November 29, 2007

The Imperial Palace (12 Kingdoms)


Although I define Seiden once in context in chapter 19 of The Shore in Twilight, the subject deserves a bit more explanation.

正殿 [せいでん] Seiden ("true building"); the main buildings of the Imperial Palace complex, where the business of government mostly takes place.
正寝 [せいしん] Seishin ("true sleep"); the main buildings of the Inner Palace complex.

The accompanying text isn't very clear, but examining this contemporary map, the Seishin would be what's known as the Palace of Heavenly Purity (L), located in the Inner Palace (or court). The Seiden would probably map to the Hall of Supreme Harmony (G).


The dashed red line marks the division between the Inner and Outer Palaces (courts). From Risai's description, we know that a wall separates the Seishin from the Ka-den (conservatory). It might help to imagine M and L reversed in the layout, with M representing the conservatory where Risai recuperated.

Keep in mind that in the world of the Twelve Kingdoms, this layout is essentially vertical rather than horizontal. The Outer Palace is physically located below the Inner Palace, with the "Five Gates" (A) at the bottom, and the Seishin at the top.

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November 28, 2007

Japan, 1947


Pictures here and here taken by the son of a U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel stationed in Japan during the Occupation.

I spend six months in Odawara 25 years ago. The station's broad plaza and the general architecture are recognizable in this picture. The Great Buddha at Kamakura is today surrounded by a large, open, stone-paved courtyard.

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November 25, 2007

Chapter 27 (The Shore in Twilight)


碧霞玄君玉葉 [へきかげんくんぎょくよう] Hekika Genkun Gyokuyou, Mistress of Mt. Hou
班渠 [はんきょ] Hankyo, one of Keiki's shirei; he first appears in chapter 5 of Shadow of the Moon, described as a "big dog."
蓬廬 [ほうろ] Houro (wormwood + hermitage)
The Gozan are first described in chapter 38 of Shadow of the Moon.

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November 22, 2007

Mecha meets reality


Angelic Layer is a futuristic sports melodrama about kids who battle each other (basically it's ultimate fighting) using very cute (of course) remote controlled "dolls." The backstory has the (only slightly) mad scientist (a Dr. House type) developing the dolls as an proof-of-concept for artificial limbs.

Well, Wired Science recently did a story about Nao Maru and his son Kenta and a robot named King Kizer, that is controlled using a directly-controlled body harness. Of course, real life isn't going to duplicate animated CG, but it's amazing how much the competitions (rudimentarily) resemble those on Angelic Layer.

Here's the Wired Science story:


And video of more competitions:

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November 19, 2007

Philip Pullman interviews


A series of short interviews with Philip Pullman about His Dark Materials. As you might expect, he comes across quite differently than he's been portrayed in the media.

Also, my sister explains well what I like about both C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman.

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"Shadow of the Moon" revisions


TP is the TokyoPop translation. EW is my translation.

Chapter 51

I had a bad week here with the dialog attributions.

1. TP: "I'm sorry, the Yasuda lecture hall?" asked Yoko, afraid she was revealing her ignorance of something she should know about. [1]
      "Ah, I suppose it was before your time. It was a student protest. Well, we thought of it as a revolution. Quite the affair, it was, at least in our minds. [2] Perhaps it didn't make the history books, though."
      "I, uh . . . I'm not terribly good with history."

EW: "Yasuda . . . ?"
      "Do you know about it? It was a big deal at the time. Perhaps by now it has been consigned to the musty pages of history."
      "Just because I don't know something . . . . "

1.1. The addition is not in the original.
1.2. This parenthetical essentially presents the same information as my footnote.

2. TP: Yoko sighed unhappily, though the answer did not surprise her.

EW: Youko took a breath. "Is that so?" But it didn't hit her as hard as she had expected.

The verb means: "to catch one's breath; to draw a breath; to stop for breath." There is no accompanying adverb.

