The 4th guest to the Lab Report series happens to be working on the best thesis ever. Listen or read to find out what that is!
Whoa. It’s been a good while since I actually did the Justin Lab Report. What happened? So, after I decided to take a break during AX week, I promptly didn’t set up guests in advance. Needless to say, I had no one to talk to in the time frame I needed. That was when I basically decided on a break, and that I would bring this back in September.
So it’s September, and I have interviews in the works and an interview with Chic Pixel founder Anne Lee today!
When not working on Japanese Pop Culture stuff, Anne’s either translating, working on her thesis, podcasting, or…eating.
…Anyways, despite the time difference we worked out a time to chat, and so, here is that chat with Anne Lee.
Justin: So hey how you doing Anne?
Anne: I’m good, pretty good! The first day of Spring was here yesterday in Australia, which is funny I guess because I’m in the Southern Hemisphere here and somehow I’m still not used to it, being from America originally. So I talk to people like you who are in the Northern Hemisphere and I’m like, “Ah, yeah, it’s totally flipped over here.” But yeah, gearing up for spring! *laughs*
Yay! I’m gearing up for Fall! *laughs*
But ok, that’s interesting. I actually did not know that you were from America.
Oh yeah! Was born and raised in Vermont, went to high school in Vermont, went to college in Massachusetts, and now I’ve come over to Australia after graduating from college, so yeah – I’m American! *laughs* Hence the accent! A lot of people think that my online presence started since I came to Australia, so people think that I’m from Australia. But then they talk to me and they’re like, “wait…” *laughs* “You don’t sound Australian at all!”
Oh no…you got that, what’s that, that New England accent or something like that?
I guess! I dunno, some people think I’m Canadian. Most Australians think I’m Canadian and not American. So yeah I think it’s that New England accent, I don’t have a really thick “Boston” accent or West coast accent, I dunno!
So I guess when you were growing up, did you happen to get into video games this way, or anime? Which came first for you?
Well I’ve been playing video games for a very long time but I was never super seriously into them? Like a lot of my peers that were the same age that liked video games, now they’ll talk about how they played the NES and the Game Boy. I had the original Game Boy because my grandparents played it, which was quite funny. So I would go visit them in Florida, and that’s the only time I would play it. I don’t think I was really into it but I liked playing with them. So they would be playing Tetris, I would try and be how far they got in Tetris on my own game and things like that.
But then I would go home to Vermont with my parents and not really pick it up until I saw my grandparents again, so I wasn’t super into it until the PS1 era. That was when I really got into games.
Anime I probably got into at the same time as I got the PlayStation. I dunno, it’s hard to say, but I started with Sailor Moon for anime, and that was something we didn’t get on our TV, so I only watched it when I went to friends or family that had cable. Then I saw it and I kept begging my parents for cable and they finally got it *laughs* and I could watch stuff like Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z and all that.
Can you remember what video games you were playing at the time?
First video games…the one I really remember is Final Fantasy 7. That was really the big one for the PS1 that really grabbed me and made me go, “Woah, video games are really cool.”
Because I’m a big book nerd and at the time, I was really impressed by the depth of the story. So I was really playing it just to see the story play out rather than playing it because I liked fighting enemies and things like that. I think mechanically I’m not so much into the game mechanics but I’m more interested in the worldbuilding and the characters and the design, that sorta stuff in video games.
When you happened to watch Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball Z, did you happen to know that they were anime? Or just thought they were just cartoons but later on learned…?
I think at the very beginning I probably did not know. I also saw things like Totoro when I was very little and I don’t think that I knew originally because they were all in English, dubbed over so I had no idea.
But, it was relatively soon that I found out that they were Japanese because it was probably 5th-6th grade – my timeline’s a bit messed up, this is all a very long ago. *laughs*
But around then I started studying Japanese because I found out this stuff I was really into – both the video games and the anime — were all from Japan. And with Dragon Ball Z, Toonami would keep showing the same set of episodes over and over again so you’re like, “What the — is there more? What’s going on, why do they keep showing Vegeta coming to Earth?” and all that stuff, so I’d see it over and over again, and I wanted to know if there was more of it available.
I found out that yeah, in Japan they have hundreds of episodes that we don’t have over here! So I thought, “Oh I’ll just learn Japanese and it’ll be easy and–” *laughs* Then I could watch everything that we didn’t get here. So that was the original motive and I didn’t get seriously into studying Japanese until middle school. But 5th-6th grade I brought an English to Japanese dictionary, and I would whip out words and—
*laughs* try to study.
That’s…I’m pretty sure when I was in 5th-6th grade that was not anything I was thinking of. “Oh, I want to learn Japanese and figure out this other language. I’m struggling with English as it is!” *laughs*
I dunno, I was a bit of nerd I guess! *laughs*
No that’s pretty cool. I guess eventually you really got serious to the point where you wanted to translate professionally?
