Official Translation Review: A Certain Magical Index Volume 1

Introduction


First things first: this isn’t an official translation review but a review of an official translation. Just sayin’. I am a big defender of official translations. I’m not groaning when a series gets licensed but rejoicing. The reason’s simple: if you’ve got something like standards, then the vast majority of fan-based translations should read to you like the stuff pushing through your intestinal after you’ve drunk your morning coffee. There’s good reasons to believe that official stuff’s better as the people making it are more up to the task – or should be.

I’m reviewing the work as it reads in its target language. What I won’t judge is its translation accuracy; namely, how accurately the translation process Japanese to English has been performed. This would mean that I am a) qualified to judge assumingly JLPT N1 graduates and b) required to read and compare original and end result. I probably lack the skills to do either. If not skills, then time. If not time, then will. Long story short, the question I will answer is how does it read?

Judgment will be harsh. This is done by professionals. The usual fan-translation excuse (people do this in their free time!) doesn’t count. People get paid to do this. I expect quality for my money. And you should, too.

All I write will be off the top of my head. I might’ve forgotten stuff but I’m quite certain I’m not making anything up. As for the points to analyze by, there probably won’t be any. I can’t think of anything but the actual conclusion itself. As this review is a first, however, I will add some extra points which apply to official translations in general.

Book Dimensions


IMG_2328
Dimensions: Original LN VS. Translated LN VS. Best PC Gamepad

This is something that annoys me greatly. I’m pretty confident that the book’s DIN-A5-sized. It’s unhandy. I’ll put a comparison picture of Japanese originals versus official translations up in this section for you to see for yourself. While Japanese light novels can be easily handled by one hand – also thanks to the spacing between page edge and the text combined with the paper thickness – the official translations are a pain to handle. You need to hands to either hold it, or at least keep it open. For me at least, holding it in one hand equals cramps; or not being able to read since I have to force it open more widely to make up for the spacing. The reason for these dimensions should be quite simple: cost. I assume DIN A5 is a common format and cheaper to print. Furthermore, the novel consists of 200 pages nonetheless. So the page count would rise quite a bit depending on how much smaller the alternate format would be. No matter how well stuff sells, higher expenses mean less profit. It could also be that Western readers are more familiar with this kind of format. As far as that point’s concerned, it might be better to start making them familiar with a more handy kind of format.

Cover


The cover’s directly printed onto the paperback itself. It can’t be removed contrary to original Japanese light novels and most manga. Normally, Japanese light novels have a very neutral paperback cover underneath the high gloss cover itself. This way, it’s probably easier to read such things in a sub or something. There’s no excuse for not doing this than costs. I like removeable covers since you can spare the high gloss one while you read by simply taking it off and the book looks as new – at least on the outside – even after you’re done. Much nicer in a well-maintained bookshelf.

Staff


Short notice on the staff. While I don’t care for names (yet), the book has seemingly been done by two translators. That’s it. Just two translators. To me, that fact (?) alone was already cause for concern. A good translator’s not necessarily a good story writer, nor a good editor. An accurate translation can still read poorly and be a real killjoy. The latest personal example that comes to my mind is George Orwell’s 1984. I’ve started reading the German translation, rolled my eyes, and switched to the English original – there, much better. Now, the translation wasn’t bad, but worse than the original for sure. By the way, it’s a good book, even if you’re just going for entertainment and don’t wanna pour too much thought into it.

