August 31, 2008

"Shadow of the Moon" revisions

Chapter 8-7/66

1. TP: Deep within the castle, past dozens of bristling battlements and hall after hall filled with fierce defenders, Yoko found what she sought: [1] a tawny-gold beast sitting alone in a silent chamber. A kirin.
      The creature stared at Yoko with a gaze as deep and mysterious as the Void Sea. [2] Quickly she walked to him, and he rubbed the tip of his nose against her arm. One of his slender legs, graceful as a deer's, was bound with a chain of iron.
      The kirin looked into Yoko's eyes. She stroked his golden mane, and the large eyes closed. [3] My other half . . .

EW: A solitary beast, imprisoned in a room in the depths of the castle, shackled within a thick wall of netting . . .
      " . . . a kirin. "
      This is a kirin.
      An animal with a translucent golden coat and a single horn on its head. The kirin's slender legs, like those of some species of deer, were bound in iron chains. The kirin looked at Youko with its deeply colored eyes. When she approached closer, it touched her arm with its slightly rounded muzzle.
      "Keiki . . . . "
      At the sound of her voice, the kirin looked straight at her. It folded its legs beneath itself and prostrated itself at her feet. When she knelt and reached out her hand, it did not shrink back. She stroked its golden mane.
      The other half of me.

1.1. I left out "battlements/fortifications": "A solitary beast, imprisoned deep within the fortifications of the castle, shackled within a thick wall of netting . . .
1.2. The expression here translates literally as "deeply colored eyes."
1.3. Looking at the rough draft, I see that I didn't finish the sentence; I think I was confused about the subject of the verb and forgot to get back to it: "She stroked its golden mane and it closed its eyes."

2. TP: The kirin narrowed his eyes and looked up at her. "Who else? It seems I've put you through a great deal of trouble, and for this I apologize."
      He didn't sound sorry in the least.
      A smile came unbidden to Yoko's lips. Yes, it was the same old Keiki she knew, droll and unrepentant to the last.

EW: The kirin narrowed its eyes slightly and looked up at Youko. "Yes, it is I. I do regret any undue hardships that may have been inflicted upon you in my absence."
      Youko smiled. She had even missed that composed, unapologetic tone of voice.

The verb can also mean "undaunted." Youko's reaction could also be described as "a little nostalgic." So she recognizes Keiki's aloof manner. I imagine Keiki sort of the way Jeremy Brett plays Sherlock Holmes. It's the way he is.

3. TP: "You came alone?" he demanded.

EW: "Are you alone?"

The addition is not in the original. His next line is the matter-of-fact "But, of course."

4. TP: "Present," said the one called Jusak'.

EW: "We are here."

There is no dialogue tag, so it is implied that both answer.

5. TP: "Of course," the kirin replied, his tone indicating that this was the most needless question she could have asked.

EW: "Of course," the kirin said with a nod. His utterly unflappable voice was really quite amusing.

The adjective is the same as in 2. My translation is close to literal.

6. TP: "You have learned much, it seems. Yes, it's as you have surmised." The kirin gave a distasteful grunt.

EW: "You seem to have learned a great deal," the kirin muttered.

Better: The kirin answered with a self-conscious grunt. "You seem to have learned a great deal. Yes, that is what happened. I am sorry for any trouble this might have occasioned on your behalf."

7. TP: "No--as long as they're well."
      The kirin nodded slowly. [1]

EW: "No, as long as they're okay. But I would like to meet them later." [2]
      "That can be arranged."

7.1. In the original, Keiki only says, "Yes."
7.2. The adverb "slowly" directly modifies "meet," so the sentence literally means, "But I would like to take the time to meet with them later," but that's a little long.

8. TP: "Yes, well," she replied. "I should thank you for the hinman. Joyu has saved my life several times. I do thank you. And ... I wanted to ask you one other thing."

EW: I have. Thanks to you and thanks to the hinman. Jouyuu was a great help. I'd like to say so personally, and there's something else I'd like to ask."

I think it could be translated either way.

9. TP: "Is it? It's just, since everything in this world seems to have its proper characters, I feel that if I don't know what they are, I don't know something's true name."

EW: "I suppose. But it seems I haven't really heard his real name yet. It's been bugging me."

This parenthetical is linguistically correct (though it's not in the original), and it's just as true in Japan. If you have an even slightly unusual name, introductions will often be accompanied by a description of the kanji used.

10. The Glory-King smiled. "I accept." [1]
      And so begins Yoko's story.

EW: The whisper of a smile came to her lips. "I accept."
      This was, for Youko, the true beginning of her story. [2]

10.1. LIT: "Youko faintly smiled."
10.2. The adjective "true" is not in the original (perhaps "real" would be better), but the grammar implies an emphasis. The particle translated as "for" is followed by a possessive (it is her story), and then by an optional comma to further set apart the subject and predicate.

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August 30, 2008

"Shadow of the Moon" revisions

Chapter 8-6/65

1. TP: For the attack on Iryu, the Ever-King gave Yoko a creature called a kitsuryou to ride: a beautiful flying horse with a red mane, white stripes, and eyes of gold. She found that she had no trouble controlling the beast [1]; Joyu, it seemed, was skilled in the art.

