashouka)

“Shall we get going?” is a possible choice here.

But what if A is grabbing B’s hand as she says “Ikimashouka,” forcing B to get up and follow her?
A is obviously not giving B a chance to say no, so this line shouldn’t be translated as a question. It should sound more like a command such as “Just come with me.”

Students in my translation courses have tripped up on similar examples, so be careful!

(2) Page-spanning lines

Manga panels are laid out on two-page spreads so the last panels of odd-numbered pages work as page turners.

When a speaking line spans an odd-numbered and even-numbered page, the difference in Japanese and English sentence structures could cause trouble, resulting in spoilers on the odd-numbered page.

A simple page-spanning line can be translated as is:

Japanese:
そ… (So… )
そうですか… (Soudesuka…)

English translation:
“I…”
“Is that so…”

In the second example, the first translation puts a spoiler on the odd-numbered page. The second translation avoids spoilers by maintaining the original word order:

Japanese:
紅い瞳の (Akai hitomi no)
帝王! (teiou!)

English translation 1:
“The emperor…”
“…with crimson eyes!”

English translation 2:
“The crimson-eyed…”
“…emperor!”

Same with the third example. The first translation results in a spoiler, but the second translation is spoiler-free:

Japanese:
一番 (Ichiban)
大好きで、憧れたおとぎ話は (daisuki de, akogareta otogi-banashi wa)

English translation 1:
“The fairy tale…”
“…I loved and adored the most was”

English translation 2:
“My favorite…”
“…fairy tale, the one I most adored was”

Step back once in a while and read the manga you’re translating as a casual reader. It’ll help keep your focus in balance so you’re not missing anything.

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