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Despite us westerners reading from left-to-right, top-to-bottom from the front to back with the book spine on our left, when manga is translated and localized (officially) it retains the Japanese way of reading, right-to-left from the back forward with the book spine on our right.

From my understanding the Japanese read text from top-down in vertical lines and since this is probably too much for westerners, it's "corrected" in manga. However, while we still read the text left-to-right, the frames/pages of the manga still retain the right-to-left ordering.

With light novels however, this doesn't appear to be the case. With the light novels of Strawberry Panic localized by Seven Seas and Spice and Wolf localized by Yen Press, the books are read from left-to-right with the spine on our left; this includes the order of pages.

Now ignoring the obvious problems of printing the words backwards, why aren't English translated light novels printed with the reverse page ordering? Where we start from the back of the book with the spine on our right?

  • FWIW Chinese books generally either read from top to bottom, right to left, or left to right, top to bottom. I wouldn't be surprised if this were the case with Japanese as well. – Maroon Nov 4 '16 at 1:24
  • From what I saw so far, it is. – Jan Nov 4 '16 at 1:29
  • @Jan you mean the reverse page ordering is retained? – Memor-X Nov 4 '16 at 1:34
  • @Maroon well the only raw Japanese Novels i have seen were in my primary school like 15-20 years ago and all were (as our sensei said) were top-down, right-to-left. could be my understanding in that regard is outdated – Memor-X Nov 4 '16 at 1:36
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    With manga, changing the reading direction would affect the layout and possibly the visual effect, but this is less a problem with text-only content (at least outside of things like poetry that utilizes layout to help achieve effect). – Maroon Nov 4 '16 at 1:38
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It makes absolutely no sense for a book consisting of just English text to have its pages ordered such that you read the page on the right followed by the page on the left. So of course people don't publish English translations of light novels that way.

However, it makes some sense for a book consisting of English text superimposed on images to be read right-to-left if that's how it was originally drawn. Why? Because to make it read left-to-right, you have to flip the images, and flipping the images can cause problems.

  • Does character A mention out loud that character B is standing to the left of character C? Well, the opposite will be true if you flip the images.
  • Is the manga set in Japan? Are there depictions of roads? If so, guess what? Japan drives on the right now!
  • Does your swordsman use a peculiar left-handed stance to throw off his opponents? Not anymore - we're in some bizarro world where right-handed stances are apparently peculiar.
  • Japan is now the land of the setting sun. (Or, we're on anti-Earth, and the sun rises in the West. Your choice.)

And so on and so forth. There are legitimate reasons why you would want to publish English-translated manga right-to-left. Contrariwise, there are not any legitimate reasons to publish English-translated text right-to-left that come to mind.

(Light novels do have pictures in them, but since the pictures are typically on separate textless pages, one can freely include those pages unflipped in a left-to-right English text without doing any harm.)

  • What? Changing the book from binding side=right to binding side=left does not mean you have to flip the images. – Hobbes Nov 4 '16 at 17:51
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    @Hobbes - Sure it does. Page flow ends with last frame in the bottom outside corner of the page to be turned (when reading). If you don't flip the images, this is on the wrong side of the page (implying you should read it backwards). This would be especially bizarre with things like "continued on next page..." arrows that might do things like point at the spine of the book. Also, note that pages are almost always designed/drawn to have extra space on the spine side, as some of the image is otherwise hidden by the physical book. – Clockwork-Muse Nov 4 '16 at 18:14
  • @Hobbes Also think about how right-to-left two-page spreads would work in a left-to-right book if you didn't flip them. – senshin Nov 4 '16 at 18:23
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    @senshin - One more: Is there any text in the image? It's now backwards! Although most westerners won't be able to read Japanese characters, Japanese culture is known for its fascination with the English language. – Clockwork-Muse Nov 4 '16 at 18:24
  • @senshin - presumably two-page spreads would be left untouched. The dialog might get wonky, but spreads are usually mostly art so this is not likely to be a large concern. – Clockwork-Muse Nov 4 '16 at 18:26

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