EW: On the day of the raid on Iryuu, Youko was given use of a species of flying horse called a kitsuryou. The kitsuryou had a red mane with white stripes [2] and gorgeous golden eyes. Jouyuu knew how to ride a horse.

1.1. The author gives the riding credit solely to Jouyuu, though the parenthetical isn't necessarily inaccurate.
1.2. LIT: "A red-maned horse with white stripes." The Japanese isn't crystal clear either, but proximity suggests it's the coat that has white stripes.

Better: "The kitsuryou had a red mane, white stripes covered its coat, and it had gorgeous golden eyes."

2. TP: It had taken great courage for her to stand before the Ever-King and Enki, lords of their own realm for over five hundred years, and announce that she would indeed take on the mantle of the Glory-King. [1] She knew very little about this world, and almost nothing of its politics or the history of its kingdoms; and she still felt that she did not have the merit to deserve the name of king.
      But she had decided that she would accept the role nonetheless, and live up to it to the best of her abilities. [2] That had to be enough. If it was necessary for her to fight now, she would fight. If she was ever to become who she wanted to become, she would have to start somewhere, [3] and hiding in Shadowlore Palace would get her nowhere.

EW: To face the En and Enki, who had ruled their kingdom continuously for five-hundred years, and declare, I shall go forth, required as much courage as she could muster. She still knew almost nothing of this world, nothing of how a kingdom actually ran, nothing of its political structure. She hardly had the right to call herself a king.
      That was why she had no choice but to go forth, despite how reckless it might appear. If war was what was called for, then to war she would go. And because she could only keep going forward once the ball started rolling, locking herself away in Gen'ei Palace was unacceptable.

2.1. The verb can also be translated (in a more informal context): "I'll give it my best shot."
2.2. The same verb is repeated here with the adverb "recklessly" added.
2.3. "If she was ever to become who she wanted to become" is not in the original.

3. TP: Of these, nearly six thousand troops were gathered in Sei Province.

EW: Of those, a good five thousand were concentrated in Sei Province.

The text mentions 5000 specifically, but as I explain in the footnote, 6000 is a logical total as well.

4. TP: The Ever-King favored her with a smile. "I have done what I can. [1] We may not match their numbers, but each of my riders is worth at least ten of theirs. And we ride above the clouds. That will limit the numbers that can rise to greet us.

EW: The En laughed. "For the time being, the soldiers I have gathered may not be so great as to take on a thousand each. It is sufficient that they each be the equal of ten. Furthermore, there is no good defense against an attack coming from above the Sea of Clouds. [2] There aren't that many who can fight and fly.

4.1. The addition is not in the original. The expression "Ikki-tou-sen" (which some anime fans will recognize) literally means "one knight (ikki) verses a thousand (sen)." It has come to mean "a mighty warrior." The En quips that although one of his soldiers isn't worth one thousand opponents, they are at least worth ten.
4.2. Better: "Furthermore, they are thinly defended above the Sea of Clouds."

5. TP: "Though I must admit," the king added, as if he'd read her thoughts, "I was also driven by a certain amount of curiosity as to who this new Glory-King was.

EW: "And, well, I was curious about what kind of a person this Royal Kei was.

This paragraph is dialogue.

6. TP: If I succeed . . .

EW: If it were only that simple, Youko sighed.

Better: Yeah, if I can only manage that, Youko sighed.

7. TP: A king is, in truth, little more than a dressed up servant, but few realize how human we really are. [1] Always carry yourself as if you were the most important person in your kingdom, and you will be [2].

EW: An actual monarch is something of a vainglorious concierge, but you should never strike that pose with your people. The face you put forward should always be that of the unquestioned person in charge.

7.1. TokyoPop is more correct: "An actual monarch is something of a vainglorious concierge, but you should never let the people see through the facade."
7.2. The addition is not in the original.

8. TP: She remembered the refugees she had seen huddling under town walls, and her heart ached.

EW: Her heart ached as the images piled up of refugees huddled together at the foot of the city walls.

Given the context of the previous paragraph, I believe this is a current observation. The grammar suggests this as well.

9. TP: "Do not doubt, and do not hesitate. I would not have you come to us only to be taken away so soon."
      "I won't die that easily," Yoko replied. "I'm a sore loser, you know."
      The Ever-King raised a dubious eyebrow, then smiled.

EW: "Keep your head about you. Losing the Royal Kei now, just as she is coming into her own, that would be a tragedy."
      "I'm not so easy to kill. I don't have the good sense to know when I'm defeated, you see."
      The En responded with a puzzled frown. Seeing the look on his face, Youko had to laugh.

TokyoPop is correct: "The En responded with a puzzled frown. And then smiled with his eyes."

10. TP: Yoko slid her sword from its scabbard, pointing it in the direction of the oncoming troops.

EW: She wheeled herself around to face her charging foes. She drew her sword.

The adverb used here means "to face," referring to Youko, not her sword. Better: "Youko drew her sword from its scabbard and faced the charging cavalry."

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Chapter 1 (Jougetsu)

乗月 [じょうげつ] Jougetsu (multiply + month)
小庸 [しょうよう] Shouyou (small + commonplace)
鷹隼宮 [ようしゅんきゅう] Youshun Palace (hawk and falcon)

In chapter 2 of A Thousand Leagues of Wind, the Royal Hou Chuutatsu, his wife, and the kirin Hourin are assassinated during a coup d'état led by Gekkei, one of the Province Lords of Hou. This story takes place four years after that incident.