Conclusion


Volume 1 Cover
Volume 1 Cover

And now we’ll get to the wall-of-text bottom to it. The first 50 page-ish are, quite frankly, made to cause headaches. If you’ve ever experienced something you could call text flow, which basically means that the text reads in a way that doesn’t force your eyes to stop and lets you immerse into the storyline easily, then your head is bound to hurt here. Phrasings are stiff, sentences don’t connect nicely due to the phrasing itself, sometimes they don’t even connect logically as they were simply translated but not molded into the big picture, there are even terminological inconsistencies (geek -> otaku, biri biri girl -> electro girl (maybe also known as disco queen)), and a few typos or missing quotes that are bound to happen with no QA whatsoever. I think I’ve even stumbled upon something like a translation hiccup, where the translator forgot to delete his first attempt on a line. In contrast to the stiff phrasings, there are some fancy words here and there, which – especially compared to the unnatural phrasings – scream “dictionary”. Characterization doesn’t exist. Hence, one time or another I was lost as to who was speaking to begin with. That goes for the volume as a whole, though. And probably for official translations as a whole, too.

After you’ve braved this storm, waters grow more quiet. It’s still not good, but very readable. I could read 20 pages in one go without really stumbling upon something that made me putting the book away and take a deep breath first. It pretty much screams translator switch to me from there on.

If you keep in mind that the Japanese original does cost roundabout 5 bucks in Japan and you’re ought to throw about thrice the price at them when translated, I strongly believe that fans do and should have the right to get something worth 15 bucks in return. The way this translation reads is something that, for instance, zzhk (if you don’t know him, then welp, sucks to be you) could do faster and most probably better and on top of that by himself.

A CERTERN MAHGERCERL ERNDERX
A CERTERN MAHGERCERL ERNDERX

While I can’t say that the translators didn’t care at all, it screams budget and/or profiteering. If you compare this translation to Spice And Wolf‘s, however, it makes you wonder. Spice And Wolf has English that is quite frequently almost over my head. It forces me to read slowly and be amazed by what the staff involved there did. And yet this translation came from the very same company. If you want a story to read nicely in English, you can’t just hire a bunch of people who specialized in understanding and translating Japanese. You have to get someone who specializes in English or, better yet, in story writing.

A Certain Magical Index can surely be called a legendary series. It has a few dozens of volumes, spin offs, manga adaptions, anime adaptions, anime spin offs. The first quarter of this volume simply punches the fans in the face if you ask me. And the rest reads so anti-climatic, or rather “anti-legendary”, that it makes me wanna cry over the wasted potential.

It would be a 6/10 – keep in mind that 10/10 would mean perfect translation. But, and I’m repeating myself here, the first quarter of it made me almost quit from the get-go. This part needs an overhaul, urgently. And while they’re at it, the whole volume could use an overhaul to get it where it deserves to be. Add characterization, smooth out wording, phrasing, sentences. Don’t forget that these are freaking teenagers who are supposed to sound natural to English speakers. Don’t just translate, interpret. I’m not rating the story itself here, remember that.

Lastly, after I was done reading the official translation of something that made it so far in Japan, I wasn’t exactly hyped. I simply wondered, would it have made it this far if the original had read like this?

Rating 5/10

 

Amazon

10 thoughts on “Official Translation Review: A Certain Magical Index Volume 1

    • Cut the first 50 pages out and as a translation it maybe is “fine”. As a book and/or story, it’s not.

      But as you only say that much and I don’t really know what it did for you to seem fine, I’ve no idea where exactly to butt in. Of course it’s not an incomprehensible gibberish of words or reads like an essay of a 6 y/o. It’s English. Nothing more, nothing less.

      I’m reading “Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?” now. And voilá, the one lonely guy who translated that deserves a raise. So I’ve doubts that it is just me on this one.

  1. Mmm…. I myself never actually read any officially english LN release beside spice n wolf and part of NGNL. The former was a good read the latter was shit. I mean like its already hard for me to find official eng LN here. And with the price so high I believe we deserve better.

    Indonesian official releases are bad too, if not worse! It is much cheaper than eng for sure, but not cheap at all.

    Sure its a translation alright but it felt like school book translations. They really need to recruit a better translator like what cautr bro said. One that can actually translates stories not like translating heavy accounting dictionary.

    So like, what, those publisher just want to rack a lot of money at once? If they are unable to ‘beat’ even fan translations, no wonder people talk *meep* about them and continue reading fan TLs.