3. TP: Wall sat silently, thinking. Then he chuckled, and looked into Yoko's eyes. "My dear, it appears that you are not human."
      Also not a surprise, thought Yoko, recalling her strange dreams.

EW: Rakujin looked inquiringly at Rakushun. When Rakushun confirmed what she was saying, he thought it over for a minute.
      "It would seem that you are not human."
      I knew that, Youko thought.

The addition is not in the original.

4. TP: "Yoko," Rakushun said, his voice stern.
      Yoko pulled back her sleeve and held out her right hand "I thought it was strange. I was wounded in this palm very badly. It was a wound I received from a demon, after coming here. The cut went clean through my hand, very deep, but now it's barely visible."
      Rakushun looked at Yoko's outstretched palm and began to stroke his whiskers. He was the one who had tended to that wound. He was a witness; he could attest to its severity.
      "It's not just this one?I've been wounded all over. Yet all of the scars are now so faded I can hardly tell where they were. And even when I first got them, the wounds seemed too light to have come from the monstrous things that were attacking me. They would bite through my hand and only leave a trail of fang marks. It seems like I've become resistant to injury somehow."
      Yoko laughed. For some reason Wall's confirmation of her suspicions about herself made her giddy. "It was all because I'm--what was the word you used--fey. I suppose that's why all the demons were after me, too."

EW: Rakushun raised his voice sharply.
      "Youko."
      He drew back her sleeve, showing her right hand. "I find this most curious. There should be a scar in the palm of her hand, a wound she received when she came here and was attacked by the youma. It was a deep wound that went straight through her hand. Now, you can barely see it."
      Rakushun gently unfolded her hand and examined her palm. He quivered his whiskers. This was the wound Rakushun had tended to himself. He could testify to the fact that it was indeed a serious injury.
      "She should have many other scars, but you'd never know it. The wounds themselves are very light for being inflicted by youma. No fang marks remain where she was bitten. For some reason, her body has become very resilient to injury.
      Youko had to smile. Listening on as her alien nature was acknowledged, It struck her as quite funny. "Because I'm a youma, don't you see? That's why they hunt me and attack me."

TokyoPop is correct about the dialog attributions:

      Rakushun raised his voice sharply. "Youko."
      She drew back her sleeve, showing her right hand. "I always thought this was odd. There should be a scar in the palm of my hand, I wound I got after coming here and being attacked by the youma. It was a deep wound that went straight through my hand. Now, I can barely see it."
      Rakushun gently unfolded her hand and examined her palm. He quivered his whiskers. This was the wound Rakushun had tended to himself. He could testify to the fact that it was indeed a serious injury.
      "I should have a lot of other scars, but you'd never know it. The wounds themselves are very light for being inflicted by youma. No fang marks remain where where I was bitten. For some reason, my body has become very resilient to injury."
      Youko had to smile. The realization that she was not human struck her as rather amusing. "Because I'm a youma, don't you see? That's why they hunt me and attack me."

5. TP: Wall looked at Yoko. "Now, if you are fey, there may be another explanation for what was happening to you. Although I've never heard of feuds between demonkin, a demon, when starving, will practice cannibalism; perhaps something about your true nature could attract their hunger. Still. . ."
      "I wonder," said Rakushun. "Yoko sure doesn't look like a demon."
      Wall nodded. "There are some demons who can take human form, but not so perfectly. And, of course, if she were a demon, she probably would have realized it by now." [1]
      "I realized something was going on," Yoko told him, smiling ruefully. [2]

EW: Rakujin looked at Youko. "Now, if we supposed that you were a youma, that would simplify things greatly. I have heard of youma being separated from their packs. When they come close to starving, they are the kind of beast that will feed even upon their own kind."
      "Youko doesn't look like a youma," Rakushun said, and Rakujin nodded.
      "There are people who have turned into youma, but I don't think completely. Moreover, they are not conscious of it themselves."
      Youko smiled thinly. "That doesn't mean it couldn't happen."

5.1. TokyoPop is correct: "There are youma who can disguise themselves as humans, but not perfectly. And to not be aware of their youma nature themselves--"
5.2. A double negative is used here: "That doesn't mean it didn't happen."