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August 27, 2008

Frozen Feminism

I like to imagine that one day during the filming of Freeze Me, the producers approached writer/director Takashi Ishii, clapped him on the shoulder and said, "We all know the plan was to make a slick, updated "Pinky Violence" sexploitation flick, but, damn, this doesn't look half bad! I know, let's turn it into an art house film!"

So what could have been a kick-ass, soft-core revenge movie instead ends up an unsatisfying pile of faux "independent film" pretentiousness. And still manages to be just as misogynistic.

The story goes as follows: after getting raped by a trio of knuckle-dragging thugs, Chihiro (Harumi Inoue) has moved to Tokyo and made a new life for herself. Then thug number one shows up and, blackmailing her with a video made by his cohorts of their previous "encounter," announces he's ready to pick up where they left off last time.

A bunch of degrading sex later, Chihiro has had it up to here and caves his head in. Well, it was about time. The problem is, she has no convenient way to dispose of the body in downtown Tokyo. So she buys an industrial-sized freezer (delivery included) to store the corpse in while she figures it out.

Then thug number two shows up wondering what happened to thug number one and decides to avail himself of the same opportunities. Chihiro spends less time putting him on ice as well. And then thug number three—well, you get the picture.

But all this freezing is sucking up the power in Chihiro's rabbit hutch of an apartment, and it being the middle of the summer, the only way to keep from throwing a circuit breaker every five minutes is to turn off the air conditioner. Then the only way for her to cool off, natch, is to take lots of long showers.

Now, to be honest, I could have spent the entire 100 minutes just watching Harumi Inoue take showers. In any case, at this point in the film, we have the makings of a clever black comedy, with plenty of eye candy thrown in.

I was even willing to forgive Chihiro her maddening passivity during the first third of the movie. It's the standard Death Wish revenge fantasy formula: pacifist gets shocked into action and delivers violent justice to evil-doers ("a conservative is a liberal who got mugged"). Except that once the revenge is delivered, the plot grinds to a screeching halt.

Here is the rest of the movie (seriously):

Chihiro's loser boyfriend discovers what's in the freezers, and after some "It's not you, it's me" sex, he gets it too. Then she jumps off the balcony. I guess. It's kinda vague. Because it's an "art" film, don't you see. Oh, and it's raining. And it's at night. The end. Wow, moved and impressed, aren't you?

I don't know if the producers truly had the Pinky Violence films in mind as an antecedent, but Freeze Me is certainly less a homage than a betrayal. And sadly indicative of regressive and repressive strains in "modern" attitudes about women and sex. (By the way, the best Pinky Violence parody/homage is the hilarious Kamikaze Girls.)

During the early 1970s in Japan, with television eating away at profit margins, just like a Reese's peanut butter cup commercial, the "pink" (soft-core porn) genre collided with the yakuza action genre and produced a series of low-budget exploitation flicks featuring biker chicks slicing, dicing, and taking their clothes off.

A few of them, such as Delinquent Girl Boss with Reiko Oshida, don't actually suck. With her husky Lauren Bacall voice, Oshida totally sells the role as a bad girl in control of her environment and her own fate, willing to use both her fists and her sexuality to achieve her aims.

I consider Oshida's Rika the archetype for such modern anime heroines as Motoko Kusanagi (Ghost in the Shell) and Kumiko Yamaguchi (Gokusen). But watch Delinquent Girl Boss and then Freeze Me and you can't help but wonder: What happened?

One way I measure the relative quality of a bad movie is how long it takes me to doctor up a better script. It took me about five minutes to think of a better last half to Freeze Me.

Let's say a cop starts poking around—a female cop—wondering why the thugs haven't been reporting to their probation officer. The heat is on, and Chihiro has to figure a way to get rid of the bodies. And no way is she going to cram them down the garbage disposal. She's got to come up with something ingenious, and the cop is beginning to sense what's going on.

Ah, a physical and a moral dilemma. Now we've got pure film noir material. A comparison that springs to mind is Bound by Andy and Larry Wachowski. Freeze Me could have hummed and purred as well. Instead it alternately shivers and sweats and clunks and gives up without a fight.

I blame Thelma & Louise, which should more appropriately be titled: "The Original Dumb & Dumber." This supposed paean to film feminism follows the exploits of two unbelievably stupid grown women who have spent their entire lives as victims of impulse and circumstance and aren't about to let a little (almost justifiable) homicide stop them.

The good-guy cop (Harvey Keitel) finds them such a pathetic pair that he starts emoting like a father in pursuit of his two dimwitted daughters. Their exploits inspire pity at best, contempt at worst. Not once is logic ever allowed to compete with emotion, let alone overcome it. So why not just drive off a cliff?

It's hard not to read a very obvious metaphor into the final scene: the caring man stands by helplessly while the newly "liberated" women cast themselves into oblivion. And a woman actually wrote it.

It doesn't help that so many "artists" are so willing to read "profundity" into self-immolation, if dressed up with enough psychobabble or multiculturalism. It takes years of indoctrination to find something noble in dying for nothing, as Clint Eastwood did in the morally obtuse Letters from Iwo Jima.

