Monday, April 12, 2004

Giffen butchers "Battle Vixens" 

So, it looks like things have gone from bad to worse. As you may or may not know, Giffen was first brought in to Tokyopop for Battle Royale. He somewhat changed things (adding in a reality-TV element that was not there before) and also adding some Arnold-ish death phrases (like the infamous "red's not your color"). Some boycotted the release, but others didn't find the changes too too bad.

So, along comes Ikkitousen, a fanservicy fighting manga. After a name change to Battle Vixens, it seems like the content has really been messed with. It sounds like what little plot it has was removed completely and tons and tons of swearing and sexual language was added into it.

It is hard to tell just how much is Giffen and how much editor, but it is a real shame, even for a title like this that I wasn't much interested in. The great irony is a full four or five people on the thread talk about how they enjoyed Giffen comics as kids and it would have been a selling point if these were actually translations and not loose "adaptations".

To provide some contrast, Sarah Dyer's work on Kodocha (good timing considering my last post!) has been very well-received, and it is easy to see why in this interview on Seqential Tart:

ST: What kind of audience would appreciate Kodocha the most? Who are you writing to?

SD: Mainly, I find I'm writing for myself (obviously, keeping it all-ages). I think the book will appeal to a pretty wide range of readers, as it's not just "kiddie" material. At least I hope it will!


ST: What is the process of writing this translation like?

SD: Well, I get a raw translation that's pretty literal. I use that and the original comic to do the rewrite. Occasionally I will even look up expressions myself if I don't feel like the translation I have seems to match what's going on the images. Sound effects help with that a lot – the different sounds used can help me really figure out the intended mood of an ambiguous scene.
If you want some more technical info, my two main reference books are Kodansha's Romanized Japanese-English Dictionary and A Practical Guide to Japanese-English Onomatopoei & Mimesis, and my most important tool is the potato-chip-bag clip that I use to hold the volume I'm working on open in front of the computer!


ST: What's the most challenging about the process of translation?

SD: Two big challenges – the biggest one is that everything must fit within the confines of the original art. If a complicated japanese concept is expressed in just a few kanji, I am stuck with a tiny little balloon that the same idea in English has to fit in to. That can be rough. The other challenge is just that sometimes making sure the rewrite is really conveying the exact same emotion as the original version did can be difficult, especially as emotions are often expressed so differently in our two cultures.


ST: What is the greatest challenge of translating humour? What factors do you consider? What do you change?

SD: Well, the greatest challenge is making it funny. As far as changing stuff – the biggest consideration for me is the gist of what the character (usually Sana) is saying before the actual content. Is she being nonsensical? Is she making a very pointed joke that has to not only be followed literally but footnoted? Is she making a pun that has to be completely rewritten to make any sense in context?
We're really trying to keep localization to a minimum in Kodocha, it very definitely takes place in Japan and these characters are Japanese, so there will be no rice balls called doughnuts, if you know what I'm saying.

ST: Why is that authenticity important to Kodocha?

SD: I think it's important to any book – it takes place in Japan, the kids are Japanese, so if they love sushi or go someplace we don't have here, as long as it's understandable why change it?

I mean seriously, she even cites Nausicaa as one of her favorite titles! You can't get much more of a good attitude toward translating than she does.

Let's compare the above to this Battle Royale article:

For adapting the work, Giffen was given a tight Japanese-to-English translation of the story, but his assignment was by no means just to tweak a translation. "I told him to do what he felt he had to do," Paniccia said. "I told him to Giffenize it."

It was a charge Giffen was more than happy to accept. "It's a good story that Takami is telling," Giffen said. "What I do is go in and make bad scenes that much worse. I loved Battle Royale the movie, and also love the manga. I just wanted to do it right. I wanted to do justice to it, and I knew I couldn't get away with doing a straight translation, because it would be horrifyingly bad.

"A lot of times when you work on Japanese books, you realize that they have a different pacing from us, and they also have different visual and narrative shorthand," Giffen continued. "For example, somebody may be looking at someone else with gossamer eyes and thinking good thoughts about them, and the word balloons will just say the person's name - over and over, or spend two pages trying to get the name out. That wouldn't play with American readers.

" Battle Royale had stuff like, "I have to kill you first, because you would have killed me otherwise." The translation is right on the nose. You can't give that to an American audience. Specifically, in the scene where the wicked girl almost slices her friend's head off with a sickle - in the translation, she said, 'I had to kill you before you killed me.' No way - I changed it to 'Fashion tip, red's not your color,' as the dead girl lies on the floor in a growing pool of blood.

"There was another line, during the orientation where the students want to know what Mr. Kamon did to the lady at the orphanage. The scene of what he did is pretty graphic, and the original translation had him saying, 'Oh, I sexually assaulted her.'

"I wanted to make it worse. I changed it to, 'With the right persuasion, she was more than willing to share it around.' Not quite as literal as the translation, but it clearly, clearly expresses just how sleazy and reprehensible Kamon is. That's the way it is with all the graphic content in the book - it's there, and some of it is even of a sexual nature, but it's not like you're going to enjoy it for its own sake. It's my job to make sure you don't."

It's a tightrope, Giffen explained, that he has to walk in adapting the work for American readers. Go too far, and you can end up writing your own story. Don't go far enough, and you end up with a jumbled mess that halts the story.

"To do this right, you've got to keep the basic flavor of the original work - this is a guy who wrote the original novel who's doing this, so you can't go in and completely rework it and change it around, but you've got to filter it for American audiences," Giffen said. "You've got to massage it a little bit and see if you can move it just to a place where an American audience will appreciate it.

"Being able to go in there and while keeping the tone, tweaking it a little bit, I'm able to put my voice in. Rather than making it 'mine' though I'm doing a lovely two-part harmony with Takami. It's not my story, so I try to remain true to the spirit of the work. Sometimes that means dropping a colloquialism or adding blocks of copy that will allow the American audience to understand it the same way a Japanese audience would. The key rule that I always keep in mind though is: don't violate the story, don't violate the work."

Eeeh.. I don't know.. maybe I just have a different definition of "violating the work" than Giffen does. How is it that Tokyopop manages to do both extremes at the same time? Maybe you're getting a bit too big when editorial policies can vary so much from one title to another..

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