6. TP: "You may not be able to leave the capital until the king and his advisors figure out what's going on, but I'm sure the Ever-King will help you get home once these matters are cleared up."

EW: Until you figure out what is going to happen next, you may find yourself at loose ends as well, but once everything is put in order, I am sure the king will find a way home for you."

TokyoPop is correct: "Until they figure out what is going on, you may be detained."

7. TP: "Don't you want to hear anything about Japan? I mean, as it is now? [1] At least while we walk to the gates?"
      "No need," Wall laughed. "My revolution failed, and I fell into this world, into hiding. I'm content to stay hidden." [2]

EW: "At the very least, we can speak Japanese on our way to the gates."
      "There is no need." Rakujin laughed. "You see, that is the country I ran away from when I tried to start a revolution and failed."

7.1. TokyoPop is correct: "At the very least, we can talk about Japan on our way to the gates."
7.2. The addition is not in the original.

The online and offline browser versions have been updated.

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November 18, 2007

Chapter 26 (The Shore in Twilight)


郊祀 [こうし] Koushi ceremony ("ritual of the outskirts"); first mentioned in chapter 6 of A Thousands Leagues of Wind.
琳宇 [りんう] Rin'u (jewel + cosmos)
玉泉 [ぎょくせん] Gyokusen (gemstone + fountain); a kind of mine first mentioned in chapter 27 of A Thousand Leaves of Wind.
函養 [かんよう] Kan'you (box + nurture)

I borrowed a little from Yeats:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

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November 16, 2007

Pullman & Gaiman


On the heels of Philip Pullman, another great fantasy writer, Neil Gaiman, gets consigned to the anti-Christian blacklist:

While the epic poem preserved the uneasy tension between the era’s Christian and pagan influences, Gaiman and Avary’s script jettisons the spiritual underpinnings of Beowulf’s quest entirely; later, he even blames "the Christ-God" for ending a glorious era of human valor. Indeed, there is no place for God in this barbaric (if highly marketable) world of sex and swordplay, where lust is an all-consuming force and graphic disembowelment is served up for the audience’s delectation.

Considering what people have been saying about The Golden Compass, I'm not exactly willing to take their word for it. Though at least in this case, the reviewer actually saw the movie, and most of the criticism is aimed at the movie's Final Fantasy failings and lowest-denominator pandering. NPR considers the movie just plain bad, with or without God.

The conservative Libertas, on the other hand, rates it an entertaining diversion worth watching (as long as faithfulness to the original material isn't a critical factor).

So Gaiman gets blamed for taking God out, and Pullman gets blamed for leaving God in. Frankly, "blaming the Christ-God for ending a glorious era of human valor" could be interpreted as a good thing, as this "glorious era of human valor" usually ended up turning soldiers into cannon fodder. God would probably not object to being literally left out of the picture in this case.

Incidentally, the silly Philip Pullman controversy made the local nightly news here in Utah. I'm beginning to think this is really one of the most effective viral marketing campaigns ever launched. I plan to have a novel coming out next year--hopefully sporting some salacious and religiously-controversial content. Whom do I contact to get one of these rumors started?

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November 13, 2007

The Philip Pullman "heresy"


A "rumor" circulating around Christian websites and email lists breathlessly reveals that The Golden Compass, the upcoming fantasy epic based on the trilogy by Philip Pullman, celebrates the demise of God. All right-thinking people should be shocked! Shocked! Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war! But this kind of ignorance-fueled hysteria reminds me of nothing so much as the "witch" scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

BEDEMIR: How do you know she is a witch?
VILLAGER: She looks like one.
BEDEMIR: Bring her forward.
WITCH: I'm not a witch. I'm not a witch.
BEDEMIR: But you're dressed as one.
WITCH: They dressed me up like this.

Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy has been in print for a decade and has sold over 15 millions books. One does have to wonder about the long delay in the outrage. Well, it does help to stoke the fires of self-righteousness once you get around to dressing your foe "up like this."

