Random Anniversary 3: My Brain

drawings_and_paintings-brains-brains01Has it already been a full journal? The time really does run away like wild horses over the hills. This book is adorned with Hattifatteners, so I was particularly sad to reach the final pages in a Singapore cafe, but such is the way of the journal. At the start of every new book, we know that it must end someday, no matter how cute the characters plastered across the cover. (Cue “Circle of Life” chorus.)

The Hattifatteners have watched over me as I went to see them dancing across the page under the pen of Tove Jansson herself, or skipped off to witness the delights of Mad Max not once, not twice, but thrice. (And I just ran across the DVD at Bic Camera today, so you know what I will be watching again soon.) Those weird little white mushroom marshmallow creatures joined me on cat island where a lot of old people spoke to me in some serious dialect and I tried to follow along as best as I could. Trips to Tokyo, Osaka, cat island, Singapore, Tottori, Shimane, Izumo, Kamakura, Nara. The delights of new vegetarian restaurants in many of those places. Seeing one of my favourite bands both in Toronto and Osaka. Even the theatre on both this side and the Canada side of the ocean. Those Hattifatteners have seen me through some things. Continue reading

Dead Dead Demons Dededededestruction 1–3: Inio Asano

Dead Dead Demons_AsanoAfter a couple months of ridiculously idyllic country life up here on my mountain on cat island, it’s time for me to pack my bags and head back to the big city, in this case, Singapore, where I will creep on strangers and eavesdrop on some Singlish action on the metro for work. I’m not ashamed of my creeper style. It’s how I keep up with the kids and their wacky slang, both here in Japan and back on the Canada side of the ocean. People give me weird looks in Canada when I sit too close and tilt my head their way, but in Japan, I’m already a weirdo white woman, so my creeping is less obvious and more successful. From what I understand, Singapore’s a lot more accustomed to having ye olde white folks around, so who knows what kind of reaction my creeping will get? 

Most of the stuff I translate doesn’t especially require me to creep on people in the metro, though. Not that the dialogue isn’t natural, just that it’s not hyperspecific of a particular group of people. Most manga throw in different dialects and speech patterns for flavor and to make obvious and easy distinctions between characters, but these styles of speaking are all pretty mainstream and easy to understand if you are a speaker of ye olde Japanese. But Inio Asano does not write such dialogue, a lesson that was painfully hammered home while I was recently translating his Umibe no Onna no Ko (Girl on the Shore). The way these teenagers speak is so authentic and real that I spent the entire translation worrying that it would turn out like how a forty-year-old woman thinks the kids these days talk. Needless to say, I was constantly bugging my sister, mother of teenagers, about the way said kids talk.

So obviously, it is no surprise that the high school girl protagonists of Dead Dead Demons speak in the most slangily realistic Japanese. The really fun part is the distinct voices that Asano gives to each of them. Kadode and Ouran have been friends since nursery school basically, later joining up with Kiho, Ai, and Rin, so that by the time they roll up to high school, they have been a tight group since the first days of junior high. Ouran is basically the weird one, using male pronouns and spouting off conspiracy theories and general craziness, performed with astoundingly energetic jumping and dancing and a generous amount of drooling and tears. Best friend Kadode tells her at every opportunity that she has no idea what Ouran is talking about. There’s friction between Kiho, who’s obsessed with having a boyfriend, and Ouran, who’s obsessed with overturning the system, but in general, the group get along like gangbusters. Continue reading

Shashinya Kafka V1: Naoto Yamakawa


At some point, nearly every native English-speaking person who has ever studied Japanese has railed against kanji, those lovely little logograms inherited by the language from written Chinese oh-so-many many centuries ago. Sometimes, we grumble about what a language even needs four different writing systems for; other times, we drunkenly announce that kanji are stupid and we should just get rid of them already. I mean, we tell anyone who even seems to be listening, even Japanese people can’t write them. Then nearly every native English-speaking person who continues with their studies of Japanese will do an about-face and be the one at that bar defending kanji against the drunken beginner. And so the cycle of foreigners learning Japanese is complete.

I had my own period of grumping about kanji, back when I didn’t know that many of them and they just seemed so pointless. After all, we have katakana, hiragana, and romaji, which all function quite nicely in a comprehensible phonetic way. Kanji just seemed like an extra giant headache that I did not want to deal with. But slowly, the more I read and studied and learned, the more I came to appreciate those annoyingly non-phonetic characters. (I will definitely agree that the lack of instant sound-out-ability is a total annoyance when encountering a new character. Although what a delight when you guess at how to pronounce it based on knowledge of other kanji, and you turn out to be right!)

