Saturday, April 19 2008


I just finished chapter one of the first 魔法戦士リウイ novels, in Japanese.

[Pardon my shouting: I just read thirty pages of Japanese prose written for a native audience!! Ahem.]

The anime adaptation opened with the experienced adventuring team of Genie (amazon warrior), Melissa (priestess of the war god Mylee), and Merrill (thief) finding a magically-sealed door in a ruin. They headed to town to recruit a mage, preferably female, but the only one that seemed interested was Louie, a brawny goofball who had already “rescued” Genie from a fight and pantsed Merrill while being chased by a mob of angry women. Later, he accidentally blew up a bar trying to prove himself to them, and then while being chased by a mob of angry priestesses, destroyed the roof of Mylee’s temple with his magic, inadvertently revealing himself to the (naked) Melissa as the hero her god had chosen for her to serve. By the end of the first episode, Louie was firmly established as a drunk, a womanizer, a careless street brawler, and a terrible student, with no real interest in or aptitude for magic.

The novel starts out a bit differently. Louie is being congratulated by his classmates for finally mastering enough magic to earn his mage staff, making him the fifth to succeed out of the hundred apprentices that their class had started with ten years earlier. The next day, the others are all nursing a hangover from the party, but Louie cheerfully heads off to the entertainment district in pursuit of wine, women, and trouble. The sound of a tavern brawl draws him in from a distance, and he pushes through a crowd of onlookers to find two apprentice knights fighting three women (guess who?), and the women are wiping the floor with them.

One of the battered squires reaches for his sword, and Genie warns him that drawing it will cost him his life. Fully focused on this fight that’s about to turn lethal, none of them hear the onlookers shout that the City Watch is coming. Louie realizes that if the Watch walks in on a bloody battle between two respectable squires and three scruffy adventurers, the girls will end up in prison or dead. Thinking quickly, he rushes into the tavern, flattens the two squires with one punch each, decks Genie, and tells Melissa to get her friends out of there fast. He then tells the squires to stick to the story that he’s responsible for their bruises, grabs a nearby drink, and pretends to be plastered as the Watchmen finally make it through the crowd. Convinced that it was just a drunken brawl, they haul Louie off to spend a few nights in jail.

When the girls catch up to Louie a few days later, Melissa tells him that he’s the hero her god has chosen for her, and they grudgingly admit that they need a mage anyway, and there aren’t any female mages interested in adventuring. They reluctantly invite him to join them, and he reluctantly agrees.

Big difference. Louie is still a big, brawny guy without serious talent for magic, and he loves a good party, but he’s not an incompetent idiot daydreaming about adventure. In fact, when the girls ask him to join their group, he initially turns them down, saying he’s never heard of a mage-hero, and would rather be a mage who supports a hero, following in the footsteps of his foster father, the head of the mage guild. And he shows himself to be a quick-thinking, capable guy who’s willing to take the rap for something he didn’t do, to protect three strangers.

I think I’m going to like this Louie. The tone is still light, he’s still going to drive his partners crazy, and the upcoming chapter titles (“the broken stick”, “the quarrelsome forest”, etc) suggest that the rest of this book tells the same basic story that the first few anime episodes covered, but if he’s not an idiot, maybe the other characters are treated better as well. Especially Merrill, who quite literally got shafted in the anime version.

As for the mechanics of reading, well, it wasn’t quick or easy. Literary Japanese has more style differences than just using “de aru”, and I had to consult my teacher for a few of them. A number of unusual kanji were used, making it harder to look up what turned out to be common words. What really slowed me down, though, was the huge vocabulary. Not only were there a lot of genre-specific words, but like any decent writer, the author used a wide range of words to add color and variety to the text. In the first ten pages, I ran into more than 300 new words. By the time I finished the 30-page chapter, it was probably close to 600.

I couldn’t have done it without the Kanji Sonomama Nintendo DS cartridge. Light novels tend to have furigana for kanji words they don’t expect the target audience to know, but I need more help than that. KS has better stylus input than any of the dedicated J-E dictionaries that I’ve tried. It’s much more forgiving, which is useful when you’re trying to scrawl in an unfamiliar character that you can’t make out all of the strokes in.

It’s not the most comprehensive dictionary, however, and I frequently resorted to my old Canon WordTank and Edict, and in a few cases had to go all the way to the massive Kenkyusha J-E dictionary (4th edition, found used at a good price on Amazon). But now that I’ve at least practiced writing all of the Jouyou kanji with Tadashii Kanji Kakitori-kun, and I’m regularly copying down stories out of the ASK readers, I’m getting pretty good at remembering the structure of an unfamiliar kanji well enough to write out a word on the DS screen. Most of the time, that’s enough to get me through a sentence.

[Tip: KS normally tries to recognize what you’ve written after a (too-)brief delay. If you need more time to look back at the original kanji, just leave the stylus touching the screen at the end of a stroke; the recognizer won’t kick in, and you can continue where you left off.]

I’m going to go through this chapter again before I start on the next one, to push the vocabulary into my brain a bit more firmly. I’m going to need it, because chapter two is twice as long…