English Localizers Unhappy After ‘The Ancient Magus’ Bride’ Announces AI-Human Hybrid Simulpubs: “Such Disrespect For The Substance Of The Original Text Is Saddening”
In seemingly realizing that they no longer have free reign to butcher original works in service of memes or tired sociopolitical screeds, a number of English-language localizers are unhappy with Japanese publisher Bushiroad Works’ recent turn to using a combination of AI technology and human editors to produce their own English-language simulpubs for Kore Yamazaki’s The Ancient Magus’ Bride.
First announced on December 12th, this new hybrid translation endeavor will see Bushiroad Works utilize Mantra Co.‘s eponymous manga & webtoon-specific Mantra translation engine and the editorial skills of human translators to produce simultaneous simulpubs, all of which the publisher hopes will help tamper down on the series’ widespread piracy by overseas readers.
Notably, despite Bushiroad Works’ press release specifically stating that The Ancient Magus’ Bride English language simulpub chapter would be using both AI and human input, Anime News Network’s headline omitted this detail.
As such, thanks to their coverage being one of the most widespread across social media, Western critics near universally misinterpreted this announcement as confirmation that the publisher would only be using the former resource and not the latter.
But instead of considering whether they could combat the advent of AI-hybrid simulpubs by focusing on better quality translations, a large number of Western-based, Japanese-to-English localizers, many of whom have themselves inserted their own American politics into Japanese media, proceeded to (ironically enough) denounce Bushiroad Works’ announcement as an insult to the series’ original text.
“Such disrespect for the substance of the original text is saddening,” claimed Infinite Dendrogram and Rance X: Showdown localizer Andrew Hodgson claimed. “Especially with a series as thoughtful as this one. Corporate greed knows no bounds, of course. It’s funny to me also that the official tweet announcing this only mentions the AI part in Japanese. Shameless.”
Ya Boy Kongming! translator Jacqueline Fung likewise lamented, “Speed isn’t the issue You can find good translators with quick speeds. This is so disrespectful it hurts.”
“Save your money and use Google Translate instead,” wrote Shaman King (2021) script adapter and Pokémon‘s Jesse voice actress Michele Knotz. “Because that’s what this is gonna look like.”
The letterer for Viz Media’s English localization of Taizen 5’s The Ichinose Family’s Deadly Sins, @LettererBrendo, escalated the rhetoric by taking a moment “to wish all the wonderful people of Mantra, Inc. a very beautiful life of losing their job and starving on the street.”
“Also incredible how 99% of attempts to circumvent human input in the art of localization uses the pirated bootleg Lafayette Comic Pro font,” he added. “Really not selling yourself as professional or competent to anyone who actually gives a shit about these things. Get a real f—ing job.”
However, perhaps the most audacious critic of The Ancient Magus’ Bride‘s new translation method, particularly in light of her own history of defending ideological-based translations – such as the trans-ing of a main character in I Think I Turned My Childhood Friend into a Girl or her own butchering of My Life As Inukai-San’s Dog English subtitle – was notorious ‘professional’ anime, manga, and video game localizer Katrina Leonoudakis.
“I don’t have words for how embarrassing and disappointing this is,” she began her criticism. “Instead of paying a human to do a quality job, they’re using AI to get a mediocre product for free. Is this how little they think of English-speaking audiences? Of translation? For shame.”
“Audiovisual translators are already criminally underpaid, both due to the intrusion of machine translation in the field as a whole, and the demand to work in the entertainment industry,” she noted. “At least show your fans and creators more respect by giving them a human translation.”
“I really wonder if creators know just how badly AI/MT mangles the words they’ve crafted,” she continued. “Authors spend so long making sure their dialogue and narrative are written just so. You want to trust Google Translate to handle your prose? Is that how you want your audience to know you?”
Within hours of ANN’s coverage and the subsequent outrage it sparked, Bushiroad Works would return to social media offer a further statement clarifying the situation.
“Firstly, regarding ‘AI-assisted translation,’ we have implemented a system from Mantra Corporation.” the publisher stated. “This system combines their unique machine translation technology with the editing and proofreading by professional translators.”
“Next, about the purpose of simulcast distribution,” the publisher continued. “Unofficial translations are sometimes released for free and circulate as ‘pirated versions.’ Illegal manga piracy sites that publish these cause serious harm to the manga culture and industry both domestically and internationally. The Ancient Magus’ Bride has also continuously suffered from such damages. Initiatives like the one we are undertaking now have been proven effective in reducing piracy damage, as demonstrated by precedent cases with Shueisha’s works.”
Drawing their statement to a close, Bushiroad Works ultimately noted, “Finally, regarding books produced and licensed officially by foreign publishers. If there are any offers from various companies, they will continue to be considered, and if conditions are met, publications will proceed as before. This situation remains unchanged.”
Following the publisher’s statement, Yamazaki would herself give approval to Bushiroad Works’ partnership with Mantra Co., tweeting to her followers a few hours later, “About the simultaneous distribution of this work in two languages. Regarding pirated copies, I have also confirmed this. Pirated copies are being uploaded illegally in less than two days. This is not only true for this work, but also for other companies and other works.”
“This is a personal opinion,” she elaborated. “In the art of translation, nothing beats the work of human translators. Know how many people read manga across borders. That would not have been possible without the help of the translators involved in this project.”
“Please keep that in mind,” wrote Yamazaki. “That is why I am so frustrated that people are reading pirated copies that were uploaded without the involvement of an official publisher! As for this case, I would be happy if you could look at it as a new way of doing things!”
“The translation of a book is no different from the way it has been done in the past,” the mangaka concluded. “This applies only to monthly serials. Please read the statement on the official account. My text alone is not complete.”