Little Witch Academia Translation Trickery

Little Witch Academia has been out on Netflix since last year, and it’s a wonderful show worth everyone’s time. Having watched it with English subtitles, I’ve noticed a few hiccups here and there when it comes to the translation. These are not deal breakers, but it does speak to how translation is more art than science, and it’s worth looking into the fact that translating for anime and manga comes with its own share of unique pitfalls.

One unusual aspect of the translation that even non-Japanese speakers might notice is a tendency to avoid repetition despite it being present in the original Japanese. For example, a character might say, “Witches.” Then another character would ask “Witches?,” in response. In the subtitles, the first character would still say “Witches,” but the second might respond, “What are you talking about?”

This has partly to do with the fact that using the same word over and over again is not necessarily considered bad writing in Japanese, but in English (which is famous for its sheer amount of synonyms), this can make dialogue sound extremely awkward and unnatural. Changing up the vocabulary for English not in itself a bad idea, but it can run the risk of introducing ideas or words into a character’s speech that might not reflect who they are or what they would say. It creates room for inaccuracy even as it ends up sounding a little more natural, and it’s a tricky balance to maintain.

What’s worse is that sometimes the desire to make the English sound good can backfire. Anime and manga come out on a pretty constant schedule, with little lead time between chapters and episodes. Japanese as a language thrives on context to shape meaning, and terms or phrases are often left intentionally ambiguous, becoming clearer as the series goes on. Sometimes a phrase can be so awkwardly ambiguous when translated directly that a translator might feel compelled to massage it, only for it to bite them in the ass down the line. For example, a character whose gender is unknown can get away with never being referred to by gender in Japanese pretty naturally, but someone who doesn’t know this is an important plot point might assign a gender because gender-neutral pronouns in English are not entrenched into the language.

In Little Witch Academia, to a certain extent, one of the series is a quote from the character Shiny Chariot, which translates literally as “A believing heart is your magic.” It sometimes appears in the show itself, in English, so a simple solution would have been to use that directly, but it does sound a bit clumsy. The translator decided to go with “Believing in yourself is your magic.” Initially, this makes sense, as what exactly the heart believes in is unclear, and the heroine Akko uses it as a refrain to keep soldiering on. However, by the end of the series, this turns out to be somewhat inaccurate; it’s not necessarily that Akko believes in herself, but that she is able to believe in what’s possible.

Given that Little Witch Academia was released all at once on Netflix, there was the potential to go back and fix this, but I don’t blame the translator for not doing so. I don’t know what the schedule or system is like for subtitling on Netflix. It’s just a strong case of why translating is a tricky beast.

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Join the Bakery: Kira Kira Precure a la Mode

According to anime, girls and sweets go hand-in-hand. That’s why it’s all the more surprising that the Precure franchise took this long to create a series specifically dedicated to a pastry and confectionery theme. But Kira Kira Precure a la Mode isn’t merely a baking-themed magical girl show—it’s also quite possibly the Precure most dedicated to its central motif.

Kira Kira Precure a la Mode follows Usami Ichika, a middle school girl who enjoys baking. Learning of a nefarious force that creates havoc by stealing the very deliciousness of desserts—their kira kiraru (sparkles)—Ichika’s resistance is rewarded with the ability to become one of the warriors of legend known as Precure. As Cure Whip, she is joined by other friends and Cure allies to save the sweets, and by extension the world.

Aesthetic themes found in Precure are developed to varying degrees from one show to the next. While Go! Princess Precure directly asks what it means to be a princess and makes this a major narrative focus, Yes! Pretty Cure 5 is a bizarrely eclectic mix. There are butterflies? And dreams? And they fight an otherworldly corporation? But Precure a la Mode goes all-in. The heroes are all based on desserts. Their attacks include chocolate swords and whipped cream. The villains are trying to corrupt pastries and snacks. There’s even a recipe of the week most episodes, and the kids at home can learn how to make all of them! By the end, the show posits the notion that the love and kindness that comes with wanting to bake tasty treats for others can act as an antidote for malice and apathy. A generous claim, perhaps, yet the surest sign that this anime is wholly dedicated to its pro-baking message. It can be a bit ridiculous at times, but I prefer this over not developing the theme enough.

