SpiritedAwayPORAsakura, Kaori. Translating cultural references in Japanese animation films: The case of Spirited Away. Translation Matters, 1(1), 61-81.

Looking at “dictionary definitions” of terms may not necessarily lead to conclusive results – a “dictionary definition” is only one possible use of several. Nonetheless, the way a particular term is defined – and what is emphasized in the definition – can suggest certain approaches and interpretations. Something as straightforward as, for example, the definition of “anime” in the online Oxford Dictionaries – “A style of Japanese film and television animation, typically aimed at adults as well as children” – suggests that to reach viewers outside of Japan, anime must be translated. How this translation process actually takes place, under what conditions, and subject to what kinds of influences, can be a subject for extensive research.

SpiritedAwayENGAnd in fact, there is already a significant body of scholarship on translating anime and manga. General introductions include the “Translating manga” chapter in Comics in Translation (St. Jerome Publishing, 2008), and the article “History and philosophy of manga translation in North America” (International Journal of Comic Art, 2016). An example of a more theoretical approach can be seen in Perceptions and (re)presentations of familiarity and foreignness: The cultural politics of translation in the subtitling of Japanese animation by fans. And beyond these more general ones, there are several specific case studies that examine particular translations, or compare how the same original materials are translated into English and into other languages – as in “The translation and adaptation of Miyazaki’s Spirit Princess in the West” (in Princess Mononoke: Understanding Studio Ghibli’s Monster Princess), Strategy and style in English and French translations of Japanese comic books (Edinburgh Working Papers in Applied Linguistics, 2001), “A textual analysis of Japanese and Chinese editions of manga: Translation as cultural hybridiziation” (International Journal of Comic Art, 2006), The cultural transfer in anime translation (Translation Journal, 2009), and Dubbing of silences in Spirited Away: A comparison of Japanese and English language versions (Perspectives: Studies in Translation Theory & Practice, 2016). One interesting thing to note is that Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away is the subject of several of these studies. And now, one more can be added to the list that brings in a quantitative approach and a recognition of anime’s global reach. In Translating cultural references in Japanese animation films: The case of Spirited Away, in the inaugural issue of the open-access journal Translation Matters, Kaori Asakura recognizes the particular challenge that arises when there are simply no translators available for a particular language pair. In that case, the translation into the target language may be based to a large extent on the much more readily accessible translation from the source language into another “pivot language” one – the term for the entire process is “relay translation”. But the translation process implies making active choices – what to translate, and how (and sometimes, even what not to translate). This process is particularly acute for “extralinguistic cultural references” – items that cannot be translated simply, such as, in the case of Spirited Away, characters’ names, honorifics, and religious references. The article is a close look at specifically how these types of references are handled in the four translations of Spirited Away – the English dub and sub, and the Portuguese, using the taxonomy of translation strategies proposed by Jan Pedersen in Subtitling Norms of Television: An Exploration Focusing on Extralinguistic Cultural References. In comparing the actual translations, it seeks to determine whether the translations are in general more “source-oriented” (i.e., close to the literal meaning of the original language), or “target-oriented” (potentially modified to fit the communication style of the target culture). A follow-up question is to not the differences between the English and Portuguese dubs, and the potential reasons for these differences.

Overall, Translating Cultural References makes an important contribution to the literature of translation studies, with a clear and elegant application of an established methodology to a specified case, while at the same time, demonstrating a particular approach that can be easily replicated. And now, given that Netflix and Crunchyroll are making so many anime available in many different countries – and in many different languages – at the same time – examining how anime is presented to different audiences at the same time can be a valuable new direction in anime studies.

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