Yes! I think that was just a natural progression for me because I’m not really interested in teaching. So with Japanese, I studied Japanese all through high school and college and now I’m doing a Ph.D that’s related to Japanese language that’s more about manga. So all of that stuff together, the next step was naturally to try translating. As I mentioned earlier I’m really into books, so because I have this interest in literature as well. I find a lot of pleasure out of translating and really working out how I can make something sound really good in English so that when you read it it’s not just these word for word, kind of dry translations, but I really like kind of the puzzle of thinking out what would sound good in English.
So yeah I got into that. I mean I did it for fun in high school. I would buy doujinshi, I don’t know where I got these in high school, probably conventions—
Could it have been in Vermont? Vermont could have sold some doujinshi– *laughs*
*laughs* Yeah yeah, no, there’s like, nothing in Vermont. But, as I mentioned I go visit my grandparents in Florida, there’s a convention called MegaCon. That’s like a Sci-Fi, TV, had Star Wars, they also had anime stuff. So I would get CDs and DVDs and things like that there. They didn’t have that in Vermont. I probably found some random books and doujinshi, and at the time I didn’t really know what doujinshi was.
But yeah I started translating stuff on the side. Back in the LiveJournal days, I translated some Princess Tutu doujinshi for a fan community. I was really big into Princess Tutu – this is probably early college years. So I would do that and *laughs* that was kind of my start translating and I slowly got more and more serious about it I guess.
And it was enough where you decided you wanted to work in the industry?
Yeah. I guess the first really official job I had was with Digital Manga Guild. Digital Manga Publishing started up this thing where they were trying to get people like me that were more into fan translation and haven’t had a “serious” translation job. So they sorta picked us up and we would form groups. I was the translator for a group called Boys Love Bang Bang *laughs*
Sounds like a fine name. Nice title. *laughs*
Yeah yeah, we were really into it *laughs*. We had an editor, letterer, and we would work together. I think they ended up taking on a couple other translators as well. But yeah that was my first experience in more of a professional setting. I think we’ve talked about this before, and you have a really good article on your site about Digital Manga Guild and people’s experiences with that, so I won’t get to into that. But it really was a bridge for me between totally fan, sort of hobby stuff, and seeing a little peek into what real translation work was like and the process of that.
At least I got to have my name on a few BL manga, back when I was Anne Whittingham.
So that was cool, but I really didn’t start working more seriously until I guess I kind of made a name for myself online with my website and Twitter, and I got some contacts, and then took on some other jobs. I’ve translated PowerPoint slides for companies like Mitsubishi, all sorts of odds and ends with more contractual companies where they just send out whatever they get and you do it. I’ve done some more stuff like other manga, and a couple of games. I can’t really talk about one of them, but the other one should be coming out hopefully this year or early next year.
You brought up your website, Chic Pixel. How did that get started? What made you decide you wanted to do it?
I think I was in college and I liked writing, so I wanted to share my interests with other people. I wanted to connect with people online and thought, “Well blogging is the way you do that!” *laughs*. Actually no because I just had my 5 year anniversary of the blog at the beginning of this year, so maybe I did start it once I moved to Australia, which is very isolating. When you move to another country I didn’t really have a lot to do at the time.
That’s when I got into the freelance translation, that’s pretty much constant, and the blog as well to sort of do fun stuff, but also get my interests out there, and talking with people. That’s been a big help for me because I think people see that I got this project that I’ve been working on for a long time, and it’s related to Japan, so I got some contacts because of the site that I might not have had otherwise, just being a person on Twitter or something.
I bet you’ve had that one moment where you probably might’ve thought, “See, if I didn’t work in the industry or start Chic Pixel this never would’ve happened.”
It’s like, “huh. What do ya know?
Yeah, you don’t think it at the time though. You just start it up and go, “Oh this will be a fun thing to do.”
Then you realize, “Oh I can actually take this a little more seriously now?” Like I think of my site as sort of my, and you know I hate to say it, my brand or whatever, but it really is how I’m viewed by the world right? Like *laughs* it’s this thing I made so I gotta keep it looking good ya know!
Embrace the brand! Embrace it!
Well ok. You have your blog, do translation, and a podcast with Sarah, Chic Pixel Plus. You also happen to be working on a thesis—
If I’m not mistaken this thesis involves Boys Love–
…How do you manage to find the time to do all this?
Well I would like to say I’m very good at time management, but the reality is that I’m probably very good at procrastinating the thesis with the other things that I do *laughs*. But I’ve really had to dial it back over the past couple months. If anyone that’s been following our podcast we haven’t done an episode in over a month, month and a half, that’s because I just haven’t had the time. I’m coming up on my thesis deadline – I gotta submit a draft on the 23rd of this month! So I gotta lockdown, and I really shouldn’t be doing some of this other stuff.