In fact, the god who meets his demise is more an over-the-hill Darth Vader than the personification of the being on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. And the scene in question doesn't occur until the third installment in the series, which at this point isn't scheduled for theatrical release until 2011 (unless they pack all three books into two movies, in which case it won't hit theaters until 2009). The Chicken Littles should take two Valiums and get a grip.

But the rumor is out and about, aided and abetted by the fact that Philip Pullman enjoys speaking his mind and has stated publicly, among other things, that he doesn't care for C.S. Lewis. So Lewis fans have taken mighty offense. Actually, in terms of literary criticism, I don't think Pullman is that far off the mark. I also have the feeling that the eccentric Lewis was in person--like Einstein--a less agreeable person than his hagiographies make him out to be.

Pullman obviously loves playing the curmudgeon too, and I have some sympathy for the sentiment. But I'll say this for the Borgia popes: they never let loutishness get in the way of artistic genius.

Pullman also comes across as something of an atheist (I say "something," because His Dark Materials is certainly not atheistic). This guilt-by-association is a trap Christians often fall into. Darwinism gets embraced by loudmouthed atheists, so evolution must be the devil's work. But Marxists reject Darwin too. Push come to shove, I'll stand with the Darwinists, thank you very much. They're less likely to ship me off to a gulag.

But these ad hominems are beside the point. Having grown up in the Mormon tradition, I'll direct the bulk of my ranting and raving against my own kind.

Namely, that this fevered reaction is typical of the kind of hand-wringing that Mormons get into by: 1) believing that the enemy of their enemy is their friend; 2) not really having the slightest idea what they actually believe, and so deciding in this intellectual vacuum to go along with whatever tripe the more vocal evangelicals are fulminating about; 3) seeking safety in numbers.

[My sister suggests that the problem may arise from what she calls "right-brained literalism." That is, rejecting the weight of empirical fact while taking the subjective and emotive--such as that aroused by art--as literal expressions of reality. So one's personal reactions to a rumor are taken as more meaningful than the substance of the rumor itself. Unfortunately, this makes rational argument so much dust in the wind.]

Too many Mormons, for example, aren't aware that Lewis (in Perelandra) explains the Fall in terms quite different than the Sunday school view. Pullman's depiction is closer to the Mormon version. Do we need reminding of why mainline Christians--especially evangelicals--consider Mormonism heretical and non-Christian? You may be both throwing stones at the same target now, but it won't be long until they're back to throwing stones at you instead.

What do Mormons imagine the First Vision was about anyway? If not killing off the Nicene god? And in no uncertain terms.

Not only does His Dark Materials align more closely with Mormon doctrine than Lewis's Narnia, but it does so on a more complex level. If Narnia is algebra, His Dark Materials is differential calculus. Hence the oversimplification, leading to gullibility. In contrast, this review of Pullman's trilogy in First Things elucidates the weaknesses in Pullman's narrative with an even hand, and comes to the same conclusions that I do:

I can fairly characterize His Dark Materials in this fashion: imagine if at the beginning of the world Satan’s rebellion had been successful, that he had reigned for two thousand years, and that a messiah was necessary to conquer lust and the spirit of domination with innocence, humility, and generous love at great personal cost. Such a story is not subversive of Christianity, it is almost Christian, even if only implicitly and imperfectly. But implicit and imperfect Christianity is often our lot in life, and Pullman has unintentionally created a marvelous depiction of many of the human ideals Christians hold dear.

As I've noted above, the supposed heresy that kicked off this whole kerfuffle doesn't even take place in The Golden Compass. So if you're jonesing to be offended, you're going to have to wait. However, the conclusion of the anime series Scrapped Princess is quite similar to His Dark Materials. Essentially, the overthrow of the old church and old god ("Mauser"), made possible by a blood atonement, which leads to an "fall" from Eden (that has turned into a police state), and from captivity to free will.

