Japanese short novel translation: ”Sluggish Symbol, Inane Illusion” (緩慢な表象と虚ろな幻想): Translator’s notes

By | September 26, 2016

“One life, one book”

If you’re read my recently-completed English translation of Yuki Fujimura’s short novel ”Sluggish Symbol, Inane Illusion”, then the above line may bring back good memories of certain key points of the story. (If you haven’t read it yet, you can see the entire table of contents of translated chapters here)

When I first contacted Yuki Fujimura to ask permission to translate her story and post the result on my blog, she said it wouldn’t work out since she wouldn’t be able to answer my questions to clarify certain parts of the story. But I pressed her, asking to do the translation without bothering her about a single thing, and at last she agreed. While originally I just thought she was busy with other projects (and that may have in fact been true), after re-reading and translating the entire story I feel that maybe there was a little bit of Sakizaki in her, in the sense that she was careful with her words.

I consider this translation project a success, having received several comments from people saying how much they enjoyed it, and also because there is over 175 people on the novel’s reading list on the site novelupdates.com. There is also 16 reviews with an average of 3.9/5.

With 11 chapters (technically prologue + 10), this is the longest translation project I have done personally, since I usually limit myself to only a chapter or two. There is truly something to be said for completing a nicely-sized project like this, not only because of a sense of finality, but also because it motived me to improve my translation process and resultant efficiency. I’m actually planning on a detailed post about how I go about translating fiction, so I’ll omit that talk here and just say that I was able to get things working like a well-oiled machine after a few chapters.

I also liked the length because it allows telling a somewhat complex story with a few good twists without getting too off track (like Saki herself tends to do in her conversations). I think the author was able to wrap things up very well in the end without leaving too many things hanging, a style that is, I feel, arguably less common in modern Japanese stories.

This work was a joy to translate because I enjoyed not only the premise, but also the dialog and overall story. I also have a soft spot for meta stories, where one story talks about another. In ”Sluggish Symbol, Inane Illusion”, not only is there parts of an embedded story (which to be honest I’d love to read if it only existed!), but there is meaningful discussion about the nature of storytelling itself. I think that translating parts like this which require a deep understanding of what the author is trying to say, as well as some artistic license on my end, are the most enjoyable.

I am toying with the idea of someday making an authoritative translation, which would contain at least some of the following:

  • Even heavier editing, possibly with the help of another person
  • Questions answered by the author and my translation adjusted accordingly (there were a few parts I wanted to confirm my interpretation of)
  • Give the author a chance to edit the original story herself once more (there were at least one or two places where I found what might be mistakes)
  • Improved formatting (While I did my best to retain vertical formatting such as line spacing, I skimped a little on things like indention)
  • Adjusting fonts and putting everything in one place (maybe create a PDF)
  • Reconsideration of some punctuation (after thinking about it some more, the “––––” commonly used by the author doesn’t seem to be too natural in English)
  • Potentially retranslating the title of the story itself and the story-within-a-story (“Memories Traced by a Corpse”). The story title I have now is actually my second revision of it, which keeps the cryptic sense of the original title but adds some alliteration for effect. I could potentially re-translate it to be a bit more accessible, and hint more at what the story is about.
  • Other comments (and even maybe a epilogue?) from the author
  • An illustrated cover

Honestly, I am not sure if this would ever happen, but who knows?

If you are looking for more translated works to read, you can check out this page which has some of my other stuff. Or you can just check out this story for which I’ve translated a few chapters for, though the original work isn’t finished yet.

I think Yuki Fujimura actually is working on one or more other projects at present available on syosetsu.com, and I may check them out sometime and see if she is open to me translating one or more of those as well.

As always, I am open to translation suggestions. I think the ideal story for me would be 5-10 chapters, unlicensed (full text available online), with a very unique plot and/or setting. I’m generally not a fan of stories that are just written ‘for the fans’ with some generic premise (reincarnation, anyone?), and prefer those that were done because the author genuinely loved what they were writing. Though who knows, maybe these things are not mutually incompatible.

If you want to catch my new translations, please consider following this blog on WordPress, or via twitter. You can also catch my new releases on noveltranslations.com (see my page here), and sometimes I’ll echo them on the Novel Translations Reddit.

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4 thoughts on “Japanese short novel translation: ”Sluggish Symbol, Inane Illusion” (緩慢な表象と虚ろな幻想): Translator’s notes

  1. Zireael

    The QnA will be most definitely interesting. Grats to finishing a project, it always feels good when you’ve accomplished what you’ve set out to do. Will be looking forward to your next one, hopefully it suits my tastes!

    1. locksleyu Post author

      Thanks for reading and all the comments! By the way, what did you think of the ending?

      1. Zireael

        I enjoyed it very much, it made me feel a little emotional. Actually, my entire journey from the first few sentences to the end was good. I just love the writing style!

        I even tried to picture the entirety of chapter 10 animated in my head. I think I would of enjoyed a scene where he lets go off his manuscript to fall down and what followed after.

        For the amount of text/chapters, I strongly believe the author has definitely created a successful and griping story. And you have done a marvelous job with the translations too. I’ll be really excited If the series were to be adapted to animation!

  2. Euge

    Congratulations on finishing this project, and thank you for translating it ’till the end! ^_^
    I found this series by chance on NU, and I’m really glad I decided to read it. I liked everything about this story, particularly the conversations and interactions between Saki and Sakizaki. Also, I agree with Zireael, this series would make a great animation.


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