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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?