PACIFICA: Are you God?
MAUSER: I am a traitor, the caretaker of this sealed world.
PACIFICA: I--
MAUSER: You were born to destroy me.

Obviously, without watching the entire series (available from Netflix), you won't understand all the specifics of plot going on here (Pacifica's brother--the dragon--is fighting the enforcers of the old order). But Mormons in particular should recognize the symbolic nature of Pacifica's death, the conversation between Pacifica and "god," and her description of the "war in heaven."

I personally consider His Dark Materials one of the most ingenious Y/A fantasies ever written. Besides, whatever else he does, Pullman deserves respect for his succinct and insightful defense of Y/A literature in general.

UPDATE: More Philip Pullman commentary here, here, here and here.

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November 11, 2007

Chapter 25 (The Shore in Twilight)


胎殻 [たいかく] taikaku (womb + husk), the "shell" that lends a taika a physical resemblance to her presumed parents.

On page 32, Youko uses the expression「なるようになる」(naru youni naru), for which Eijirou suggests (among others): Que sera, sera. Except that Youko uses the unadorned imperative:「なるようになれ」(naru youni nare), which makes everybody in the room catch their breath. I originally thought of translating it: "As far as the other kingdoms are concerned, Que f---ing sera, sera, eh?" but that was a bit too crude (though I think it captures the essense of this bit of dialog perfectly), so I changed it to: "As far as the other kingdoms are concerned, they're screwed, right?"

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November 09, 2007

Buffy (in Japanese)


Movies and television series imported to Japan often take the original title and convert it phonetically to kana. Even though Star Wars would yield a straightforward literal translation, it is rendered 「スター・ウォーズ」 ("Sutaa Waazu"). Spider-Man becomes「スパイダーマン」("Supaidaaman") and Bruce Almighty becomes「ブルース・オールマイティ」("Buruusu Oorumaiti").

Angel, on the other hand, is simply "Angel," because everybody knows what an angel is.

In the case of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, though, they got creative. Now, the whole concept of vampire slaying is not a unique one in Japanese F&SF, which is perhaps why they avoided both the kana-conversion and literal translation routes. Rather, the title focuses instead on what is culturally unique about this particular vampire slayer.

[Catholic iconography is widely (mis)used in Japanese fantasy to reference Christianity and Christian culture in general.]

Hence the Japanese title for the series:「バフィー/恋する十字架」. Reverse the translation and we get: "Buffy--Beloved of the Crucifix." Though the verb implies "smitten" or "head over heels," and can be read either transitively or intransitively, so other translations might be: "Buffy--Crush of the Crucifix." Or: "Buffy--Crazy about the Cross."

Pretty cool, I think.

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November 07, 2007

"Shadow of the Moon" revisions


TP is the TokyoPop translation. EW is my translation.

Chapter 50

1. TP: As Rakushun had suggested, beastling were not uncommon in En. For Yoko, seeing animals walking on two legs among the city crowds was almost comical. Some of them also wore human clothes, which looked even funnier. Yoko often had the impression she was at some sort of wild carnival, with the people walking around her as the main attraction.

EW: As Rakushun had predicted, many beasts mingled in with the crowds on the streets. Amidst the hustle and bustle, there was something unbearably cute about these animals walking about on their two hind legs. Some were even some dressed like people, and Youko had to try hard not to giggle.

The addition is not in the original.

2. TP: Rakushun had found work in the harbor while he was waiting for Yoko to arrive. Although he had simply been helping carry loads from ships at the docks up into town, he spoke of it as though it were the most delightful job in the world.

EW: While he was waiting for her, Rakushun had gotten work at the harbor doing maintenance on the ships coming into port. He told her enthusiastically all about it.

A lightly more literal version would be: "Rakushun had gotten work at the harbor helping out doing maintenance [repairs] on the ships coming into port.

3. TP: She suggested that they could stay in Ugou if he wanted to work a bit longer, but he wouldn't hear of it. "Besides," he said, "I told them I only wanted work while I was waiting for a friend; there will be no hard feelings if I leave -- they're expecting it."

