I Am Planning to Write My Thesis on Light Novel Fan Translations

Been dealing with some pressing issues lately...
Been dealing with some pressing issues lately…

This is just a short post filling you in on some of what has been going on in my life. I have not been blogging as often lately, but this is definitely not because I have run out of things to say about anime.

I only have a few weeks of my undergraduate course left, so I have been busy making my applications for further study. I have been thinking a lot lately about what kind of thesis I will write. Given my status as a light novel fan translator, it’s probably no surprise I decided to write about LNs.

Here is a copy-and-paste of my rough thesis proposal, for those interested:

Topic: Japanese honorifics in Fan-Published English Translations of Light Novels (ラノベ)
My thesis will explore how honorifics (-chan, -san, etc.) and politeness levels are rendered in English fan translations. I will examine popular translations and compare them to the Japanese texts. I do not simply want to make a count of how often honorifics are left untranslated – I want to analyse these decisions in the context of the entire piece. How is the light novel fan’s understanding of politeness and Japanese cultural norms constructed and mediated through amateur translation?

There are a couple of reasons why I chose this topic. Firstly, I don’t feel that light novels are represented very much at all in academic literature about Japanese pop culture. This is despite the increasing popularity of anime adaptations of light novels. As I’ve argued on this blog before, understanding light novels is key to understanding modern otaku subculture, and I plan to argue that in the academic setting as well.

Secondly, translation really interests me. One of the things I think is of vital importance (both as an academic and as a fan) is unpacking all the assumptions that go into translated works. I think that anime fan culture outside of Japan is different from the Japanese fandom and that translation is one of the factors explaining our own English-speaking “otaku culture”. One often writes about otaku culture with various deterministic cultural assumptions in mind (“Otaku are into 2D girls because [insert stereotypical claim about Japanese society]”). By understanding ourselves and how we appropriate Japanese and otaku culture in a hodgepodge kind of way, I think it becomes easier to truly understand other cultures and how they are all intertwined.

My final reason is a bit more selfish. I’d have an easier time translating light novels for a living if I were doing it for the sake of academia than as a freelance translator. Pestering the Japanese government to give me study grants as I write about ultimately inconsequential things sounds like the ideal way of living. I’d be doing the same thing I’m doing now as an anime blogger, only my writing will be published in fancy academic journals that no one will actually read. This prospect makes me really excited.

I will begin work on my thesis next year. For now, I actually have to pass all my units with high enough grades, so unfortunately I have not had as much time to watch anime or work on my Oregairu translation as I would have liked. It’s that time of the year when all the papers are due at the same time. I trust any university student would understand my pain.

So yes, that’s the brief update on my life. I would like to get back to my regular blogging and translation schedule soon enough, but if my posting rate slows down, now you know why. I am taking those first steps towards becoming a professional weaboo.













Miscellaneous Things:

  • I have expressed some interest in critiquing official translations as well as fan translations, so look forward to seeing some of that when I have more time up my sleeve.
  • I really enjoyed the first episodes of Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works and Amagi Brilliant Park. Granted, they’re the only two debut episodes I actually got around to watching this season, but they’re both really well-animated (especially the former).
  • The GGO arc in Sword Art Online II started off pretty promising, but ended up mildly sucking, except in the penultimate episode, which was when it sucked majorly.
  • This was the entirely wrong time of the year to get hooked on Love Live! School Idol Festival. I am absolutely abysmal at this game but I can’t stop playing, not when there’s the chance of getting Maki in a maid outfit.
  • I am hyped as fuck for Ore, Twintail ni Narimasu! This season has been great for twin-tailed tsunderes! (The best kind of tsundere)
  • I still haven’t even finished the common route of Grisaia no Kajitsu. lol. The anime seems very classy. Michiru is Best Girl, though.
Please make an anime out of this. PLEASE
I would donate an arm and a leg for this to be made into an anime



  1. What is wrong with you, Froggy??? Ponytail tsuns are best tsuns, hands-down-no-question-no-contest.

    As for the actual content of the post, cool stuff! I assume the fact that you’re starting on your thesis next year means that you’re going into graduate education right after you finish your undergrad this semester(?).

    “I don’t feel that light novels are represented very much at all in academic literature about Japanese pop culture.”

    Serious question, is there much academic literature about Japanese pop culture, period? Admittedly, I haven’t gone hunting for it much myself, but I’m not even sure where I’d start looking for that kind of material.

    • What is wrong with you, Froggy??? Ponytail tsuns are best tsuns, hands-down-no-question-no-contest.

      That’s it. We cannot be friends anymore. Sorry.