Eastwood should have heeded his own advice: "A man's got to know his limits." Then again, Dirty Harry Callahan was much more sensible about things like that. Hells bells, even Rambo has a smarter motto. It's "Live for nothing, die for something!" not the other way around.

To be sure, there are plenty of movies about guys going out in a blaze of pointless glory—Barry Newman in Vanishing Point, James Cagney in White Heat, Michael Douglas in Falling Down, Newman and Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid—but the directors stress that either they really deserved it or there was absolutely no other alternative.

Even then, think about it for five minutes and it's still pretty damn dumb.

And yet for far slighter provocations, women are expected to jump off cliffs, tall buildings (Vertigo) and balconies, and throw themselves under trains. I'm sorry, but I just don't see how depicting women as so unimaginative and psychologically vulnerable is supposed to counter the stereotype of women as the "weaker sex."

I ask along with Erica Friedman, "What the hell is entertaining about reading and watching women being complete idiots and being abused by men?"

Which is why there's something more invidious than the lazy, pretentious plotting going on in Freeze Me. And again, I think this is so deeply ingrained—even in modern, leftist Hollywood—that it goes without comment. That is, it is verboten for women to use sex to level the playing field with physically more powerful men.

Trespassers must be punished! Or as Emily Bazelon puts it, "Whenever a woman sins, or contemplates sin, blam!—she's immediately run over by a truck."

Jean-Claude Brisseau's Secret Things serves as the textbook alternative to Freeze Me. His Machiavellian women are similarly punished, but in proportion to the rules they deliberately—and with self-interest foremost in mind—break. Playing with fire will get you burned, in other words. And it's the man lying in the pool of blood at the end.

Ishii's Chihiro, on the other hand, seems mostly guilty of not playing the proper victim. "Life sucks and then you die" may strike the adolescent mind as profound during the teen goth years, but adults know that having to live with your choices is a heavier burden.

The last scene in Secret Things morally redeems all of its excesses, because it straightforwardly depicts two women who have learned something from their bad decisions, and who know where those scars came from. The last scenes in Freeze Me and Thelma & Louise only confirm that the unexamined life is not worth living.

And so, their lives unexamined, they stop living.

Brisseau's treatment of the subject does get so explicit at times (Ishii is restrained by comparison) that you get bored (bored with sex and nudity—now there's a crime!), or much worse, you start giggling. (The "orgy" scene: just don't do it!) Nothing kills the dramatic mood and the sexual tension faster.

But it is the vulnerability of Ishii's and Brisseau's men in the face of such female wiles that clarifies why some governments and cultures enforce misogynistic laws to prevent stuff like this from happening. The don't-objectify-me left joins hands with the don't-tempt-me right to demonize female sexual desire as the root of all societal evil.

Rika in Delinquent Girl Boss broke free of these constraints way back in 1971. It often seems we haven't moved much beyond that high water mark since. As I observe here, it's as if feminists have been busily manning the Maginot Line while the old school chauvinists have been sneaking through Belgium the whole time.

Related posts

Girls kick butt
Dirty sexy money

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August 25, 2008

AFS blog reviews

A mostly positive review at the Rough Stone Rolling blog:

I enjoyed Angel Falling Softly, particularly for bringing the vampire into the Mormon environment, and because it was a genuinely entertaining page-turner. Make no mistake, though. Angel Falling Softly is not like the Twilight series, created for gasping teenage girls. The premise, the thought processes, the language, are all adult--not to say it's ADULT, just mature.

Shirley Bahlmann calls Angel Falling Softly "A highly imaginative novel" that was "hard to put down. No matter what I was doing, I felt drawn to it." The review also includes a tongue-in-cheek interview with me. (My sister describes the business about the bats here.)

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August 24, 2008


From the Catholic Encyclopedia:

On 28 September, 935, St. Wenceslaus was murdered by his brother Boleslaw and his accomplices at the door of the church in Altbunzlau. Yet Boleslaw found himself obliged to rule in a manner favourable to the Christian-German party. Much was done for the Christian civilization of Bohemia by his children, Boleslaw II the Pious, Milada, and Dubravka . . . . Milada, sister of the duke, who lived in a Benedictine abbey at Rome, was appointed by the pope under the name of Maria abbess of the Abbey of St. George on the Hradschin, the first monastic foundation in Bohemia.

Laura is reading The Silver Kiss by Annette Curtis Klause. I consider Blood and Chocolate to be one of the best young adult novels ever written (but avoid the movie version like the plague).

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August 23, 2008

Chapter 14 (Winter Splendor)

冢宰 [ちょうさい] Chousai (title), Minister-in-Chief of the Rikkan (the equivalent of the cabinet)

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August 20, 2008

Miyazaki's European flying arc

As a general rule, Ghibli films that Hayao Miyazaki has written or directed are based on Japanese mythology and fairy tales (Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Ponyo on a Cliff), or belong to his "European flying arc." The latter take place in Europe (or reference the region), include exuberant flying sequences, and feature a spunky teenage girl as the heroine.

Excellent English dubs of these films have been produced and released by Disney, with impressive talent behind the microphone. For example, Michael Keaton, Brad Garrett, and Carey Elwes (sporting a Texan accent) face off in Porco Rosso, with Kimberly Williams as the spunky teenage girl and David Ogden Stiers (sporting an Italian accent) as her grandfather.

