St. Oniisan. Oh wait, they're officially calling it Saint Young Men in English now. When we were offered the title, everybody kept calling it St. Oniisan (or Saint Oniisan, or St. Onii-san, I don't remember exactly, but you get the point), so we weren't really sure. I mean, every time a chapter title shows up, it very clearly says Saint Young Men in English, so on the one hand, you'd think we should have known, but in our defense, if that's the case, and all the people in charge had read the series (and at least one of them indicated that they had), we thought maybe there was a reason they weren't calling it Saint Young Men, and so we stuck with Onii-san for a while. But we've been informed now, and we know it's supposed to be Saint Young Men. We still call it St. Oniisan when we talk about it, though, and I'm not sure if that's out of habit or because it's easier to say.
Anyway. The story of our encounter with Saint Young Men. We'd heard about it, naturally, because when it was relatively new everybody was like, "Whoa, that's a crazy idea! Too bad they'll never release it here!" I remember back when we were on Twitter, a manga expert said if you can think of it, there's probably a manga about it, so I said how about [Latter-day Saints]? and she said, "Oh, good point. Maybe Brigham Young will make an appearance in Saint Young Men." At the time, I was so impressed that someone outside of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had heard of Brigham Young that I didn't realize a lot of people seem to think he started the whole church, so I didn't inform her that the Church of Christ was actually restored by Joseph Smith, but that's probably just as well. One less opportunity for me to be an insufferable know-it-all.
I think that was about the last I'd registered the title in my consciousness until we were perusing Kodansha Japan's free online samples for the very petty reason of comparing a series with its English version. As we looked for the title we had in mind, the image for Saint Young Men 16 caught my eye. I had a very vague beginning of a thought that I think was going to be, "I wonder if we'll end up working on that." But it wasn't as concrete as that--more like a, "I feel like this series and I are connected somehow."
A few days later, Anime News Network posted the list of bestselling manga for that week, and there was Saint Young Men 16, and that feeling returned and vanished again. A few days after that, we got the email from a Kodansha editor. He explained that it was a very sensitive series, and they wanted someone who would treat the subject matter with respect, so he thought of us. But he also said he understood that the nature of the series might make us uncomfortable, and also it would probably be handled by the digital branch which tends to lead to less-than-ideal circumstances, so we could turn down the offer if we felt we needed to.
And let me tell you, we agonized over this one longer than we had agonized over a manga offer in a long time. Personally, we're not put off by the premise. If Buddha is really a benevolent guy (and from the research we've done so far, it seems like he super is), I believe Jesus would be friends with him in real life. The problem, as we saw it, was two-fold. One, it's a comedy, which puts it in the territory of irreverence. We read some online samples and determined that the portrayal of Jesus was definitely not consistent with our perception of Him. And that leads us to our second issue, which is that the policy in the Church of Jesus Christ (to which we belong) is, when portraying Jesus in plays, videos, stories, etc., you do not put words in His mouth. In other words, His dialogue comes straight from the scriptures. We figured this policy mostly applies to things that are affiliated with the Church, and this would certainly not be, but we still weren't sure if it was okay. Of course we prayed and prayed about it, but we only had a day to decide before the meeting where our editor was going to nominate us, and there were no lightning-like obvious answers. So we called Mom. She said she thinks Heavenly Father has a sense of humor, so the comedy thing is probably fine, but we might want to check with our bishop to make sure we don't get in trouble re: the church policy thing. So we emailed him...and he didn't get back to us in time.
So we emailed our editor and said that we were undecided. We weren't offended by the subject matter, but we hadn't decided if we would be comfortable translating it or not, so go ahead and suggest us, but maybe give other translators more weight.
After that, we did hear from our bishop, and he basically said he thinks it would be fine (sorry about the confidentiality thing!), and the more we thought about it, the more we thought we probably were the best people for the job (it sounds super arrogant, but I can't deny that it's what we thought; we are among the most note-writingest translators in the biz, after all), but we never heard back from our editor, so we figured maybe they'd chosen someone else, and I was a little sad about it.
