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This month I will be flying to Japan to do some sightseeing and meet with some old friends! I actually haven’t been to Japan in 11 years, so I’m curious as to how it’s changed. It’s also an opportunity to see how my Japanese has improved (or degraded) in the time since I’ve been gone!
I have posts planned for the weeks that I’m gone, so you’ll still be able to enjoy my posts in the meantime.
As for this month’s special Patreon sponsors:
Sasahara Keiko fans:
Yoshitake Rika fans:
Hato Kenjirou fans:
Yajima Mirei fans:
Following up on last month’s poll about reviewing the new manga series Kimi xxxru Koto Nakare (or Kimi nakare for short), I decided to go with the good ol’ fashioned blog format. It’s where my strengths lie, and while I’m open to challenging myself by making YouTube videos and such, I’m just the kind of person who best expresses himself in writing. You can read the first chapter review here, but if you can either read Japanese or at least want to follow along visually the manga is actually free.
That being said, I’ve considered making videos just to help me practice and get better at speaking, which is more of a holistic quality of life change than anything else. I made a couple a while back but I just haven’t kept up. Though, I did just recently appear on the Veef Show podcast to talk about Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans.
This month’s Genshiken review is the first after the conclusion of the Madarame Harem story, and it’s basically a prelude to a new school year. I loved this chapter because of all of the fantastic Ogiue presence in there, but I might be a tad biased.
Other articles that I think readers should check out are my look at the volleyball manga Shoujo Fight and its stylistic similarities to what is sometimes call “OEL manga,” as well as a sponsored post discussing the Popularity of Plushies among anime fans. Actually, Shoujo Fight reminds me that I never finished The V Sign, which is a classic volleyball title, and I really should get back to it.
I’ve also begun participating in a site called senpai.co as a reviewer. While Ogiue Maniax is my main focus, and Apartment 507 is my opportunity to try and reach a different audience, senpai.co is a convenient place to give some quick thoughts about recent anime that has a greater sense of permanence than Twitter.
Last topics for this month:
- I’ve been considering changing my blog design to something that doesn’t look quite so outdated. What do you think?
- I want to revive Gattai Girls. Is there any series people really want to see discussed?
One of the big bugaboos of Japanese to English translation has been the use of untranslated words. Whether it’s senpai (“upperclassman”) nakama (“comrade”), or the utterly fictitious zankantou (“colossal blade”) the question of whether words should be left as is or fully adapted to English rages in arguments between fans, translators, and everything in between. Of course, there are no solid rules, and determining where in this spectrum your translation should fall is very much a case-by-case basis. However, what intrigues me about this debate is that, when you look at the Japanese language and how it’s used in anime, advertisements, and more, there is a very intentional sprinkling of foreign words with the clear idea that they are used for their exoticism.
The show that actually got me to think about it was, of all things, Show By Rock!! Here are the first lines of the opening:
Ren’ai inochi VERY VERY HAPPY!
Yuujou inochi hajikeru JUMPING!
Bouken inochi dokidoki OK?
Seishun ouka COM’ON READY? LET’S GO!
I’m leaving it untranslated just to show the clear use of English vs. Japanese. They didn’t have to use English words but they did. Similarly, let’s look at the popular One Punch Man opening:
(THREE! TWO! ONE! KILL SHOT)
Sanjou! Hisshou! Shijou saikyou
Nan dattenda? FRUSTRATION Ore wa tomaranai
One concession is that a lot of these words are very simple, like “HAPPY” and “JUMPING.” They’re not terribly complex and don’t carry a great deal of cultural baggage like senpai (though one might argue that ren’ai (romantic love) being originally a concept introduced from Europe to Japan falls into that range). However, I think where the actual big cultural difference comes from is that Japan has been open to receiving a lot of foreign words and maintaining them as emphatically foreign, as opposed to fully integrating them into the language. So while English has its fair share of Japanese loan words, from sushi to karaoke, they don’t maintain as much of their exoticism. It’s just a very different environment for sentences and words themselves.
What’s funny is that English wasn’t always this way, especially when it was not the lingua franca of the world. Prior to World War II, French was the most dominant language in diplomacy, and (correct me if I’m wrong!) throwing in French words with the expectation that only a few would understand it was not uncommon among the educated. Of course, this is different from the use of “HAPPY” and “JUMPING,” but I do think that the English language’s ubiquity leads to the sense in us users that it doesn’t have to bend to the will of others.
Translating to English often assumes that English is important. That sounds like a no-brainer, but what I mean specifically is that English speakers value their own native language so highly that it comes across to some extent as a rejection of foreign influence. France today for example is known for trying to keep foreign words out of its language, preferring to take existing French words and modify/combine them accordingly to eschew the need for new loan words.
