Or, why it matters to have good translators.
Oh, Baseball Heaven. You’re a decent read, nothing special. I only picked you up, honestly, since I saw you involved baseball and BL, and also since after intense research on my part I determined that the likelihood of you containing rape and sexual coercion presented as love as low.
I will be very, very honest about why I am writing this review. It has very little to do with the actual content of Baseball Heaven. Again, as I said, it is a decent read, but nothing particularly awesome. I wish that it had been clarified if one of the players was supposed to be American, if only because his name was Bobby and he was of a darker skin-tone than everyone else, but this really has no impact on the story at all. There was a sweet little bit about one of the baseball players secretly being involved with a reporter, which then ended with them marrying, but it wasn’t really anything amazing. It was just that – a sweet little bit.
I will also note that although Baseball Heaven is wrapped and plastic and marked as 18+ the sexual content is pretty brief and not terribly explicit. So… don’t get your hopes up.
But, to me, Baseball Heaven’s English language release is indicative of larger problems, which is to say: the work of translation for manga has been severely devalued in the North American market, and, in turn, the quality of those translations has fallen off as well, as has the valuation of solid translations. Matt Thorn has an excellent look at it, and I really appreciated his post since I myself wasn’t aware of the situation for manga translators. I had assumed that translations were getting sloppier due to companies getting lazy since they have found they can continue to move units even when the editing is poor and the texts are riddled with simple typos and grammatical errors.
So how does this all relate to Baseball Heaven?
Baseball Heaven’s translation was very, very clearly done by someone who has no familiarity with baseball. It is also very, very clear that whoever was the editor on it likewise had no familiarity with baseball. I say this because I, as an avid baseball fan, found the incorrect terminology used in the translation to be so jarring as to be distracting. Runs were consistently referred to as ‘points’, something that is never done in baseball. Halves of innings were called ‘first half’ and ‘second half’, another thing that is just flat-out wrong; they’re called ‘top half’ and ‘bottom half’. There were pitches, too, that were labeled incorrectly.
Now, you may be wondering why this matters – after all, isn’t this pretty minor? And, well, maybe in Japan they do call it points, so that’s the right translation!
Quite simply: yes, it does matter. It matters a lot. It matters because it says something about the effort Tokyopop was willing to put into their product. If a company does not invest a degree of concern in the quality of their product, why should I invest in it? And this especially since the price-point, at $14.99, sits well-above market value for a paperback manga release in the American market.
As for it perhaps being a difference in terminology in America versus Japan, regardless of whether this is the case or not, there is zero reason to not use localization in this case.
Folks, it is stuff like this that is partly why Tokyopop is no more, because it goes back to the overarching matter, which is that Tokyopop was no longer operating as a serious, competent member of the marketplace. During the manga boom in North America, it saw its sales rise and started licensing too many properties and cutting corners in order to rush things to the market and also to maximize its profits. I liken it to what happened with the Krispy Kreme doughnut chain; its doughnuts became a fad, and with dollar signs in their eyes they expanded too quickly, only for the market to fall out from under them when the enthusiasm for their doughnuts subsided to more average levels. The difference being, of course, that Krispy Kreme is still around, albeit in a seriously weakened state, whereas Tokyopop is not.
The decline in the mindset at Tokyopop can be seen in these little things, these problematic translations, these poorly-printed pages, these badly-bound books, these dull licenses. Am I sorry to see them go? Absolutely. Most of my early purchases as a manga fan were from Tokyopop – some of my Sailor Moon manga are old enough that they have “Mixx” printed on them, not the future name of that company. But until I bought Baseball Heaven, I had not purchased a single volume from them in literally years. These days most of my purchases hail from Yen Press, Vertical, and DMP.
Vertical, above all else, proves that you can have an excellent product and not go bankrupt. They have a very small stable of manga which appeal to a very niche audience, and they release top-notch editions which feature good translations and high physical quality, generally at a slightly above-market price (I will confess that I do find Chi’s Sweet Home to be very expensive considering the length of the volumes, but I buy it anyway because its enjoyable and I know with Vertical I will always get a quality product). And, no, they’re probably not making the same profits that someone like Viz is from manga (steady diets of Naruto, Bleach, and Vampire Knight are pretty helpful), but they haven’t gone the way of Tokyopop or ADV Manga or CMX, nor is there any indication that they will.
So! Put simply – you can have high production values and still make some money in this market. Companies would do well to remember that.