Fan Translation

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See also: Scanlation, Fansub, Fandub
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Fan Translation is a broad term that refers to the fanac of the unofficial translation of source media or fanworks into other languages.

Fans have translated everything from video games, books, short stories, films, comics, television shows, manga, anime, doujinshi, and fanfiction so they can share their enjoyment of the source with other fans who don't know the source language.

With commercial works, these translations are often seen to be violating the copyright on the source and are sometimes hard to distinguish from pirate or bootleg translations made with the intent of commercial profit. For example there are many cases of translations of Harry Potter books appearing for sale before official translations were available or in languages where no official translation is ever produced. [1][2] However, in some instances, such as with some video games, the translation is just part of the existing modding community that is supported and encouraged by the game creators.

The translation may also go hand in hand with editing of the original source. For example, an English subtitled versions of the German soap operas Verbotene Liebe and Alles Was Zählt are available on YouTube, edited to include only the scenes focusing on the relationship of Christian/Olli and Deniz/Roman and a few related characters.[3] A French subtitled version of the Luke/Noah story from As the World Turns is also available online.[4]

Fan translations may have a different focus than professional ones.

One of the most interesting facts about fansubs is that translators know that they are addressing a rather special audience made up of people very interested in the world of anime and, by extension, in Japanese culture. This is one of the main reasons why translators tend to stay close to the original text and to preserve some of the cultural idiosyncrasies of the original in the target text. [...] Though more research is needed in the area, it seems safe to assume that consumers of fansubs are generally exposed to more foreign cultural idiosyncrasies than other viewers. Another distinctive feature of fansubbing is the fact that certain cultural referents such as the names of places, traditions and other celebrations are explained by using translator’s notes and glosses.[5]

Views on Translation as a Fannish Activity

fineillsignup, who translates Chinese Naruto doujinshi, said:

...I have had very very limited time for my fandom activities lately, and I have been focusing more on translations than original works. Translations are not “easy” per se, but they use a different kind of mental energy than original works. They have clear parameters and goals. Currently, I have more of that kind of mental energy to spare.

I also find translations easier to do in bits and pieces. To work on fic, I need a long uninterrupted period of time to get in “the zone” and write. It is far easier for me to do translations even a panel at a time, five minutes here and there, that kind of thing.[6]

Fan translations of Japanese animation and manga are often joked about in the animanga community because some fan translators refuse to translate words that professionals would normally translate in order to explain the word in detail.[7] The biggest meme about this is "All according to keikaku" from a Death Note fansub.[8]

Views on Having Your Fanfiction Translated

I don't like it. I'd have trouble trusting a random person to do a good job translating. I would rather be disliked on my own merits, rather than someone else's. And since I do know a couple of languages, I chose that language for the fic for a reason, so I feel like it's an extra no.

On the other hand, it's fanfiction, they don't have to ask even though it's polite, how would you even enforce it if you wanted them to stop, and it might be better to know about what's out there. Also, you may be getting a new audience.

I guess my instinct says no, but practically, it may turn into a very begrudging 'I guess'.[9]

I've always said yes without hesitation. Even to the ones where the request was in not-so-great English and I had no idea if they understood well enough to do a good job or not. Here's how I see it:

If there was a super awesome fic in another language, it'd kind of suck if someone wanted to translate it into English, but the author didn't want them to? Plus I kind of suspect the translation would still get passed around behind the scenes.

I'm in a lot of fandoms where the canon is only accessible because of an unofficial, unauthorized translation, so it feels somehow unfannish of me to be opposed to translation.


If the translation is bad? Well, sometimes translations are bad. That's on the translator. If a different translator comes along and thinks that was terribly done, they're welcome to create a second translation. I don't mind multiple translators doing my fic. I've read so many shady translations into English, where I was glad to have anything, and besides, translators gotta practice on something to get good.

Actually, a couple of times I've approved it and the translator either got distracted and never posted anything, or posted it and had it up for a few years and then deleted their account for who knows what reason and it was gone. So my post of the original has outlived the translation in those cases. That's fine by me too. As far as I'm concerned, the translation is their work, it doesn't affect the original at all. I pretty much just take it as a high compliment, approve it, and never think about it again. I can't read any of the languages so I don't check the translations out.[10]

Yeah, same. I don't think a bad translation reflects back on me, the same way bad or weird fic doesn't reflect back on the source material. As long as the translator credits me, so that it's clear that it's neither their own fic nor that they are me, I'm fine. I mean, I get the initial reaction might be "but they might not do it justice", but hey, that's probably how some authors feel about fanfic, too. But once my writing is out there, I have to accept that people engage with it in different ways anyway, and take away different things from it. Maybe they are already reading it with google translate. My version of my story is still my version.

