COOL JAPAN | CARTOON (ACCJ Journal)
The tricky art of translating Japan’s biggest anime series
By Roland Kelts
[Photos courtesy of Tokyo Otaku Mode]
In 2008, Japan’s consul general appeared on stage at Sakura-Con, the largest anime festival in the Pacific Northwest, grinning mischievously with his hands behind his back. “Ohayo gozaimasu,” he said to the crowd of 10,000-plus, many of whom roared the greeting back.
He turned around, slipped a mask over his head and faced the audience bearing the plastic countenance of a wide-eyed bright blue cat.
A few murmurs arose. Someone at the back shouted, “Doraemon!”
A week earlier, the robotic cat manga and anime character, Doraemon—a cultural icon in Japan akin to Mickey Mouse in the United States—had been dubbed Japan’s first “anime ambassador” by the foreign minister.
But at the time of the consul general’s performance, Doraemon had neither aired nor been published in the United States. Only the most diehard American otaku (geeks) knew the character even existed.
“Doraemon is the biggest manga and anime series in Japanese history,” said Tokyo-based American writer and translator Matt Alt, citing the title’s 45-year domination of Japanese popular culture. “His face is almost everywhere in Japan. If you’re here, chances are, you’ll see it.”
Over the past year, the gap between the character’s ubiquitous presence in Japan and his lack of recognition in America has finally been narrowed. The anime series, translated into English and localized by Los Angeles studio Bang Zoom! Entertainment, launched on Disney XD on July 7. The English-language manga debuted in digital formats in November 2013 and is currently being released, volume by volume, online.