AI Translation ‘Extremely Unsuitable’ for Manga, Japan Association of Translators Says

AI Translation ‘Extremely Unsuitable’ for Manga, Japan Association of Translators Says

AI as a term and concept has become unavoidable across professional fields, not least within the language industry. But now yet another professional association has challenged the notion of where and how, exactly, AI will fit in the picture.

The Japan Association of Translators (JAT) issued a bilingual statement in June 2024 to express “strong reservations” over the use of high-volume AI translation of manga.

“Based on our experience and subject-matter expertise, it is the opinion of this organization that AI translation is extremely unsuitable for translating high-context, story-centric writing, such as novels, scripts, and manga,” JAT wrote in English. “Our organization is deeply concerned that the public and private sector initiative to use AI for high-volume translation and export of manga will damage Japan’s soft power.”

JAT’s objections to AI translation are three-fold: First, AI has not demonstrated a consistently high-quality approach to nuance, cultural background, and character traits — all of which play a major part in manga.

The organization, which reported more than 700 members as of 2018, naturally also pointed out the potential threat to translators’ livelihoods, noting that “using machines to churn out mass quantities of translated works in a short amount of time […] risks greatly diminishing the value of the work itself.” 

And contrary to the stated aims of high-volume AI translation of manga, JAT believes that if the market is flooded with low-quality translations, this method could undermine consumer trust to the point of promoting piracy.

Instead, JAT strongly suggests that manga artists, publishers, governmental bodies, translators, associations, readers, and other stakeholders now engage in “careful and constructive dialogue” to determine the best use of AI translation for fiction. 

JAT released its statement about a month after Japanese manga localization tech company Orange raised USD 19.5m. Orange claims that it can translate up to 500 manga titles a month (i.e., five times the current industry standard) using AI translation.

Other professional associations have already shared their takes on the potential impact of AI on the translation industry. 

The European Council of Literary Translators’ Associations published a statement in November 2023. In the UK, the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL) released a white paper that included “initial reflections” and “major concerns” surrounding AI. The American Translators Association also issued its own statement the same month.