The freelance translation, I just got a big job finished a couple months ago so I haven’t taken anything else on, so that’s good. But with the blog, even though I say I think of it as my brand I really enjoy doing it. So I try to treat that like – you know I can’t be doing my thesis 24/7, so I do take a break and do something fun, which is writing a post for my site, so that’s how I deal with that. *laughs*
Just want to make sure: you were the originator of the community game alongs right?
Yes I am, I started that three…years ago now.
What made you want to start something like that?
Actually I think it was originally a suggestion on Twitter. I was talking about how it was a shame that Falcom, they’re underappreciated, not really well known in the West. I think they’re getting more well known with Trails of Cold Steel, a JRPG, but kind of a niche JRPG. It’s not like Final Fantasy where everybody knows. But 3 years ago they were still not as well known, at least from my perspective. I thought, “Oh, I really want to play some of their games, and it would be nice if other people knew more about them.”
So somebody said, “Why don’t we do a thing where we play the games together?” So that’s what started it. I did a Falcom month and we all played Falcom games, and people were really into it, this sort of community thing.
So I decided to keep doing monthly themes. I did it for a whole year, and people really liked it, so “Well, I’ll do another year!” And now we’re on the 3rd year *laughs* So it just kept going. And I don’t always have enough time to participate. In fact, I would say most of the time I personally can’t participate in it.
But I think it’s just a fun thing to do because some people really do like it, and gives them a chance to say, “Oh hey, it’s September, this month is SRPG.” So some people have said, “Oh you know I have Fire Emblem Fates is in my backlog, and I haven’t finished it, so I’ll pick it up again.” Which just gives people a bit more direction, gets them thinking about what I already have that I haven’t played, that I can play this month, and kind of do it with other people. So it’s a lot of fun.
You would make this month SRPG September. As the guy that’s played every Fire Emtblem game released in the West, you would do this to me!
I have to write something for this don’t I?
Yes you do. Even though your site isn’t really games related you can find a way to connect it to anime and manga somehow right? *laughs*
Well, there was that FE anime that happened ages ago!
Really? I didn’t know that.
Yeah, it was an OVA, 2 episodes, it was back when they would literally turn any video game into an anime. Like you had Battle Arena Toshiden, Fatal Fury, bunch of video games turned into anime. So yeah, FE was one of them. It got dubbed. Yeah, it’s up there.
Yeah I guess we’ll have to see about that. Anyways, since you bring up the topic of my blog, I guess the last question I’ll ask is with the summer season about to end, has anything stood out to you this summer season?
Yeah, I really like Danganronpa. Because I’ve played the games and I’ve been watching the Mirai-Hen and Zetsubou-Hen, and I’m just amazed at how they’re tying everything together. I won’t say anything for people who don’t want spoilers, but they’ve managed to tie in all of their different media. Like they got the games, but they also have novels, spin-off manga, and they’re tying all these threads into this anime and it’s just amazing. I heard the original Danganronpa anime was really bad, that was the adaptation of the first game. I didn’t even bother with it because I was told it was not a good adaptation. But this is an original anime kind of continuation of the franchise, and it’s very impressive in what they’re doing with it. So I think that’s probably my favorite this season.
Yeah it’s interesting. I don’t think there’s been a season where you have two anime that are technically in the same franchise but they’re airing concurrently, or at the same time, really.
Yeah it’s really interesting. You get 2 episodes a week, and I didn’t think the two series would really intertwine, but it really is effective to watch one and then the other back and forth because even though you could watch them separately. Like say you want to watch Mirai-Hen and then you watch all of that and then you watch Zetsubou-Hen. It would be fine, but there’s something really interesting about watching them concurrently actually. So yeah, I’m really impressed with what they’re doing with it.
So ok, this will be my final question: what’s next for you Anne? How’s the upcoming few months looking for you?
Well upcoming few months will be finishing the thesis *laughs*. I’ll probably be on lockdown and not unfortunately posting on my site as much. But yeah I wanna get the thesis out there done so I can move on to the next thing, which will hopefully be more full time freelance translating. I’ve had a few job offers come my way where I’ve been doing the thesis and I’ve had to decline. It’s a bit sad but yeah, just get that done and then move on to something else.
Yeahhhh, and probably for me the something else unfortunately won’t be in academia mostly because there are few jobs really. Japanese is already a really small field and what I do, manga and boys love manga, that’s relatively niche. So I could probably do lecturing but I don’t think there’s gonna be any full time positions for me. So I’ll probably try to make a go at more translating, which I quite enjoy as well, so it’ll be good either way.