I often get annoyed at works of fiction in any medium that feature an almost exclusively male cast. Where are the women? Girls? Who is producing all the men in this strange world? They baffle me, these worlds without women. As I’ve said before, there are only two situations in which I will accept a startling lack of women: boys’ boarding schools and men’s prisons. These are places where the population necessarily lists male-heavy. Any other setting in a world of human beings better have some women who say something and are part of the action in a significant way or I am walking away.
But I have at last discovered a third world in which a mostly male cast is entirely acceptable: Heian-style segregated imperial court. After the first volume of the Yatagarasu series Karasu ni Hitoe wa Niawanai, which was pretty much all ladies all the time, Karasu wa Aruji wo Erabanai presents the men’s side of the story. And not in a #NotAllMen kind of way. Abe simply rewinds time in a way, bringing her readers back to the beginning of Hitoe and retelling the story of that entire time period from the perspective of the men involved in the story. And since the court in this world (and in the flowery bygone days of a long-ago Japan) is mostly segregated by gender, the story of the men mostly involves men, much like the story of the women mostly involved women. Continue reading “Karasu wa Aruji o Erabanai: Chisato Abe”
I go through these periods of feeling like a robot. Maybe everyone does? I feel like it’s hard not to, since so much of life if just doing the same things over and over again. It’s honestly inescapable, unless you go total anarchic fatalist and stop eating, bathing, and doing anything that goes along with the larger world around you. I mean, you have to sleep, you have to eat, and eventually you’re going to need to clean your body and your environment, or you’re going to end up paying some serious consequences health-wise. And most of us do these essential life things in a pretty ritualistic way. Like, I have eaten some form of toast, cheese, and fruit for breakfast almost every day for the better part of twenty years, maybe longer. At some point in my young adulthood, I realized that this is the easiest and tastiest breakfast I can prepare for myself in a minimal amount of time, and I just stuck with it. I enjoy a waffle or a bowl of rice with a delightful assortment of side dishes from time to time, but there’s no way I’m getting up early just to put fancier food in my face.
And then you generally have to go to work and do the job you have so you can pay for the food in your face and the place where you sleep and clean your body. Not everyone has to do this, but it’s the reality for a large percentage of us. If you have a job with prescribed hours, then you’re leaving home at a set time, eating meals on your set breaks, heading out at a set time, arriving home again at a set time. And then you do the things you need to do at home to be ready to do the whole thing again the next day. And even if you don’t have prescribed hours (like, say, a freelance translator), you still generally end up falling into some kind of rhythm, if only so you’re not totally at odds with the hours that everyone else keeps. You might love this job that sets your daily rhythms (I do!), but it can still start to feel empty and mechanical from time to time. Continue reading “Nagi no Oitoma: Misato Konari”
I have been getting meta with my thoughts on translation lately, not just because of my work on Junji Ito’s latest, No Longer Human, but that’s certainly a contributing factor. Our thoughts on translation as a society have evolved a lot since the first translation of Dazai’s classic novel was published in the 1950s especially, but even since manga started getting mainstream traction in the 1990s. We all remember the terrible localisation decisions of those early days, like when the Pokémon crew were eating weird rice doughnuts in English, but there have been plenty of less cringeworthy choices that shaped the way English readers came to and appreciated manga and anime back in the day that were so different from the accepted practice of how we do things now. Like, we can use the word “manga” without any glosses now. It’s basically an English word at this point and most people under the age of the baby boomers will know what it means.
