This month [i.e. August — JC], the Studio Ghibli twitter feed excitably trills that the recording of the English language version of From Up On Poppy Hill has been completed, and that the “writers” are Karey Kirkpatrick and Patrick Mullen – thereby perpetuating one of the most irritating pretensions to afflict the anime localisation industry.
No, Kirkpatrick and Mullen did not “write” From Up On Poppy Hill. As I am pretty sure the studio is aware, it was written by a guy called Hayao Miyazaki and a woman called Keiko Niwa. Nor do I believe for a moment that Kirkpatrick and Mullen would be so gauche, so pompous or so plain dumb as to claim that they were the “writers” of someone else’s film, or so devious as to offer the semantic sophistry that they sort-of-kind-of “wrote” the English language version, as if that involved a similar degree of effort. Instead, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they are innocents in all this, bigged up without their knowledge by a marketing department desperately clawing for a story to release and for gaijin faces to shove in front of the media, instead of all those pesky Japanese people who cost more in air-fare and inconveniently fail to speak English on press junkets.
For the last twenty years, there have been unscrupulous individuals in the anime business who have tried to accentuate the role of individuals whose function would, at best, be described elsewhere in the creative arts as merely editorial. I spent a large part of the late 1990s crossly correcting people who claimed that Neil Gaiman “translated” Princess Mononoke – another innocent victim, I am sure, caught up in a marketing machine that pushed him and Miyazaki for a Nebula Award, without actually acknowledging the translators who had done the real heavy lifting – in that case, probably Ian McWilliam and/or Steve Alpert. Claiming that someone who spends a day or two polishing dialogue is the “writer” of a script is an insult not only to the people who spent significantly longer wrestling meaning out of one of the world’s most difficult languages, but also to the people who wrote the script in the first place.
Jonathan Clements is the author of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade. This article first appeared in NEO #104, 2012.