Kazamatsuri Community Interviews Sekai Project's CLANNAD Team
Recently, Kazamatsuri was granted the opportunity to interview Sekai Project's CLANNAD team, and we decided to turn to our community for questions to ask! We sampled our favourite questions from the submissions (as well as a couple from myself, Aspirety) and presented them to Sekai Project, and we are now happy to present their responses to you! Thank you to forum members Gnashes, Necem, uppfinnarn, Kanon and Pepe for providing us with questions to ask here!
Our interviewees are:
Leslie Tang - Translator, Dangopedia engineer
Kara Dennison - Editor
Bradly Hale - Lead Editor, Production Assistant
Kevin Ross - QA
Yui-Man Mak - Executive Producer
Kazamatsuri: Would you mind introducing yourselves? Who you are, your role in the project, a little about yourself, your previous work, and your relationship with Key's games. Do you consider yourself a fan? Do you have a favourite Key series or character?
Leslie Tang: My name is Leslie. I worked as a translator on two of CLANNAD's routes as well as the programmer for Dangopedia, achievements, and other miscellaneous things. I like apple pies and am a huge fan of Key’s works. I don't have a favourite Key work, but I absolutely adore Komari from Little Busters!.
Kara Dennison: I'm Kara, and I was editor for several routes, including Tomoyo, Fuko, and Yukine. I'm a regular Sekai Project editor, and I've also worked with Crunchyroll and Discotek on titles like Shin Atashin'chi, Mazinger Z, and Devilman. I'm fairly new to CLANNAD; my initial knowledge of the franchise came from a friend who's a big fan of the anime, but I made sure to educate myself before and while I was working. I really enjoyed working on the game and am hoping to learn more about Key's work following the release!
Bradly Hale: My name's Bradly Hale and I'm the lead editor and production assistant. This is my first time working with Sekai Project, though I've worked on various indie titles in the past and have been writing in a journalistic capacity for the games industry since 2010. This is also my first time working with Key, so it's been exciting to not only collaborate with such a well-known studio, but to also work on an iconic, and in some ways genre-defining project, like CLANNAD.
While I could go on and on about some of my favourite Key characters, since their discography is so vast, I'll stick to just my favourite CLANNAD character, as they're the ones I've been working with for the last ten months. So to that end, I really like Nagisa. Since I was responsible for the game's main route, I spent a lot of time getting to know her and Okazaki in a way that I hadn't prior to working on the title. Nagisa's sincerity, perseverance, unwavering loyalty, and her belief in people are all incredibly admirable and inspiring qualities.
Kevin Ross: Hello! My name is Kevin, though I’m usually known online as OsirisOmega. I’ve been working QA for visual novels for around a year now, and that’s the role I’m filling for CLANNAD as well. I’ve done a few titles for Mangagamer as well as Sekai Project, with recent titles being Sound of Drop — fall into poison — and fault milestone two side:above. I’ve been a fan of CLANNAD since I watched the anime a few years back, although the only Key game I’ve had the opportunity to read before now was planetarian ~the reverie of a little planet~. I’ll hold off on naming a favorite Key character until I manage to work through the rest of their VNs!
Yui-Man Mak: I'm Yui, the executive producer for CLANNAD. Prior to working with Sekai Project I was doing freelance work for companies like NIS America, and before that I was a highly active member of the community, helping with titles such as School Days, AIR, and Akagi. Kanon was my first exposure to Key games, during the time when Haeleth was still translating it. My favorite Key title though would have to be AIR, since it was my first experience working on a Key title instead of just reading or watching one. I remember reviewing the last episode's script next to a small VirtualDub window and tearing up. Misuzu will always have a special place in my heart.
Kazamatsuri: How did the team come to be formed? Did you all have a previous relationship with Sekai Project, or did you turn up to work on this one project?
Yui: We started bringing the team together right after the Kickstarter campaign launched. Having close ties to people who work in the industry definitely helped make this process easier! For most of the team this was the first time they've worked with Sekai Project, but now that CLANNAD's wrapping up they're moving on to other projects within the company.
Kazamatsuri: Who is best CLANNAD girl?
Leslie: All of them
Kara: Yukine is best girl.
Kevin: Yukine, of course. Can’t go wrong with fresh coffee!
Kazamatsuri: What's it like being tasked with the official translation of such an iconic work? Considering that this project is one of the first localizations of a major VN in the west, I'm sure the expectations (and therefore the pressure) has to be phenomenal. Does that fact motivate you all to continue with the project?
