Monday, July 31, 2006


Here's a very interesting comment thread to a post on Mike Sterling's Progressive Ruin on the subject of how "readers of superhero comics tend to be a little more patient, a little more likely to 'ride out the rough spots,' of titles they're not enjoying, particuarly if they've been following the character for quite some time." And it occurred to me that the thread suggests, by implication, another reason why the audience for superhero comics has shrunk to hardcore fans. Casual readers, almost by definition, will not buy twenty issues of a comic they don't like simply because they're devoted to the character: they're likely to give up after two or three bad issues. Nor will they keep watching a title or character they've dropped to see if it has recovered. Instead, they'll make a mental note that "Batman comics (for example) used to be good, but now they suck," and forget about it. And once all the comics they used to like have been placed in the "now they suck" category, they're likely to forget about comics altogether.

This also suggests to me that if Marvel and DC ever get serious about attracting casual readers, they should, among other things, try to make their titles more consistent in quality by keeping creative teams as stable as possible, instead of shuffling hot creators from title to title to give a temporary boost to each in turn. (Producing fewer comics that suck would also help.)

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Saturday, July 29, 2006


I recently reread Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day, as well as some of the literary criticism on that book. Several of the critics compare it to P. G. Wodehouse's works, in particular his Jeeves books and stories. This was probably inevitable, since these works are probably the best-known twentieth-century British works centered upon a servant. But I'd like to enter a few caveats.

First off, Jeeves is NOT A BUTLER. He's a "gentleman's personal gentleman," or valet. I emphasize this because at least one of the secondary works I read makes this mistake. Second, Jeeves feels none of the reverence for Bertie Wooster that Stevens felt for Lord Darlington. On the contrary, he estimates Bertie's mental capacity, or lack thereof, quite accurately (and is far from distressed by it). And while Stevens trusted in the morality of Lord Darlington's actions, Jeeves "trusts" Bertie only to make an ass of himself whenever possible.

Nor does Jeeves serve in a "great house" or supervise a large staff, as Stevens did. And while Bertie and Jeeves are sometimes guests at country houses with large staffs, in Wodehouse such houses are far from being places where great men decide the fate of the world, as they are in The Remains of the Day (at least in Stevens' mind). The closest thing to a major issue that is ever decided at Wodehouse's country houses is the fate of Milady's Boudoir, the magazine owned and edited by Bertie's Aunt Dahlia. To be sure, an aspiring dictator does make an appearance in the Jeeves books: Roderick Spode, founder of the "Black Shorts" (all the shirts were taken). But Spode's ambitions are presented as merely ridiculous.

In fact, the most striking parallel between The Remains of the Day and Wodehouse is not with Wodehouse's work, but with his life. Bizarre as it may seem, Wodehouse, like Lord Darlington, was accused of collaborating with the Nazis. And while Wodehouse was innocent, the accusation blighted his reputation during and after the war -- though, unlike Darlington's, Wodehouse's reputation eventually recovered.

You can read the whole unhappy story in Robert McCrum's Wodehouse: A Life, or Iain Sproat's Wodehouse at War. But briefly, what happened was this: in 1940 Wodehouse and his wife were living in France. When Germany invaded France, they waited too long to try to escape and wound up trapped behind the German lines. In July 1940, Wodehouse was interned as an enemy national, first in several French prisons and then in a camp in Germany. In May 1941 the Germans suggested to Wodehouse that he record some light-hearted broadcasts on his internment experience, to be broadcast to his fans in America (they were in fact broadcast to Britain as well). This was not a disinterested offer: their motive, which they of course did not explain to Wodehouse, was to impress American public opinion with their "humaneness," and thereby make it less likely that America would enter the war. Wodehouse, failing to foresee either the use which the Nazis could make of his "cooperation" or how his actions would look viewed from Britain, agreed. Though the Germans had not suggested that he would be freed from the internment camp as a reward for doing the broadcasts, he was in fact released shortly after agreeing to the broadcasts, which only made appearances worse. The broadcasts themselves were innocuous, and Wodehouse was guilty of nothing more than stupidity. But there was a vitriolic press campaign against Wodehouse accusing him of selling out his country, which at the time was widely believed.

The relevance of all this to The Remains of the Day is questionable, to be sure, and I don't even know if Ishiguro was aware of any of it. But it struck me as interesting, and I haven't seen it discussed anywhere else, so I thought I'd mention it.

(Incidentally, one side effect of allowing comments is that I now have permalinks that work, though the old "permalinks" aren't broken. When I get time I'll convert the links in my sidebar to genuine permalinks.)

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Here are my translation notes for vol. 13 of Fruits Basket. As usual, TP stands for Tokyopop's text, JP stands for the Japanese text, and my own translation follows; and my page numbers are according to Tokyopop's edition. To convert to the Japanese edition, subtract six this time.

