Anime and manga enjoyers often come across the odd joke or pun in their favorite series that lands in Japanese but doesn’t translate well into English. While English translators do their damnedest to provide context behind either cultural or phonetic puns in editor’s notes (typically within a manga panel’s margins or alongside an anime’s subtitles), one Viz Media translator is resigning from their project after revealing a Shonen Jump series’ latest chapter was basically impossible to translate.
The “lost in translation” manga series in question is Cipher Academy, a mystery series written by Monogatari author Nisio Isin and illustrated by Yūji Iwasaki. The series follows Iroha Irohazaka, a teenager attending the prestigious, titular high school. As the name suggests, Cipher Academy’s “battles” revolve around a bunch of tricky puzzle games between Irohazaka and his classmates.
In chapter 10, “Yesterday’s War Is War Today Too,” Viz Media translator Kumar Sivasubramanian had the unenviable task of translating a lipogram-based cipher battle between Irohazaka and supporting character Tayu Yugata. A lipogram is a type of word association game in which participants must avoid using a certain combination of syllables or letters. Irohazaka and Yugata’s lipogram battle had them ask each other about famous manga series like Demon Slayer, Slam Dunk, One Piece, and Dragon Ball Z without using a bunch of “forbidden” consonants and vowel combinations.
The key issue with translating Cipher Academy’s lipogram battle is that the original Japanese syllables wouldn’t match syllables in the English language. Instead of jerry-rigging a rough English language equivalent to Cipher Academy’s lipogram, Sivasubramanian chose to print a transliteration of the Japanese lipograms.
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“Although we have roughly translated each answer, these lipograms didn’t work in English due to the phonetic differences from Japanese,” Viz Media wrote in Cipher Academy’s editor’s notes.
While Sivasubramanian’s transliteration of the lipogram was a herculean feat, it will also mark his last major contribution to Cipher Academy’s English translation. On Sunday, Sivasubramanian announced on his Twitter account that he will no longer translate the series and will be replaced by a new translator.
Kotaku reached out to Viz Media and Sivasubramanian for comment.
If Sivasubramanian’s recent retweets of text-intensive “raw translations” for Cipher Academy are anything to go off of, the next English translator has a tough road ahead of them, especially if Isin crafts yet another word association mystery game for his academy of brainiacs (and real-world translators) to solve.