Kara: It's pretty amazing and a bit daunting, and I've worked on some pretty big stuff before. I have friends who aren't into anime or VNs at all who have heard of CLANNAD, which sort of put into perspective for me just how big of a deal this was. We have a great team working together, full of people who love the game and wanted to make it the best they can for their fellow fans -- so I think we've got something pretty great here.
Bradly: It's stressful, that's what it's like. With a project as important as CLANNAD, with as much history and fanfare as it has, the pressure has undoubtedly been on. With something as grand as this, there are expectations in place--fan expectations, sure, but also our own to deliver the best product that we can. At the same time, working on CLANNAD has been extremely exciting because it is such a beloved story. Moreover, because of how much weight its legacy carries, it's been motivating beyond words to be a part of the project. To know that we are the ones responsible for delivering such a timeless classic to a western audience has made me work harder than I ever have to ensure that we get it right. And it's important that we get this right.
Kevin: It’s incredibly exciting. I've been a huge fan of visual novels since around 2009, so getting the chance to work on a title as infamous and beloved as CLANNAD is like a dream come true. I never thought I’d see the day that visual novels like this would become widely available for everyone to enjoy. As you said, the expectations are extremely high, but it really does push me to give this project as much attention and love as I possibly can. I want to see the release be as successful as possible in order to do the work the justice it deserves.
Yui: CLANNAD is one of the most well-known visual novels from one of Japan's biggest developers, so of course the pressure to deliver is immense. It's been a privilege to be entrusted with such an iconic title. The enthusiasm and support the fans have shown throughout this project is the primary driving factor for me, they've been waiting so long for an official English-translated version that I can't let them down now!
Kazamatsuri: What has been your favorite aspect of the project? Has there been any one facet that you enjoy more than the others? If there is something, could you tell us a little bit about why?
Leslie: One thing that I absolutely loved about working on CLANNAD as an official project instead of a fan translation is that we have access to the original scripts and SDK used by VisualArt's. This made it possible for us to implement new features that were not possible before, such as adding subtitles to the ending themes, as well as Dangopedia.
Bradly: My favorite aspect has, selfishly, been getting to know the characters more. Sure, I had watched CLANNAD before, but to get inside the head of each character--to figure out their quirks and tendencies so as to accurately depict each one of them--has been my favorite aspect of working on the localization. Perhaps it's the writing nerd in me, but being able to deep-dive into fictional characters as renowned as these has been a pretty unrivalled experience.
Kevin: The biggest draw for me is being able to see behind the curtain. Having an insider’s look at how the game is put together, updated, improved, translated, and fixed from behind the scenes is incredibly exciting. I really feel like I have a big hand in getting the game on its feet, and for someone who loves VNs as much as I do, that feeling of responsibility is unmatchable. I can’t really discuss the process too much, but just getting to see and experience all of the parts that make the game tick was definitely my favourite aspect.
Yui: The best part about this project for me has been the team. This is the first time I've worked with a team where everyone has been so focused and passionate from start to finish. It definitely made my job a lot easier! The freedom and support that VisualArt's has given us throughout this project is also worth mentioning. I don't think another company would let us modify the game at all, much less implement something like Dangopedia.
Kazamatsuri: Now that the project is moving into its later stages, what are the general feelings of the team? Are you happy to see the project approach completion, or is there some bittersweet feeling that it's going to be over soon?
Kara: It's always strange to come to the end of a project, especially one as huge as this. Most projects I'm on don't last nearly this long and aren't nearly as in-depth -- I did a great deal of my editing work while I was abroad in England, actually. So it's definitely strange not to have the regular contact with everyone, but the excitement of seeing the project come to fruition is sort of at the forefront.
Bradly: Lots of positivity and optimism. The localization team for CLANNAD is pretty big and each person has poured their heart and soul into their role. I think that this is ultimately shown in the quality of our work. And yet, for all the excitement, there's a bittersweet feeling now that the project is coming to an end. It's been a one-of-a-kind experience--to work on such an adored franchise. Due to the fact that the game is so massive, it will be nice to sit back and simply say, "Phew, alright, we did it." I will miss CLANNAD once all is said and done, but we've had our noses to the grindstone for so long now that it'll be nice to finally take a step back.
Kevin: I'm extremely excited to see the project officially completed. I want to see everyone’s reactions and thoughts on the story, and I'm really hoping it can pull new fans into the visual novel genre as well. I just want everyone to enjoy the final result.
