Higurashi: When They Cry
This is a series we had seen the anime of before we got the manga assignment. It was one of those series that we felt drawn to despite it being the type of thing we tend to avoid. The first episode of the anime started with a brutal beating (shown in silhouette, so it wasn't too bloody, but still), and then it went into the opening sequence, and the character designs were so cute. Normally with a series that starts the way this anime did, even if the character designs do have some appeal, the color is sucked out of everything so it all looks very monochrome (like the sixth Harry Potter movie). But this series was just the opposite--there were bright colors everywhere (but not so bright as to be garish). And to top it all off, the main guy was played by our favorite voice actor of the time. The rest of the episode was hardly scary at all, too, so even though the contrast made it a little extra scary when the scary stuff happened, we weren't constantly feeling adrenaline as we watched, so that was nice. We watched the entire first anime series, and by the end it seemed to get almost happy, and it had good messages about friendship, so overall we decided it was good.
Nevertheless, we did feel some trepidation about accepting the manga assignment. But we wanted it anyway, so accept it we did, and now it holds the record for longest series we translated all the way through.
The series is about a boy, Keiichi, who has recently moved to the tiny village of Hinamizawa. He makes new friends and everything is going great until Detective Ooishi comes along and tells him about a series of mysterious deaths that's been happening every year on the night of the upcoming Cotton Drifting Festival. Some people attribute the deaths to Oyashiro-sama's Curse--the village's guardian deity was offended when the government tried to build a dam that would flood the village, giving it a new home at the bottom of a lake. But the more practical detective thinks it's probably murder, and suspects Keiichi's friends (one of whom has ties to the Japanese mafia) are involved. Part of the appeal is that it really is very difficult to tell, especially toward the beginning of the series, if the deaths are supernatural or not.
As the series goes on, the stories become more than pure entertainment and start to have important themes about friendship, communication, fear, etc. In fact, the author specifically designed a character who shows up later to demonstrate that we only fear things because we don't really know them, and once we get to know them, we realize there's nothing to be afraid of.
This series is probably not the first series where we started trying to be less lazy in our translations, but I think it might be one of the first. There's a little girl character, Rika, who ends all her sentences with "desu," whether it's grammatically correct or not. The lazy way to deal with it is to either leave it in as "desu" or ignore it entirely. Because we'd seen the anime, we knew there was a little bit more to Rika than meets the eye, and we figured the "desu" thing was important--or rather, it would be important to keep it in somehow, because of the contrast when she stops using it. But keeping it in there as "desu" really didn't seem like a good idea.
Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on who you ask), we had recently played through Final Fantasy VIII again, and there's a very minor character who was told that to avoid getting in trouble, he just had to remember to call people "sir." It made sense to us that the original version of that was that he was told to avoid trouble by remembering to say "desu," and so we stole the idea. As a result, Rika's dialogue has been compared to Marcy from the Peanuts comic, which actually isn't too bad a comparison, since she does always follow Satoko around, kind of like Marcy and Peppermint Patty, but Satoko's personality is much more like Lucy's, which we hope came across in the translations. More importantly, I hope her very girly speech pattern came through.
Rena posed another interesting challenge, because she had a habit of repeating the last two syllables of her sentences, which often were "ka na," two particles indicating uncertainty. But the thing about her repeating "kana" specifically, is that that is the sound a higurashi cicada makes when it cries: kana kana kana. See what Ryukishi 07 did there? Yeah. Thinking back on it, we probably could have made her say, "Hum." at the end of her sentences. Oh man, that could have worked so well. Darn it darn it darn it. We blame our lack of experience. Instead, we dealt with it the more common way (just having her repeat stuff), and left a translation note.
This isn't the first time we've kicked ourselves about Rena. It wasn't until after we'd been translating Higurashi for a while that we learned Rena was named after a character in Final Fantasy V, whose English-version name is Lenna. Someone pointed out that if we had spelled the name Lenna, the fans would have lynched us, but if they were true fans and we had a note, I think they would have understood. And more importantly, it would have made a lot more sense when Keiichi commented that Lenna was a weird name, because it's obviously not Japanese. And when they found out her real name was Reina, it would have seemed like a more significant difference. As it is, it's like in Sailor Moon: "What!? Princess Serena was Serena this whole time!?" Yeeeah.
