Special Issue: Reimagining Comics - The Translation and Localization of Visual Narratives

Translating without the Full Picture:

‘Simulpub’ Digital Translations of Manga in Spain

By Paula Martínez Sirés (Nihon University, Japan)


This paper qualitatively examines the Spanish simulpub translations of the all-women manga group CLAMP’s series Card Captor Sakura: Clear Card. Each translated chapter is streamed monthly on the official CLAMP YouTube channel simultaneously with the Japanese original, so the translator usually works with drafts and handwritten text without having the ‘full picture.’ In comic translation, the visual and verbal codes are extremely important since both interact to create meaning (Borodo 2015), so working with incomplete drafts with unclear illustrations may lead to mistranslations, although this can be fixed in later revisions thanks to the fluidity of the source text. By examining the simulpubs of a manga series from a multimodal perspective, this paper considers how simultaneity, and the digital medium, affect the translation of manga simulpubs.  

Keywords: simulpub translation, digital comics, manga translation, comic translation, multimodality, spanish, Japanese

©inTRAlinea & Paula Martínez Sirés (2023).
"Translating without the Full Picture: ‘Simulpub’ Digital Translations of Manga in Spain"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Reimagining Comics - The Translation and Localization of Visual Narratives
Edited by: Michał Borodo
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2633

1. Introduction

In Japan, the shift toward digital comics (or, rather, digital manga) looks unstoppable. According to the annual report on the Japanese publication market published by the All Japan Magazine and Book Publisher’s and Editor’s Association (AJPEA), the publishing market grew by 3.6 per cent in 2021 to a total market value of 1.6732 trillion yen, partly thanks to rising digital revenues. The digital comics market segment — which includes webtoon and smartoon vertical scrolling comics — also registered a strong increase in 2021, with its market value rising from 342 to 411.4 billion yen from 2020 to 2021 (AJPEA 2022), exponentially increasing since 2014.

In Western countries, initiatives such as Manga Plus, Crunchyroll Manga, Book Walker, MangaFlip, or MangaLine, are also trying to attract new (and old) readers towards the digital landscape by releasing official digital translations, sometimes simultaneously with the publication of manga chapters in Japan. Kadokawa also announced on its Virtual Crunchyroll Expo panel in August 2021 that it would speed up the e-book translation and distribution of digital manga with the release of several simulpubs (Lacerna 2021).

In Spain, manga translations have played an important role in the literary market since the 1990s (Rodríguez Rodríguez 2019: 15-16). Although the manga market suffered from the financial crisis of the 2010s and the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the yearly report made by Tebeosfera Cultural Association, the number of manga works being translated nowadays into Spanish amounts to one-third of the total of comics translated in Spain (Tebeosfera 2019). Moreover, as of 2022, around 25 publishing houses are translating manga into Spanish, and two major publishers of manga, Norma Editorial and Planeta Cómic, have announced the opening of new translations of major works into Catalan, one of Spain’s co-official languages. Incidentally, Norma Editorial also announced the launch of its new digital manga line in July 2022. In the announcement, the publisher stressed that they wanted to enter an ‘increasingly emerging market where immediacy and comfort prevail’ because, although historically they had not perceived a demand for digital contents from manga readers, this trend has changed in recent years, partly driven by the success of digital manga reading platforms and webtoons (Norma Editorial 2022).

The market of manga translation in Spain, far from contracting, seems to keep growing, but this trend does not yet reflect on simulpub translations, perhaps because of its need for simultaneous releases to attract prospective readers or the competition from unofficial scanlations.[1] Nevertheless, some publishers are starting to rely on simultaneous translations to fight piracy. A representative at Kōdansha explained in an interview that one of the reasons that the Japanese publisher tried ‘this simulpub experiment’ with the manga Card Captor Sakura: Clear Card (CCS: CC hereunder) was to fight illegal translations by streaming the official chapter and translations before the pirated editions appeared (Kato 2020).

This article will focus on the simultaneous digital manga translations, or simulpubs, of the Japanese manga series CCS: CC, created by the manga artists’ group CLAMP. This manga is published in one of Kōdansha’s monthly magazines and streamed simultaneously as a slideshow on CLAMP’s official YouTube channel, CLAMP-net. The Spanish version is published by Norma Editorial, but it is first streamed digitally on the official YouTube channel alongside the Japanese original and translations into other languages.

The article is divided into six sections: following the introduction, the study presents the theoretical framework and the terminology used. Then it introduces the manga series and its context, and it explains the translation process followed. The next section qualitatively analyzes the simulpub from a multimodal perspective, to which a discussion ensues. Finally, the study ends with the conclusions, the limitations of the study, and future lines of research.

2. Theoretical framework

2.1. Methodology and research questions

The present analysis draws from Klaus Kaindl’s theoretical framework, which contends that the translation of comics should be examined as a social practice, rooted in specific sociocultural circumstances and conditioned by a translator’s agency, and that not only linguistic, but also pictorial and typographic elements should be considered translation-relevant (Kaindl 1999). The article thus examines the simulpub’s translation process and how it may diverge from printed manga translation. Regarding this, it asks (1) how simultaneity, and the digital medium, affect the translation process of manga simulpubs, and (2) what are the implications when translating a simulpub that is also released digitally in a global streaming platform. To answer research question (1), I will rely on information provided by the translator in an interview, and on personal correspondence obtained from relevant parties, such as the Spanish translation agency, and the Spanish publisher in charge of CCS: CC. The interview with the translator was conducted online on June 4, 2022, and it followed a semi-structured format to obtain information in a more flexible manner (Rovira-Esteva and Tor-Carroggio 2020). The personal correspondence with other agents took place during June and July 2022. As for research question (2), I will qualitatively examine CCS: CC’s simulpubs from a multimodal perspective, specifically examining how the pictorial, typographic, and linguistic modes interact with each other and impact the translation.