Yui: “It’s finally done!” is the first thought that comes to my mind, and then quickly realizing I'm still in the middle of fixing things until the very last day. CLANNAD is the biggest localization team I had to manage thus far, and it’s a bit sad to see all the wonderful talent part ways. On the flip side, I'm looking forward to having some of my free time back!
Kazamatsuri: What are some of the major hurdles that you've had to overcome with the translation and transition of the project from Japanese to English? Was there anything notable that had to be changed in order to work in English?
Bradly: I mentioned before that our team is pretty big; that in and of itself can be a hurdle. The larger a team gets, the harder it becomes to make sure the right hand knows what the left hand is doing. Ensuring that characters are depicted consistently throughout each of the routes takes plentiful and effective communication between all of the translators and editors. Establishing that everyone's on the same page really has been vital to the project's success, and I think we've accomplished that despite the inherent struggles associated with the aforementioned team size. The only other major hurdle we've run into is from a software standpoint. Because the software we used did not always cooperate with us, it required some troubleshooting at inopportune times. This meant we had to allocate some of our resources to figuring out the various bugs that would pop up in the translation software itself, which essentially slowed progress to a crawl at times.
As for making changes so that the game read well in English... I would say the inclusion of an encyclopedia-like feature that we've aptly dubbed the "Dangopedia," has been critical as well. There are just some terms in Japanese that can't be easily adapted to English. By using an encyclopedia that lets players click on the word/phrase in question and see a definition, this has not only allowed for a more complete reading experience, but it's also made for a more authentic and true-to-form localization.
Yui: Adding to what Bradly said, the biggest challenge for me was keeping things organized. Everyone lives in a different time zone (except the editors, lucky them), in different parts of the world. It’s hard to find a good time for everyone to chat. And oh man, don’t get me started on the translation software. There was this wonderful quirk where our test scripts failed to build every few weeks because the server was “full.” We had to play the waiting game with their support staff for days each time it happened. Oh yeah, and that one time when the server wiped all our scripts…
When the program did work we breezed through the script at a nice steady pace. One of the things we ran into a few times were the jokes. It’s hard to translate Japanese humor because of the specific pop culture gags, or even harder word play. Kind of like how do you translate puns across languages? The Dangopedia was a good way to keep these intact while explaining to the reader what it’s about, if they choose to. Honorifics was also debated during the beginning of the project. Normally for a localization you tend to leave them out because the suffixes are pretty common and it’s not needed for most dialogue. However, with CLANNAD there’s certain interactions where the honorifics play a role in character development. One obvious example of this is Tomoya’s father, where he addresses Tomoya with a –kun suffix and it defines a different relationship between the two.
Kazamatsuri: Will there be another physical release for people who didn't back the project on Kickstarter?
Yui: We’ve definitely received a lot of demand for it! For now I want to focus on taking care of our Kickstarter backers and get their limited edition copies out as soon as possible.
Kazamatsuri: Who is best CLANNAD Boy?
Kevin: Sunohara is a total bro.
Kazamatsuri: Considering that CLANNAD already has multiple forms of media already available in English, were any of these used to aid the translation process? Or were all translation choices solely restricted by the context of the VN? If so, did the team try to maintain a consistency between the different translated media? (e.g. translating "Botan" as "Button")
Yui: Surprisingly, it’s not the English fansites and publications that we had to consider first, but the Japanese side instead. The existing guidebook from the memorial edition, the opening video, VA’s official merchandise, were all things we had to abide by. There are several ways to romanize Japanese names, and CLANNAD’s materials mixed between them. It was a bit fun watching the translators agonize over the inconsistency, but at the end we had to keep the character names to their original spelling. Botan was actually an easy one, but to explain why you’d have to unlock the scene and accompanying Dangopedia entry!
Kazamatsuri: Anything else you’d like to say to our readers?
Kara: I hope everyone enjoys this new release -- please look forward to more from Sekai Project, too!
Kevin: Thank you all for supporting CLANNAD. There’s no way this project would've existed today without the love from all of the fans. I'm really excited to see everyone’s reactions to the finished project, and I hope you all end up enjoying it as much as I did.
Yui: It’s been a long wait, but we’re finally near the goal. Thank you everyone for your support throughout this project, and I promise that your patience will be well rewarded.
A huge thank you to Sekai Project for the interview! The game is scheduled to launch on Steam later this month. We'll soon be holding the CLANNAD Bookclub to celebrate its launch, and with it we're also offering the chance to win one of three CLANNAD Steam keys, so check out our announcement post to win!