The following list classifies the films according to period and setting.

Castle in the Sky (1986)

Victorian steampunk with a Dickensian tone. A young girl literally falls out of the sky into Muska's arms, setting off an Indiana Jones-type adventure to discover the legendary "Castle in the Sky." In hot pursuit are sky pirates (a Miyazaki favorite) and sinister government forces (Mark Hamill voices the Darth Vader character).

Howl's Moving Castle (2004)

Late Edwardian. The movie begins with a Disneyesque depiction of the ideal, early 20th century European burg. But before long, Howl's playing of all sides against each other (as in Kurosawa's Yojimbo) has drawn Sophie and him inexorably into the latter stages of the Great Game and finally into the devastation of the Great War.

Porco Rosso (1992)

A classic "Lost Generation" piece set in the Northern Adriatic. The leads could have been played by Bogart and Bacall straight out of To Have and Have Not. The "Red Pig" is a cynical WWI ace living with the guilt of being the sole survivor of his squadron while battling a bunch of bumptious, bumbling sky pirates.

Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)

Miyazaki homages the Northern Mediterranean in this coming-of-age story based solidly in the 1950s. The setting is his most picturesque, sans the dark political overtones of Howl's Moving Castle and Porco Rosso. Kiki is an enterprising young witch who starts her own bicycle messenger service (well, by broom, of course).

Whisper of the Heart (1995)

The story takes place in present-day West Tokyo, but Nishi-san's Curiosity Shoppe comes straight out of the Hans Christian Andersen school of architecture. Nishi-san bought the Cat Baron in Germany before the war, which we see in a glowing flashback. Shizuku's boyfriend goes to Cremona, Italy, to study violin making.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

Miyazaki's first Studio Ghibli production. Princess Nausicaa fights to save her village from being overrun by marauding environmental forces and warring armies. Though it takes place in a post-apocalyptic future, Nausicaa's village has a distinctive medieval European look, as does her arch-enemy Kushana's armor.

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August 18, 2008

AFS blog reviews

Briefly mentioned on the pilgrimsteps blog: "Another good vampire read (not so much romance, but a more sophisticated plotline and writing) is Angel Falling Softly."

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August 16, 2008

Chapter 13 (Winter Splendor)

This chapter is notable for its amusing yet compelling endorsement of Jeffersonian libertarianism.

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August 15, 2008

Shadow of the Moon (covers)

August 14, 2008

"Shadow of the Moon" revisions

Chapter 8-4/63

TP is the TokyoPop translation. EW is my translation.

1. TP: "Forgive me," said the one with golden hair. She hid her face in her hands, [1] but Yoko was certain it was the woman she had met in the mountains.
      The one who drove the sword through my palm. [2] That must be Kourin

EW: "Forgive me, you said." The statement was addressed by the shrouded personage to the woman, the same woman Youko had encountered on another mountain road.
      That would be Kourin.

1.1. TokyoPop is correct: "Forgive me," said the golden-haired woman, her face buried in her hands." (Dumb mistake: later on when the text reads, "Kourin again buried her face in her hands," the same verb form is used, with "again" added.)
1.2. The addition is not in the original.

2. TP: "It is unfortunate she had already made the pact," [1] the man said, though he did not seem terribly concerned. [2] His voice was like stone, cold and without emotion. "So, she will either die of exhaustion among these peaks or wander into a village where she will be caught. Either way Taiho?"
      "Yes?" Kourin looked up warily. [3]

EW: Though we seemed to have miscalculated about whether or not she had accepted the covenant." The man spoke in a disinterested tone of voice, devoid of emotion. "Oh, well. She'll die a dog's death at the side of the road, or try to sneak into a village and be arrested. Either way, Taiho. Either way."

2.1. The verb here is consistently defined as (and literally means) "to miscalculate."
2.2. The same essential meaning.
2.2. Not a question in the original, and the addition is not in the original.

3. TP: "You have ill luck in masters, don't you, Taiho of Kei?"

EW: "Luck seems not to favor your lord, wouldn't you say, Kei Taiho?"

Better: "Good fortune does not seem to favor your masters, wouldn't you say, Kei Taiho?"

4. TP: The Naze-King gave an impatient laugh. "Then we are in disagreement."
      "It would seem so, master," replied the kirin, her voice as soft as a spring wind through the trees.

EW: The Royal Kou smirked. "So I gather we won't be seeing eye to eye on this."
      "No, we shall not."

The addition is not in the original.

5. TP: Do not allow her to escape the bounds of my land alive. We will place kingsmen along the border with Kei.

EW: She must not be allowed to escape Kou alive. And while you're at it, post the Imperial Army along the borders of Kei.

Better: "Yes, the Imperial Army must be posted along the border with Kei."

6. TP: " . . . why then go to the extreme of killing her to prevent her from ascending the jeweled throne? Is she not bound to fail?"

EW: " . . . then why would you resort to murder to keep her from the throne?"

The addition is not in the original.

7. TP: "No neighbor of Kou will be ruled by a taika king," said the Naze-King, and he sighed deeply.

EW: "I will not have a taika king on the borders of my kingdom!"
Kourin sighed deeply.

At least in this case, the subject is clear: Kourin is the one sighing.

8. TP: "Keiki I will give to Joyei.

EW: "Give him to Joei.