The core cast of Cures is pleasantly varied without falling too hard into generic five-man team syndrome, but their differences are not limited to just their standard color-coded contrasts. While all of them are involved in baking, each of them comes to it in unique ways resulting from what drives each of them. Ichika wants to make people happy through baking. Arisugawa Himari (Cure Custard) is a student of the science of baking, and wants others to appreciate the chemical magic that goes into cakes and cookies. Tategami Aoi (Cure Gelato) is more focused on her dream of being a rock star, but sees baking as a similar space for her passion. Kotozume Yukari (Cure Macaron) excels in nearly everything she does, but her inability to make perfect macarons becomes her opportunity to challenge herself. Kenjou Akira (Cure Chocolat) is the handsome and caring type, who bakes as an extension of her personality, as well as a way to treat her sickly little sister to something delicious. Later additions to the cast, especially a darkly snarky villain named Vibry (or Bibury, if you prefer) further add to the cornucopia of characters that highlight the series.

The Cures complement each other well overall, but special attention should be paid to Yukari and Akira. First, their personalities are rather rare in Precure. Yukari’s wry cleverness makes her almost an anti-trope character, frequently figuring out tricks and traps that the typical magical girl heroine would fall for in any other series. Akira is pretty much a Takarazuka Revue star transplanted into the world of Sunday morning children’s cartoons. Second, both are in high school as opposed to middle school, which is the typical age range of Precure girls. Third, though never stated 100% outright, it’s clear that there’s some shared romantic feelings between the two, with episodes dedicated to their trying to understand each other. While Precure is known for its significant yuri fanbase, these two bring it up a notch by combining multiple franchise-defying aspects together.

Overall, Kira Kira Precure a la Mode is a strong and solid entry into the Precure canon. It doesn’t quite hit the extraordinary highs of some of the franchise’s absolute best, but it’s definitely enjoyable from week to week, carries nice messages about how everyone’s unique, and even pushed that yuri envelope judge a smidge further than expected. It’s capable of appealing to the absolute newcomers as well as those with long-time experience, almost like a perfect chocolate chip cookie—simple, yet profoundly effective.

Fan Fan Fine: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for February 2018

It’s February, also known in these parts as “new Precure time!” Satou Junichi (Ojamajo Doremi, Sailor Moon, Princess Tutu) helming the new Hugtto Precure! means I’m eagerly anticipating it, though I’m trying not to get my hopes too high up. As much as I love his shows, he’s not infallible or anything.

Whether you’re celebrating Valentine’s Day, the Lunar New Year, or some other holiday, I’d like to thank the following Patreon sponsors for their support.

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Alex

Diogo Prado

Viga

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

My favorite posts from January:

Down-Home Food Therapy: Atari no Kitchen!

A food manga I’ve been enjoying for a quite a while, I finally got around to writing about it!

A Strong Foundation: How the Japanese Smash 4 Tournament Format Helps the Community

A detailed look at what I believe are the underlying reasons behind Japan’s noted character diversity at high levels of competitive play.

“We’re Just Like You!”: The Empathy Scam of the Alt-Right

A post on a more serious topic: how the alt-right’s use of internet memes and subculture might act as false masks to lure in frustrated young men.

Return to Genshiken

Part 7 of my Genshiken re-read delves into the depictions of love and lust in my favorite manga.

Patreon-Sponsored

The Past and Future of Anime Blogging

I wax nostalgic about anime blogging but also how it’s positioned versus other mediums.

Closing

I’m high off of watching EVO Japan 2018 and seeing both Asuka and Shinsuke Nakamura win the Royal Rumbles. I’m also hyped for the new Kio Shimoku manga coming out this month.

May your February be as inspired.

Cardcaptor Sakura and the Alternative Canon: What is the “Clear Card Saga” Anime Following?

When the Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card Saga anime announced, one of the questions asked was, would it be following the canon of the manga or the anime? Although the two versions share many similarities, there are also some notable differences between them. Now that the new TV series has been out for little while, it’s evident that they’re acknowledging the old anime…but I have my suspicions that this wasn’t always the case.

One of the tell-tale differences between the two iterations of the original Cardcaptor Sakura is how they end. While both involve an exchanging of teddy bears as an expression of mutual love and a temporary separation as Syaoran returns to Hong Kong, the anime has this happen at the airport, while the manga’s version takes place as Syaoran is riding the bus to the airport. Also, while the anime has them reunite in the second film, the manga immediately follows this with a timeskip where Syaoran shows up to greet a now-middle school-aged Sakura. This is roughly the point where Clear Card Saga starts.

Prior to the premiere of the Clear Card Saga TV series, there was a special OVA released as a way to bridge the old and new anime. As seen above, this OVA takes its cues from the manga by having the bear exchange take place at the bus, and then transitioning to the middle school timeskip. With this, I assumed the matter was settled. The Clear Card Saga anime would definitely be sticking closer to the manga.

Then episode 1 hit, and things didn’t quite line up.