      Okay, serious talk now: I’m taking an honours degree, which is formally counted as an extra year of undergraduate, but the coursework is entirely different from undergraduate. It’s often regarded as the bridging year between undergraduate and postgraduate. That’s just how things work in Australian universities, of course.

      As for academic literature about Japanese pop culture, there’s quite a wealth of it out there if you know where to look. The study of anime and fan culture in particular have really taken off in the past ten years or so. There’s even an academic journal dedicated to anime called Mechademia. That’s a good starting place if you’re interested in the field, since most of the prominent Japanese pop culture scholars have published pieces there.

      • Okay, serious talk now:

        What could be more serious than you spurning the best tsun hair?

        & ah, that’s interesting. Honors here in the States usually just consists of GPA requirements and sometimes more advanced classes. Does this mean that you’re planning to head into postgraduate study after next year?

        I might check out that journal, just out of curiosity. I don’t think I’m quite inclined enough towards the social sciences that I would really want to dive into that sort of research as a career, but I’m not planning on leaving this fandom any time soon and I definitely would like to have a wider perspective on Japan and its culture than merely what I see in a niche media product.

  2. This season got off to an amazing start, and Ore Twintail hasn’t even come out yet! Pretty much every series I had expectations for and more has delivered, one way or another. Or maybe I’m just stressed out and any diversion looks good. I certainly don’t have time to keep up with everything I’d like, not to mention finish last season’s backlog.

    Ditto everything for Grisaia. I have faith that a Chiruchiru anime is only a matter of time. Mahou shoujo spinoffs have amazing odds, especially when Watanabe Akio is involved.

    Original English light novels would be an interesting branch-off topic. This guy trying to fund his own work on Indiegogo is quite a piece of work.
    Even as someone who also finds inspiration to write from Japanese otaku media, it was impossible for me to keep a straight face reading his explanation, let alone the reward tiers. There’s something to be said about who his target audience is, and for whom he is defining terms such as “2d vs 3d” and “onii-chan”. Also, I don’t know whether to applaud or facepalm his straight-up admissions of being “labeled as delusional, thinking that the 2-dimensional world is reality” and wanting “several months when I can just sit down and focus only on the writing full time, undisturbed by the 3d world”.

    • Oh man, that guy’s light novel certainly is something. I have to admit I couldn’t keep a straight face either. Was tempted to pay up and see what his custom ero story would be like.

      But yeah, original English light novels are also something I’m interested in researching sometime. It’s interesting to think about what sort of readers this stuff is aimed for and what sort of assumptions go into the term “light novel”.

  3. “my writing will be published in fancy academic journals that no one will actually read. This prospect makes me really excited.”

    I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic or not… Regardless, this thesis looks fascinating, so I’m sure plenty of your blog readers will be interesting in seeing it. Albeit you might have to provide them with a slightly truncated version. I read a few blogs that scrupulously analyze the many facets of otaku culture, but I was unaware that there was such a wealth of actual academic literature regarding the subject. Anyways, best of luck with your studies froggy!

    On a side note, I feel your pain with “Love live school idol project”. I pulled an all-nighter playing that game the other day, only to discover that I had school in the morning. It’s ruining me. I hope your share the opinion that Maki is best-girl, otherwise you may be receiving malicious spam from an anonymous source in the near future (just kidding, in case I scared you ;) I am tempted to paying to start getting more hearts, but it seems like it could be a slippery slope. Once I start buying, when do I stop? I suppose sacrifices need to be made to get the next Ultra-rare card though….

    • Yeah, I was being tongue-in-cheek with my comments about academia :P

      People sure want to read this nonexistent thesis! I’m not too sure about actually quoting my thesis because of copyright issues and whatnot, but I’d definitely like to discuss my research on my blog.

      As for Love Live, the event’s still going on for some time yet, so I suggest only using hearts on the last couple of days if you absolutely have to. One of my friends pays for hearts and he’s fallen well off the slippery slope.

      And sorry, Maki is not Love Live’s best girl. They’re all best girl in Love Live.

      What’s your name and ID in the game, by the way? I’m Froggy and my ID is 673256130. We could be friends in the game!

      • That would be awesome! Although my rank at the moment is pretty abysmal. I just got a new phone, so I had to part ways with my old account and start a new one It was heart-wrenching to see my UR Umi go :'( Oh well, starting afresh is also pretty fun. Anyways, my name is jeremy and my id is 710869381.

          • IS THERE?!?!! I was like rank 45 on my old account, so I’d poured hours of effort into it. If there was a way to transfer then that would be amazing. But you probably would have had to input your old id, which I didn’t take note of……

            • Yea, was about to say you can transfer using the input codes, lol. If you didn’t note it down, you can e-mail the staffs at Klab to see if they can recover the code for you. Although they will ask you a lot of questions for verification.