And that's why, when the project manager from the digital branch emailed us and asked us if we'd do it, we readily agreed! Tadah! And that's how it all started.
Now as for our feelings, having translated a volume...actually, we kind of hate it. But I assure you, the majority of that hatred comes from all the research we have to do. I mean, we don't have to do the research; we could just leave everything there and let the readers do their own darn research, but that's not how we roll. I mean, it is sometimes; we didn't note all the cat names in Nekogahara or the world mythology references in Fire Force. But for Sailor Moon, Noragami, and this, we're noting almost everything we can. Except for the one time they went to the convenience store and there was a shelf with a bunch of parody foods, and we looked up one of them and Google didn't immediately help us figure out what it was a parody of, so we said forget it, we have a billion notes already, and Buddha's towel on the same page, which... We tried to find that one, we really did. It came up in discussions with the team later, so we tried again, and we think it might be a reference to myrobalans, a fruit used in Buddhist medicine, but there was more to it than that and we couldn't fit all the pieces together. And all the Japanese bloggers with their lists of the t-shirts and what they're references to helped not at all. But anyway, I'm sure there's an average of approximately one translation note for every two pages of manga. In the earlier chapters, it felt like we had to do a note for each panel. It was nuts. And as usual, we were crunched for time (especially frustrating since we set the deadline for this volume ourselves--we knew we'd have to write a lot of notes, but we had no idea it would be SO many), so the start-and-stop pace was really getting on our nerves. I don't know if it's better or worse that the dialogue, on the other hand, was actually pretty easy to deal with. Probably better, all things considered, but it is a little frustrating to think that this series would be super easy if we didn't have to write any notes.
Anyway. The other reason we dislike it has less to do with its merit as a series, or anything to do with being offended from a religious perspective, but more to do with being offended from a geek perspective. Because all the stuff Jesus and Buddha are doing in order to have that zany life is stuff where we're like, "But He wouldn't do that..." based on all the scriptures and everything we've read. It's like when they made Beauty and the Beast, and then they made another Beauty and the Beast that was supposedly a remake of the first one, but they totally missed the point and the personalities of the characters and everything. The most obvious example I can think of off the top of my head is Buddha and his aversion to spending money (in the manga). I know very little about Buddhism, but what I do know is that the main point of it is to get to a point where you have no worldly desires. So when he tells Jesus to only buy a souvenir if he needs it, that makes sense, because in Buddhism you're not supposed to want unnecessary things, but as the manga goes on, it seems like he just wants to save money for saving money's sake, and the attitude just doesn't seem right.
[ETA: The better analogy, which I came up with later is this. Let's say in all these Marvel Cinematic Universe, Disney tried to pass Goofy off as Captain America. We like Goofy well enough--he's a fun guy, pretty nice, etc. But he's not Captain America. In this series, Jesus is portrayed more like Goofy, when we believe Him to be much more like Captain America.]
That all being said, if I put my perceptions of these major figures aside, the series does have some legitimately funny humor. It's kind of tricky, though, because some of the humor does rely on the gimmick, and because I'm biased, I can't tell if it would have been funny on its own, or if it's just funny because of the gimmick. Or, in our case, not funny because we're not impressed by the gimmick. And then there are the things where the story just got it wrong. Jesus never actually turned stones into bread! And we've read later chapters, so we know that's going to be a running gag. But that's part of why we wanted to do it, so we can set the record straight. And in the series's defense, if the characters weren't supposed to be actual Buddha and Jesus, we would probably like them pretty well. I also really appreciate that the jokes aren't vulgar, and that the author still treats them like holy men.
We had a bit of a hard time with the don't-feed-the-cats chapter, because we've been feeding the cats around our apartment and we've gotten notices from the management to stop. The difference is, our apartment does allow pets, and there's nothing in the lease against feeding them (as far as we know...).
