Category Archives: Editorials
Being the huge, sprawling franchise that it is, Sword Art Online has a bunch of spinoffs and side materials. Most of them aren’t worth getting into unless you’re a hardcore fan. But there are some gems that I recommend people try out even if they’re not big into SAO. They offer unique stories with their own appeal and delve more deeply into SAO’s virtual worlds than even the original series does.
Here are my favourites:
“What light novels should I read if I’m learning Japanese?” is one of the questions I most frequently get asked, especially by people who are visiting Japan and want to pick up some beginner-friendly light novels while they’re there.
Like most anime fans, I only heard of Genki Kawamura after Your Name became a smash hit around the world. As one of the producers of Your Name, Kawamura is sometimes credited with making Makoto Shinkai’s infamously obtuse and sentimental style of film making accessible to mainstream audiences for the first time… although I don’t know how much influence Kawamura really had on the storytelling itself. Regardless, he’s a big personality in his own right, which is something you don’t often see with Japanese anime producers.
Haoliners is the name of a Chinese animation company that partners with Japanese studios to create shows that air in both China and Japan. I’ve written about them before, where I noted that a lot of their shows aren’t actually made at the same studio. This is not a surprise when you consider that they’ve produced over 10 shows for Japanese TV since opening their Tokyo studio in late 2015. No fledgling studio can lead that many productions straight off the bat.
So where are Haoliners shows actually being animated? Haoliners has studios in China, South Korea and Japan. If you look carefully at the credits, however, each show has involved a great deal of outsourcing. I’ll briefly note down the lead production studio in each case. (I’ll just be focusing on the shows that had an English release here.)
Lately, I have been thinking of doing NaNoWriMo. Then I remember that this is a stupid idea when I already write half the word count of a NaNoWriMo novel every month just for work. I say all that, but a part of me thinks: “Wouldn’t it be fun to bury myself in a complete nonsense story for a month and make up shit as I go along?”
I’m sure that the author of My Sister Lives in a Fantasy World has had similar thoughts, because the series reads like a giant NaNoWriMo draft.
In the latter half of the series, major characters and plot points get introduced out of nowhere, powers and abilities get made up on the spot, and half the word count is spent on characters explaining how the nonsensical setup of the story is supposed to work. But I still like the series, mostly because it’s the most fun I’ve had with the “Overpowered MC” concept in a while.
Was it worth the two-year wait?
People sure like to romanticise piracy. This was something that occurred to me after I published an article a few days ago called Explaining the English Light Novel Boom with Bookwalker Global, which didn’t mention piracy at all and yet sparked controversy on the subject anyway. As many of the comments argued, fan translations have played a part in popularizing light novels in English translation. Why didn’t I mention their existence?
In truth, I didn’t set out to snub fan translation in that piece. It was simply the case that the people I spoke to at Bookwalker Global did not mention it. The article was not intended as a comprehensive overview of the light novel industry; it was meant to showcase Bookwalker Global’s perspective on the subject. I thought that their views would be interesting because a) They’ve recently jumped onto the English light novel bandwagon with a clear rationale for doing so, and b) They are deeply connected to the Japanese light novel market.
Fan translations were clearly not relevant with Bookwalker Global’s choice of exclusive titles. Neither The Combat Baker nor The Ryuo’s Work is Never Done! had English fan translations when these releases were being decided, nor was there much hype for them on English-language social media. However, people still wanted me to talk about fan translation anyway. I suspect that they wanted me to romanticise their place in history.
Take note: this article is not about “subs versus dubs.” It’s not a competition. I’m sure that everyone has their own preferences, but in the end it’s like comparing apples and oranges. Dubbing involves a different set of skills, resources, and priorities than subtitling does. Even the scriptwriting process for a dub is very different from writing a subtitle script. (I’ll write more about this in a future column, perhaps.)
It’s a pity that conversations around the subject tend to revolve around how the voices sound rather than the translation issues involved. From the perspective of a translator, what’s interesting about subs and dubs is that they strive in different ways to bring the viewer as close to the experience of watching a Japanese anime as possible. With a subtitled anime, the original audio is retained. On the surface, this seems like a preferable format for language purists. On the other hand, Japanese speakers don’t need to read subtitles to understand the audio, so a dub might actually come closer to capturing the experience of watching anime as a native Japanese speaker.
As we’ll see in today’s column, however, “the experience of watching anime as a native speaker” is an extremely difficult thing to quantify, let alone replicate. When you look at the matter in perspective, the “subs versus dubs” debate misses the point.
Otaku is a word that seems deceptively straightforward at first glance. Adopted into the Oxford English Dictionary in 2007, it is defined as follows:
(In Japan) a young person who is obsessed with computers or particular aspects of popular culture to the detriment of their social skills.
It is notable that the dictionary definition includes the negative perceptions surrounding the word. According to the OED, the otaku is “obsessed” and lacks “social skills.” This description is essentially no different from the columnist Akio Nakamori’s use of the word “bizarre” (異様) when he defined otaku as a label in 1983. While it has become more socially acceptable to identify as an otaku these days, it still retains an air of eccentricity.
One could argue that this is very much the point of adopting it as a loan word—otaku captures a nuance that “geek” or “fan” can’t quite muster. But adopting loan words from another culture is not a simple copy-and-paste process. Otaku has transformed significantly on its Journey to the West (ahem), a sure indication that the meaning of the word was contentious to begin with.
And that’s the theme of this week’s Found in Translation column. Translation is not a simple additive or subtractive process. By its very nature it is both transformative and elusive, a constant reminder that words may not always mean what we assume they mean at first glance.