Thursday, January 04, 2007

"Snowfall": An Original Manga Translation

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"Snowfall" from Ushio and Tora Gaiden
A Manga Translation by Dygo Tosa
Original Manga (c-Japan) 1996-2003 Kazuhiro Fujita

I've spent the past two weeks translating one of my favorite mangas, "Ushio and Tora." I started reading the series back in middle school and I've loved it ever since; while the series ended years ago, I am still trying to collect all of the episodes. To my knowledge, none of the printed manga have ever been published/sold in the United States. Here, I've tried to put together points about translation and other notes so that reading the translation will both be more enjoyable and meaningful. Let me know if you have any further questions -- or even "worse" -- translation requests! My email for this project is Thanks for reading!

An Introduction to Manga
You are about to step into a dark, scary and also very cheerful world of Japanese manga, but there's always something to be gained in seeing the world through another man's (or woman's) eyes. Mangas are Japanese comics and cartoons; the different genres and characters of manga are as diverse as what you might find in the Sunday newspaper to the cult follower's comic shop. I grew up with mangas and Japanese so reading them is no difficulty for me, but it takes a lot of learning for a gaijin ("foreigner") to pick up on reading a manga to the fullest. First of all, Japanese mangas are very much like their American counterparts in that they draw upon both common and obscure references. Many translated mangas will need to either omit or explain seemingly strange facts and behaviors which would be perfectly normal for a Japanese person. One memorable scene comes from the popular children's show "Pokemon," when the Pokemon pets are chewing on onigiri riceballs. The translators adeptly called them "jelly-filled doughnuts"; a clever translation that neatly explains the red center (onigiri are filled either with salmon or pickled plum). Since Japanese culture has embraced much of American culture (and not as much of the other way around), it's difficult for me to find a good reverse analogy; perhaps American Revolutionary and Civil War references would require some level of explanation for a Japanese audience. Pokemon being an example, many Americans are more familiar with "anime" than with manga, but most if not all anime originated as manga. There are some exceptions to the rule, such as Miyazaki's feature films like Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Some differences with American comics include the fact that most manga in Japan are published as weekly collections rather than single issues. In the U.S., the imported and translated Shonen Jump Magazine is representative of a number of weekly manga publications in Japan. But like American comics, the episodes are collected by series and later published as anthologies in bookstores. More translations of manga and comics are appearing in American bookstores these days under the category of "graphic novel" which is a more correct term for the longer and more serious works. While I suggest a "try before you buy" approach (try borrowing from a friend!), since manga appeal to different tastes, if you've never read a manga series, I hope this encourages you to start.

About "Ushio and Tora"
"Ushio and Tora" by Kazuhiro Fujita is a epic series centered around an adolescent boy (about 14 years old) named Ushio who stumbles across a monster living in the storehouse basement. The monster, named Tora, happens to be a demon who had been sealed there a few hundred years ago. Did I mention Ushio lives in a temple with his dad, who's a exorcist priest? The story takes place in modern times though, and with Tora's awakening, other demons in the area start to appear and their adventures begin. Ushio must team up with Tora to protect his classmates, friends and even strangers from the paranormal. While typical of manga to be centered around high school age kids, the people they meet and the monsters they defeat are by no means ordinary. What sets "Ushio and Tora" apart from other manga is a brutal bluntness and sincerity, as well as wholesomeness, of Ushio and his allies. In the late 80's to early 90's mangas were plagued with depressing storylines and twisted perversities, and Fujita's style attempts to visually and literally destroy these perversions. The manga itself is visually R-rated for excessive violence, lots of blood and ink smears, nudity, and in translation, language.

The "Ushio and Tora Gaiden" is an epilogue written by Fujita to explain some of the untold stories in his series, exploring characters' pasts in the context of Japanese historical and literary tradition. For example, one of his tales borrows a chapter from the classical "Tale of Heike", that of the story of Tomo-e, the only female warrior remaining with the Genji warlord Yoshinaka in his final stand. I do not know from which classical story "Snowfall" was adapted but the reader should be aware it may not be entirely in keeping with the original. "Snowfall," by the way, is my own title to the story.

Opening Notes
Japanese is read top-to-bottom, right-to-left. Hence the pages in translation have been mirrored so that a reader can follow the story left-to-right as with any conventional English language comic book. I regret having whitebox lettering since it obscures some of the art, but this was easiest for me to get all the text in. Again, the following content is R-rated for graphic content and some language.

Links to pages (hosted by Photobucket):

Translated Page 01 Original
Translated Page 02 Original
Translated Page 03 Original
Translated Page 04 Original
The additional pages have been translated, but are currently unavailable pending copyright/distribution permission. I apologize for this delay.