2.2. Manga translation and multimodality

In Comics in Translation, Federico Zanettin pointed out that relatively little had been written on the translation of comics — and, consequently, manga — within translation studies (Zanettin 2008/2014: 19). Perhaps because of this call to action, over the last decade there has been an increase of research on manga translation (see Jüngst 2008/2014; Inose 2010; Huang and Archer 2014; Armour and Takeyama 2015; Fabbretti 2016; Harada 2020; Chow 2021; Chow and Che Omar 2021), and on comics, manga translation, and scanlations in the Spanish context (see Mas López 2004; Ferrer Simó 2005; Mangiron 2012; Valero Porras and Cassany 2016; Rodríguez Cruz 2017; Doncel-Moriano Urbano 2019; Rodríguez Rodríguez 2019; Rodríguez Rodríguez and Pérez 2019; Porras Sánchez 2021; Bernabé and Terán 2021).

Kaindl (1999) noted that research on comic (and manga) translations has historically focused on linguistic matters, excluding images for a long time. Visual elements such as speech bubbles have been studied, but mostly in relation to spatial limitation. It is partly because of this interdependence between text and image, and due to the limitations that the space of speech balloons and panels inflict on the text, that comic translation has been typified for a long time as ‘constrained translation’ (Titford 1982) or ‘subordinated translation’ (Mayoral, Kelly and Gallardo 1988). Issues deriving from the limited space of speech balloons become even more apparent when translating from Japanese into European languages, since manga speech bubbles are shaped for a different type of writing (Muñoz-Basols and del Rey Cabero 2019: 371). However, other studies have stressed that the visual aspect in comics can in fact reinforce the text and facilitate the process of translation, rather than constrain it (Celotti 2008/2014, Borodo 2015). This is also the case for manga translation, where panel distribution, pictorial style, speech balloons’ shapes, or different choices in typography can convey meaning and influence the translation, something already brought up by the notion of multimodality.

Multimodality can be defined as ‘the use of several semiotic modes in the design of a semiotic product or event, together with the particular way in which these modes are combined’ (Kress and van Leeuwen 2001: 21), so words may actually ‘interact with still and moving images, diagrams, music, typography or page layout’ (O’Sullivan 2013: 2). In fact, Yves Gambier states that ‘no text is, strictly speaking, monomodal’ (Gambier 2006: 6, emphasis in original), and Kaindl (2013: 265) similarly points out that ‘multimodality is the norm, and not the exception.’ Hence, research of translated comics (and manga) needs to consider a text in a wider form by not only looking into the linguistic mode, but also focusing on pictorial and typographic modes, as well as its cultural and social context (Kaindl 2010, Muñoz-Basols and del Rey Cabero 2019).

2.3. Defining digital comics

The internet, new technologies, and social media have deeply impacted how comics are created, edited, distributed, and consumed, sometimes to the point of creating ‘forms of mobility that are yet to be explored’ (Altenberg and Corti 2022: ii). It comes as no surprise, then, that more publishers start to explore the new possibilities that digital comics offer.

The term digital comics can be defined as ‘a broad spectrum of comics whose production and distribution involves the use of digital technologies’ (Batinié 2022: 86), such as webcomics, hypercomics, motion comics, or game comics. However, to be considered digital, scholars tend to agree that the digital comic would need to be ‘a “new expression” of the original work, rather than the “same expression” in a new (…) format’ (Aggleton 2019: 5). As the digital manga of CCS: CC includes emergent speech balloons that affect readers’ control over temporal reading, I will consider its digital version as a ‘new expression’ under Aggleton’s definition.[2] However, it should be noted that ‘digital comic’ (denshi komikku) is also the term normally used in Japanese to refer to digital versions of printed manga, as opposed to printed comics (kamiban or komikkusu) and comic magazines (komikku-shi).

2.4. Simulpub translations

Simulpubs are official manga translations that are released simultaneously, or almost simultaneously, as the official release date in Japan (be it printed, digital, or both). They are published on digital platforms such as websites, mobile apps, e-readers, or streaming platforms, as is the case with CCS: CC. Due to its need for simultaneity with the Japanese release, the translator must receive the chapter beforehand from the publisher. This is a departing point from scanlations, as, unless they are leaked, the latter usually must wait for the original chapter to be published in the weekly or monthly magazine in Japan to be scanned, translated, and edited by fans.

Simulpubs also present substantial differences from conventional manga translation due to the change in the translation unit. With printed versions, translators usually work with a full anthologized volume or tankōbon that includes several chapters of the story. This is not the case with simulpubs, as the translator needs to work on a monthly — or, sometimes, weekly — basis, losing part of the overall context of the story. This is a problem also faced by scanlation teams.

3. Case Study

3.1. Card Captor Sakura: Clear Card in context

The study examines CLAMP’s manga Card Captor Sakura: Clear Card (2016–ongoing), a sequel to the original series Card Captor Sakura (1996–2000). CCS: CC is published monthly in Nakayoshi, a Japanese shōjo manga magazine targeted at young girls. Eventually, after several chapters have been published in the magazine, they are anthologized into a tankōbon volume, which is then sold in the stores. Card Captor Sakura follows the adventures of Sakura, a young girl with magical powers, in her quest to retrieve some magical cards that got accidentally scattered by her. In the sequel, Sakura, now a junior school student, discovers that all the cards that she had previously collected and claimed as her own have now become transparent or ‘clear.’ With her cards now rendered powerless, Sakura starts her quest to find out what happened.