When Syaoran shows up again in the manga and OVA, he’s wearing a Tomoeda Middle School uniform. In the new anime, he’s wearing street clothes. Maybe this is just a timing or aesthetic issue. Perhaps it doesn’t make sense for Syaoran to have a uniform after just moving back. Maybe the fact that they show Sakura at school before meeting Syaoran means he couldn’t be there (because she or one of her friends would’ve inevitably noticed him walking around in uniform). Either way, here is a discrepancy from the manga.

But they also flashback to the teddy bear exchange, and it’s at the airport! That’s a scene that explicitly calls back to the anime and not the manga. Maybe they just did that for the convenience of the people who watched the old anime.

The smoking gun comes in episode 2, when the characters are having lunch together at school. During their conversation, Tomoyo asks Syaoran how Meiling is doing. The reason this is a big deal is that Meiling never shows up in the manga. She’s an anime-original character, and one of the many elements used to turn a 12-volume manga into a 70-episode anime. Whatever the case may be, we have clear unequivocal acknowledgement that the old anime’s events are either partially or wholly canon in the Clear Card Saga anime.

So why make that OVA? I suspect that it served multiple functions. First, it might’ve bridge the gap between series, as mentioned above. After all, it’s been about 15 years. Second, it could’ve been used to get the staff and actors used to working on Cardcaptor Sakura again. Third, I really do think the anime was going to follow the manga more strictly, as a way to keep things simpler, but that they changed their minds at some point. If this were the case, maybe it was because they realized many had only ever seen the anime, and thus would be confused by the differences.

While the old anime appears to be canon for the new show, the question remains as to how much will actually be different from the Clear Card Saga manga. Referencing Meiling is one thing, but what about having her show up? Will the new anime have more clear cards than the manga, just like it’s predecessor? And what of the fact that Sakura’s dad is a partial reincarnation of Clow Reed—a fact revealed in the manga but never in the anime?

Personally speaking, I wouldn’t mind seeing Yukana reprise her role as Meiling and treating us to some Kung Fu fighting.

Halloween Means Precure!

I’ve come to realize that my favorite Halloween-themed episodes in anime come from the Precure franchise. This might be because it runs all year long (thus making holiday celebrations a common part of the shows), but I also think the mix of magic (in the form of magical girls) on a night associated with the occult works in its favor. Out of the many Halloween-themed instances of Precure, three stand out in particular: an episode of Suite Precure, another from Maho Girls Precure, and the movie Go! Princesss Precure: Go! Go!! Gorgeous Triple Feature

Before I proceed, here’s the requisite SPOILER WARNING.

Suite Pretty Cure

One of my main criticisms of Suite Precure is that, once a major character development moment passes, the show acts as if the new status quo is the way it’s always been. The key example of this is when the character Siren goes from antagonistic cat character to fellow human Precure. All of her history as a villain is seemingly forgotten after a couple episodes. The one major exception comes in the Halloween episode, where the now-Kurokawa Ellen dresses up as a cat girl. When a classmate asks about her costume, Ellen (without missing a beat) casually begins to mention that she used to be a cat, which prompts the other Precures to jump in and brush it off as a joke. It’s a clever bit of continuity in a show which often put it on the back burner.

The character Atarashi Ako is herself dressed as a princess, which is also a joke based on her true identity. Amusement all around!

Maho Girls Precure

The Harry Potter-esque world of Maho Girls Precure lends itself perfectly to a Halloween episode. One of the running jokes of the series is the way that visitors from the Magical World will sometimes forget that they’re supposed to be hiding their identity and will just casually mention things that the Muggles (so to speak) shouldn’t know. Halloween is presented as a major exception, because in the festive, costumed environment, magicians can come as they are because people will think they’re dressed for the occasion. Even then, the Maho Girls find a way to push the limits. The star of the show in this instance is probably Haa-chan, the third Precure and by far the most powerful of the trio in terms of magic. She appears throughout the episode in bizarre costumes, like a mummy complete with sarcophagus, and an alien being taken away by Men in Black.

It’s just a fine episode of nudges and winks and fulfilling the expectations one might have for a Halloween episode in a show about wizarding magical girls.

Go! Princess Precure

Go! Princess Precure: Go! Go!! Gorgeous Triple Feature is actually an entire Halloween-themed movie, consisting of two shorts and one longer standard Precure movie. It was (appropriately) released on October 31, 2015. Go! Princess is already one of the strongest entries in the franchise, and many of its strengths—animation, charismatic characters, strong and positive themes—can be seen in the movie. Interestingly, the main thing the film seems to take from Halloween is the prominence of pumpkins. Whether they’re jack o’ lanterns or pumpkin desserts, the iconic Halloween vegetable seems to overshadow the costume and trick or treat aspects of the holiday. In a way, it’s probably the best of the three story-wise, but the weakest in terms of Halloween hijinks.