EW: When she insisted that it was all right with her to stay a while longer in Ugou while he gave his notice, Rakushun said that when he signed up, he had told the foreman that he only wanted to work until the person he was waiting for arrived, so it was no big deal.

There is no dialog in this paragraph.

4. TP: Yoko had received her first allowance from the kaisheen, and while it wasn't a great sum of money, it was more than adequate for living expenses, so the trip was relatively easy.

EW: Their expenses were not high, and with her rather generous stipend they could afford to travel in some luxury.

The kaishin is not mentioned in this paragraph. The rest of the paragraph should read: "Though her stipend couldn't be called exceedingly generous, it was by no means a miserly amount, and they could afford to take things easy."

5. TP: Though Rakushun had suggested that Yoko could dress more brightly now that they were in En, she still wore her men's clothes -- the kimono-like robe she had learned was properly called a hoh; she saw no point in changing.

EW: Though Rakushun had pointed out that because they were in En, it'd be okay to show herself off a bit more, Youko preferred men's clothing.

I got around to defining a hou in chapter 7 of A Thousand Leages of Wind. Here I left out the parenthetical. The sentence should end: " . . . as always, Youko preferred men's clothing, specifically a jacket or tunic called a hou.

6. TP: Because of her attire, Yoko was continually mistaken for a young boy, and though most of the lodgings at which they stayed had baths, the men's and women's were segregated, and awkward situations sometimes arose when she wanted to enter the women's section. [1] So, she had hot water brought to her own room. [2] Since they had no lack of travel funds, the two friends made sure to get decent rooms, including a private washing basin. [3] Still, Yoko would have preferred the larger public baths, and she felt badly for having [4] to kick Rakushun out of the room every time she bathed.

EW: So, of course, everybody took her for a boy. This made using public baths a pain. The inns in En often had a furo, but they were more like a communal sauna, so she made do by bathing in their room. Because they had money to spare, even after taking care of their travel expenses, they always got a room. Still, it seemed a bit pointless since they settled for one room, and whenever she took a bath she kicked Rakushun out. Rakushun no doubt found it annoying.

6.1. Here TokyoPop does a good job describing a contemporary Japanese sentou (public bath house), but that's not what the author wrote.
6.2. TokyoPop seems to be skipping ahead to the next paragraph.
6.3. The addition is not in the original.
6.4. The addition is not in the original.

7. TP: On this particular evening, Yoko washed her long, ragged locks in a basin full of hot water, thinking of all the trouble her hair caused her.

EW: She filled a basin with hot water and washed her hair.

The additions are not in the original.

8. TP: She didn't feel particularly excited about crossing paths with this person, whoever it was. She had nothing against meeting another kaikyaku, but somehow she felt spending time with a fellow soul from her old world would only make it harder for her to forget all she had lost.

EW: She didn't want to meet him. And even if she did, the thought of hanging out with a fellow countryman and getting all depressed was even more painful.

The additions are not in the original.

9. TP: "They call him Wallfaller."
      "Wall . . . faller?"
      "Aye. Teaches at a lecture hall, I hear."
      What an odd name, thought Yoko. Perhaps, it's my unseen translator supplying meaning for some local turn of phrase -- at least it doesn't sound like it's Seizo. She realized she had been worrying that it might be the mournful, thieving old man, even though the chances were rather slim. Still it was a relief.

EW: "They say he goes by the name of Heki Rakujin."
      "Heki Rakujin?"
"He's something like a professor at a prefectural college."
      That being the case, he wouldn't be the old man who had ripped her off. And when she thought it through, it wasn't likely she would run into him here. But that was only a minor comfort.

"Heki" is an acceptable last name. Knowing he is Japanese, Youko would not have thought it odd. "Rakujin" is more unusual, but the literal translation robs "Rakujin" of its embedded meaning: "deserter." If Youko is going to think anything, she would think that.

I do need to amend my translation slightly. The only clarification Youko actually asks for here is how to divide up the syllables into last and first name.