The original series was first published in Spain by the now extinct Spanish branch of the French publisher Editions Glénat and translated directly from Japanese by Verònica Calafell and Marc Bernabé. The 1990s edition followed the Westernizing conventions of the time by mirroring its pages and leaving the inversed onomatopoeia without translation (see Figure 1), as was the case in other Western countries (Jüngst 2008/2014, Borodo 2015). Its sequel, CCS: CC, is published by Norma Editorial and translated from Japanese by Agnès Pérez,[3] who was also in charge of translating the animated sequel. Norma’s edition does not flip its pages and translates the Japanese onomatopoeia in small subtitles, thus offering the reader both the original visual channel and its meaning (see Figure 2), as it is common now with translated manga in Spain.

Fig. 1: Card Captor Sakura, vol.1, p. 41, Spanish ver.
© CLAMP/Kōdansha/Glénat, 1996.[4]
Trans. Verònica Calafell and Marc Bernabé.

Fig. 2: Card Captor Sakura: Clear Card, vol. 13, ch. 60, p. 13, Spanish simulpub.
© CLAMP/Kōdansha/Norma Ed. Trans. Agnès Pérez.
Reproduced with the kind permission of Norma Ed.

3.2. The translation process for CCS: CC’s simulpub

CCS: CC’s chapters are streamed as a slideshow presentation on CLAMP’s official YouTube channel, CLAMP-net, alongside the official translations into five languages: English, Chinese, Spanish, French, and Portuguese. The YouTube channel hosts the original and translated versions of the first chapter of the series, as well as the three latest chapters. As soon as a new chapter and its translations are published, the oldest chapter is taken down. This way the publisher makes sure that the fans stay invested in the story whilst, at the same time, pushing for the purchase of the anthologized volume. The Spanish simulpub translations of CCS: CC have officially streamed since chapter 40, released in December 2019. This means that, from that point forward, the translator started to work with monthly chapters, rather than with volumes already published in Japan.

The translation process of simulpubs is similar to that of simulcast, or official subtitled translations of Japanese anime that are simultaneously broadcasted on digital platforms, in the sense that simulcast’s subtitlers also need to work with incomplete versions of anime episodes (Ferrer Simó 2021). In the case of manga simulpubs, the Spanish translator starts to work with an earlier sketched version or storyboard of the chapter. First, the translator receives the storyboard from the publisher  — via the translation agency — some days or one week before the submission deadline. Usually, the translator does not receive the final version of the chapter until one or two days before the deadline, so it is common to start working only with the sketched version (Pérez, personal communication, June 4, 2022). Once the Spanish publisher receives the final version of the chapter, the letterer also starts to work on it, and upon receiving the translated script, the letterer pastes the text into each frame. Once the final version is checked by the quality control team of the translation agency and Norma Editorial, it is sent to Kōdansha.

The Japanese publisher oversees the conversion of the chapter into the dynamic slideshow streamed on YouTube. Once the video is created, they send it to Norma Editorial so they can double-check it. Following this, the Spanish simulpub translation is streamed simultaneously with the Japanese original (see Figure 3a and 3b).


(a)    (b)

Fig. 3a and 3b: Card Captor Sakura: Clear Card, vol. 13, ch. 62, p. 25. Original and Spanish simulpub.
© CLAMP/Kōdansha/Norma Ed. Trans. Agnès Pérez.
Reproduced with the kind permission of Norma Ed.

The translation process of the licensed manga does not stop at simulpub. Once a new volume is ready to be published in Japan some months later, the translator again receives the chapters as a digital tankōbon and double-checks the previous translations looking for possible inconsistencies or changes between the simulpubs and the volume (i.e., dialogues or pages that appeared in the simulpub can disappear in the anthologized volume; changes in punctuation, dialogues, onomatopoeia, etc., are also common), and corrects mistranslations if need be (Pérez, personal communication, June 4, 2022). When the letterer receives the revised translation and the high-resolution art files, he/she prepares the final version that will be used for the printed volume. It should also be noted that the letterer does not start from scratch in this stage, as he/she can reuse part of the edited materials from the simulpub.

When asked whether translating simulpubs is different than translating an anthologized volume, the translator explained that the process is similar. However, if unclear sentences appear in the simulpub, the translator first translates them in an ambiguous way while waiting for more context from the final version of the chapter. If it does not provide an answer, the translator leaves the sentence vague and waits for the printed version to see whether more context is provided (Pérez, personal communication, June 4, 2022).[5]

Other elements such as colored pages or dynamic speech bubbles do not affect the translation since the editing process is undertaken by the Japanese publisher after the translation is submitted. Nevertheless, the release medium of the simulpub is taken into consideration by the translator, who sometimes uses more neutral Spanish expressions as the Spanish translation is released globally via YouTube. These sentences are then localized into Castilian Spanish in the printed version by the translator (see 4.3. From simulpub to tankōbon: A fluid process).

3.3. Reception of simulpub translations of CCS: CC

Except for CCS: CC’s chapter 1, which has been available for streaming since its publication, the rest of the issues stream for two to three months. Table 1 shows the number of views of CCS: CC’s simulpubs of chapter 1, and from chapters 59 to 64:

Chapter nº

Ch. 1

Ch. 59

Special is. #5

Ch. 60

Ch. 61

Ch. 62

Ch. 63

Ch. 64

No. of views/chapter + length of slideshow





50,089 (10’7”)

25,295 (1’54”)

41,533 (8’02”)

46,121 (9’03”)







English trans.