(Note that I make no claims for the literary value of my own "translations." While I do try to put them, when I can, into idiomatic English, my goal is solely to give people an idea of what the Japanese says. Readers can rephrase literal but awkward translations to their liking, but there's no way for non-Japanese-speaking readers to alter free translations to follow the literal meaning more closely.)

p. 33, panel 5: TP: "While the only feeling she had for her hopeless and dreaming son was regret."
JP: "...koukai ga saki ni tatte kurereba ii no ni"
"...although she should have repented before acting"

p. 44, panel 2: TP: "He's a gentle flower, and you should treat him accordingly."
JP: "Choushi ni notta gendou mo tsutsushimubeki desu yo"
I'm not quite sure about this, but a literal, if clumsy, translation might be something like "You should be careful in your unrestrained speech and behavior". At any rate, there's nothing like "he's a gentle flower" in there.

p. 49, panel 5: TP: "but also to some degree he has the same effect on people."
JP: "kedo niteru n' da sukoshi aitsu ni mo"
"but is also a little like that guy" "Aitsu" ("that guy") clearly refers to Kyou, whose image is in the panel.

p. 52, panel 3: The text in the three balloons on the bottom of the panel got mixed up. The text in the rightmost balloon should be in the middle, that in the middle balloon should be in the leftmost, and that in the leftmost balloon should be in the rightmost.

p. 64, panel 3: TP: "judging myself by others' ideas of happiness."
JP: "dochira ga yori fukou ka o hakari ni kakete"
"weighing in the balance which one is unhappier" This is another case where the Japanese text seems to make no sense in the context, because it's actually alluding to a scene which will be fully shown only later (in vol. 19, in this case). The translators have substituted something which would make sense in the current context, but which is wrong. In fact, these words and the words in the panels which immediately precede and follow this one are Manabe's recollection, not Yuki's thoughts. And the quotation marks which TP has placed around the words immediately following this quote and on top of the next page have no basis in JP.

p. 68, panels 1 and 2: TP: "For me, the 'evil' is that part of myself."
JP: "Ore ni totte no 'aku' wa sonna ore jishin da"
"For me, the 'evil' is that 'me' itself"

p. 80, panel 6: TP: "I...I might have judged him poorly..."
JP: "Watashi...watashi mo biryoku nagara nantoka..."
"I...but if I also do the little I can, somehow..." I don't know where TP's line came from.

p. 83, panel 4: TP: "And if Kureno-san were to be scolded by Akito-san on my behalf..."
JP: "Akito-san ni shikararete shimattaraba"
"If [I] were scolded by Akito-san" This is another one I'm not sure about. In the Japanese text, the grammatical subject is omitted (i.e., there is no word corresponding to TP's "Kureno-san" or my "I"). This is perfectly grammatical in Japanese, and in fact is common when the subject can be inferred from the context. In this case, I think that the natural way to read the sentence is with "I" as the subject. While TP's reading is conceivable, I don't see anything in the Japanese text, either in the part I quoted or in the rest of the panel, to support it.

I don't know where TP got "on my behalf" from. Presumably they mean "because of me," but the two phrases don't mean the same thing.

p. 84, panel 2: TP: "that the person she wants to see is in there"
JP: "aitai hito ga kono yo ni iru nara"
"if the person she wants to see is in this world"

p. 99, panel 2: TP: "are just a stone's throw away"
JP: "kono yo ni iru"
"are in this world"

p. 101, panel 4: TP: "I want to help them!"
JP: "kanatte hoshii"
"I want their wishes to be fulfilled"

p. 109, panel 5: TP truncates Momiji's speech here: in the JP, "boku no namae o dasu nda yo." ("give them my name") is followed by "Zettai ni. Zettai ni da yo," or "Definitely. Definitely." The meaining doesn't change, but the JP adds a bit to Momiji's characterization.

p. 128, panel 5: TP: "it was...the very least I could do."
JP: "saiteigen no koto shika...dekinakatta...desu"
"I could only do a tiny bit" (literally, "the minimum")

p. 128, panels 6 and 7 and p. 129, panel 1: Here again, as on p. 83, the subject is missing from the Japanese text. And the language used by Tohru implies, if taken in isolation, that the subject is "I". TP's translation isn't wrong, but in the Japanese text, Kyou's inference that Tohru is talking about herself is even more natural.

p. 131, panel 2: TP: "Is it because my outrageous wish is so disheartening?"
JP: "Tohou mo nai negai ga kokorobosoi kara?"
"Hopeless" would be better than "so disheartening" here, I think. (The TP sounds awkward, in any case.)

