Oh my gosh, you guys, this volume! This voluuuuuume!! It killed us. I mean, not literally, obviously, but it was so darn intense. We have a theory that we've been overthinking things because we've been so tired, and Nekogahara is not the series to be working on when that is the case. But this was the last volume, so we don't have to worry about it so much. Seriously, though, I feel like it took us about three weeks to finish this book. I don't think it really did, but it felt like it. We got a first draft done, and then some other stuff came up, so we worked on that...I think. I'm not even sure I have the chronology right. But we both clearly remember that we started the edit, and we worked for two days on it, I think, and we had a half a chapter left, so we thought we could just finish it after we finished something else. So we finished a translation of Fire Force, and it was Friday night, and we thought hey, we could probably just finish this up real quick, so we pulled it out, and dang if that last chapter didn't go by super fast. Until we got to the third- and fourth-to last pages.
Takei-sensei decided to end the series with Norachiyo's theme song. The lyrics in and of themselves weren't that hard to translate, but we're over achievers, and we thought, this is a song, and counting all the syllables, we can tell Takei was being deliberate with the rhythm, so the least we can do is make it rhyme. I feel like that was a mistake, because neither of us is confident in our poetry skills, so it was a lot a lot a lot of effort that might not have even paid off. So all we can say about that is that we're sorry, and we hope our editor wasn't too put out by the whole business.
As if that wasn't bad enough, in the middle of the song was a spoken part. At first we were like, "Wheeeeeew, we don't have to rhyme anymore!" And that part did help. But there was something that was just as bad--references. Norachiyo is listing all the ways he's not like famous cats, by which I mean, he's mentioning famous aspects of other cats that he does not share. The first two were easy enough--first he said he doesn't wear boots (Puss in Boots), and second he said he doesn't say "wagahai." Fortunately for us, we went to that annoying translation panel at Anime Expo, where the category was first-person pronouns, and the question was which of them do cats use. We're still pretty determined that only the cat in Natsume Soseki's I Am a Cat actually uses that as a first-person pronoun, but the point is, now we knew what the reference was. There should be a note about all of it, but oh my goodness the research that went into it. The third one we're not sure of, but all the rest of them, we were able to use Japanese Wikipedia's list of fictional works about cats to help us find things that looked like they really could be the only candidates. And then we thought, "Hmm, most English speaking readers aren't going to get any of these references. Maybe we should provide localized alternatives." And for some reason that was super hard, too! We are just not familiar enough with famous cats, oddly enough. I think part of it is that we wanted to get references that were still in the same vein. We told our editor that if he could think of better references then please use them. Oh, but that volume still scares me. Like, I think we did a good job, but I also worry that we were too tired to really know. It makes me tired just thinking about it.
So let's get to the review. Norachiyo and friends are on their way to Hizen Province for reasons unknown to them, and Shishiwaka dreams about Amagami Shiro trying to kill him. And by the way, I think it was this volume when we finally figured out where the name Amagami Shiro came from. It might have been the last one, though. Yeah, the last one is where we found out about the pirate navy, so we probably found out about Amagami then. Anyway, the important thing is that it was a dream, and Shiro wasn't actually there to kill Shishiwaka. So after going out to the water park to calm down, Shishiwaka asks Norachiyo if he'll train him, and Norachiyo's like, nah, dude. And Shishiwaka's like, "Are you sure? I know somebody who can fix your sword..." So Norachiyo's all, "I'll think about it."
They arrive in Hizen and who should they meet but Abyhei's old sidekick Pinsuke, still wearing his cute little hairpin. Not surprisingly, Abyhei betrayed Pinsuke, too. To be honest, I wasn't sure we could trust this information from Pinsuke, because Pinsuke doesn't seem like he'd be above lying about that kind of thing, but when he revealed that Abyhei'd sliced off both of his forepaws, I was like, "Okay, yeah, you're probably sincere." Dang, that Abyhei. When he goes around ruining cat's lives, he does not go halfway. First getting a kitten addicted to drugs, then cutting off not one but both of his closest minion's hands. Also he uses wordplay, so I hate him even more. I can't help feeling sorry for Pinsuke, even after all the horrible things he did under Abyhei. But I also kind of think that whoever assassinated him probably did him a favor, the poor kitty.
Norachiyo also did him a favor by buying his whole stash of 'nip. ...But now our party was fresh out of money for lodgings and swordsmithery. And this is where the story seemed to decide to race to the finish line. I think they got all the important stuff in, but it went super duper fast. But maybe that's just the nature of ninja manga.