13,396 (10’54”)

7,736 (1’55”)

10,020 (8’06”)

10,810 (9’42”)







Spanish trans.



10,815 (11’16”)

6,988 (1’53”)

8,330 (8’10”)

8,788 (9’35”)







Simplified Chinese trans.



4,151 (10’50”)

3,895 (1’55”)

3,729 (8’15”)

3,883 (9’44”)







French trans.



1,953 (11’20”)

1,817 (1’55”)

1,526 (8’40”)

2,246 (9’21”)







Portuguese trans.



3,362 (11’18”)

5,170 (2’0”)

2,422 (8’40”)

2,733 (9’01”)








Monthly issue

December, 2019

December, 2021

February, 2022

March, 2022

April, 2022

May, 2022

June, 2022

July, 2022

Data retrieval date[6]

July 28, 2022

April 29, 2022

April 29, 2022

April 29, 2022

May 25, 2022

July 28, 2022

July 28, 2022

July 28, 2022

Table 1: No. of views and length of simulpub chapters.
Source: CLAMP-net YouTube channel.

As it can be seen from Table 1, Japanese simulpubs are doubtlessly the ones with more views, which agrees with the digital turn of the Japanese literary market over the last few years. Overall, all translated chapters have kept consistent in the number of views, except with Special issue no. 5, which was an extra episode of only 5 pages. After the Japanese chapters, English translations are the ones with more views, closely followed by the Spanish translations. Chinese translations do not have many views in comparison to other languages, although this is probably because YouTube cannot be openly accessed from the country.

The duration of each slideshow slightly varies depending on the number of pages of each chapter (normally around 30), and the number and length of the dialogues: if panels do not have much text or no text at all the time allotted to that page is shorter, but if they are full of lengthy dialogues, their allotted time span increases.

4. Analysis

4.1. Simulpub’s dynamism: Speech balloons and color palette

As already noted, one peculiarity of CCS: CC’s simulpub is its publication format as a slideshow, with its pages being ‘turned’ automatically. The dialogues also constitute dynamic elements, as they emerge in the speech bubbles in right to left, top to bottom reading order. Kaindl (2010: 38) notes that the text in speech bubbles not only conveys what the characters say but that their reading direction gives the picture its temporal dimension. Accordingly, if the text is not static, but dynamic, it can impact the reading experience of the target reader. This gives further evidence as to how the electronic medium has ‘the potential to transform the way comics are created and read,’ (Zanettin 2008/2014: 9) as already suggested by McCloud (2000).

Traditionally, animated cartoons differ from comics in that the latter are ‘based on ellipsis, so that the time of narration is independent from that of seeing/reading, while in motion pictures (including cartoons) time and vision coincide’ (Zanettin 2008/2014: 11). However, in the digital versions of CCS: CC the reading pace is not entirely decided by the readers, as readers first see the images with the speech bubbles left blank and must wait for the dialogues to appear. Nevertheless, other linguistic elements, such as the chapter’s title, onomatopoeia and their subtitles, or the characters’ remarks outside speech balloons, appear ‘fixed’ in the slideshow.


(a)    (b)  

(c)  (d)

Fig. 4a, 4b, 4c and 4d: Time code of speech bubbles from left to right: (a) 0’55”, (b) 0’56”, (c) 0’57”, (d) 0’58”.
Card Captor Sakura: Clear Card, Vol 1, ch. 1, p. 9. Ⓒ CLAMP/Kōdansha.

Figure 4a through 4d presents speech balloons in their intended order of reading, guiding the reader through the temporal progression of the narrative.[7] This, however, raises some questions regarding reader agency, as readers are not in full control of the time spent examining and reading each panel, nor of the ‘reading pathway’ or reading order of the speech balloons. However, since YouTube allows to pause its videos, pausing the slideshow could be interpreted as the equivalent of a page turn, which would give back readers the sense of control of their own reading pace in a ‘semi-guided reading pathway’ (Aggleton 2019: 402-3).

Furthermore, as it can be inferred from Figures 3, 4, and 5, simulpubs are not presented in the typical black-and-white color convention of published manga volumes. In fact, each chapter uploaded into the streaming platform uses a different single-color palette, or ‘spot color’ (tokushoku).

Fig. 5: Card Captor Sakura: Clear Card, vol. 13, ch. 61, p. 4, Spanish simulpub.
Ⓒ CLAMP/Kōdansha/Norma Ed. Trans. Agnès Pérez.
Reproduced with the kind permission of Norma Ed.

For instance, chapter 1 uses pink as the spot color, whereas chapter 60 uses purple, chapter 61 uses red, and chapter 62 uses blue. In most chapters, there is no apparent relation between the chapter’s story and the color used, with some exceptions: chapter 1, for instance, uses pink (see Figure 4), a color representative of the series because the name of its protagonist, ‘Sakura,’ means ‘cherry blossom’ in Japanese. It is the color used to package the printed volumes as well. Moreover, although the spot color usually changes every chapter, both chapters 63 and 64 use red. This may be to maintain consistency as both chapters recreate an arc where central characters act in a theatre play, and red may have been chosen because a central character in the play is named the ‘Red Queen.’