We also wanted to point out, in regard to the discussion about religious art, that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has tons of pictures of Jesus that are not of Him suffering or on the cross. We have a lot of prolific artists, so I think almost every notable scene in the Gospels has been covered by at least one of them (if for no other reason than that we also have an illustrated New Testament Stories book for children). I think there's even more than one of Him at the temple in Jerusalem when He was twelve. There are also several pictures of Him with sheep, because the Good Shepherd and everything.
Anyway, with all that being said, our reactions to what happens in the series are so mixed up, I'm not sure if we'll be able to write decent reviews of the series. I think we'll keep trying for now. But even this review, I'm trying to think about reactions to what happened and I'm having a hard time remembering...mostly because it was such a blur.
We remember the roller coaster, and we were still pleased that the theme park resembled Disneyland. We're pretty sure Black Sunday Mountain is a hybrid of Big Thunder Mountain and the Haunted Mansion. There was the part right before they went off on the coaster where the cast member advised people with certain conditions not to ride. I felt like the wording of that could have been more official-sounding, but deliberately opted to keep "due to risk of death," because it hits you more, so in my mind it's funnier. We haven't worked with the editor on this series before, though, so we don't know how likely anything is to be changed. And I must say I was amused at the observation about Tinky Bell's skirt.
I remember the stuff with the yakuza guy, but maybe for reasons that are unfair. When we were doing our research to decide if we should translate the series, we came across an old article from the Guardian about it. It was in English and everything, so we sent the link to our bishop when we asked him if he thought it would be okay for us to accept the assignment. In the article, I think it said that the yakuza guy thought Jesus was from the mob because of turning the pool water into wine, so one of the reasons I remember that stuff is that it made me think, "Oh, I guess the writer of that article didn't really know Japanese when she read the manga." It reminded us of another reviewer who, when VB Rose was canceled, did everyone the favor of reading the last two volumes and telling his readers what happened, and he said that Ageha's big conflict was that her grades were bad. (For you non-VB Rose fans out there, what really happened was that Ageha was faced with choosing a career path, because that happens in Japanese high schools, and she was freaking out because she didn't know what she wanted to do.)
The cotton candy! We did get more Asian style cotton candy once at Anime Expo, and it was stickier to the touch than American cotton candy generally is, but I still have a hard time imagining the scenario presented in the manga. And my opinions on characterization aside, I always like hyperbole, so the thing about Judas-level betrayal amused me.
I will say that I'm kind of enjoying learning all the stuff we're learning about Buddha. I feel like it would be easier if it weren't in random bits and pieces as they're presented in the manga, but anyway, he seems like a pretty cool guy (I do wonder about him leaving his wife and son, but the details on that story are not something that have become relevant). We do suspect that most of the Buddha-related material comes from the manga artist's own reading of Osamu Tezuka's Buddha manga, and we think that reading it ourselves will be a big help in working on this series, but we haven't found the time to do it. Maybe soon.
Also, I kind of suspected they wouldn't really get a DS Lite at the festival, but I'm still a little bummed out about it. And in awe about an eraser that size.
...And I think that covers it for our feelings on this volume. Or at least the ones I remember and/or can articulate. We hope that this series will get people interested in finding out more about the real lives of Buddha and Jesus.
And there you have it. We're just a little bit farther along in the series now, and we're still always crunched for time when we work on it, so we haven't had much time to look at it in a more objective light, but it's coming up on our list again (after three...and a half other things), so we'll see.
We just checked our to-be-posted list and learned that Fire Force 15 came out on our birthday! Huzzah! And I don't think I said anything about it, but Hatsu*Haru 6 came out last week, so tune in next week for our review of it!
Today I'm thankful for getting to sleep in this morning, still finishing our work quota for today, exciting happenings in UQ Holder, getting to learn more about Buddha, and still having a fair amount of birthday goodies to look forward to. And especially the birthday present lyschan warned us about! (It's been ordered but hasn't arrived.)