One of the biggest challenges in bringing Japanese manga to English is translating onomatopoeias. Sounds common to Japanese readers can be alien and difficult to express in English, for example: the howling of the wind ("go!"), the murmur of the crowd ("zawa-zawa", "hiso-hiso"). In each of these cases it made more sense to write up a description rather than attempt to reproduce the sound. Explosions had to be changed; in Japanese, "don!" represents an English "bam!". And Japanese can describe footsteps ("dodododo" and "tototo") but English lettering just doesn't seem right. Even musical sounds, such as those of a lyre (which is the traditional koto for those more knowledged), I couldn't use the Japanese sounds: "jyonnn" may be closer to the actual instrument's sound, but "bing" will sound truer to the English-speaking reader for a string-based instrument. I've seen translation of Japanese Noh-genre plays that retains the phonetic spelling of the original Japanese, but for my own translation I opted for familiarity. I tried to make the manga as a comic book, since I thought that would relate best to an American reader.

Recreating the distinct voice of each character is a huge challenge in any translation. I admire Fitzgerald's Odyssey for mastering this challenge, allowing Nausicaa's pouting and gradual maturation speak as vividly about her character as does the Cyclops' bumbling care for his sheep. In my effort to carry over the unique voices of the original, the monster (who is actually Tora from the series) should have a bad-ass attitude, while Mumio retains the sincerity and wholesomeness that is found in the series' Ushio. A lot of the dialogue in the original manga is written in a slightly archaic dialect, but conveying this without caution could have laden my text with a clumsy, anachronistic tone. In several places I experimented with "thee" instead of "you" but for the most part "you" had a more correct sound without being unduly modern, and I changed them to the "you" translation.

The texts of the Japanese Buddhist religion are written in ancient Chinese, just as Christian bibles and chants are chock full of Latin. To ensure that even arcane references would be somehow accessible to my English-language reader, I have used Latin equivalents for the three spells that appear in this story. The first was the easiest; I replaced "Koku" with "Victanda," a gerundive neuter plural (for the curious, my reasons were that the neuter gender would give a sense a generalness and the gerundive is slightly substantive). The second spell, Kamo's rune, is a fictional mishmash of Chinese characters and brush strokes. Hence the Latin includes gibberish as well as some real words. The last spell, the Zodiac sign, plays on resemblance of the Chinese "gon" with the English "begone." The twelve Zodiac signs are thought to be imbued with magical powers; the character "gon" is a north-eastern direction between the sign of the bull (Ushi) and tiger (Tora). The "Ushio" and "Tora" names are probably not a coincidence!

The names have not been retained exactly by the standard of Roma-ji, that is, the conventional system for transcribing Japanese phonetics into the Roman/English alphabet. Where I use "Fuvuki," "Mumio," and "Shiba Kutime," a stricter adherence to the Roma-ji system would form "Fubuki," "Mumyou," and "Shiba Kuchime." I hope my renderings are more stylized and easier to reproduce the sound of the original. I especially thought about Mumio's, since Mum-you doesn't really sound too tough. Lady Fuvuki's name also doesn't exactly mean "snowfall" but rather "blizzard." I've compromised the exact literal meaning of the word, since in my own reading the gentle nature of the character (although she seems at times emotionally callous) would be distorted by the name "Blizzard." Mumio's name means "without light." I was tempted to change Shiba into Shiva to invoke the Hindu goddess, but decided that would be taking far too much liberty in association. Kutime means "rotten-eye." These names could be Latinized like the spells, but that's a direction that I didn't take here.

In addition to any comments you'd like to share here on Boston Translation, I invite you to send any questions and inquiries to

Some Further Links
Wikipedia reports an anime version that was released in the U.S. The overall reports are not very good, especially for excessive, unnecessary violence and I don't recommend it. I have not seen them myself, so I do not know how faithful they are to the manga. The Wikipedia article is here:
Japanese Wikipedia article on Fujita Kazuhiro:
According to the article, Fujita won the Shogakukan Manga award in 1992 for "Ushio and Tora", and later received a Seiun (Nebula) Award for the same series in 1997.
Lastly, here is a link to the Japanese publisher's profile on "Ushio and Tora" (Shonen Sunday Comics):

Again, thanks for reading!


Anonymous said...

This looks like a really nice manga, and I hope you get clearance to post the other pages soon!

Speaking as someone who reads a lot of manga, I would not be afraid to keep more of the Japanese flavor in the book. Manga fans are accustomed to reading right to left, and we are familiar with the standard sound effects.

I'm a fan of translator's notes, so rather than change onigiri to a jelly donut, I'd keep the original but add an explanation. Even people who only read manga occasionally tend to pick up the cultural part pretty quickly; my daughters, who are 12 and 13, know about onigiri because it's used as a metaphor in Fruits Basket. (And they have eaten it, too.) A lot depends on your audience: Manga fans would spot the change and be irritated, while someone who is less familiar with manga might be confused. With a manga like this, I think it's safe to assume your readers will have some familiarity with the culture.

I liked your comments about giving each character a distinct voice and about translating the Chinese texts. That's a creative solution, and I hope we get to see it.

Anonymous said...

Shiva is a Hindu god not Goddess.

jeffrey said...

i love manga! i love reading it specially when i am not doing something.

thanks to translators like you i was able to understand the story.

Makurasuki Sensei said...

Awesome and informative. Thanks for your work. You can try this one here

oops i meant this one

Naruto said...

I love this manga ...

Thanks for the translation !