Japanese manga industry turns to AI to translate its works

Japanese manga industry turns to AI to translate its works
Japanese manga industry turns to AI to translate its works

Major Japanese manga publishers have begun a shift towards using artificial intelligence (AI) to translate their works, with their investments in the emerging firm Mantra now totalling 780 million yen (4.6 million euros), according to information published by the Nikkei newspaper.

Founded in Tokyo in 2020, Mantra has been developing learning technologies specifically geared towards the entertainment industry, and among its services is a translation support platform that offers “a unique solution that enables simultaneous distribution across the globe,” as advertised on its website.

According to the aforementioned media, the investors of the start-up, born from the University of Tokyo, include publishers such as Shueisha, Shogakukan, Kadokawa and Square Enix Holdings, heavyweights in the Japanese manga industry.

The technology used analyses the lines of dialogue in speech bubbles using an image recognition function and translates them with AI, after which a (human) translator makes corrections.

The use of this artificial intelligence system can reduce the time conventionally required for the ‘manual’ translation process by up to half, which is attractive for large publishing firms, despite the debate it generates among professionals in the translation and localization sector.

Complex languages ​​like Japanese are full of unique expressions and words that are difficult for a machine to translate, which has led to criticism among professional groups who question the quality of translations, but Mantra claims that its error rate for English is 1.6% and that the AI’s work is also supervised by a human.

Mantra is believed to be the preferred platform for large companies due to its wide range of available languages, 18. Shueisha has used it, for example, for Vietnamese translations of relevant works such as ‘One Piece’ or ‘Spy x Family’, according to Nikkei.

Shogakukan is reportedly planning to customize the firm’s AI to build a content distribution platform with a larger catalog throughout the current fiscal year.

The Japanese government set itself the goal at the beginning of June of quadrupling the value of exports from the national entertainment content industry to 20 trillion yen (around 117 billion euros) by 2033, and manga, anime and video games play a key role in this strategy.

Japanese manga is very popular abroad, but only 14,000 works, or less than 2% of the total, have been translated into English, making it a sector with great growth potential.

The publishers in the Asian country also believe that the distribution of works through these means will help prevent the market for comic book piracy.


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