Independently whether the color is related to the storyline or not, the coloring of the chapters, alongside their slideshow format, provides the reader with a new experience and enhances the simulpub’s dynamism whilst temporarily subverting the established ‘manga in black-and-white’ paradigm.[8]

4.2. Translating without the full picture

Although the visual and verbal codes are extremely important in comic translation as both interact to create meaning (Borodo 2015), due to the need for immediacy, simulpub translators usually work with drafts whose level of completion may vary substantially. Consequently, there may be instances where the translator cannot have the ‘full picture’ before starting to translate. Even though the translator will normally receive the final version of the chapter before submitting the translation, this partial lack of the visual channel in the early stages of translation can produce issues.

This is the case with Figures 6, 7 and 8. In a dream-like experience, Sakura finds herself in a parallel world that replicates her own. At first, she walks around thinking that she is in her neighborhood, but everything looks two-dimensional, like the stage set of a play. When she sees the replica of her house, she runs towards it and sees her father, Fujitaka, who does not recognize her. This startles Sakura, who starts to realize that something is amiss.

Fig. 6: Card Captor Sakura: Clear Card,
vol. 11, ch. 50, p. 28. Ⓒ CLAMP/Kōdansha.

However, this two-dimensionality nuance was lost in the earlier sketches of the chapter draft, so the translator did not realize that the protagonist was in an alternate world and that the man was not her actual father.


Fig. 7 and 8: Card Captor Sakura: Clear Card, Vol. 11, ch. 50, pp. 30-31, Spanish simulpub.[9]
Ⓒ CLAMP/Kōdansha/Norma Ed. Trans. Agnès Pérez.
Reproduced with the kind permission of Norma Ed.

Japanese original

Sakura:「お父さん  あのね!」Otōsan, ano ne! [Dad, listen!]

Fujitaka:「お父さんを探しているのかな?」Otōsan wo sagashiteiru no kana? [Are you looking for your father?][10]


Simulpub version (Spanish)

Sakura: “¡Papá! ¡Escucha...!” [Dad! Listen...!]

Fujitaka: “¿Me estabas buscando a mí?” [Were you looking for me?]

Sakura: “¿Qué?” [What?]

Published version (Spanish)

Sakura: “¡Papá! Escucha...!” [Dad! Listen...!]

Fujitaka: “¿Estás buscando a tu padre?” [Are you looking for your father?]

Sakura: “¿Qué?” [What?]

Table 2: Original text, translation, and back translation of Fig. 7.

Therefore, when Sakura sees her father and calls him out, her father replies ‘Were you looking for me?’ in the simulpub version, as the translator was not aware that this was not her real father. Once the translator realized the mistake, the sentence was corrected for the published version, and the father’s reply was changed to ‘Are you looking for your father?,’ which agrees with the pictorial element of the girl’s perplexed expression in page 31 (Figure 8).

Similarly, in Figure 9, two characters are talking offscreen about the potential for a person (a ‘vessel’) to hold magical power. Momo, a magical creature, uses the Japanese expression ‘kochira no “utsuwa,’ which translates to ‘this vessel’ or ‘our vessel.’ The panel of this speech bubble includes the image of Fujitaka. However, in the sketched version, Fujitaka only appears as a rough sketch which made it impossible to identify him, so the translator thought that Momo was talking about another character of their own gang, Akiho. Thus, the simulpub translates this sentence as ‘our “vessel,”’ which refers to Akiho, rather than Fujitaka, the character appearing in the panel. This sentence was later corrected to ‘his “vessel”’ in the printed version.


    (a)   (b)

Fig. 9a and 9b: Card Captor Sakura: Clear Card, Vol. 9, ch. 40, p. 29, original and Spanish simulpub.
Ⓒ CLAMP/Kōdansha/Norma Ed. Trans. Agnès Pérez.
Reproduced with the kind permission of Norma Ed.

Japanese original

Momo:「魔力を宿す容量という意味でなら おそらくこちらの『器』のほうが大きい」Maryoku wo yadosu yōryō to iu imi de nara osoraku kochira no “utsuwa” no hō ga ookii [But in terms of capacity to hold magical power, this “vessel” is probably bigger.]

Simulpub version (Spanish)

Momo: “Desde el punto de vista de la capacidad que tiene para albergar poder mágico, seguramente nuestro “receptáculo” es más grande.” [From the standpoint of its capacity to hold magical power, our “vessel” is probably bigger.]

Printed version (Spanish)

Momo: “Desde el punto de vista de la capacidad que tiene para albergar poder mágico, seguramente él tiene un “receptáculo” más grande.” [From the standpoint of its capacity to hold magical power, his “vessel” is probably bigger.]

Table 3: Original text, translation, and back translation of Fig. 8.

4.3. From simulpub to tankōbon: A fluid process

John Bryant stated that the textual condition is ‘fundamentally fluid,’ not only because words have several meanings or different minds will interpret them in different ways, but because ‘writers, editors, publishers, translators, digesters, and adapters change those words materially’ (Bryant 2002: 4). The concept of fluidity, initially conceived to oppose a notion that considered literature as semiotically monomodal, can also be applied in comics, where text and image interact ‘in multiple and diverse ways’ and the possibilities for material change ‘are exponentially greater and more complex’ (Altenberg and Corti 2022: i).

Translating a simulpub usually entails that the source text is not initially a fixed, unmovable element, but a work that keeps changing. Consequently, simulpub translators must work with fluid texts, as the translator will receive at least two versions of the same chapter: the early and the final version. Moreover, some months later, a revised, final version of the chapter will be sent again to the translator to be checked for the printed volume’s release. This textual fluidity where the text keeps changing — not only linguistically, but pictorially, and typographically — can bring new challenges for the translator.