I find it fascinating how even though the source text will never change, how we engage with it in translation does change, and translators must take note of this or fall to the wayside. And since I am a translator and don’t want to fall to any wayside—I like my job and would prefer to keep doing it—I am ever conscious of the current state of translation into English, in North America at least. Some of this is definitely shaped by publishers—some want me to use honourifics and Japanese name orders, some want the text to be as North American as possible without actually redrawing the backgrounds and pretending the whole thing took place in Chicago. But these policies are also shaped by readers sending in their feedback and making their preferences known. So it’s a weird balancing act to be a pop culture translator, and of manga in specific. You’re always measuring your own sensibilities and desires when it comes to translation against those of the publishers and the readers, trying to figure out a way to satisfy everyone. Continue reading “This Little Art: Kate Briggs”
That was last year, right? 2018? It feels like a lifetime since then. Humanity’s slow slide into extinction is picking up steam, and it’s honestly hard to keep track of which disaster is happening when and where anymore. The US is basically about to execute women for having abortions, Ontario has decided autistic people don’t matter, Australia just voted to destroy the Great Barrier Reef (essentially), and while the earth burns, scientists are bringing decapitated pigs back to life. And this is all just in the last couple weeks! How could I possibly be expected to remember that there was a whole year of life before all of this??
And it’s so easy in the face of all this madness to throw up our hands in despair and wonder why art even matters when we’re all going to burn in the planetary dumpster fire that is climate change. But this is when art matters the most! The stories we tell and the way we connect through art gives us a reason to keep on fighting when things seem most dire. Plus, the onslaught is just too much, and sometimes, you need to escape into fantastical man-man action. So welcome to the doujinshi round-up for the lost year of 2018! Continue reading “Doujinshi Round-Up: What Happened to 2018??”
Given how close we are to TCAF, you may be surprised that I’m not on here talking up Junji Ito or Hiromi Takashima, our very special manga guests this year. But in a weird turn of events, I have translated the work of both of these artists, so it would be even more self-indulgent for me to write about those works here. That said, you should definitely pick up Takashima’s Kase-san series because it is a delightful bit of yuri that is free from so many of the tired tropes and simply explores the relationship between these two girls as they figure out what it means to be together and how they want to move forward. And you should also be reading Ito’s everything because he is a great master of horror and excess—you should obviously especially be reading all of my translations of his work, if nothing else, though. I personally am devouring everything he ever wrote at the moment, including the utterly dreadful Yukoku no Rasputin which I regret ever crossing paths with, because, well, TCAF. I am his interpreter. I have to be prepared. (Please no one ask about Rasputin.)
But I also need distractions! Reading too much of the same artist all in a row can make all the stories blur together into a mess of tangled and mutilated bodies, in the case of Ito’s work. Fortunately, my special delivery of horror manga from the other side of the ocean also included some decidedly non-horror manga from an artist I’ve only recently fallen for, Kiwa Irie. Her current series Yuria-sensei no Akai Ito is giving me life, so I decided to go back and check out her earlier work, as is my wont when I fall hard and fast for an artist.
But checking out her earlier work was not so easy as all that! I was told that Tasogare was also a very solid series, so I went to the bookstore to get the first couple volumes. However, volume one comes with a CD specially made of the music that features in the book and so costs about twice as much as a regular manga. I did not want a special CD of music I was almost certain to dislike (I am a person of strong musical opinion), so I went from bookstore to bookstore looking for a volume one sans CD. But it was not to be! Which is why I ended up getting it delivered to be from my favourite online retailer with a pile of Junji Ito books once I was back in Canada. Continue reading “Tasogare Takako: Kiwa Irie”
Are we ready to talk about josei again? I promise not to rant (too much) about how work by and about women is consistently undervalued in our culture. But it’s honestly impossible to talk about josei manga without coming up against this wall. I’d love to see some hard numbers on this, but even without that kind of rigorous data, it’s pretty clear that compared with the flood of shonen and seinen manga—genres targeted at and (mostly) written by men (boys)—the amount of josei and shojo—genres for and by (mostly) women (girls)—published in English is a mere trickle. And you can step right off with the argument that josei and shojo stories just aren’t as good or as well produced. Josei and shojo manga consistently win big awards—Yuki Ozawa won the Kodansha award for her incredible Sanju Mariko just last year, while Misato Konari is shortlisted for the Tezuka Cultural Prize and also snagged an Excellence Award at the Japan Media Arts Festival this year, and we’ll probably never see either of these excellent titles in an English translation.