I do need to make a special mention in regards to the movie-exclusive transformation, though. The Cures here have a special Halloween-themed power-up that is appropriately flashy.

So those are some of my favorite Halloween anime. In the 90s, the holiday wasn’t a big deal in Japan, but has grown in prominence over the past couple of decades. If we were to move away from Halloween the holiday and more towards “monster”-themed anime, then Kore wa Zombie Desuka? would rank much higher. If you have your own special Halloween shows, feel free to leave a comment.

This post was sponsored by Johnny Trovato. If you’re interested in submitting topics for the blog, or just like my writing and want to support Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.

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[APT507] Doremi’s Unexpected Successor: Why You Should Watch Little Witch Academia

It’s likely you already know and love Little Witch Academia, but I went and wrote a post over at Apartment 507 about the positive similarities between it and Ojamajo Doremi. Check it out!

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Fighting Evil By Moonlight – Heartcatch Precure!: The Novel

Heartcatch Precure! is, to date, the strongest entry in the Precure magical girl franchise. It’s a series that works incredibly well in an episode-by-episode basis but also in terms of long-term narrative. This success comes from successfully building upon itself, and one of the anime’s high points in this regard is the story of Tsukikage Yuri, aka Cure Moonlight, a veteran Precure whose defeat triggers the start of Heartcatch Precure! A recurring character, Yuri’s arc of forgiveness and redemption is one of the most satisfying and inspiring moments of the series.

Yuri is more of a strong supporting character than a main protagonist in the anime, which leaves a lot of questions to be answered. For example, how did she become a Precure? Fortunately, Yuri is actually the star of the Heartcatch Precure! novel spinoff, which retells the story of the TV series from her perspective. Simply titled Heartcatch Precure!: The Novel, this book adaptation takes a somewhat more mature alternative view of the story already familiar to fans.

The novel is divided into four large chapters: how Yuri first became Cure Moonlight and how she lost her powers, the arrival of Tsubomi and Erika (the heroines of the anime), Yuri’s return, and the finale. By far the most “new” content is in the first. Here, we get to see a younger Yuri in junior high, her friendship with Erika’s sister Momoka, how she meets her fairy Cologne, and her interactions with Tsubomi’s grandmother Kaoruko, the former Cure Flower who ends up training Yuri. One of the main focuses of Yuri’s path to becoming a Precure is the way in which Kaoruko tries to drill into Yuri that she needs to be at the top of her game. There’s also a great amount of attention spent on Dark Precure and her thoughts and feelings. As Yuri’s “shadow,” it’s only appropriate that the novel delve into her story as well.

The other three chapters don’t hold up quite as well. While they still do a fine job of telling the story of Heartcatch Precure!, they have this problem of rushing to the Yuri-centric scenes so as to refocus the narrative back on her. The consequence of this pace is that huge swathes of the novel feel like recaps, such as quickly introducing Cure Sunshine without much fanfare. At other points, however, because the core narrative is still about Tsubomi, the retelling of the anime’s events still draw much more attention to her than Yuri. The actual material is still quite satisfying, and the major moments resonate emotionally, but at many points it starts to feel less like a true Cure Moonlight novel. The points at which the novel does emphasize Yuri usually come from her conversations with Kaoruko, as well as any moment where she’s trying to use her experiences to teach or warn the new Precures.

It’s unclear if this novel is meant to be read by people who have already seen the anime, but there is a recurring trend where it quickly and nonchalantly drops information that was gradually revealed in the TV series, such as the true identities of certain characters. This isn’t even about “retelling” parts of the anime; one of the late spoilers in the series (the identity of a Tuxedo Mask-esque figure) is revealed in the first chapter, before Tsubomi ever shows up.

The story also occasionally deviates from the anime’s events in small ways, making it uncertain whether or not the novel is canon. For example, in the final battle against the main villain, Dune, he explains his origins and why he carries such hatred in his heart. This didn’t happen in the anime at all, and the lack of development for Dune is one of the anime’s few weak points. The climactic punch is replaced by an embrace because the running gag throughout the series, where Tsubomi uses a hip attack and calls it a “butt punch,” never occurs in the novel. It also expands on the epilogue of the anime, refocusing back on Yuri at the very end.

Given its length (over 300 pages in Japanese), the lack of furigana to help younger readers, and the complete absence of images aside from the cover, Heartcatch Precure!: The Novel skews older than the target young elementary school audience of the anime. While it’s an open secret that teenagers and adults watch Precure too, this book appears to be a specific targeting of that more mature audience. While the novel might feel a bit much like supplementary material, it’s still an enjoyable read that carries all of the strengths of Heartcatch Precure!, particularly its thoughtfulness in characterization and character development.