In a previous blog post I talked about the story “Five Minutes Won’t Cut It” written by Kisaragi Shin’ichi (如月新一), which is being translated by Yeti of Shousetsu Ninja, a blog where he reviews Japanese novels and sometimes does translations of excerpts. He recently posted the last chapter (Ch 6), and you can find all the chapters (as well as links to the original source text in Japanese) here.
While I have offered comments to other bloggers I’ve come across who have done translations of Japanese works into English, “Five Minutes Won’t Cut It” is the first time I’ve agreed to help out with translation check and editing for each chapter of another person’s translation.
This was an interesting experience for several reasons. One is because it exposed me to a story which otherwise I might have never read, or considered how I would translate into English. This has nothing to do with the quality of the story– rather it is just because I generally tend toward more hard science fiction or fantasy stories that are more “literary” and/or more “serious” (both arguably vague terms). Often I tend to judge a story more by it’s setting and the ideas it involves, and less by the story flow and character interactions.
“Five Minutes Won’t Cut It”, on the other hand, is almost all about character interactions, nor is there really mind-blowing ideas introduced in it. To be honest, until near the end of this story I didn’t feel I “got” it at a deep level, and part of the reason was because I wasn’t sure what parts were supposed to be funny, and which serious.
But once I read it through to the end I realized there is a surprising depth to the tale, which ended up veering off into a direction I had never expected. It also dawned on me that the interactions of the two main characters (who are robbers by the way) was somehow like the classic Japanese Manzai style of comedy. (See this article about a great story which revolves around Manzai)
The other main reason this was a good experience was because I learned more about how to interact with another translator in the process of doing translation checks and proofreading. Part of this involves knowing when to back down and avoid forcing the translation to be exactly in your own style. Rather than always say “rewrite this part this way”, I tried to give the reason why something seems unnatural or not ideal, and maybe give at least two different options. Or I might specifically say here is another way to phrase this, but you decide which you like best. Other times, I might just refrain from commenting on parts that felt vaguely unnatural for an unknown reason, but were clearly not incorrect.
It’s also a challenge being on the other end, since you need to have the judgement to know when to stand up for what you think is a good translation (along with the necessary willpower to avoid giving in), and also the ability to admit someone presented a better option for a given word or phrase. I think Yeti struck a good balance with this project, and definitely rejected enough of my comments so that the end result has his own touch to it. Of course there is no “right” translation, and one of the goals for both parties is to keep the style consistent throughout.
Also, despite having a little experience with hobby translation, I by no means consider myself an expert (or even close), and I learned some things from Yeti during this project. For example, I was impressed by his rendering of a word pun about noodles in the first chapter, as well as some of his creative renderings for certain dialog lines.
“Five Minutes Won’t Cut It” has six chapters, but it is single-minded to the extent that talking much about the story would spoil it for potential readers. So I’ll just say that it’s a well-written story that’s worth checking out.
For those learning Japanese, the story is mostly driven by casual dialogue, so reading it can help build vocabulary for your own conversations. (Despite the fact I compared it to Manzai, the characters do not speak Kansai dialect.)
I think this is Yeti’s longest translation of this type so far to date, so please join me congratulating him on this great achievement. I think his translation skills have improved greatly in this project. Yetiさん、お疲れ様でした！