Saturday, March 15 2008

The slender way to booze

A frequent annoyance for manga and anime fans is the inevitable loss of information in translation. Little things like the use of -san, -chan, -sama, -dono, et al can be simply left in or explained once, and if you’re watching the subtitled version, you can pick them out of the original dialogue.

Often, though, cultural context means that a single line of dialogue can’t be fully understood without half a page of explanation, but sometimes it can’t, or shouldn’t, be explained. One of the dumbest things I’ve seen a fansub group do was fill the entire screen with a detailed explanation of a very small joke that added almost nothing to the story.

What we see a lot of today, though, especially with the insane pace of manga translation, is information lost because the translators didn’t have the context themselves; either they’re not native speakers who grew up in Japan (as pointed out in this Amazon review), or they’re not reading an entire story before translating a chapter (too many to list…).

So, here’s my tiny joke of the day, courtesy of a manga volume I spotted in Kinokuniya: ほそ道. It’s the story of a salaryman who loves to drink; I can’t tell you any more about the story, because it’s entirely lacking in furigana, and I didn’t buy it anyway. It’s popular enough to have 22 volumes out, though.

Anyone familiar with classic Japanese literature will get the title immediately, and wonder just where the author is going to go with it. “Sake no hoso-michi” translates literally as “the narrow road of sake”, but it’s really a reference to “Oku no hoso-michi”, a very famous book written by the haiku poet Bashō.