Interview with TaskForce 23, Ace Combat Focused Japanese Translator
Updated: Sep 16, 2020
TaskForce 23, an individual that immediately had an impact upon the international Ace Combat community and our own organization upon arrival. Through the accuracy of his translations, various materials have been made available for the first time in languages besides Japanese, allowing fans around the world to translate them into other languages. Thus far his efforts have not only assisted Project Lighthouse and Skyward Flight Media, but also made the PAX South 2019 interview with Kazutoki Kono possible, brought game developer knowledge to another language and much more. Santiago "Cubeboy" Cuberos, interviewed TaskForce 23 to introduce him to those that have thoroughly enjoyed his efforts.
To start, please tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m just a guy who likes airplanes so much that I decided to get my college degree in aeronautical engineering (actually trying to graduate in December). I was actually born in Japan on SkyEye’s birthday (September 19th) but moved to the US when I was like 2-3 and have been living here since. I can read, write, and speak both English and Japanese, but I’m better at English overall.
Have you studied translation in any way or have you learned from experience?
I haven’t taken any formal training/education on translation, but since my English is better than my parents’, I’ve helped them with reading, writing, and serving as a dictionary for them. Doing that over the years and learning both languages basically at the same time really allowed me to switch between them relatively easily.
How did you get into translations? Did you study any of the minutiae that comes with translating a literary piece?
Like I mentioned before, I translated some things to explain English words and concepts to my parents, but those were mainly household things that wouldn’t have been shared with many other people. Now that I think about it, I don’t think I’ve done these “formal” translations before I joined Project Lighthouse. With regards to studying, I haven’t really studied the explicit details and methodology of translation, but I do my best to maintain the original tone and style of the piece I’m working on.
Japanese is a very context based language, it must be difficult or outright impossible to translate anything word for word. How do you approach it?
You really have to know and understand Japanese in order to translate between the two vastly different languages. Since I basically learned both languages at the same time when I was growing up, my mind kind of works things out instinctively. I read the sentence, understand the content, and phrase it so that it sounds natural in the language I’m translating to. Since Japanese ranges from ancient words to modern cognates and abbreviations, you can’t really translate things word for word, but find “equivalent” words that will provide the same or similar meaning.
Just as any language, Japanese has its own pros and cons when it comes to usability, ease of understanding and most importantly to us, ease of translation. What do you think is the most frustrating part of translating from Japanese to English and vice versa?
I think one of the hardest things about Japanese to English translations are compound kanji. An entire concept could be written with just 4 kanji characters in Japanese, but might require a long sentence in English. Trying to make my translations concise without losing any meaning from the original is one of my toughest jobs. I often have to split one Japanese sentence into two or more English ones so that they don’t feel like a run-on sentence.
A challenge in translating for both JP to ENG and ENG to JP, at least for me, is sentence structure. Like with many languages, you cannot simply translate each word in the order that they are given and call it a day. The meaning might be understood, but having an incorrect or slightly off syntax will give you something Google Translate might spit out. I can sort of subconsciously move the words around when I’m translating, but there are times where I have to really think to make the sentence flow better.
When approached by idioms or by a play of words that are typical to the Japanese language and culture. How do you translate them? Do you find an equivalent in English or do you omit them?
Most of the time, there are similar ones or corresponding equivalents in English that work, but there are definitely times where I get stuck trying to find an analogous idiom. In those cases, I kind of translate it verbatim in quotation marks and then add a translation note with a better explanation. That way the sentence still flows somewhat ok, but it’s still clear what the meaning is.
What has been the hardest piece that you have translated as of now?
I think the hardest “piece” I translated was the string of tweets sent by Kazutoki Kono regarding his journey in developing Ace Combat 7. He had a distinct tone and diction that was incredibly emotional and inspiring, and I had to replicate that in another language. There was also quite a lot of slang that I was not familiar with, so I had to look those up, and choosing the right words was really difficult. But I think I was able to convey the intent Kono-san wanted in the end.
