Translation, Publishers & Censorship

Feb. 20, 2021

The one argument you always hear when there’s talk about translation, is that you can never get the same experience reading a translation as the original, and that expecting to get the whole experience is meaningless. Another is that translation is the same as “localization,” and that cut content and altered content will always be necessary for a translation to be done correctly.

While it’s certainly true that you often can’t translate a language word-for-word, it’s often those that has a certain inclination for censorship that tries to argue that translation can’t be done without altering the original work’s message, and thereby without compromising the original’s integrity.

Certain publishers, such as the recent case with Seven Seas Entertainment, an American publisher of translated light novels and manga, has taken upon themselves to act as the arbiter of “localization.” If one should even call it that is debatable, but certainly in line with their own reasoning – that keeping the content wouldn’t be appropriate for the western market, and as such needed to be cut from the release we got. Their acts of cutting entire paragraphs and altering dialogue to fit is not an act of translation, but a blatant act of localization and editorial censorship. Seven Seas’ official reasoning is that they wouldn’t have been able to publish the books if they didn’t cut the content, but that’s simply a case of manipulative wording. What they really mean by a statement like that, is that they would not have been able to pass Amazon’s censors if they didn’t cut the content.

First off, if the only way of a company to make a profit is to be able to publish through Amazon, then you have to question just what’s wrong with the market. While there’s no denying that many will only consider Amazon as their place to buy eBooks, that’s only partially because people are used to always finding their fix on that particular platform; another part is likely due to the fact that many got themselves a Kindle which they read their books on. The latter another case of Amazon trying to lock their customers in with a proprietary device, in which they try their best to groom a generation which know nothing about format freedom.

Now, as mentioned, many are probably unaware that they could sideload any DRM-free compatible files they wish onto their precious Kindle. One particularly helpful tool which make doing so very easy, is the open-source and completely free eBook program, Calibre. With this one tool you can not only easily manage all your eBook in one place, but also convert and upload books to your Kindle-device without issues. Additional plugins to strip the DRM from many formats is also available with the DeDRM-plugin.

Momo Velia Deviluke from To Love-Ru Darkness’ uncensored BD

One simple way of appeasing the censors at garbage companies, while still being able to retain the creative integrity of the original, would be to simply release a clearly marked censored version on the platform that would require it. However, companies such as Seven Seas Entertainment doesn’t want that. For one, they know the people would get rightfully angry, and they’ve clearly set out to act as the first line of editorial censors themselves.

Seven Seas should’ve been aware of what illustrations, dialogue, and overall scenes the book contained. So why did they still go ahead and buy the license, then? They should’ve known right away that they might as well pass on the license. Now, to be fair, they’ve got an “adult” label which they publish manga, they could’ve marked the book 18+ and used that label instead. If that wasn’t acceptable, either for fears of diminished profits, or whatever else, they did not have acquire the license to begin with. If they didn’t, then perhaps some other company with more backbone could’ve gotten it; and if not, then let the fans translate the series themselves.

If the “problematic” content in the Mushoku Tensei series was too degenerate to be allowed to be published, then one has to question just how something like Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita ever got a release. While the book never had any descriptive explicit scenes, it did very much feature themes that’s illegal in most counties.

So, if the argument is that, because some cultures would end up offended by it, or that some countries would end up banning the sale of Mushoku Tensei completely because of said content, then one has to question what Seven Seas has to say about China, or the Arab countries, or the plethora of other countries in which the content definitely would end up barred from sale. In general, given the themes present in many light novels, most if not all would end up getting banned in said countries, and certainly the artwork in them would not pass the censors, nor laws in those countries. Does that mean that Seven Seas has stopped selling those books in the United States of America, just because some other country wouldn’t allow the sale? No, of course not. They want to make money in the end, and going around licensing series without actually publishing them wouldn’t make them any money. As mentioned, Seven Seas is an American company, operation from within one of the few countries left in the world that still somewhat honors artistic freedom. Even an actually explicit, gratifying scene would in at least some states have been allowed to pass sales; given the simple fact that it’s only text and they’re all fictional characters. That said, the book does not contain anything of the sort. So why, then, did the company stake their reputation on the line, for something as stupid as this? Their reasoning is apparently that, because some the “values” of Japan differs from others, some content will inevitably get cut from a release; and because they want to keep the formatting of a book nice and prime, some content will get rewritten or cut entirely. That’s not translation, nor even “localization,” that’s just plain censoring and manipulation of the author’s original creation.

Footnote: All the bonus points if you know the source for the header image.