p. 136, panel 2: TP: "Maybe so, but this is a class trip -- there's not much we can do about it."
JP: "Sonna...shuugaku ryokou o kontei kara kutsugaesu you na hatsugen o..."
An accurate translation would be something like: "A speech like that, which undermines the foundations of the class trip..." It's no big deal, but in the JP there's a flavor to the Arisa-Yuki interaction which is missing from the TP.

p. 141, panels 5 and 6: TP: "I still feel like I shouldn't tell her."
JP: "Mada...ima wa tsugerubeki toki de wa nai you na ki ga shite"
"I still feel like now isn't the time to tell her"

When I began this blog, I decided not to have comments, for a couple of reasons. I didn't want to feel obliged to reply to comments; and I didn't want the responsibility of deleting abusive comments (and this was before the explosion of comment span). As an experiment, I'm going to try having comments. I reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason, though I don't anticipate having to do so very often -- or to drop the whole thing if it turns out to be too much trouble. And if you want to comment on my previous translation posts, you can do so here as well.

P.S.: Hi, Craig!

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006


I've started a new blog, called Completely Futile Annex to hold stuff that I want to post, but which is so spoiler-laden that I'd rather not expose people to it accidentally. (Yes, it's a kludge, but it's the easiest way to do it I could think of.) My first post there is a collection of miscellaneous, spoiler-filled remarks about Fruits Basket vol. 20. If you haven't read the volume (or chapters 114-119, if you read the chapters), I recommend that you not read the post: there are major spoilers for vol. 20, and you're really better off not being spoiled. (And no, I'm not talking about THAT spoiler; if you know about THAT you'll still be spoiled.)

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Monday, July 17, 2006


I just finished reading the Don DeLillo novel that nobody talks about. No, not Cosmopolis; I'm referring to Amazons, written by DeLillo in collaboration with a woman whose name isn't known under the pseudonym "Cleo Birdwell."* (See here for more details.) The book's subtitle is "An Intimate Memoir by the First Woman Ever to Play in the National Hockey League," which pretty much describes it (especially the "intimate" part; see below). It's narrated by "Cleo Birdwell," making it DeLillo's only novel with a first-person female narrator (and, until The Body Artist, his only novel with a female protagonist, if I'm not mistaken).

Scott Eric Kaufman has on more than one occasion expressed his dislike of DeLillo's work. What his critique ignores (in my opinion, of course) is that DeLillo can be quite funny. And Amazons is perhaps the funniest of his works, because its primary aim is comedy. Here's an example, where Cleo's agent's associate is trying to convince her to do a commercial whose script Cleo has objected to:

"'You realize this is stupid.'
"'I know it's stupid, Glenway. What I've been saying is stupid. Very stupid.'
"'It isn't stupidity that troubles me, Cleo. There is stupid everywhere. In this business, one eats and drinks stupid. One has stupid with one's coffee. There are massive doses of stupid coming from every direction, virtually around the clock. One dissolves two stupids in half a glass of water. So I don't mind stupidity. What I object to is misplaced stupidity. Do you see the distinction? You are using your stupid in an unworthy fashion. Your stupid deserves better than this. You are wasting it in a sense. You are misusing it. No one will see it for what it is." (pp. 87-88)

Its structure is somewhat similar to the first and longest part of Ratner's Star, one of DeLillo's serious, early works. Both consist mainly of the protagonist meeting a series of more or less strange people, who all want to show him/her something or asks him/her to do something; this interspersed with the protagonist's recollections of his/her past. One big difference is that Billy, the protagonist of Ratner's Star, usually responds by escaping the scene, while Cleo as often as not has sex with whoever it is. In fact, there's a lot more sex than hockey in the book. (Always heterosexual, though, despite the book's title: Cleo is the only female athlete in the book.) There are also more dispassionate descriptions of penises in this book than in any other novel I recall reading.**

If you look closely, you can find "themes" in Amazons, such as the idea of language as an attempt to impose order on the chaos of existence. This is most clearly exemplified by Cleo's recollections of the seasons in the small town of Badger, Ohio where she grew up, where everything happened at precisely the time it was supposed to. But DeLillo never forces any "themes" on the reader, as I'll admit he does in some of his other works. In fact, DeLillo pokes fun at his thematic inclinations here, as Cleo periodically worries that there isn't enough "major thematic material" in her book. (146)

Earlier, I had reread Ratner's Star, which is also a funny book. In fact, it's my favorite book of DeLillo's except perhaps for Underworld, which I'd have to read again to decide where I'd rank it. (I may be biased by the fact that, like its protagonist Billy Twillig, I was a child prodigy at math, though not nearly to the extent that Billy is supposed to be.)