The subject is dropped here. My translation is literal.

9. TP: You have wrapped Keiki's horn to prevent him from assuming human form.

EW: With his horn sealed, the Kei Taiho cannot return to human form.

This sentence uses the passive. The English verb "to seal" is used much the same as the Japanese verb.

10. TP: "The only foolishness I can see is your seeming desire to lose the mandate of Heaven." The challenge was plain in Kourin's voice. [1]

EW: "Will you lose the Mandate of Heaven over so slight a reason?"
The Royal Kou did not answer the question. [2]

10.1. Not in the original.
10.2. LIT: "The Royal Kou did not answer Kourin's question."

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August 12, 2008

The Tale of Genji ("Twilight" edition)

The "imprinting" instinct used as a plot device in the Twilight series got me thinking about The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu (written 1000 years ago). During his romantic conquests, Genji stumbles across a beautiful child by the name of Murasaki (hmm, also the name of the author).

He installs her in his manor as his "daughter," and then marries her after she grows up a bit. So I guess he has some standards, though it's still creepy by today's standards (not to mention that everybody in the story is somehow related to everybody else).

From the Seidensticker translation:

Murasaki was much on [Genji's] mind. She seemed peerless, the nearest he could imagine to his ideal. Thinking that she was no longer too young for marriage, he had occasionally made amorous overtures; but she had not seemed to understand.

All together now: Ewww. Though come to think about it, Murasaki and Genji also kind of remind me of Bella and Edward (Genji never "sparkles," but he is described as "the Shining Prince"):

Murasaki was suddenly a forlorn little figure. She put aside the pictures and lay with her face hidden in a pillow.

"Do you miss me when I am away?" He stroked her hair that fell luxuriantly over her shoulders.

She nodded a quick, emphatic nod.

"And I miss you. I can hardly bear to be away from you for a single day."


So she had herself a nice husband, thought Murasaki. The husbands of these women were none of them handsome men, and hers was so very young and handsome.


Murasaki was more on his mind. He must go comfort her. She pleased him more, she seemed prettier and cleverer and more amiable, each time he saw her.

On the other hand, if the above was getting you into a genre-romance state of mind, there is this (hard to put out of your mind) bit of self-reflection early on:

Murasaki was the perfect companion, a toy for him to play with. He could not have been so free and uninhibited with a daughter of his own. There are restraints upon paternal intimacy. Yes, he had come upon a remarkable little treasure.

But after reading this absurdly funny chapter-by-chapter summary of Breaking Dawn, I'm beginning to think I could really learn to grok Meyer's twisted, 11th century view of romantic relationships. I'd like to believe she wrote the previous three books just to get to this one.

In fact, the imprinting business strikes me as Meyer's buried lede (that she returns to in The Host). It is a more extreme example of the plot device I employ in The Path of Dreams--asking what happens when we are deprived of a specific element of human agency and try to accommodate it.

Though as my sister points out, this theme would have held together better if Jacob hadn't spent all his time up to that point hitting hard on Bella, apparently, it turns out, in order to get first dibs on her (as yet unborn) daughter. I'm sorry, but that even outcreeps Genji.

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August 10, 2008

AFS blog reviews

What's remarkable about Angel Falling Softly, says William Morris,

isn't just that Eugene does something new with vampire tropes (that in this case also involve the worlds of bio-tech and high finance) or that he provides a complex, touching portrait of a Mormon mother desperately trying to save her terminally ill child. It's that he weaves these elements together with well-deployed literary (often Biblical) allusions and quotations that add substance to the questions raised about belief, redemption, desire, sin and death.

And blogger Stephen Marsh points out that Angel Falling Softly is "mainstream writing, not fantasy, horror or erotica. In the end, the story is really about love, family, redemption and hope."

The book is something entirely different [than how it's been promoted or described], an exploration of the human condition with an LDS background (though for all it mattered, it could have been any group, kindly treated), and one of the modern vampire types who are likeable characters, with souls . . . who just happen to have knowledge, power, wealth and angst.

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August 09, 2008

Chapter 12 (Winter Splendor)

The Gogoukanda is a device that creates a portal between the universe of the Twelve Kingdoms and our world without causing a shoku. It is discussed in chapter 34 of The Shore in Twilight.

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August 07, 2008

"Breaking Dawn" at Dear Author

A review at the Dear Author blog (not a nice one). But these are people who love fantasy and romance. Not literary snobs. The kind of readers I identify with the most, who know there's good pulp and then there's not-so-good pulp.

The comments section contains a compelling discussion of character and story structure and meeting expectations in genre fiction. Who is responsible for a book's success? The writer? The editor? The readers?

I agree that the readers have the final say and ultimately render the only judgment that matters. But can too much love ruin a writer? Does sparing the rod spoil the child? Can the fans love an author to death?

Warning: plenty of spoilers along the way. You will know the plot of the whole book by the time you've read through all of the comments. Oh, and I made a similar quip about the Mormon naming business here.

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August 05, 2008

Tweeny Witches

Yes, I've beaten this dead horse before, but Harry Potter strikes me as the teacher's pet, BMOC, sports jock, and trust fund baby all rolled into one. All the reasons I was glad to get out of high school and never look back. Frankly, Malfoy is only there to make Harry look less insufferable by comparison.

