I translate a lot of books. A. Lot. This is partly because I love my job—I literally get paid to read books all day! As a child who was actually reprimanded at school (seriously) for reading “too much” (not possible), this was the impossible dream for adulthood. Day after day of immersing myself in one text after the other, losing myself in stories and thinking about words, words, words. But the reality of adulthood is also ever present—those bills aren’t paying themselves, another reason I translate a lot of books. If you are inclined to think that us professional fiction translators are in it for the money or to ruin your beautiful fandom with our notions of what constitutes English, please disabuse yourself of these ideas now. I could’ve been making more money for less work if I’d stayed in commercial translation, working on engineering papers and human resources presentations. But I love the life of books and so I just work extra hard to translate enough to allow me to live this dream life of mine.
Most of those books are manga, which take much less time and mental energy to translate than novels. And I love the manga! But novels are a translation treat in their own way, and I get to do way fewer of those books. Because the market for novels in translation is…not great. I’m not going to lie to you here. Don’t get into translation to translate novels. Or if you do, at least get a side hustle that pays the bills. So I’m always excited when I get to take on a new novel project, and I’m particularly excited about one that comes out this summer. Let me get out my own horn and toot it for a second. Colorful is a classic by Mori Eto and has sold about a bajillion copies in Japanese. It was made into a movie and an anime and a bunch of other things. It is a Big Deal, and rightly so. A really lovely story about finding what’s beautiful in this world and discovering your own self. So you know I was excited to translate it for Counterpoint Press! It’s coming out in July! Buy it, nerds!
Thank you for bearing with me in that moment of self-promotion.
As often happens with authors I translate, I got curious about Mori’s other work. I was familiar with her award-winning Mikazuki, but I hadn’t really dug into her back catalogue. And like most Japanese authors, Mori has a lot to dig into. Dipping in at random, I figured Dive!! would be a fun read, if only because of the incredible cover. We all know I am an unrepentant judger of covers and this one is so powerful! Look at that stylized water, the smooth arc of the diver, the wet footprints on the diving board. Perfect.
The story’s pretty perfect, too, and sucked me in in much the same way as Matsumoto Taiyo’s Ping Pong. I know nothing about diving. I have never watched diving. I have never even thought about diving as a sport before. I mean, I know it’s a sport, but the sum total of my awareness of diving before reading Dive!! was the platforms at a pool when something else was happening. And clearly, I am not the only one in this position. At every tournament in this book, there is some other swimming event happening on the other side of the venue, and it is that event which yields cheers and crowds. The stands by the diving platform are nearly empty and silent. This is a solitary sport, the diver against themselves. A midair performance of 1.4 seconds from a height of ten meters. So the perfect sport for some character-driven narrative, and Mori delivers the goods here.
The novel is divided up into four sections. The first three each focus on a separate diver. First up is Tomoki, the youngest of the bunch at fourteen. He’s been diving since he was in grade two, and he’s good, but not powerfully driven to be the best or anything. And then a new coach shows up at his diving club. Kayoko is young and ambitious and talented, and she sees something special in Tomoki, so she makes it her mission to coach him to new heights. At the same time, she is actively working to recruit our second diver, Shibuki, the grandson of a diving legend from Aomori who dives from cliffs into the ocean. Which seems very dangerous. Shibuki at seventeen is a big guy, strange for a diver, and he’s rough and unpolished, but he has a power and magnetism to his diving that draws every eye, even the ones who are supposed to be watching the senior swim championship. He’s everything our third diver Yoichi is not. Yoichi is the champion in this particular diving club, intensely focused, lithe, in control of his every move. He slips into the water without so much as a ripple.
With Coach Kayoko’s arrival, the divers of the Mizuki Diving Club discover that unless one of them manages to snag a spot at the Sydney Olympics, MDC is done for. And thus the stage is set for conflict of the mostly internal kind. These boys might be rivals, but they are also friends, supporting each other and pushing each other to ever greater heights. In each section, we get a peek into what makes them tick and the larger forces in the world of sport at work around them. Mori is such a skilled writer and knows just what to focus on and in what way that I was completely absorbed in their story within the first ten pages.
The last section, though, is where she really shines as an author. Two hundred pages devoted to a single competition, and it is nail-biting all the way. Each chapter in this section is from the perspective of a different person, allowing the reader insight into the backgrounds of all the characters, not just our diving leads. It’s nice bit of work that exquisitely draws out the tension rather than giving us a blow-by-blow of this final competition. We see the main characters through the eyes of the people who know and love them best, while we sit on the edges of our seats, waiting for their score on each dive.
Friends, I have watched diving videos and enjoyed them since reading this book. Mori makes diving so intriguing and really lays out what’s at stake in such an engaging way that I couldn’t help it. And so, like with Ping Pong, my world is slightly, strangely larger. If you know any diving manga, send them my way, please.