              Btw, I added both you and Froggy :p Mine’s Saito and the id’s 787757998.

  4. It’s interesting how translating honorifics can change the mood, I agree. I’ll note that what I read most is manga, and most official companies do it differently, it’s fascinating. Viz never translating the honorifics can create interesting situations like explaining how Haruhi has always called Tamaki “senpai” in Ouran despite, you know, never calling him senpai. On the other hand, taking out every honorific but replacing ‘san’ with ‘Miss’/’Mr’ is used to greater effect in Skip Beat, cause it sounds more natural to English and you can get everyone being overly formal in show business where you have to act super polite to one another and there’s a clear hierarchy (that’s my opinion, at least). There are other companies that just keep everything with an explanation, which is a more typical experience, but then it’s not automatic what the honorific means, and most become incidental in your reading eventually… Can’t say it fits something not in Japan, though (despite the fan translation scene defaulting to honorifics – even in something like One Piece sometimes? Which is just odd). Anyway, good luck with your thesis! I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts on translation in general, actually. And this gives me time to actually read your translation of Oregairu. Yay!

    Surprised that you talked about Grisaia without mentioning the great manservice (pretty obviously NSFW). https://twitter.com/Good_Haro/status/518820156379000832
    [video src="http://i.4cdn.org/a/1412528797394.webm" /]

    F/SN is also really pretty and I’m impressed how much exposition they actually managed to cut.

    • Yeah, different translations really affect the tone of the work overall. Something like honorifics is really easy to identify and call attention to, but it’s one translation decision among many, and I’m more interested in seeing how it fits into the big picture of foreignisation versus domestication in translation. Amateur translations are often very literal and that’s what makes them very interesting to pick apart.

      I actually never saw anything remotely resembling Yuuji’s ass in the visual novel. The anime is already better than the visual novel, it seems.

      And yeah, F/SN actually kept the dialogue fairly natural in this iteration! Hopefully, they keep that up.

  5. Well, that sounds an interesting topic to write a thesis on. Wish I could have brought anime in my academic life as well and gotten away with “An analysis of the technical feasibility and engineering challenges for the construction of mobile humanoid armoured units” :D.

    On another note – not to be a party pooper, but, did you consider and discuss with your university the potential legal implications of your research, and whether they would support you if the topic came up? I mention this because I remember a recent case of a geography PhD student, Bradley Garrett, who did a wonderful work on “urban explorers” by joining their ranks and taking photographs of many secluded/abandoned places – some of which were actually technically private property and illegal to go into (even though no one gives a shit). I heard he had legal trouble for it, which is ridiculous. Now, fan translations linger in that grey area in between what’s legal and what’s not, so yeah… a blog or a post on Baka-Tsuki is one thing, just a drop in the sea no one will pick on, but a thesis might stand out a bit more. So I’d suggest you make arrangements and make things clear beforehand (if it’s not clear enough, NO, I don’t trust academia to take best care of its weakest contributors, aka postdocs and below).

    • Yeah, I’ve already asked about Copyright issues. My university said I’d be allowed to write the thesis and have it graded. Publishing it would be a different story and would require permission. I’m not too sure about the details at this stage, but that’s something I’ll worry about after I’ve actually written the thing.


      “An analysis of the technical feasibility and engineering challenges for the construction of mobile humanoid armoured units”

      I’d read the shit out of that paper

      • I think the sad conclusion would be “it’s fucking stupid, just stick to tanks and fighter jets”. Reality is a harsh mistress :(.

  6. Wishing the best of luck in doing whatever you enjoy the most and of course may success be the outcome :) We’ll be here to always read you, so no worries.

    P.S.: I’m tad jealous. The only time I involved anime in my studies were in a course about Fairy Tales where I wrote an assignment on 2 japanese fairy tales and survival of them through anime.

  7. Careful! Your professors might found this their Black Sheep – that or a Scapegoat. But seriously, advance with utmost precaution.

    I suppose that this thesis also shed a bit more light on you: A stubborn one indeed.

    Best of luck!

    P.S: You’re the same as my friend. He wrote a lecture on how limited and underrated jealousy is on modern media, including anime. I guess that for each different types of Love, there is also a correspond kind of Jealous.

    P.S.S: Twintails, glasses, better-not-red, yellow nor black is the best type!

  8. […] In 2014, I translated three light novels: Hentai Ouji to Warawanai Neko volume 1 and Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Come wa Machigatteiru volumes 2+3. This kept me extremely busy (and explains why I had no time for anime). As tedious and frustrating as the translation process is, I’ve ultimately found it very worthwhile. My Japanese has improved in leaps and bounds, and I am even considering writing my thesis next year on light novel fan translations. […]

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