About Me

When not at work with students, I spend my time in my room either reading, calculating something using pen and paper, or using a computer. I read almost anything: from the pornographic to the profound, although my main interests are mathematics and physics. "When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes." -Erasmus

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Light novels, Translations, and komiks

Aside from reading novels and playing games, one of my guilty pleasures is japanese pop culture, in the form of anime and manga. I'm happy that the net has made this form of entertainment more mainstream than it was back when I was an undergrad, and as a result of this interest, it has become a lot easier to get a hold of new anime and manga.

I remember how hard it was to get access to new anime, and  it was a big deal for me then when university student organizations had an anime film showing. It's so unlike today where it's easy to find DVD's of subbed anime, or streamed fansubs. I remember watching the Ruruoni Kenshin OVA, as well as the first few episodes of Chobits during one such film showing, and the net was a lot slower then so that streamed videos were impossible to watch. 

One reason I like anime and manga is the cultural difference; after being saturated by American movies and tv shows, anime and manga provide a refreshing change. Looking for the roots of the anime I liked was what first led me to manga (after finding out that Ruruoni Kenshin was originally from manga), and then later, I learned about anime and manga that had further roots in light novels.

Light novels are roughly the equivalent of teen and young adult novels in Japan. Many light novels were originally published in serial form. If some light novels became commercially successful, they were compiled and released in book form. (It reminds me of Dickens: many of his novels, such as David Copperfield, were originally serialized.  A local example might be Laro Sa Baga, which was serialized in Liwayway magazine, although given its mature-only content, doesn't exactly fit the teen or young adult classification.)   

But in some ways, I think that light novels are sometimes a lot more subtle than the typical young adult books written in English. (Which is why I used the qualifier "roughly equivalent") The reason, I think, is the peculiar way that Japanese writing, in the sense of physically making marks on paper, evolved.

I've learned that the Japanese written language consists of at least four kinds --a syllable-based script for native words, another syllable based script for foreign loan words (more than two forms of kana!), Roman letters (Romaji), and archaic Chinese characters (Kanji)-- so learning to read all four takes a lot of effort. If I remember right, early Japan was a cultural vassal of China. In the same way that Filipinos learn English today, the early Japanese learned Chinese. 

Unfortunately, written Chinese is in character form, and that means for every word, there is a unique character. This is different from European alphabets that, in most cases, use sound as the basis of writing. For example, to learn written English, you only need 26 letters, and you build syllables from the letters, and from the syllables, you build words, that is, a phonetic system. Now compare this to a system of writing where you have a symbol for each word. If you have 4000 commonly used words, then that means 4000 characters. A Chinese typist definitely deserves a lot of respect.  

Learning Kanji is probably one of the most irksome tasks that a well-educated Japanese person has to go through. In fact, after learning about this horrible fact, I lost all interest in  learning Japanese writing.   (Although I'm still hoping to learn spoken Japanese). So what would publishers of Japanese novels do if they want to reach a wider market? One way is to create novels that mainly use kana and commonly used Kanji: the light novel.

Since most readers who have difficulty with Kanji would probably be teens or young adults without an extensive knowledge of Kanji, light novels came to be associated with teens and young adults. But I think that it's a tad misleading. I've watched some anime that I think are quite sophisticated-- for example, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya does a lot with its dialogue. And I discovered that it was originally a light novel series.  

Although I've known about light novels for quite some time, it was only recently that I found light novel translations. Although I did a search for light novel translations some time ago, I couldn't find them then. It was only after I got curious about the light novels underlying the Sword Art Online manga that I started searching for  light novel translations again. So right now, I've quit gaming and instead spent the last week reading a few light novels. The fan translation groups have a wiki, Baka-Tsuki, and I started following a few ongoing series as a result. Some series, such as Kaze No Stigma, were old friends because I watched the whole series through streaming websites, and so the reading was faster because I was already familiar with it, and I could focus on the differences between the light novel and the anime (the light novel features a more ruthless and violent Kazuma). 

Some light novels not in the wiki can be found in the blogs of other translators. One such light novel that I'm following is Sayonara Piano Sonata. It's not, however, a direct Japanese to English translation. Since the translator has Chinese as his mother tongue, his translations are actually translations of Chinese translations of the original Japanese light novels. I don't have a problem with that because even a second-hand translation is better than having no translation at all. And the Engrish isn't bad-- university students in the Philippines would be happy to have his command of English! So I can only be grateful that somebody put in the effort. 

Which makes me wish that I could also do my own scanlations. But since (1) the only languages I know are English, Filipino, and Fortran, and (2) I'm supposed to be working on a dissertation, that seems to be out. I do think that there are Filipino komiks (the local term for comic books) that deserve to be scanlated. I remember such titles as Ding Abubot Junior's Voltes Juan (serialized in Silangan komiks). A more recent example of excellent komiks is  Carlo Vergara's "Ang Kagila-gilalas na Pakikipagsapalaran ni Zsa-Zsa Zaturnah" (for this one, I can already imagine the headache that the scanlator would have!). It's sad that the komiks that used to be sold at newspaper stands disappeared. Which makes me wonder: where have all the komiks gone?