Ratner's Star is divided into two parts, of which the first is longer. And both parts are "experimental" in different ways. In the first part, no character except Billy appears in more than one chapter, even this part lasts only a few days and Billy pretty much stays in one place The second part is more conventional in this respect, with a few characters interacting repeatedly. But DeLillo occasionally does something very strange in this part: he'll shift between two scenes, or two characters' perspectives, or even two characters' thoughts, within a single sentence. Here's a comparatively simple example of this last: "...Billy felt this was a man intent on compressing every second in order to discover the world-point within, a serious man, look how he enjoys his sitting, watch his scraping feet, see him exist, a man (Softly mused, of sitting men in general) concluding an infinite sequence of states of rest to begin this period of self-limiting motion." (p. 290, 1976 Knopf hardcover) As you can see, the second part can be heavy going at times; the first part is much easier reading.

It must be admitted that Kaufman's complaint that all DeLillo's characters talk alike has some validity for Ratner's Star, though not for Billy himself. But DeLillo clearly did not intend a realistic portray of social interaction.

*When I say that nobody talks about it, I'm exaggerating, but not by much: two monographs on DeLillo I looked at each devote a paragraph or two to Amazons.

**That is, the number of dispassionate descriptions is greater. I don't mean that the descriptions are more dispassionate than any other dispassionate descriptions of penises, although that might be true too.

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Monday, July 10, 2006


I just finished reading volume 20 of Fruits Basket, the most recent volume to have been published in Japan. In general, the series keeps getting better and better (though I have reservations about the last chapter in this volume). This volume and the preceding one, in particular, fully transcend the young-adultish origins of the series and are mature and complex works. And while I'll admit that the art, viewed solely as art, is nothing special, the storytelling techniques Takaya uses are very interesting. If you're seriously interested in comics as an art form, you should be reading Fruits Basket.

There are spoiler-y discussions (and there are major spoilers in this volume) of the chapters when they were serialized here, here, and here. (I won't link to each individual post: start with August, when Chapter 114, the first chapter in the volume, appeared, and view by subject.) And I plan to post some thoughts of my own in a few days (knock wood!) in another location.

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Sunday, July 09, 2006


At long last, here's Plastic Girl (Purasuchikku gaaru) by Usamaru Furuya.

In both content and format, Plastic Girl is unlike almost all manga published in the U.S. Format-wise, it's similar to the Robot anthology: like that book, it's large-size and full-color. As far as content goes, however, I know of nothing to compare it to, not even the other works of Furuya's that I've read.

Plastic Girl consists of twenty-three strange, dreamlike, at times surreal chapters, each two pages long. Each chapter stands independently, except for the last few. But they all have the same narrator and protagonist, a young girl on the cusp of adolescence. All of the chapters take place inside the narrator's head; none of them are "real." But aside from that, they can't be summed up in a single theme.

A number of them reflect her confusion about her identity. In one, she turns into a monster; in another, into a doll, who is disassembled and reassembled wrongly. Some chapters depict her alienation from her parents. And some are just weird. In one, she pretends to be dead, and when a "careless angel" approaches her, she catches it and dissects it. Going to school the next day, she ties its floating body to her backpack by its entrails, and the other girls at school soon have their own dissected angels.

The writing, while often cryptic, is haunting and ultimately poignant. But it's the art that strikes one immediately, and is most innovative. Furuya takes a different approach in almost every chapter. Some look like they were painted on canvas or cloth and then photographed. Others are painted or drawn on paper, wood, or tile. One, while painted, is made to resemble two stained glass windows. One is like a series of traditional Chinese paintings. One is a series of delicate black and white drawings. (There's a sample page from Plastic Girl in the book Manga: Masters of the Art by Timothy R. Lehmann.)

When I hear the words "painted comics," the first thought that springs to mind is "horribly pretentious." But that's not true here at all. Most painted or mixed-media comics look like they were made by artists imitating something they only half-understood. Furuya has clearly mastered the techniques he uses, and knows exactly what he's doing.

Plastic Girl is short: only forty-eight pages, including the title and copyright pages. And it's expensive for this length, costing two thousand yen (about twenty bucks; the paper is of good quality, but not glossy, which actually works better with Furuya's art). But if you care at all about comics as an artistic medium, it's absolutely worth it. If it were translated and published here, I'm convinced that the Comics Journal crowd would be blown away.

There's a widespread perception among said crowd that manga is fine for popular storytelling, but lacks works that advance comics as an art form. This is false. Certainly the vast majority of manga aim at popularity, as is true of comics everywhere. It's even possible that the ratio of popular to "art" manga is greater than the ratio of popular to "art" American comics, though one can't conclude anything from the skewed sample of manga that have been published in the U.S., or even from those imported by Japanese bookstores here. But the best "art" manga are a match for the best comics of any origin that have been published here. (I only add those last two words because I'm basically unfamiliar with Eurocomics.)

Plastic Girl is published by Kawade Shobo Shinsha, and its ISBN is 4-309-26424-7.

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