After literally months of officialustranslatusphobia (thanks, No Game No Life) I decided to give Hataraku Maou-sama! a try – or as the official translation goes, The Devil is a Part-Timer!. Now let me rant about the title real quick first. That’s nothing to do with Yen Press since the official title had been decided on before they picked this up (probably by whomever did they anime). First of all, the translation is very liberal. Yes, he’s a part-timer, no, the Japanese title doesn’t give that away. Second, the devil has a strong religious relatedness, he’s not the devil, he’s a devil, it’d be better to put Devil King or whatever there, but that probably collided with the cover art so that Devil King wouldn’t have fitted into the blue bar. Third, let’s assume you’ve not much to do with anime and all that jazz, walk around a bookstore, and look at that book – how appealing is that title to you? I don’t mind the title all too much in particular, but the book would be far sexier if it had been used as a caption, namely: HataMaou – The Demon King is a Part-Timer! (Demon King ’cause Ashiya’s called Demon General or so) Didn’t they do that for Haganai? Just my two cents.
So we’re gonna skip the still fugly format and insane pricing for which you could buy and import three Japanese light novels and cut straight to the translation and hence to what the translator himself achieved.
After the No Game No Life disaster I can assure you that the English itself is without issues and has zero weirdness in it, this translation’s English reads in fact very educated. Lots of smart wording coupled with high diversity. You can tell that the translator himself is likely quite the bookworm. What? You hear a “but” coming? Okay… But…
His educated English leads to an absurd dilemma in dialogue and actually the whole reading experience if you set it in relation to the original novel’s setting and target group. An important thing when you’re reading a story is to see it; you don’t just read words, you imagine it in your head. While it somewhat works for the narration, I don’t see the majority of dialogue working out. I say “majority” because it works absurdly well for Ashiya conversing with his liege, and works absurdly poor for Emi talking to Maou. It leads to scenes that leave you thinking, “Wow, you’re still quite mannered for how upset you must be.” Kind of like poorly enacted trash TV. And poor Chiho sounds like a dumb little teenage girl when she should come off cute; it’s not that bad with her, though. Anyway, the point is that all characters, most of the time sound like actors and I, personally, just don’t see it. It appears as if the translator’s a kind of one-trick pony, lowering himself to street language level certainly isn’t his forte; kind of too educated and literate for his own good – well, as far as light novels are concerned, that is. Or maybe he just hasn’t the ability to put himself into the characters’ shoes. I don’t know, the result’s the same, though.
The narration itself is probably a huge matter of taste. To me it has the charm of a mandatory lecture in English classes. I never got into something like a reading flow – contrary to DanMachi. Considering that the target group of these kind of books are young people, teenagers for the most part, I don’t see how this heavy style will be appealing, also keeping in mind that they’re probably fed up with such literary style due to school and that reading’s not exactly popular in the West.
Of course, all of this leads to mediocre flow, puns lacking impact, and you having a pretty event-less voyage in the humor sea which hardly ever bothers shaking you up. Apart from the instances where the educated wording and style actually hits the spot, it’s mediocre in every way – you read the book, think “okay,” put it aside, and move on. If you’ve seen the anime – I bet you did – and know how colorful and lively the novel and its universe is, you’ll agree that that’s a pretty sad outcome for its original work. On my chart, that’s a 6.
However, it’ll get a 7. Why’s that? For all the struggle the read had in my opinion, I strongly felt one thing from beginning to end: the translator really tried. Compared to how heart- and soulless No Game No Life read and how the translator hardly gave any thought to what he’s even doing, you’ll encounter lots of smart translations and speaking patterns that don’t just come flying at you; trust me, I know. Furthermore, all those smart wordings and the overall very educated feel to it don’t say, “I don’t give a sh*t about this weeb crap, I’ll fly through this, get my money, and off I am.” No, the translator liked what he was doing and did his utmost best to let you feel it too, even lowering himself to slang from time to time, which alas feels very off as it’s inconsistent. I’ve respect for what he did, that it didn’t turn out that great, tough luck. Morale of the story, having read a lot of books or being a good translator doesn’t necessarily make you a good storywriter; but you should still try hard.
Should you buy it? There are several aspects to that, the most simple is probably: if you want to know what’s going to happen after the anime, you’ve no other choice. If you can appreciate educated English, it’ll also be a nice read for you, but it does certainly fail to carry over the fluffy feeling the anime and also the original novel has. On top of that it was 13 (!) Euro when I bought it. Importing a Japanese light novel is 4 Euro, as mentioned above, but that won’t help if you can’t read Japanese, right? In the end, it’s up to you whether you bite the bullet or not. Only one thing’s for sure, you shouldn’t go get it with high expectations and the anime in mind. Even though the story’s the same, the style makes it feel way different.