Overall, I'm just always flattered that someone would want to do stuff like that with my fic.[11]

I'm fine with it and have a blanket permission statement in my user profile to say as much.

I will say that part of why I'm comfortable with it is that I've been very careful not to make my pseud linkable to my RL identity. But I think it'd be hard for someone to make the connection even if I hadn't been -- I suspect most employers don't go searching Russian fic websites!

I think I would feel a little less comfortable if someone asked to translate *all* my fic -- that's a lot of time and work and I might feel a little weird about it. But ultimately, it's their time. (And I suspect they'd only make it partway through anyway.)

Finally, if it is Russian, "OOC" apparently means something different in Russian fandom, so don't get worried if that tag shows up.[12]

Types of Fan Translation

Common types of translations done by fans include:

  • scanlation
  • fansubs
  • translations of fanfic
  • song translations (and covers of the translated songs / videos of the lyrics, such as colour coded lyric videos in Kpop fandom)
  • game mods
  • translations of primary canon texts, like novels
  • translations of secondary canon texts, like artbooks or character guides
  • translations of radio plays or dramas

Well Known Fan Translations

Examples Wanted: Editors are encouraged to add more examples or a wider variety of examples.

  • The Touhou Patch Center project translates the Touhou Project game series from Japanese into a many different languages, including a number of joke languages such as "4Kids English", "Google Translate English", "Troll translations", and "Pirate English". When Touhou was first brought over to Steam, ZUN said in an interview that the official Steam release would only be provided in Japanese. He said that he was aware of the fan translation patches, and he basically said that he'd "leave that matter to the fans."[13][14]
  • The Danganronpa franchise is one of the most fan-translated ones. (More details in the linked article.)

Endorsed Fan Translations

Examples Wanted: Editors are encouraged to add more examples or a wider variety of examples.

Sometimes the creator of a work will clearly allow and endorse fan translations of their work. They may even take actions to help the translation process, for example in the case of scanlations, where they may provide the textless raws of their art to the scanlator.

Some examples:


  1. ^ Harry Potter and the boy wizard translator accessed October 28, 2010
  2. ^ Harry Potter and the German pirates accessed October 28, 2010
  3. ^ Eskimo Kiss Project on YouTube, accessed October 28, 2010
  4. ^ Raphaël Jag on Daily Motion, accessed October 28, 2010
  5. ^ Fansubs: Audiovisual Translation in an Amateur Environment, July 2006. Accessed Nov. 24, 2012.
  6. ^ fineillsignup, response to beewithaknife asking, "Do you have an update schedule for your fic?" Posted and accessed 12 September 2018.
  7. ^ "official subs vs fansubs" by ProzD, Youtube, Created 1/3/17
  8. ^ "Just According to Keikaku," Know Your Meme, Created 2010
  9. ^ Nonnie, here, March 12th, 2019.
  10. ^ Nonnie, here, March 12th, 2019.
  11. ^ Nonnie, here, March 12th, 2019.
  12. ^ Nonnie, here, March 12th, 2019.
  13. ^ Touhou Project Archival. An interview regarding the Steam release of Touhou have been published the other day on Gamespark and Japan IGN, asking ZUN about the seemingly sudden decision of the Steam port. Facebook. 14 November 2017.
  14. ^ Steam版「東方天空璋」を発表した上海アリス幻樂団のZUN氏インタビュー:今後の東方Projectや二次創作の展開について. IGN Japan. 14 November 2017.
  15. ^ "I don't know, Timmy, being God is a big responsibility". May 2008. Retrieved 8 April 2019.
  16. ^ IsraelBlargh. Better Then. AO3. 5 March 2016. Retrieved 8 April 2019.
  17. ^ Isekai Transporter (Read from left to right). /r/manga. 9 May 2018. unauthorizedintruder [S]: "After a week, it is done! It was quite a ride. Shout out to the author for giving me textless version, that helped me tremendously."
  18. ^ "⚡️New oneshot! It's a story about a boy scouted to be a model... but not the kind of model he expects 😉 Thanks to @konpuudo for their permission and to @majoccoid for providing textless files! Make sure to follow them!. Twitter. 1 April 2019.