I’ve been having conversations here and there about this, so I figured I’d collect some of my thoughts here.
So, DMI has announced the licensing of Yoneda Kou’s much loved Saezuru Tori wa Habatakanai and its expected release sometime during the summer of 2014. In the states, summer is typically considered to run through June, July, and August. This means we won’t be seeing it until this time next year or at a stretch, as late as the end of September. At least one of the unofficial translators has ceased distribution of the title and knowing the other, they’ll most likely do the same. And while I’m sure some crew who wants to throw caution to the wind will make attempts at releasing it “underground” (which, by the way, is a very strange concept to exist within a fundamentally underground sector), I don’t think it’s worth the effort. This concerns me in the same way DMI’s localization concerns me.
While Yoneda’s other works are more accessible as far as content and intended audience–though Yorube Naki Mono might have turned out to be an exception, but we’ll probably never know–Saezuru seems to be written for a specific audience: the well-read, well-rounded Japanese fujoshi. And as such, Yoneda has used a great number of references and terminology specific to her culture and the Yakuza sub-culture throughout the story. Where Japanese is concerned, even in something seemingly innocuous as advertisements, there are concepts that do not translate well into English and approximations will have to suffice. And let’s not even talk about the pun. Personally, I love seeing T/Ns that not only explain the difficult to translate concepts but also inform me of the translator’s harrowing experiences in researching and grasping the concepts themselves. I appreciate that kind of effort and dedication. And it’s this in particular that leads me to side-eye any one who takes on the task of translating Saezuru.
If even seasoned and skilled translators are wiping their brow over Saezuru text, the casual translators, particularly the ones who willingly advertise their low skill level and apologize for it as they offer up their efforts for distribution, should steer clear. Excitement and intention can only go so far. Saezuru is not a sacred text remaining untouchable but by only the chosen few, but it is an extremely well crafted story with no spare words and meaning in all of those that grace the page, so to take the task of translating it lightly, is, in my opinion, disrespectful to Yoneda (even more so than unofficially translating might be in the first place), the story, and the readers. This is one title that will not read the same if certain terms are localized; DMI should take the dedicated route and add a glossary of terms and concepts for this title. There are many aspects of the story and its translation that have sparked discussion after discussion, bringing about speculations regarding the characters’ futures and pasts as well as urging readers to dig deeper into the mind of the wonder that is Yoneda Kou. It won’t end well if the continuation of the unofficial or the start of the official translation doesn’t manage to precipitate the same kind of reaction; more so for the latter. Which brings me to back to the title of this post.
The only quality I can be sure of when it comes to DMI’s titles is the physical construction of their print releases. I know, unless man-handled, their books will not easily fall apart. However, when it comes to the treatment of the interior content, I relinquish all expectations and just take the product page by typo-ridden page. Thank goodness Saezuru is not a novel; due to the sheer volume of text in comparison to manga, it’s worse for novels. Expectations are the quickest routes to disappointment. I believe typos should be considered defects thus making books containing them returnable. Why is this not standard practice? It is no secret that, particularly for the BL imprints, the QA stage of DMI’s production cycle is severely lacking. And, although not horribly inaccurate, some of their translations leave something to be desired. With few alternatives, we’re often forced to accept it, but, truthfully, the errors that make it to print are avoidable and should be, by their standards as well, unacceptable. I say this both as a reader and as someone who has worked in compliance and QA for a multimedia advertising company.
On one hand, the English reading fu-hito are rejoicing at the licensing of Saezuru, but on the other hand, things like typos, questionable translations, lack of color inserts, the possibility of the unsightly Juné’ banner, and the tragedy that was No Touching at All, keep us from being truly excited. If I hadn’t read the unofficial translation first, No Touching at All–a title which sounds, at best, like a silly game and at worst, like something said when warning kids to keep away from pedophiles–would have been a pretty decent story, even re-readable, but I don’t believe it would have made Yoneda immediately eligible for a place on the list. Up to that point she had some one shots and some incomplete series, so I had a taste for her work and enjoyed them quite a bit, but if it was the official translation, she wouldn’t have taken a hold of me the way she did. It’s odd, but the main difference between the official and the unofficial translation is characterization of Shima. With the exception of some debatable translations (on both sides), all of the other characters seem to be pretty much the same. In the unofficial translation, Shima has a quick wit, a sharp tongue, and, all things considered, is pretty comfortable with himself, nevertheless, he has his guard (at first, much to Shima’s chagrin, only penetrable by Togawa) up most of the time and that tends to obscure some of those qualities; occasionally making him come off as timid. I think Shima is more cautious than scared, though considering his past, being both is not out of the question, but I don’t think he is without courage. In Juné’s translation, Shima is timid, kind of whiny and just comes of as kind off weak. Yoneda has written timid characters, but she doesn’t write weak ones. Juné’s Shima did not endear himself to me and that made it hard for me to see how he endeared himself to Togawa. So it became a different story. Is this what we have to look forward to?
Something else that worries me is “title pending.” DMI’s choice of how to translate the title will be the cardinal indicant of how seriously they plan to take Saezuru Tori wa Habatakanai‘s localization. As I mentioned and as you know, every word has meaning. And if for no other reason but to keep the cover intact, Saezuru should be an 801 Media title, but they’ve left the imprint conspicuously absent from all media announcements. Taking such things into account, how can we look towards next summer’s release with anything but dimly lit sparkles in our eyes?
Not that we could have impacted the negotiations one way or another, but I’d much prefer it if SuBLime had been able to snag the license, not that they are without their own issues, though, by comparison, they are significantly less distracting than Juné’s. Unfortunately, as a SuBlime release, that gorgeous cover would be ruined, but until we become publishers ourselves, these are things we’ll have to deal with.