Although fluidity imposes new constraints, such as the need to compare several versions of a text, it also has its advantages. For instance, if a mistake is spotted in the simulpub, it can be fixed for the printed version later on. The example in Table 4 shows that the simulpub translation did not include the translation for mono (‘things’), which was later added in the translation for the published volume.

Japanese original

Akiho:「鳥が歌ったりいろんなひとや動物や本でもみたことがないようなものがたくさんあった」Tori ga utattari ironna hito ya dōbutsu ya hon de mo mita koto ga nai yōna mono ga takusan atta [Singing birds, all kinds of people and animals. There were lots of things that I had not seen even in books.]

Simulpub version (Spanish)

Akiho: “…Vi personas y animales que no existían ni en los libros” [I saw people and animals that didn’t even exist in books.]

Published version (Spanish)

Akiho: “…Vi personas, animales y cosas que no existían ni en los libros” [I saw people, animals, and things that didn’t even exist in books.]

Table 4:  Original text, translation, and back translation.
Card Captor Sakura: Clear Card, Vol. 12, ch. 57, p. 66.
CLAMP/Kōdansha/Norma Ed.

This ability to edit the translation in later stages can be useful when translating characters’ names or terms coined by the authors, particularly when these names do not come with their transcribed reading in furigana gloss, or are transcribed in the katakana syllabary. This was the case when transcribing the name ‘Lillie,’ a new character whose name was written as ‘リーリエ’ (which would be transcribed as Riirie) in katakana. Since the katakana syllabary is usually reserved to transcribe foreign terms into Japanese, translators were left with the task of ‘recreating’ that foreign word into the Latin alphabet. Thus, the Spanish translator transcribed it as ‘Lillie,’ whereas the English translator opted for ‘Lilie.’

This fluid process also impacts linguistic choices depending on the medium in which the text is released (simulpub or print). This is because, although the manga is translated into Spanish, the translator also considers simulpub readers located outside Spain. Consequently, in some specific cases, the translator uses more neutral expressions in the simulpubs, although for the printed volume — published in Spain — she localizes them for the Spanish target readership (Pérez, personal communication, June 4, 2022). These changes can be noticed, for instance, in the way that some characters talk. Kero, a magical creature, speaks in the Osaka dialect in Japanese, but in the Spanish printed version he talks using archaic Spanish expressions reminiscent of chivalry books, since this register was the one used in the original series.

Simulpub trans. (Neutral Spanish)

Published trans. (Archaic Spanish)

Pero [but]

Mas [else, however]

Chica [girl]

Damisela [damsel]

Demonios [damn it]

Pardiez [goodness me]

Table 5: Changes in Spanish register depending on release format.
CLAMP / Kōdansha / Norma Ed.

As Table 5 shows, the archaic expressions are toned down in the simulpub translation, aimed at a larger target readership. This exemplifies how the digital medium can impact certain linguistic choices. Therefore, although the fluidity of the text and the change of the translation unit from tankōbon to chapter can put more stress on some parts of the decision-making process (i.e., when translating specific terms with little or no context), its fluidity also allows translators to double-check the scripts when revising the translation in preparation for the printed version’s release, or to adapt the translation according to the intended target readership.

4.4. Typographic issues

Kaindl (2010: 39) notes that meaning can be transmitted in comics through elements like font size, font scale, layout, the design of the shape, the reading direction, colors, the proportion of letters, or their slope. If comic translation is a combination of text and picture, then typographic elements also need to be considered for their semiotic qualities (Stöckl 2004, van Leeuwen 2006, Kaindl 2013). Manga is no exception, as one of its characteristics is its resourcefulness in playing with different typographies and fonts — as well as with speech balloons’ shapes — to transmit meaning, despite Japanese having fewer typefaces and fonts available compared to English (Armour and Takeyama 2015).

The Japanese originals of CCS: CC also use a great variety of fonts depending on the discursive meaning of the text (i.e., normal dialogue, flashback dialogues, narration, important sentences, enchantments, dialogues in a theatre play, inner thoughts, etc.), and the artists sometimes include remarks in the sketches addressed to the editors to specify which font must be used in certain passages. With the translated versions it is usually up to letterers and editors to decide whether different typographies are needed, although the translator can recommend the use of specific typefaces for semiotic purposes (Pérez, personal communication, June 4, 2022).

(a)   (b)

Fig. 10a and 10b: Card Captor Sakura: Clear Card, Vol. 8, ch. 35, p. 5. Original and Spanish version.
Reproduced with the kind permission of Norma Ed.
Ⓒ CLAMP/Kōdansha/Norma Ed. Trans. Agnès Pérez.

In Figure 10, the protagonist finds herself inside a magical book that is ‘narrating’ a story. The narrated text, in a thinner typeface, also appears in square-shaped speech balloons that recreate old scrolls. If the ‘font also signifies’ (O’Sullivan 2013: 4), then so does the shape of speech balloons, which are used by manga authors, alongside typefaces, to convey several semiotic meanings, such as acoustic features (Chow 2021: 6).

The thoughts of the protagonist in Figure 10 also use a typeface in Japanese reserved for inner thoughts, slightly different from the one used in normal dialogues (see Figure 9). As for the Spanish translation, it uses a different, thinner font for the narrated passage, but it employs the same standard font for dialogues and inner thoughts.