Not to mention that I never detected anything admirable about his principles, except that whatever is good for Harry Potter is good for Hogwarts (the Nietzschean "Superman," kiddy version). By the time the business with the house elves rolled around (cue Randy Newman's "Sail Away"), I tossed in the towel.

If Voldemort was what it took to shred that corrupt society to ribbons, so be it. You know, breaking a few eggs to make the omelette. And I just can't enjoy a fantasy series that's turning me into an unrepentant Marxist.

Granted, the nice thing about stories that take place "once upon a time" in historical romances and period dramas or in a "galaxy far, far away" is that we can filter from our minds the actual state of affairs on the ground.

Hence we worry about Darcy and Elizabeth and not about how the landed gentry got so landed, or the permanent underclass that served them, or the perverse incentives of primogeniture. Watching 300, we happily ignore the fact that the Spartans could enjoy be manly and Spartan 24/7 because of the (invisible in the audience) slaves.

But inject a contemporary observer into the mix and that suspension of disbelief becomes problematic. No sane democratic soul can believe for a second that the world of Gone with the Wind didn't deserve to get crushed under the heel of the Union Army.

I say this all as a long preamble to this declaration: Tweeny Witches is the un-Harry Potter, getting right everything it gets wrong. I don't doubt that Harry Potter figured into writer/creator Keita Amemiya's thinking, but in this case he took a good idea poorly executed and made it great.

As the title suggests, the heroine is a sixth grader who literally falls (though not down a rabbit hole) into a parallel, magical world. After accidentally wreaking a good deal of havoc that gets her and her new friends into big trouble with the authorities, she deduces that this world is the source of the Magic Book her father once gave her.

After which she goes about wreaking a good deal more havoc. On purpose. You see, Alice has principles. Not very sophisticated principles--she's only eleven--but ones worth sticking to, and ones that actually mean something. And ones that cost her dearly.

The most important rule in science fiction and fantasy is the Second Law of Magic Thermodynamics: there's no free lunch. You don't get to be a great witch or wizard (or Quidditch player) just because you won the genetic lottery and your parents were loaded (as Warren Buffett would put it).

And power comes from something, not out of nothing. Mumbo-jumbo, hot air, and waving wands are not enough to make the world go around. The fossil fuel running the magical engines in this case is mined from faeries and sprites. Cornering the faerie and sprite market is how the people in charge remain in charge.

The faeries and sprites are an odd and ugly bunch, but Alice finds the tradeoff disagreeable from the start. A natural resource being ugly doesn't make it any more harvestable than the pretty ones.

To be sure, the most gouge-your-eyes-out-with-a-spoon annoying Hollywood trope ever is the one about the cute kid who decides that squids are adorable and squid-eaters are EVIL and so by the end of the movie the entire calamari business goes bankrupt so the little twerp can feel all self-righteous about herself.

Yeah, right.

Alice's idealism more realistically traps her between one rock and a hard place after another. No, she can't have her cake and eat it too. Clinging to a guileless outlook on life doesn't automatically mean life will conveniently distill itself into an oil and water mix of good versus evil.

Yes, there are cardboard bad guys, but they're mostly there to chew on the scenery and tie faeries to the metaphorical railroad tracks. And they're also there to remind us that there are "bad" guys, and then there are even worse guys—but whose goals, under close examination, could be as worthy as yours.

Both sides are pursuing utopian, zero-sum solutions to a real problem that is only exacerbated by their implacable sense of rightness.

Alice's true antagonist is Head Witch Ateria, a close analogue to Pullman's Mrs. Coulter, with ulterior motives piled high. And while Ateria is willing to let the ends justify the means, she's not a blithering, jack-booted idiot (which, be honest, Voldemort is). She knows that you keep your friends close and your enemies even closer.

As C.L. Hanson puts it, "If there's anything more boring than the hero who's perfect, it would be the villain who delights in evil just because he's pure evil."

Though Ateria could kill you with kindness or crush you with an iron fist, she's not evil. She may even possess the capability of being truly good, which is a whole lot more interesting. This is just as true for the opposing warlocks. When the two sides finally meet, the real enemy, they discover, is in themselves.

A terrible—and yet understandable—betrayal will make this truism literal (a comparison to Edmund in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe comes to mind).

Putting the story's moral complexities to the side, every second of every episode of Tweeny Witches is a visual joy to behold. The artwork and design strike the eye as a quirky combination of Hayao Miyazaki, Charles Addams and Maurice Sendak. A world truly to lose yourself in.

The title sequences and the short "bumper" episodes seemed to have been drawn straight from the mind of Edward Gorey. And listening to the closing theme song ("Dooby Doo Wah") will put a smile on your face for the rest of the day.

It's fun, imaginative, often honestly scary, and a little warped. Alice is the perfect amalgamation of Bart Simpson's brattiness and Lisa Simpson's smarts and Lyra Belacqua's fearlessness—a kindred spirit with such iconic female protagonists as Anne (of Green Gables) and Harriet (the Spy).

Like Claudia (From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler), she learns that there's no point to running away from home unless, as T.S. Eliot put it (and which Alice takes as her motto), "The end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time."

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August 02, 2008

"Shadow of the Moon" revisions

Chapter 62 / 8-3

TP is the TokyoPop translation. EW is my translation.

