Nabari no Ou
The assignment for this series came after we confirmed to our boss that yes, we are interested in translating shounen manga. I think it was around the time...okay, so at one point Steve discovered that there was an anime club at the local high school, and I don't know why or how, but somehow we ended up doing a guest presentation type thing. So we visited their club and talked about what we do, and we realized that we might not have a lot of stuff on our resume that would appeal to the boys in the group. Soon thereafter, Yen Press Boss comes along and asks if we'd be interested in translating some shounen manga, and the problem is solved!
...Or so we thought. We're not really convinced that GFantasy is a shounen magazine. Saiyuki started in GFantasy, and we know for a fact that the anime of that series was aimed at teenage girls. The series itself is...well, frankly it just seems pretty girl-targeted. I couldn't explain exactly why we think that, but it probably has a lot to do with gender ambiguity and slashability to the point of seeming deliberate...like CLAMP. On the other hand, I guess CLAMP has done some shounen manga, and definite shounen manga tends to be fairly slashable... Anyway, the point is, while it's probably not something the boys in that club would avoid, it didn't seem like something they'd seek out, either.
This series presented some interesting challenges, because of the whole ninja thing. There are a lot of ninja techniques that get used, and we were faced with the choice of translating the chants or leaving them in Japanese. When we started the series, we had recently been watching Twelve Kingdoms via Netflix, and oh my goodness, so much new vocabulary invented for the series! It really bogged us down and made it hard for us to know what was going on, so ultimately we decided that it would be best to keep Japanese terms to a minimum, and translate things where feasible. So we came up with translations for all the chants, but we left the original Japanese as alternatives, since in the end, it all comes down to what the editor wants. I think some of the technique names ended up being the same as some moves that show up in Pokemon (Leaf Veil, for example...or did we use Leaf Evade? Or were there both? Oh my goodness, it was a long time ago), but that was unintentional.
We ordered a book on the way of the ninja, written by a real life ninja! He said that the real color of the ninja is not black, it's rainbow, because how are you supposed to blend in with everything if you're wearing black all the time? I guess that's just proof that ninjas didn't only ninja at night. We never got around to reading the book all the way through, though. When we first got it, we were working hard to get a translation turned in on time, so we only skimmed for relevant information. After that, out of sight, out of mind. The book stayed on top of our little cabinet where we kept our Disney DVDs until the apartment fire, and now it is Packed.
This series also introduced us to the work of Johann Strauss II. There's a whole story arc named after his Thunder and Lightning polka...well, sort of. It was named after Raimei and Raikou, the two samurai-ninja characters, but Raikou's lackey was listening to the polka the whole time on his portable music player. We downloaded the polka ourselves from Amazon to listen to while we translated, and we really liked it. Later, when the Classic Composers CD collection sent us a CD of Strauss's music, he turned out to be one of our favoritest composers! Yay!
Oh, but speaking of Raimei. I think she presents the first example of flaws in the storytelling of this series. She's supposed to have this thing where she gets so focused on whatever's in her own head that she'll talk to random strangers, thinking they're the person she was originally talking to but failing to notice that that person has moved somewhere else. The first example happens when she's trying to talk to Miharu, but it just came across as Miharu using his ninja skillz to get away from her...oh wait, that was the second example. The first one was when she first showed up and started fighting Kouichi, intending to destroy the ninja who has the secret art (Miharu). Kouichi tries to tell her she has the wrong guy and she persistently fight him anyway. But that doesn't come across as her being in her own head; it comes across as her never having met either of them and thinking that Kouichi is lying to avoid death. The third example finally shows that it's because of her failure to pay attention...because the person she tried to talk to pointed it out. The reader never got a chance to really see that it was a thing she does. At least, we didn't.
Oh right, the summary. There's a super secret ninja art that basically gives whoever masters it power to do anything ever...and it belongs to Miharu Rokujo. He doesn't want to use it--he just wants to live a normal, boring life, but people are out to kill him for it, so he gets wrapped up in a big ninja war. There's a lot of info dumping, which led to our coming to LiveJournal and whining about how when will they stop talking and start killing each other!? The exposition was really hard to translate, because a lot of the time the easy translation came across as, "Here are some modifying clauses that I normally wouldn't bother with but I have to because the audience needs to know what's going on!" I specifically remember a scene with the mind-reading ninja telling a guy she knew since middle school that she knew him since middle school, even though he already recognized her and probably already knew.
We were also extremely, extremely annoyed with her portrayal of twins. I mean, I'm probably the first person to say that a character in fiction isn't trying to represent all people in the group to which they happen to belong, but I think in this case it was a little harder to say that, one, because I happen to belong to that group, too, but two and more importantly, the characters were never given enough personality/depth/character to set them apart as their own characters. So basically their only personality trait was "twins," which is not supposed to be a sole defining characteristic. To make matters worse, one of the twins dies (so cliche), and the other one freaks out not just because of losing their closest friend, but also because s/he (they were boy/girl twins...we think?) couldn't tell if s/he was the live one or the dead one. So much eye-rolling.
SPOILER WARNING! (If you have not read the end of the series and don't want to be spoiled, SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH!)
The other main eye-roll inducer was the big secret that Kumohira had been keeping all this time. Apparently Miharu got killed, and his mom used the secret art to bring him back to life. And apparently there was something really wrong about that. There was no explanation as to why that's wrong, except that, "Everyone knows that's wrong, okay?" Everyone knows it's wrong to mess with life and death, so even though it's okay to kill as many people as you want as long as you're prepared to be killed yourself, you never EVER bring them back to life, even if the Universe has granted you and you alone the power to do so. Apparently. It just needed a little more explaining to back it up, I think.
Eh heh heh... I didn't mean for this to be a critic fest. I just think that the issues we had with this series are representative of a lot of issues we see in fiction these days--the authors/writers don't always think things through all the way, and they need to realize that their audience isn't necessarily going to buy into the "because that's how everybody thinks, isn't it?" reasoning.
Anyway, on the translation difficulty scale, I think I'll give this one an eight. It wasn't the hardest thing ever, but it did present some interesting challenges.
As for favorite character...at first it was Kumohira, but then he got annoying, so then it was Kouichi because he was all mysterious and stuff, and he was still a little cool after his mystery was solved...but then he got annoying, too, so I think ultimately it was Raikou? Yeah, let's go with that. And oh yeah! Yukimi. And his sister. They were both pretty cool. Even if Yukimi had to sacrifice his arm to the series' edginess.
Today I'm thankful for amusing coincidences, finally finding that quote that's quoted in Saiyuki Ibun, getting to have kettle corn for a snack, having purchased tickets to Disney on Ice, and finding the surname database.