The cats run into the swordsmith, Tamanashi, who reveals to Norachiyo that his long sought-after master is dead. When we first got to this part, I was like, "Well, yeah, that's kind of how these things go." But when we did the edit, it hit me harder how hard that would have been on him. I mean, it was pretty much the main thing he lived for, finding his master, and now he knows he'll never get to see him again. I definitely understand why he started punching Shishiwaka for not saying anything, and I appreciate that Shishiwaka was like, "I deserve that." Shishiwaka's a good kitty. He was a jerk at first, but by the end, he's pretty awesome.
I...might have had something to say about Ishidai and the Chrisushians, but I'm not sure I did after all.
Anyway, meanwhile, Little Fold and Mukuro run into Amagami Shiro, who apparently has divine powers. There's a battle, Fold dies, Mukuro escapes, Tamanashi's house gets burned down. I gotta say, I really like Tamanashi. He's all, "I can afford to lose a house or two." Then he repeated his line about how the only thing that matters to him is that his swords are the strongest, and we were like, "He was not kidding." I think it's important to have that kind of passion.
After that, it was pretty much just fighting to the end. It was funny to us that the pirate captain had a move that he called the neko catapult, and we were like, "Do you know that's a pun already?" Like, I'm pretty sure "cat" is a word most English learners get to, so I think he probably did. Anyway, we couldn't just leave it at catapult, so we made it the kitty catapult, and now we like it even more. Short's new weapons were awesome, but enough with the wordplay for corn's sakes!
All the confrontations with Abyhei were pretty epic. There's not really a lot more to say about that. Norachiyo beats him, but nobody's surprised. We find out that Amagami Shiro's "divine powers" are really just smoke and mirrors and catnip. Now I remember what it was I wanted to say about the Chrisushians. Based on Shishiwaka's experiences in previous volumes, it seemed like this series might not be too friendly toward Christianity, but thanks to Tamanashi, we know that Takei doesn't think all Christians are bad. On the one hand, you have Shishiwaka who, very understandably, went through a crisis of faith and isn't sure he believes any of these guys anymore, but then you have Tamanashi, who's able to look at it and say, "Yeah, these guys said they were working for God, but they were lying." So I really appreciated that. And then of course we jump ahead to the future when they've all aged a few years, and gotten several feet taller, and Shishiwaka has started his own church. I agree that your salvation depends on you, but I don't think I agree wholeheartedly with Shishiwaka's philosophy. We also believe in grace. None of our efforts are worth anything without the Atonement.
And that all reminds us of Shiro's girls, who had a long speech that they shared that we might not have had the brain energy to grasp all the nuances of (we're sorry!), but one of the things they said was that the people in power set up fake enemies for the public to fight, and while the masses are distracted with those false enemies, the people in power solidify their power. And we were like, "...whoa." What we're saying is, we think our nation is too polarized, and once again, this bizarre samurai cat series is making some very interesting political commentary.
Finally, we return to Norachiyo, to see that many years later, he has resumed his quest for his master...only now he's just searching for his grave. He has an encounter much like the one at the very beginning of the series--with the descendants of the cats from that same encounter. He manages to defeat them and carry on, but he is old, tired and wounded. There's a theme song, which I think is simultaneously awesome and the Worst Thing, and then... Oh man, I was so tired and so unable to really focus on anything by the time we got to the end, but just those last two pages with almost no text had me crying and crying. I get teary just thinking about them. I'm not going to spoil it (frankly, it's not really a surprise), but oh... Oh, Norachiyo... He finally gets to be with his master. Okay, I spoiled it. I'm sorry, I just had to say it, because I'm so happy for him, but it's so bittersweet. I guess I get really choked up when it comes to pets and the people who love them. Aww, I'm crying!
Anyway. This series...was definitely odd. I think it was a lot of fun, as series go, but not so much as translations go. It was definitely a challenge, and we're afraid it may have defeated us. But despite its sometimes very crude humor, it was a beautiful series--I think it could go up there right next to the picture of Indiana Jones in the definition of shibui. And I'm glad we got to work on it, but also a little glad that it's over. I hope the next time we get a challenge like this, we have more brain energy to confront it with. And more time. But anyway, thanks Nekogahara, for being another great series.
Aww, what a bizarre but fun series. I hope all y'all who read it really liked it! And if you haven't had a chance to check it out, I invite you to do so!
Now if we're not too spaced out tomorrow, I think we'd like to post another review, so tune in for our review of Sailor Moon Eternal Edition volume two! Woohoo!!!
Today I'm thankful for getting to work on the deliciously peculiar Nekogahara, having a good time at the Relief Society activity tonight, the finale of Gakuen Basara having lots of action, having a pretty good spot to watch the fireworks from last night, and it being almost time to sleep.