There are a gazillion reasons why we see so little josei and shojo in translation, and I promised I wasn’t going to rant, so I won’t go into every one of them. But a big reason, and something you see all over the place not just manga in translation, is that works created by and about women are seen as for women only, while works created by and about men are for “everyone.” Work about/by women is denigrated at pretty much every turn. Little boys are taught that this or that book is “for girls” and thus they should never pick them up (remembering that YA author who talked about how some schools excused boys from her school visits since she wrote books “for girls” so of course the boys wouldn’t be interested, but I can’t remember her name, so if you know who I’m talking about, please tell me so I can credit her) (Update: Thanks to Mecque for telling me that I was talking about Shannon Hale!), and even when a woman author is recognized with a prestigious award, her win is cast in the light of a man author who lost. (Yes, I am thinking of Jennifer Egan’s pulitzer win and how every other article about it had a headline with Franzen’s name in it, too.) So when you have publishers and society cutting out half of the population as a possible readership for women’s work, you are going to have a hard time selling that stuff.
And this isn’t just limited to the North American market. Although a ton more shojo and josei makes it onto the shelves in Japan, this is mostly because the publishing industry in Japan is more robust and simply has more readers buying books. Stories by and about women are still not taken as seriously as those by and about men, as evinced by the fact that while women are winning those manga awards, they’re winning them about a quarter as often as men do. For an artist who wants her work to be widely read by both women and men then, a series in a seinen or shonen magazine is really the way to go, even if she’s writing about women and the series could easily run in a magazine aimed at women.
I feel like Torikai’s Sensei no Shiroi Uso is just such a title. Although it ran in the seinen magazine Morning, it takes as its protagonist a young woman grappling with her own womanhood and what it means to be a woman in a society that sees women as second class. And this is where I have to give you a chance to get out before things get too heavy. Torikai does not shy away from depictions of sexual assault and violence against women. If this is something you would rather not subject your eyes or your mind to, then this is not going to be the series for you. Go read the warm delight that is Witch Hat Atelier instead. It just came out in English and you will not be sorry you picked it up! Continue reading “Sensei no Shiroi Uso: Akane Torikai”
It comes up every so often on the interwebs—or maybe only on Twitter which is where I spend most of my interwebs time—this idea of not starting a series until it’s finished because you want to read the whole thing at once. Or you worry that the publisher will drop it before it ends. And pretty much everyone involved in the making of series of books comes forward to say that this is the surest way to get a series cancelled. The terrible law of attrition means that sales of volume one are pretty much always the highest and it only goes downhill from there as some readers find they actually aren’t all that into the series or they move onto other books and forget about this one or they move to a shoebox apartment and can no longer buy books and keep them in their house the way they’d like to or they ran out of money and buying books is the last thing on their list. There are plenty of legitimate reasons for not continuing with a series, but anyone in the publishing industry will tell you that fear of the series ending prematurely is not one of them. When a reader doesn’t buy the first volumes in a series for this reason, they are basically signing the death certificate for the whole endeavour.
And as a person in the publishing industry, I am well aware of this fact! (I’m also well aware of the fact that pre-ordering a book is the best way to get it on shelves and boost sales in the crucial weeks after release, but I cannot be that together of a grown-up human being. To know what I will want to read in the future?! That is some kind of black magic and will probably end up with me roasting in the flames of hell.) But! I am also a deeply forgetful person. And the time between publication of between one volume and the next is basically enough for me to have forgotten the entire premise of the series. So reading books as they come out is basically an exercise in frustration and repetition. What is an absent-minded reader to do?? It’s simple, really. Just buy them all as they come out and then read them when the whole series is done. Continue reading “Bikacho Shinshi Kaikoroku: Moyoco Anno”