    • Funny that you mention NGNL. In fact, I’ve ordered “Devil Part-Timer”-blabla these days and afore-mentioned NGNL as well. Yen Press’ release.

      And after looking at the illustrations, I already discovered a “brother”. Skimming through the first couple of pages I discovered a few more. Now that rating won’t end up all too positive either. I hope it reads fine vesides that.

      “Strike the Blood” has been licensed, too. There are numerous chars calling him either senpai, onii-san, onii-chan, etc. I guess their stiff and stubborn guidelines will ruin it splendidly.

  2. I noticed the same thing about Index’s first volume as you did. The first fifty or so pages are terrible. The rest of it isn’t bad.

    In general, it’s probably better to leave a literary translation to one person so that the writing voice remains consistent. The fact that two translators were involved in this makes me wonder if one of them quit halfway. Oh well, we’ll probably never know.

    The inconsistency of Yen Press’s projects is something I find mildly dismaying as well. The Sword Art Online translation is really good, but the No Game No Life translation is just flat out terrible. It probably has something to do with the fact that YP hires freelancers, and not all freelancers are great or specialise in literary translation. In fact, most freelancers will tell you never to get into literary translation. The pay is absolute shit.

    • So much for “it might be just [me]”. Glad I haven’t gone insane (yet).

      The fun thing about it is that the unwritten rule for making a good impression with textual stuff is to polish up the first couple of pages. In other words, first couple of pages’ quality importance > rest. I’m almost done with Yen Press’ DanMachi volume 1 and many of the points you (and probably I too) stated do – in my opinion at least – prove right. I’ll write something about it too, it will end up much shorter though, as there’s little to complain.

      Well, after hearing a couple of opinions on NGNL in general and Yen Press’ edition in specific, topping it off with me having spotted a few “brother”s when I skimmed through it doesn’t exactly get my hopes up.

      I guess they lack QA in general. Sometimes the final product suffers greatly from it, sometimes their translator picks are lucky. Generally, I don’t think the bad thing was to use more than one translator; imagine how it would’ve turned out if the guy of the first 50 pages-ish had done the whole thing. The bad thing is that they’ve hired no one to go through and smooth it out (so-called editor in the fan-translation scene – though opinions on what an editor really does may vary). The crux is expenses here, I guess.

      On a sidenote, I kept reading “literal translation” and was like “since when’s that a good way to do it, anyway?” FUBAR.

    • Oh my, it’s a surprise to see froggie here….
      Btw Cautr-sama what about Hadaly-nyan and the others? Any opinion on this… thing?

  3. Learning that they treated this vn this way saddens me quite a bit, since it’s probably my favourite action shounen. Nice review, but I don’t agree with one thing: I’d never buy a translation that costs three times the original, because there’s no way it’s an honest price. Western editions of anime discs cost about half the originals and they’re even dubbed, not just translated. I know JP anime are overpriced so they’re forced to lower the price or they’d never sell them in the west, but I find this triple price ridiculous even if the original one is cheap.
    The pics comments are genius! I’m so glad they went with a different chara design, that second face looks so silly, poor Index 🙂

    • I, too, actually wonder how the price adds up. It doesn’t seem like a lot of work has been put in there, but it’s natural that they can’t compete with the Japanese pricing.

      First, I think the way they print books over there is much cheaper. The paper’s a lot thinner and the pages smaller. I guess this leads to more cost efficient printing.

      Second, reading as a hobby is more commonly spread in Japan. This leads to greater demand which leads to more competition when it comes to printing companies.

      But all that aside… three times the price? I don’t see that. All the more since Yen Press seems to have put huge discounts on their books (8-9 USD now, the last time I checked). I don’t know to what extent international shipping costs (from U.S. Amazon or whatever to the European one) matter but checking the bookback, it hardly seems to play any role.

Leave a Comment