      "They say he goes by the name of Hekirakujin."
      "That's Heki Rakujin?"
      "Yeah. He's something like a professor at a prefectural college."

10. TP: "Well, let's go see him!' Rakushun said, looking innocently at Yoko.
      "I suppose we should."
      "Of course we should!"
      "Yes, you're right."

EW: "Shall we go and see him?" Rakushun looked at Youko with hopeful eyes.
      "Well, it'd probably be a good idea."
      "Then you'll go?"
"Sure . . . I guess."

The adjective here means "doubtless" or "moral certainty": "Rakushun looked at Youko without any doubt in his eyes."

11. TP: Apparently the man they sought was living on the grounds of a large boarding school. Rakushun was concerned that it might be improper for them to disturb him by showing up unannounced, so he sent a letter ahead to request a formal meeting.

EW: Shire schools here were called jogaku and prefectural academies were called shougaku. In En, students aiming for a district university (joushou) could do their preparatory work at a prefectural academy, or could attend a prefectural polytechnic college (shoujo). This "Professor Heki" they were visiting taught at such a shoujo. He lived in a compound at the school.
      Dropping in on a professor out of the blue was bad manners. Following formal procedures, a letter was sent and an interview requested.

The author includes this long parenthetical to briefly explain the educational system.

12. TP: The next morning a reply from Wallfaller -- Yoko noted that he signed the letter "Wall" -- arrived at their lodgings, and the man who brought the message offered to guide them to the school.

EW: The reply from Heki Rakujin arrived at their inn the next morning. The courier bearing the reply accompanied them to the school.

The addition is not in the original.

13. TP: "Thank you for waiting. I am Wall."

EW: He said, "Please excuse the delay. I am Heki."

I'm sorry, but the persistent use of this literalism just sounds dumb. It'd be like calling me "Mr. Buried Tree."

14. TP: "Which of you sent me the letter?"
      Rakushun stood. "Er, . . . twas me, er, meself, sir. Thank you very much for your time."
      Wall smiled broadly. "Please, sit down."
      "Er . . . Right!" Rakushun said, scratching nervously under his ear, then turned toward Yoko. "She's a kaikyaku."
      The man raised an eyebrow. [1] "Ah, I see. However, she does not look much like a kaikyaku, does she?" He looked inquiringly at Yoko.
      "I . . . I don't?" [2]

EW: "Did you receive our letter?" Rakushun asked. "We, um, thank you so very much for sparing a moment of your precious time with us."
      Rakujin smiled at Rakushun's overly polite language. "Relax. Make yourselves at home."
      "Um . . . . " Rakushun scratched at the bottom of his ear. He looked at Youko. "This is the kaikyaku."
      The man responded at once to Rakushun's introduction. "Of course. But she doesn't look much like a kaikyaku to me." He turned to Youko.
      "I supposed I don't."

14.1. The addition is not in the original.
14.2. Youko can't be too surprised by this pronouncement.

15. TP: "Occasionally, a shoku will carry people from Over There to this world. Conversely, eggfruit -- what you might think of as embryos -- are taken from here and sent to the other world. Fascinatingly enough, [1] the eggfruit that do shift worlds end up in a mother's womb when they arrive. The ones who are born this way are known here as taika -- which, incidentally, literally means fruit of the womb. In other words, from eggfruit, wombfruit." [2]

EW: "When a person in Japan or China is caught up in a shoku, they are brought here. In the same way, ranka sometimes get swept into that other world. A ranka is like an embryo. In the other world, a ranka can become embedded in a woman's womb. The child that is subsequently born is called a taika."

15.1. The addition is not in the original.
15.2. This parenthetical is not in the original.

16. TP: . . . by the Emperor of Heaven when you were conceived."

EW: by the Tentei.

This is a term I defined literally once (back in chapter 42) and then defaulted to the Japanese.

17. TP: "Yes. My father always said I looked like his mother."

EW: "Yes. People say I look like my grandmother on my father's side."