Similarly, in Figure 11, two characters are reading a script to rehearse a theatre play. The Japanese readers know at first glance that both characters are reading lines because the Japanese version uses a different typeset. Nevertheless, the Spanish edition reuses the designated font for dialogues, so Spanish readers must deduce from linguistic (content) and visual (characters holding a screenplay) context that the characters are reading out loud. The typeset does not transmit this information, so the Spanish version incurs a partial semantic loss.[11]



Fig. 11a and 11b: Card Captor Sakura: Clear Card, vol. 13, ch. 62, p.10, original and Spanish simulpub.
Reproduced with the kind permission of Norma Ed.
Ⓒ CLAMP/Kōdansha/Norma Ed. Trans. Agnès Pérez.

This contrasts with the lettering effort put into linguistic elements outside speech balloons, such as text found in signs or labels, which use several fonts and try to reproduce the original’s lettering style. This is exemplified in the sign of ongakushitsu/aula de música (‘music classroom’) in Figure 11, or in the different handwritten style typesets used in the signs in Figure 12. Eisner (2008) noted that handwritten style lettering can be used deliberately to add meaning to its written message, and manga is no exception, as it also resorts to handwritten-like typesets — when characters make remarks or jokes outside speech balloons — to convey new nuances to the text.

Overall, the typographic analysis shows that the use of different fonts in speech balloons is more systematically exploited in the Japanese original than in the Spanish translation, which agrees with a previous study by Armour and Takeyama (2015), although this is balanced with the lettering efforts of signs and labels.

Fig. 12: Example of different uses of typography.[12]
Card Captor Sakura: Clear Card, vol. 13, ch. 63, p. 6, Spanish simulpub.
Reproduced with the kind permission of Norma Ed.
Ⓒ CLAMP/Kōdansha/Norma Ed. Trans. Agnès Pérez.

Finally, one last item to be considered is the use of actual handwritten text in simulpubs, as most of the text in the first version of a simulpub chapter (i.e., dialogues, narrations, onomatopoeia, etc.) is handwritten by the artists. Moreover, these early versions do not include the Japanese ideogram’s furigana glosses that are found in the final typeset version. This poses a new constraint for the translator, since if she is unable to recognize a specific handwritten ideogram or understand its meaning from context, she will have to wait for the final, typeset version of the chapter to translate that sentence. Additionally, as previously mentioned, simulpub’s early drafts also include remarks handwritten by the artists addressed to the Japanese editorial team (i.e., directing them to use specific typesets for certain passages) that do not need to be translated. These comments are usually located outside panels, but this is not always the case, so the translator also needs to carefully decide which handwritten text is content-related and which is not, and act accordingly (Pérez, personal communication, June 4, 2022).

Consequently, it is vital to double-check the handwritten text from earlier drafts with the typewritten text in the final version of the simulpub, and to go over the panels that were incomplete in earlier versions, as it is rather common that alterations appear from one version to another.     

5. Discussion

The analysis showed that the intrinsic characteristics of simulpubs, such as their need of simultaneity due to the digital release, can affect the translation process, which gives an answer to research question (1). The first relevant issue concerned pictorial constraints, as the translator usually had to work with incomplete sketches. Even though the visual channel has sometimes been considered a constrain in comic translation, I agree with Michał Borodo that, rather than an obstacle, it is an element that may ‘potentially reinforce the textual, clear up confusion, offer clues, inspire and … facilitate the process of translation’ (Borodo 2015: 25). Hence, not having the ‘full picture’ when translating a comic can constitute a bigger constraint than being limited by its visual channel.

Secondly, simultaneity also impacted the typographic channel in the simulpub’s translation process due to the challenges it presented to the translator, who had to work with handwritten text in early drafts. Selecting translatable (content-related) from non-translatable text also implied an extra effort. However, since simulpubs imply providing simultaneous releases and these visual and typographic constraints will not change anytime soon, the translator deployed new strategies to compensate for the partial semiotic loss of the visual channel with tools that were available to her. One way was by taking advantage of the fluidity of the text and either starting early with a rough translation that would be corrected when the final draft came or by waiting for the final version of the chapter and translating it directly with the ‘full picture’ and typeset text. Nevertheless, this second option reduces the time allotted for translation, so other factors such as the translator’s overall load of work and availability must also be considered.

Another effect derived from simultaneity and the digital medium was the shifting from the ‘tankōbon translation unit’ to ‘monthly chapter translation unit,’ which implicates a bigger loss of context than when translating with full volumes. This change may imply more stress in the decision-making process of translating certain terms, although this issue can be addressed during the revision process of the printed volume, as by that time new chapters will have been published in the Japanese magazine and in the streaming channel. Hence, although simulpubs entail having less time to translate and pose new constraints, their fluidity opens the door for renegotiation with some of these issues. In addition, translators could even supplement a partial loss of context by checking ambiguous sentences with simulpubs’ translations of other languages (Pérez, personal communication, June 4, 2022), a practice that would help to ensure terminological consistency when, for instance, transcribing certain names or terms.

Research question (2) inquired into the implications that arise when translating simulpubs that will be released in a streaming platform. The analysis showed that concepts usually attributed to audiovisual translation, such as simultaneous releases, correlation of visual and linguistic channels, the digital medium, and the text’s spatial and temporal features, can affect manga. As an example, the interview with the translator revealed how the digital medium and its global release through YouTube impacted some linguistic choices, such as using more neutral Spanish expressions for specific characters that were later localized into Castilian Spanish in the printed version.[13] Moreover, even though the emergence of speech balloons in the slideshows or the use of different colors did not influence the translation process itself, they nonetheless offer new reading experiences. However, dynamic speech balloons may also be taking away the reader’s agency to some extent, as even though readers can pause the simulpub’s slideshow at any time, the order of apparition of text in speech balloons is already fixed. Hence, if speech balloons and onomatopoeia are graphic devices that provoke specific effects through their size, shape, color, and disposition (Rota 2008/2014: 80), the study suggests that spot coloring and text emergence’s timing in speech balloons should also be considered as devices that impact the reading experience.