Do you have an interest in any other languages? If so, which ones?
I actually took German for a bit in high school since I thought it would be a unique language to learn. I remember doing pretty well in the class, but I haven’t used it since so it’s kind of garbage now lol. I would love to get back into it and maybe learn a romance or slavic language so that I can connect with more people.
Since your arrival you have made many projects possible, such as the complete translation of Ikaros in the Sky and more recently A Blue Dove for the Princess. Which of those two was more challenging for you in terms of translation? Or have any of the many interviews proved to be a bit difficult to translate?
Both of these were difficult in their own ways. For example, Ikaros talked about some exotic technologies and had some very advanced kanji I had not seen before, so I had to consult some dictionaries and other references to first learn what they were. Ikaros was also a very long project so there’s that too. For the Blue Dove, it was written in a fashion similar to old fairy tales with a “narrator” telling the story in a third-person omniscient point of view, so that was a little challenging for me since I’m not used to writing in this style. But overall, Ikaros was the harder project.
Thus far, do you have a favorite piece that you've translated? Which one and why?
I think my favorite is still the Ikaros in the Sky book to be honest. Though it was a very long project, I was surprised at how well it was written and how the suspense was built for each arc, and I had tons of fun reading and translating at the same time. There were some pretty funny moments too, including the reference to Ace Combat games in the break room and use of over-the-top technologies befitting of the Ace Combat franchise.
One of your most recent translations is of CEDEC 2019 (Computer Entertainment Developers Conference) lecture material. What was your interest in translating this?
In past interviews and other material, the devs at Project Aces only really mentioned what they did and not necessarily how they achieved things, especially the technical details. I had some interest in what these details were and thought that those trying to create their own games could use some of the techniques as hints in their endeavors, so I wanted to share that. These sort of lectures also usually include interesting anecdotes that offer a deeper glimpse into the inner workings of Project Aces, which is also very cool and is something you don’t get to see a lot.
In the future, what other types of material are you interested in translating?
You know, I’ve covered a lot of different media in the one year I’ve been doing this. Books, manuals, interviews, audio from games, etc. Personally, I like translating written material compared to audio, especially if they don’t have subtitles, since they already have all the words written and you don’t have to decipher things. But I like challenges, so I would like to translate more audio materials as well as other forms of media.
In terms of subject matter, I know there are still a lot of things that have yet to be translated and shared in just the Ace Combat franchise, including things like the Shinden Master File, so I would like to continue working on those. I would also like to help translate things from other franchises too, since I had some fun discovering and learning about other unique works and want to help spread the word on these that the non-Japanese speaking world may not be aware of.
Have you ever considered translating as a profession?
I haven’t really considered translating things at a professional level. Though I found it to be fun, my passion is in aircraft manufacture/support and is the career path I’m pursuing at the moment. I also don’t think I would be a very good translator with my current skill level, since I have to solicit the help of a dictionary quite often for some words/slang. I would need to study a lot more to be at a more proficient level, to be honest. Maybe if I land a stable job after graduation and find the time, I might further my training.
Any final thoughts?
When I joined Project Lighthouse in July of last year, I didn’t expect my translations to garner that much attention, but now, I’ve been able to connect with a lot of amazing people and work on some really cool projects. I’m just really grateful for the opportunities I had.
Though real life stuff will keep me busier than ever in the future, I hope to continue working on more translations so that more people would be able to appreciate and enjoy content that otherwise would not be available.
Thank you so much for answering these. I look forward to see what else you manage to bring us in the future!
About the interviewer
Santiago "Cubeboy" Cuberos
Longtime aviation fanatic with particular preference towards military aviation and its history. Said interests date back to the early 2000's leading into his livelong dive into civil and combat flight simulators. He has been involved in a few communities but only started being active around the mid 2010's. Joined as a Spanish to English translator in 2017, he has been active as a writer and content manager ever since. Twitter | Discord: Cubeboy #9034