I’m not saying translators who do not use senpai or whatever are imperialists anymore than I think that using nakama means someone is fetishizing Asian culture. Moreover, the exotic aspects of English usage in Japan come with their own sets of considerations and concerns. Rather, the seeming need for everything to be transformed into English might say something about how we as English speakers look at ourselves, and that this differs depending on how we individually approach that self-reflection.
A few months ago on Twitter, a number of manga translators and readers threw their hats into the ring to discuss the persistent issue of “authenticity” vs. “localization.” The central point of argument was whether the fact that the English translation of the JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure manga kept antagonist Dio Brando’s signature catch phrase untranslated (MUDA MUDA MUDA MUDA / USELESS USELESS USELESS USELESS) is a sign of faithfulness, Japanophilia, or something else entirely.
There’s no real right side to all of this. As the Reverse Thieves explained well, there are many facets to consider, and translation is more an art than a science. For example, people who argue that translations should be as localized as possible so as to remove the sense that it comes from another language would assume that the primary audience is a broad, general readership. What if it isn’t, however? Academic translations for instance tend to be filled with footnotes and marks and other things because you’re supposed to be fully explaining the nuance of meaning through translation.
What’s even more fascinating, however, is seeing the problem of translation from the English to Japanese side, and the challenge that is posed to English translators in Japan. For example, let’s look at one of the on-going controversies within this greater Japanese to English translation debate: whether or not to include Japanese honorifics in English translations. After all, while “-san” might be already known to fans of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and other similar works, for the most part it’s the realm of the manga fan, so to speak. When the decision is made to remove them, a translation either has to compensate for the loss of immediate information pertaining to how two characters relate to each other through a more liberal translation, or ignore that aspect entirely.
What about English to Japanese? From that perspective, the problem is completely flipped around. Suddenly you go from a language with no honorifics to one where they’re a part of everyday life. Let’s take a movie like Gone with the Wind. How would you translate Rhett Butler’s speech? The official translation has him use “Ore,” possibly to show that he’s both masculine and skirts standards of politeness and pomp. Is that the right decision?
If you were in charge of translating Gone with the Wind to Japanese, what honorifics would Rhett have to use when talking to other characters, if any? Would they change over the course of the movie? The change or removal of honorific usage to determine the progression of a relationship between two characters is a classic trope of manga and anime, and something English translators have to be constantly wary of (as is switching from last name to first name), but here with Gone with the Wind it’s potentially something that the translator has to build into the story where it once did not exist. The decision could be made to ignore honorifics specifically, but then a lot still has to be done to adapt characteristics and speech patterns to particular personalities. Rather than having to subtract, the English to Japanese translator has to consider additional components if they want to go for a “natural”-sounding language. Or do you just get rid of them all because it takes place in the US, or to show again that Rhett doesn’t have much use for politeness?
Of course, that’s not to say that Japanese to English translators also don’t have to create what ostensibly isn’t there to get the meaning of a line across. In both cases, there are things to be gained and lost in the decision to interpret lines in certain specific ways.
There are even multiple different translations of Gone with the Wind, each of them taking different liberties. Rhett’s famous “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn,” has been variously translated as 「俺には関係ない」(Ore ni wa kankei nai, “This has no relation to me”) and 「俺の知った事か」(Ore no shitta koto ka, “I have nothing to do with that”). Notably, both do not bother to preserve the cultural meaning of “damn,” nor the “Frankly my dear” part. The frankness is in the lack of formality and the general implied rudeness of the sentence construction.
Suffice it to say, translation isn’t easy, and the decision to keep or remove cultural elements is a unique challenge that perhaps few other fields have to contend with. Whether you’re a translator or just a reader, it might be helpful to express how you feel about the work that goes into translating.
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I don’t believe all that strongly in “show, don’t tell.” It’s effective as a basic guide to help people understand the power of visual media, or as a helpful rule to teach people that subtlety is a thing, but it runs the risk of being wielded like a sledgehammer, similar to the concept of “character development.” Telling instead of showing has a purpose and can be used well, though effectively doing so is arguably even more difficult.
I recently finished Hanamonogatari, which for those who’ve lost track of all of the different titles is the end (or perhaps extended epilogue/adventure unto itself?) of the second series. Given the characteristically heavy amount of dialogue that this series is known for, and both the criticism and praise it receives for doing so, I had to return to what is perhaps the biggest question to deal with when reviewing or analyzing Monogatari. Is it actually possible for a series that obsessed with words to be follow the idea of “show, don’t tell?”
The Monogatari series, and Nisio Isin in general, revels in long dialogue that tells the viewer or reader what’s going on. There are seemingly endless descriptions by characters about how they’re feeling and fewer expressions and actions that reflect those emotions. It can come across as very long-winded, and I think that finding the series to be unenjoyable as a result is not surprising or exactly a problem. However, Monogatari is frequently about words themselves, and how they can be transformed or carry different meanings, especially through the use of Japanese as an ideogram-based language. Puns and wordplay and general use of homonyms is core to the series, and if a work is that obsessed and built around looking at and examining the occult power of words, how much is lost in a less dialogue-heavy work?
