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Translators & Artists Slam Japan’s AI Manga Translation Investment

According to them, the money could have better spent on hiring more translators and giving them fair pay.

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News broke out recently that Japan’s major manga publisher, Shogakukan, along with several other public and private companies invested 2.92 billion yen (approximately USD 19.5 million) in manga localization company Orange Inc.

The ideology behind the investment was to boost the export of manga overseas by using AI translations as it would reduce the time taken to translate these works.

The anime and manga industry has watched with a mix of intrigue and apprehension as AI has matured rapidly.

While AI’s potential for streamlining workflows and reducing production costs is undeniable and even favored by those wanting to increase productivity, concerns do linger about its impact on human creators who have dedicated their careers to this field.

In that light, Japan championing for AI manga translations has the potential to reshape the entire manga industry. Unsurprisingly, overseas manga translators and lettering artists have greeted the news with a healthy dose of skepticism.

The general consensus was that AI translations won’t be able to capture the nuances of the original Japanese text, potentially diminishing the reading experience for international fans, and eventually killing the enjoyment of the manga medium.

Orange Inc. cited the slow pace of human translation and the difficulty of finding qualified translators as key factors in pushing for AI translations, which they claimed would solve the bottleneck of limited availability of translated content for overseas manga fans.

However, many pointed out that investing large sums of money in AI translations instead of hiring more translators and giving them fair pay was not a wise move.

In fact, if translators got fair pay for the work they did, it would turn out to be a more lucrative career path for many.

It would also allow a lot of translators to quit their day job and focus completely on their translation works.

Both translators and lettering artists, including Brandon Bovia, were stunned by the fact that companies were ready to invest USD 19.5 million into manga localization company, while rates of more than 1 USD per page for translations was seen as “expensive” when it came to human staff.

Jan Cash, who is known for translating Choujin X, Burn The Witches and the latest one shot of Bleach manga pointed out that the money that was raised in the funding could have been used to pay a fair rate for atleast 10,000 books.

This is not the first time that AI or machine translation has been tested out for manga, and the results haven’t been very satisfying.

But even more damning issue was that employing AI for translations would mean that the translators currently active behind the scenes will end up working more and getting paid less.

The problem lies in how the whole AI translation workflow takes place.

As pointed out by multiple translators, the translations that are provided by AI still need to be proofread and edited for corrections & localization by human translators.

This work has been described as far more taxing than translating a manga from scratch.

On top of that, the proofreading rates that translators receive are far less than that of completely translating a manga. So essentially, AI translations basically meant translators would be getting paid less for working more.

This was not something that sat right with those who have been working in the industry. And naturally, the AI translation move received a lot of backlash.

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While the backlash Orange Inc and Shogakukan along with others are receiving is justified based on past experience, the localization company is claiming to develop cutting edge technology for manga localization by employing deep learning.

However, even with a highly developed AI model, human translators aren’t pushed completely out of the picture when it comes to proofreading and localization, and their concerns about fair pay still remains valid.

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