This change from translating static, unmovable texts to texts that keep changing under this digital, immediacy paradigm is not new in translation studies, as audiovisual translation — subtitles for anime simulcasts — and web localization have dealt with similar issues. Simulpub’s inherent fluidity and its dependency on immediacy thus present new challenges as well as possibilities for both theorists and practitioners of comic translation.

6. Conclusion

This study examined the translation process followed in the simulpub of CCS: CC, and how its digital medium and the interaction of modes affected translation practices. Since, as Mary Snell-Hornby (2009: 44) puts it, ‘the multisemiotic dimension … operates in the configuration of comics’ by means of verbal and non-verbal components, this analysis strived to focus on more than just linguistic choices by examining how different modes interplayed with and impacted simulpubs.

The results showed that linguistic, pictorial, and typographic issues derived from the simulpub’s digital medium and its need for immediacy affected the translation process, although the translator ideated ways to partially bypass some of these constraints. However, as the need for immediacy in simulpubs will not change in the immediate future, all the agents in play, from translators, proofreaders, letterers, publishers, to readers, will need to renegotiate how this immediacy is applied within this emerging system of translated digital manga.

As for the limitations of this study, the article only examined one manga series in one language combination. Further research is needed to draw further, more general conclusions, which also presents an opportunity for future lines of research. Other studies may focus on how digital platforms affect the translation process and reader’s reception of digital comics, on the study of spatial issues found in the dynamic speech balloons in relation to subtitling (see Altenberg and Owen 2015), on the active role of publishing companies in offering digital manga to fight piracy, or on performing eye-tracking studies to better grasp the reading process of emergent text in simulpubs.

Just as web localization and videogame localization have emerged as very productive research trends in the Spanish context (Jiménez-Crespo 2019: 353), I believe that the translation of digital manga and simulpubs also has the potential to become a productive area of research within Spanish-speaking countries.


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[1] Mangiron (2012) notes that scanlations and fansubs’ immediacy was partially responsible for the success of anime and manga in Western countries.

[2] For a further discussion on digital comics, see Aggleton (2019), Kleefeld (2020), and La Cour, Grennan and Spanjers (2022).

[3] The translator receives the materials directly from Daruma S.L., a translation agency based in Barcelona, Spain, founded by translators Marc Bernabé and Verònica Calafell.

[4] The author and publisher gratefully acknowledge the permission granted to reproduce the copyright material in this article. Every effort has been made to trace copyright holders and to obtain their permission for the use of copyright material. The publisher apologizes for any errors or omissions and would be grateful if notified of any corrections that should be incorporated.

[5] Constraints due to lack of context are not specific to simulpubs. Manga translators working with tankōbon volumes face similar issues, particularly with ongoing series. In the case of simulpubs, however, the translation unit is reduced from volume to chapter, so simulpub translators work with even less context.

[6] Since chapters are only posted temporarily, the data was retrieved two to three months after its publication to ensure the maximum number of views were accounted for (depending on the chapter or publication schedules, the streaming period slightly varies).

[7] This slideshow presentation differs from motion comics (Kleefeld 2020: 5) in that the progression of the narrative is not completely driven by the animated feature, as the only moving element is the apparition of dialogues.

[8] Although manga are typically printed in black-and-white, it should be noted that chapters published in manga magazines tend to use spot coloring in selected chapters.

[9] To preserve the intended reading direction, Figure 7 and Figure 8 display the pages in the Japanese reading order. Figure 8 reproduces page 30, while Figure 7 reproduces page 31.

[10] In Japanese it is common to refer to oneself in the 3rd person, so it would not have been strange for the father to call himself ‘father.’ Nevertheless, if that were the case, he should have used the past verbal tense sagashiteita (‘were you looking for’) rather than sagashiteiru (‘are you looking for’), as at the moment of interaction both father and daughter had already met.

[11] In chapter 68 (streaming in December 2022) of the Spanish version, different typesets started to be employed when the characters were playing their roles in a play, just like in the Japanese version. Since the contents of the play are intertwined with the storyline, using different typographies enabled the reader to know whether the characters were acting or actually being themselves.

[12] The Japanese signs included both English text (left unchanged in the Spanish version) and its Japanese translation (translated into Spanish in the Spanish version). The English version included only the English text, which was duly corrected (i.e., ‘Is approaching’ is rewritten as ‘Almost there!’).

[13] This practice could also be considered a form of intralingual translation where ‘a comic’s verbal element is transformed to reach a different audience within the same language’ (Altenberg and Corti, 2022: iii).


I would like to express my gratitude to Agnès Pérez, Daruma S.L., and Norma Editorial, for kindly answering my questions regarding the translation, proofreading, and publishing process.

About the author(s)

Paula Martínez Sirés is Assistant Professor of Translation Studies and Japanese Studies at Nihon University, Japan. She holds a PhD in International Culture and Communication Studies from Waseda University. Her research interests include translation studies from cultural perspectives, paratexts in translation, translation and feminism, and literary and comic translation in the Japanese context.

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©inTRAlinea & Paula Martínez Sirés (2023).
"Translating without the Full Picture: ‘Simulpub’ Digital Translations of Manga in Spain"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Reimagining Comics - The Translation and Localization of Visual Narratives
Edited by: Michał Borodo
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2633

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