1. TP: The breakfast table conversation became a council of war, where Yoko soon learned that most kingdoms had two armies.

EW: The kingdom had two armies.

The Japanese is that succinct. The indefinite article could be used, but as they are referring specifically to troops under the En's command, I think the definite article is preferred.

2. TP: The Ever-King told her [1] that it would take over a month for mounted knights from En to reach Iryu, the capital of Sei Province in the kingdom of Kei. He also assured her [2] that Keiki didn't have that long.

EW: The regular cavalry would push toward Iryuu, the provincial capital of Sei in the Kingdom of Kei. This campaign, however, would take a month, and when it came to saving Keiki, a month was too long to wait.

2.1. Not in the original.
2.2. Not in the original.

3. TP: Surely that had somehow been related to the visions the sword had shown her, which were always accompanied by a dripping sound. Yoko assumed that the weapon had been trying to warn her of approaching enemies--it had sent her its visions in dreams as a way to protect its master.
      But wait--back then I hadn't met Keiki yet. I'd agreed to no pact. How did the sword know it was mine? Which comes first? Selection by the kirin, or the mandate of Heaven?
      Yoko had asked the Ever-King as much. [2] Had she been born into the mandate? Or was it Keiki's decision that set the wheels of her fate in motion?
      It was Enki who had replied, [3] however, saying only that he simply didn't know.

EW: When she asked the En about it, he told her [1] that those visions had undoubtedly been shown to her by the sword. Most likely, the sword had predicted the enemy attack, and had been warning her, the lord of the sword, of what was going to happen.
      But at the time, Youko hadn't yet met Keiki, had not covenanted with anybody. Yet the sword knew that she was its lord. Before receiving the Mandate of Heaven, before being chosen . . . .
      The En ventured that perhaps she had been born with [2] the Mandate of Heaven upon her shoulders. Or perhaps the burdens of the throne had become her own as soon as Keiki made his decision.
      "Who knows?" Enki had chimed in.

3.1. Lit: "When she talked to the En about those things."
3.2. Lit: "When she asked the En about it, he ventured . . . " I dropped the tag this time because of the redundancy. Here's my rewrite:

      Explaining all of this to the En, he ventured in turn that perhaps she had been born with the Mandate of Heaven upon her shoulders.

3.3. It's not dialog in the original: "Enki had replied that he didn't know."

4. TP: Whatever the reason, Yoko knew she had a link with the sword. [1] Surely she should be able to communicate with it.

EW: Enki said that a kirin chose a king by instinct. [2] In any case, Youko did not think that communicating her intentions to the sword should be all that difficult.

4.1. Better: "In any case, Youko did not think that communicating her intentions to the sword should so difficult."
4.2. A literal translation.

5. TP: What does the Naze-King intend?
      Yoko wasn't sure she had what it took to become a good king, but at least she might learn from watching a bad one.

EW: Show me what the Royal Kou intends to do. Or, his intentions still being up for grabs, show me what makes the bastard tick.

5.1. Better: "Show me what the Royal Kou is up to. As she didn't yet know her own mind, it could at least show her the mind of a fool."

6. TP: It's no better than the scabbard, Yoko thought. A blue monkey, sassy, impertinent, and impossible to control.

EW: It's this scabbard, Youko thought. The scabbard was toying with her the same way the blue monkey did.

TokyoPop is correct: "It's just like the scabbard, Youko thought. Toying with her the same way the blue monkey did."

7. TP: Only the woman's eyes had life. Her skin was white as a corpse, and the stain of illness clung to her sunken cheeks and rode the cordlike muscles of her emaciated neck.
      Suddenly, Yoko saw demons ransacking villages, towns burned to the ground in civil conflict, fields stripped bare under an onslaught of cicadas and rats. Flooding rivers spilled into the fields, where bodies floated among fragments of the ravaged crops.
      All this because the kingdom is without its king?

EW: The only life left in the Empress Jokaku was in her eyes. She had the skin of a corpse, sunken cheeks, the tendons stood out in her neck, there was a sickly pallor all about her. Youko sensed these were the woman's last days. She must be suffering much to be that shrunken and skeletal. Despite the mounting pain and knowing the foolishness of her crimes, she was not able to stop herself from committing them. [1]
      Youko saw the ruin of the Kingdom of Kei. She thought Kou was poor, but it was nothing compared to the destitution in Kei. [2] She saw villages decimated by youma, the burning huts of the poor caught up in the conflagrations. The land and fields overrun with rodents and locust, rivers overflowing their banks, inundating the paddies with mud and sludge, countless bodies bobbing in the water.
      This is the destruction visited upon a kingdom that loses its king.

7.1. In the original. The author uses a very poetic term: "Youko sensed she was seeing the woman's kugin." It means "a poem composed after much difficulty and hard work."
7.2. In the original.

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Chapters 10-11 (Winter Splendor)

Chapter 10

ご免下さい [ごめんください] Gomen kudasai. "May I come in?" (Lit: "Please excuse me.") In traditional Japanese houses, the genkan (玄関) serves as a mudroom and foyer. It is still acceptable in rural areas to step into the genkan and announce your presence.

Chapter 11

鴨世卓 [おうせいたく] Ou (wild duck) Seitaku (world + table)
紅嘉祥 [こうかしょう] Koukashou, red kashou (good omens)

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