A counterpoint to this is the more recent Aquarion Logos, where the heroes battle monsters that are actually the essences of kanji ripped out and mutated. I think the similarities to Monogatari are quite upfront, and I even jokingly call it Aquarimonogatari myself. Here, rather than engaging in extensive dialogues and conversations, a lot of the action comes from mecha battles and more typical anime character interaction hijinks. Words hold a similar power in Aquarion Logos that they do in Monogatari, but this is usually expressed in scenes where the loss of corruption of a word causes accidents and other horrible changes in the world.
So in terms of the question of “is it actually possible” to make a series that is so focused on the nature of words to be less expository, the answer is “yes,” but then one must ask to what extent it transforms the function and feel of the work itself. Can Aquarion Logos go as deep into exploring the interplay between words in terms of their appearance, sound, and cultural weight as Monogatari when it has all of these surrounding qualities that are more in line with a typical series? Or is perhaps Monogatari just as “guilty” of doing the same because it has this very otaku-focused set of characters that play just as much with the idea of “harems” in anime as they do the power of writing and speech?
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Mako in Episode 23 of Kill la Kill gives a speech where she exclaims, “But I can’t be beaten here! I have to protect this ship!” The visual accompaniment actually consists of a rapid-fire sequence of puns, which I thought I’d break down here.
1) “But I can’t be beaten here!”
Koko de taoreru wake niwa ikanai mon!
Taoreru can mean ‘”to be defeated” but it’s also used when saying someone has fallen ill or worse. Mako is posed as if she were a corpse.
Wake is broken up into its syllables: wa (輪) means ring, hence the loop made with her fingers, ke (毛) means hair.
Niwa is represented by Mako dressed as two birds because niwa (二羽) is how you count two birds.
Ika means squid (烏賊), a familiar pun for all you Squid Girl fans.
Nai is used as a negative conjugation in Japanese verbs, so we get the familiar image of Mako shaking her head. Ikanai means cannot, but more in the sense of “I musn’t.”
Mon is a way to emphasize one’s emotional investment. Mako is posing in the shape of the kanji 門, pronounced mon, which means gate.
2) “I have to protect this ship!”
Kono fune mamorenai to
Kono means “this,” Mako is pointing down at “this.”
Fune means boat, Mako is in a sushi boat, simple enough.
Mamorenai to means “have to protect,” which is split up into mamore, “protect,” and nai to, which is also how you pronounce “knight” in Japanese.
Hope you learned something!
In an effort to try and finally plug up the gaping holes in my Japanese literacy, I bought JLPT1-level kanji flash cards, i.e. the ones that should put me at official Japanese literacy. I’d gotten a ton of mileage out of my JLPT2 cards, even passing the exam in the process, so I know they do the trick. Right now I’m prioritizing reading over writing, so issues of being able to recognize but not replicate aren’t quite as big a deal for me.
One thing I’ve learned is that it’s difficult to just memorize a kanji flash card. The ones I use, from White Rabbit Press, have all sorts of useful details on them. They have pronunciations (even more obscure ones), they have multiple examples of usage, and of course a picture of the kanji itself. The potential trouble lies in the fact that, not only are there varying pronunciations depending on whether the characters are being used in compounds or along with hiragana, but in many cases words will have very abstract and sometimes even contradictory meanings just from centuries of history and its influence on the language. The kanji 唐 (pronounced “tou” and “kara”) originally referred to China’s Tang Dynasty, but it can even refer to China itself or Arabic or just mean “foreign” in general.
Reading the characters in isolation also only helps so much, as you mainly encounter them in compounds and in sentences. As a result, I find that it’s more important to introduce myself to the kanji just to get their images in my head, and then to read as much as I can (manga counts!) in order to just get accustomed to recognizing them in the middle of a sentence or on a sign. One problem, of course, is that my reading material and the kanji I’m studying are not part of a greater package so I can’t just study some words and then read the relevant article which tests those abilities.
This is actually why textbooks and workbooks and especially a solid curriculum in a structured class can be so helpful. It immediately sees if you actually know what you just learned. Alas, I have no such materials to work with, but for now I’m content with what I have. Even if I don’t end up absolutely mastering these kanji, I know I’ll at the very least be in a position to improve.
PS: I know Joyo is being replaced, I just forget what the new one is called.
JManga, a 100% legal digital manga distribution site, is an interesting phenomenon. Good intentions mixed with a hodgepodge of titles and a bizarre pricing structure, which I can basically describe as paying the site to give you an allowance, have made it questionable as to whether or not anyone should try it out. Ultimately I decided to subscribe myself (the $10/month deal), and there are two major reasons for my decision.