For one thing, if you’ve ever read a children’s book after passing the basic beginner level of the language, you know how annoying it is to try and read something written entirely in kana. It is stilted and awkward and awful. But more than that, kanji themselves add such a rich depth to the language and allow written Japanese to say so many more things than spoken Japanese. These deeper nuances are often the most frustrating part of my translation day, since a given English word is stuck with just one meaning for the most part, whereas a kanji compound could have a different furigana reading sitting next to it, allowing it to be two words/concepts in one. But some words can also be written with two or more kanji to allow for a slightly different nuance. You can have thinking in the neutral sense of thoughts in your brain, or you can have thinking with the slightly flowery sense of love in those thoughts. You can straight up meet a person, or you can meet them with romantic intent. Continue reading

Mimi wa Wasurenai: Takehito Moriizumi

Mimi_MoriizumiLast year, while living my Tokyo comics life, I ended up sitting across from Moriizumi at an izakaya. Tokyo might be one of the biggest cities on the planet, but you run into people there in the weirdest ways. I was at a manga event with fellow manga friends and in the course of moving through the evening, we ended up at an izakaya, as one often does at some point in a Tokyo night. Coincidentally, one of my manga friends had mentioned Moriizumi’s latest book earlier in the evening, and no doubt this title would have gone in one ear and out the other had we not met the man later. I felt bad that I hadn’t read any of his work or even heard of him until a couple hours before. I am a manga professional; I’m supposed to be up on these things. But, you guys, there are a lot of people making manga in this country. I can’t keep track of them all.

So everyone ate chicken and other izakaya food that I can’t eat (oh, lonely vegetarian), and talked and drank. Moriizumi seemed like an interesting, thoughtful kind of guy, so I made a mental note to check out his comics at some point. (Artists, take note! If you are a nice person to hang out with, you can make people curious about your work!) And then of course, I forgot all about that note and read a gazillion other books. You know that last part already if you have been following the battles of my brain over this last year. Continue reading

Ikazuchi Tooku Umi ga Naru: Ayako Noda

Noda_IkazuchiThe great thing about living on a mountain in the middle of nowhere on cat island is that said mountain on said island is in Japan, and Japan is nothing if not convenient. The closest bookstore is an hour away from me by bus, a fact which would have caused me no undue amount of concern ten years ago. But we live in the future now, friends. If I want books to keep me company up here in the wilderness, then I will have books. I will order all the books my brain desires through the magic of the Internet, and they will be delivered to me the next day by a man in a truck who somehow can figure out exactly where on this mountain I live through the magic of GPS (because, you know, Japan may excel at convenience, but it is not the greatest when it comes to connecting addresses with places).

A large number of the books in that first magical order I placed were for work—rather than dragging books I’m translating with me from Canada back to the land of their production, it’s easier to just buy the books again here and sell them to Book Off or something when I’m finished with them—but some were the next installments of series I’m following (NOZAKI-KUUUUUN!), and one was a random book that I’d never heard of before. My brain likes to mix things up. Continue reading

Shitashigena Akuma: Various

Comics Hoshi ShinichiIt is no secret that I love Shinichi Hoshi, even while I accept that his work may pose some fodder for difficult thought. (O ladies, where are you?) But I realize we cannot hold people of the past to the standards of the now, so I try not to let the blatant sexism of latter-day Hoshi ruin the delight of his tiny stories full of big ideas. (This is similar to the way I have read pretty much everything Robert Heinlein, by the way.) Hoshi’s short shorts are so magical and surprising. I love that there was a publishing industry in this world that was willing to just publish whatever he dreamed up, even if I don’t love the balance of ladies in them: space dog circus diplomacy, sneezes of bees (and those words don’t come close to rhyming in Japanese, eliminating one obvious source for that idea), whatever.

And these tiny stories of his really lend themselves to adaptation in pretty much any form. His prose is always slightly dispassionate, peeking in from a distance, and pared down to the truly necessary basics, leaving plenty of room for the interpretive eye of another artist. So I’m not surprised that someone decided to adapt them into manga; I’m just surprised I hadn’t heard anything about it. And it’s not just this one manga collection—it’s a whole series of manga adaptations of Hoshi’s work. And I only discovered that any of them at all exist because my honto.jp account was all, hey, you might be interested in this. And I was! Continue reading

Cocoon: Machiko Kyo

cocoonThis is a place for books, it’s true, specifically a place for my brain to battle books. But my brain is up for almost any challenge and will take on any media—music, painting, sculpture, magazines—if that is what has to be done. And as an amateur fighter, my brain particularly enjoys the battles with the cinema. This year has been an especially great one for cinema (if you have not seen The Tribe or White God, you are seriously missing out, my friend), but even in such a banner year, some films simply batter my brain into delighted submission. And Mad Max: Fury Road (or Fury Death Road, pushed to the extreme in the Japanese title) is one of these films. It is a masterpiece, exquisitely crafted and so beautiful my eyeballs would happily drown in it. I keep going back to the theatre to see it again and again. I will probably keep shelling out to see it until they finally pull it from the screens. Go see it. It is magic.

Given my deep and enduring love for the death road of fury, you can imagine my delight when I turned on a podcast of an interview with Machiko Kyo recently, and she recounted how she had seen it four times so far and was planning to go a fifth. The interview then devolved into excited conversation between Kyo and the two hosts of the show about how great the movie is. As Kyo went into detail about what she loved and why, my love for her grew ever deeper, and I remembered that I haven’t actually read anything by her in a while, an unfortunate oversight. Luckily, I happened to have Cocoon on the shelf of unread books. Continue reading