Interesting side note, when Dissidia Final Fantasy came out, the FF5 hero was voiced by the same actor as Keiichi.
One interesting extra challenge we had with Higurashi came in the form of an interview published in Yen Plus Magazine. The interview was performed by Yen Press, and the questions came from a pretty well-known (in the American manga world) manga guru, but one who wasn't comfortable enough with his Japanese to ask them in Japanese himself. So we had our first job translating from English into Japanese. It was actually a little scary, because if we failed to use the proper honorifics and somebody got offended, it was all on us. Fortunately, Ryukishi 07 seems like a really nice guy. Also, we had a bunch of interviews with our favorite manga artists to refer to, to see how these types of questions generally get asked in Japanese.
As for overall translation difficulty, sometimes it was hard, and sometimes it was easy, but mostly it was easy. We really appreciated the picture-to-text ratio...except in some scenes, like when Keiichi snapped and it had all his thought processes in the background of how to deal with Satoko's problem. Oh, and whenever the scary punks showed up. Because the series takes place in multiple arcs, Square-Enix thought it would be cool to release them as simultaneously as possible, with different artists taking charge of each one. I don't remember who did the manga for the Cotton Drifting and Eye Opening Arcs, but whenever she had those punks show up, I'm convinced she just pulled out an English dictionary and picked out random words. Or maybe an English-language magazine or something, because they said stuff like "derauea (Delaware)" and "Sharapova," that sound like they could be threatening Japanese words in a thick gang-banger accent, but were impossible to make any sense out of.
And talking about the different arcs reminded me of another cool thing about this series that we regret we were unable to carry over into the English version. All of the arc names are the gerund form of a verb--you know, when you make a verb into a noun, like "the drifting of the cotton." In Japanese, you can turn a verb into a noun by turning the -u ending into an -i. For example, wata-nagasu (to send the cotton adrift), becomes wata-nagashi (the drifting of the cotton, or Cotton Drifting). Of course, that in and of itself is not especially interesting...until you realize that every one of these verbs in Japanese ended with -su, and so the end of each arc name was -shi, which can also mean "death." We're not sure if that's what Ryukishi 07 was going for, but it's still interesting to note.
Our best attempt at keeping it consistent was to at least use the gerund form in English. This is usually accomplished with -ing. So when we translated the afterwords and Ryukishi 07 mentioned later arcs, at first we ended them all with -ing. We even did it with the Festival Accompanying Arc, but later we decided we didn't like the sound of it at all, and, since Yen Press wasn't sticking with the -ing thing anyway, we wanted to change it. But alas, it was too late, so that's what the title ended up being. Still, that doesn't make us quite as sad as our failure to get the Massacre Arc changed to the Total Slaughter Arc. See, here's what we think happened. Minagoroshi is a word you can look up in a J-E dictionary, and you tend to get the word "massacre," which is not technically incorrect, but it just doesn't pack the same punch as "minagoroshi," which literally means "killing of everyone." We thought "total slaughter" had a much better impact. Plus, it's how they translated Vash the Stampede's "minagoroshi" song in Trigun.
Oh, and after my mini-rant about the twins in Nabari, I want to say that the twins in Higurashi are depicted much better...ly.
On the translation difficulty scale, I think I'll give this a four, mostly because of the technical terms that got involved when we got into the serious exposition.
As for favorite character...probably Akasaka. This series is interesting in that some of the characters act very, very differently in each arc, so in one arc, Rena could be my favorite character ever, and in another, I could think she's a total idiot and needs to have some sense knocked into her literally. But pretty much every character takes a turn at being completely awesome, except maybe Miyo.
And I think that's all for Higurashi.
Today I'm thankful for getting to watch the season premiere of Castle last night, having milk, Page sitting on the furniture, getting to read good articles in the Ensign, and sherbet.