The first reason is that it is now available in Europe. Up to only a few months ago, JManga as a service was restricted to the US and Canada, and so I wouldn’t have been able to use it anyway. With their roll-out into Europe, however, I wanted to at the very least support that decision. Even if I don’t get terribly many manga on there, I wanted to encourage the idea that regional restrictions for books in digital form is nonsense. Though I know that I’m only one subscriber, I also want other similar services in the future to follow suit.
The second reason is that JManga actually has a feature that I have not seen on any other manga site, legitimate or otherwise. Sure, tons of scanlation sites exist and they provide easy access to thousands of titles, but JManga actually gives you the option to switch back and forth between Japanese and English. One click of a button and the page you’re on changes into the other language. For someone like me who wants to read more manga in Japanese but might have trouble with particularly difficult phrasings or unknown vocabulary, it’s a far simpler solution than constantly running to consult good ol’ Jim Breen. It’s even more convenient than owning the physical books in two languages in certain ways, though the load time between versions can be a bit long, and the interface itself still needs some work.
I’m well aware that this utility really only helps readers with strong (but not perfect) Japanese literacy skills, people who can read a manga in Japanese for the most part, people with a good grasp of kanji, who have a firm enough understanding of the grammatical structure of the language to know what specific part of the sentence in a potentially quite liberal translation corresponds to the original, and who can spot when a joke has been localized for the English version. For beginners, it may be too much of a chore to consult the Japanese versions, and for someone who’s fully fluent or even a native speaker, there’s simply no need to switch to English at all, unless perhaps that person wants to learn English. I happen to fall in that “sweet spot” though, and in that respect I’ve found it quite useful. If you do too, then maybe it’s something worth considering.
By the way, it seems like the most popular manga on JManga are yaoi titles, yuri titles, and Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru. Makes sense to me.
Recently I’ve been reading a Japanese book, Mangagaku Nyuumon, or Introduction to Manga Studies by Natsume Fusanosuke and Takeuchi Osamu. I won’t get into the details of what I’ve been learning from the book though, as the reason I’m mentioning this is that I find it to be a pretty good sign that my Japanese is getting better, at least in terms of literacy (speaking is another matter).
Prior to this, the only entirely Japanese book I’ve tried to read is the Genshiken novel, so my experience with non-manga texts is sparse and unreliable. This being an academic/informational text, I knew I was going to be in way over my head with a lot of kanji and terminology (and my Level 2 JLPT says I only know 1000 or so kanji out of the roughly 2000 that comprises official “literacy”), so I decided to just use a pencil to jot down on the pages themselves any words I didn’t know. If I already wrote down the meaning and pronunciation of a word previously but cannot remember it when the word appears again, then I write it down again. If I only know partial information, such as how a word is pronounced but not its meaning or vice versa, I only write down that which I do not know. If it’s a word I can only remember partially from having found its definition previously, then just the same I record only what I’ve forgotten. After that, I try and read through the whole chapter again, using my notes as reference.
The first chapter took me about 3 or 4 days to jot down all of the notes for untranslated words. Then it took me another day to read through it. Slowly but surely though, I found myself going through the chapters more quickly, and now I can “translate” and re-read through a chapter in less than a day, though it may take longer if there are more terms I don’t know. It feels good to see actual improvement in myself, and though I know that if you erased all of my notes I’d still be in a bit of trouble, I know that this progress I can take to the bank.
Let’s see if I can keep this up!
One of the most frustrating things in studying Japanese is coming across a kanji you swear you should know but still don’t.
Usually what will happen is that I’m reading something in Japanese, be it manga, article, essay, or book, and I’ll hit a particular word that I don’t know the meaning of, but still feel like I recognize it. Then it hits me that I’d seen this word previously, and I had been in almost the exact same situation, where I’d be looking at something and finding the kanji, this time determined to commit it to memory. Except I didn’t which is why I’m in that current situation in the first place. Ever break a promise to yourself and then forget that you did? It’s kind of like that, only I don’t ruin my friendship with me forever as a result.
A couple of recent examples include:
基礎 Kiso, meaning “basis.”
至る Itaru, meaning “to reach.”
Maybe if I just complain about Japanese enough, I’ll learn it.
Jokin aside, the real culprit is obviously under-use, and if only I’d keep up my studies more consistently this sort of thing wouldn’t happen. I’m reading quite a bit of Japanese lately so hopefully more of it will be able to stick, at least reading-wise. Spoken Japanese is another matter entirely, and I can feel myself not developing in that regard as much as I should (and possibly even regressing a good deal). I have to reassert my conviction to learn, as I have every reason to do so.