LIT: "It's said that I look like my grandmother on my father's side."

18. TP: "So. The form your body took Over There is what we might call your shell. Like a covering placed over you while still in the womb, to protect you once you are born in a place where your natural form would make you seem a stranger. As long as you remained in that world, your inner self would bend to adapt to its new shape."

EW: "It is a shell, so to speak. A second skin grows within the womb so that those born in that other world may pass as 'normal.' I have heard of taika changing their appearance like this."

TokyoPop is more correct: "I have heard that a taika's appearance can be transfigured in such a manner."

19. TP: It took Yoko a long time to accept what he was saying. If it was true, then she wasn't even part of the world that she grew up in. She had been a stranger in that world, too. The idea went against all she had been taught in her childhood [1] -- and yet, at the same time, she felt a part of her had known all along.
      That's why I never fit in.
      Suddenly, the pain she had been carrying inside her since she first saw the visions in the sword disappeared. The pain was gone; [2] but in its place, she was left with a profound sadness.

EW: Youko struggled to make sense of what he was telling her. He was telling her that in Japan, she had been a stranger in a strange land all along. That she accepted without objection. There was definitely a part of her that said, Yes, of course.
      She didn't belong to that other world. That was why she had never felt at home there. She found the thought very comforting. And at the same time, very sad.

19.1. The addition is not in the original.
19.2. The addition is not in the original.

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November 06, 2007

The "uncanny valley"


Reviews of the $165 million animated feature The Polar Express made using extensive use of motion capture technology as well as digital smoothing and texturing, has resurrected Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori's warnings about the dangers of creating artificial life forms that are "almost but just not quite human." What Mori discovered, explain Clive Thompson, was that "the more humanlike his robots became, the more people were attracted to them, but only up to a point."

When a robot becomes 99 percent lifelike--so close that it's almost real--we focus on the missing one percent. We notice the slightly slack skin, the absence of a truly human glitter in the eyes. The once-cute robot now looks like an animated corpse. Our warm feelings, which had been rising the more vivid the robot became, abruptly plunge downward. Mori called this plunge "the uncanny valley," the paradoxical point at which a simulation of life becomes so good it's bad.

This isn't as big a problem in Final Fantasy, the first feature film to replace an entire cast with 3D animated androids. Back in 2001 disbelief still required suspending, which, frankly, was to its credit. Final Fantasy teetered on the edge of the uncanny valley. But with four more years of technology to work with (a lifetime in microchip terms), The Polar Express clings precariously to the edge.

On the negative side, writes Jason Silverman in Wired,

the characters are, unintentionally, more creepy than sweet. A girl on the train has an odd immobility in her lower face--she looks a bit deranged. And the eyes and face of a young boy are robotic and blank--he reminded me of David in A.I., but far less expressive.

Agrees Eric Snider, "People's faces look especially creepy, like robots trying to approximate human behavior." It will be interesting to see how well James Cameron executes his live-action version of Battle Angel. Alita, he says, will be digitally animated. But Alita, like the Terminator (and more particularly, T-1000 and T-X), is an android, so it just might work. We won't expect her to look entirely human.

According to Mori, artists and designers "should not strive overly hard to duplicate human appearance," lest some seemingly minor flaw drop the hapless android or cyborg into the uncanny valley." The final product, Dave Bryant points out, "should be visibly artificial, [yet] smart and stylish in appearance . . . [an aesthetic approach that] can be seen . . . in manga and anime."

The effect of this is apparent in Innocence, the sequel to Ghost in the Shell, which mixes "traditional" and digital animation. At least to my eye, the simpler, hand-drawn human characters look far more "real" than the digitally-created people in state-of-the-art productions such as Shrek.

The Pixar approach so far has to stay away from the human, or to keep them cartoony (the wonderful Incredibles, for example). The feature film production of Appleseed takes that retrogression a step further. It makes them look like anime characters again.

Hair, for example, is difficult to render digitally, so in Appleseed they don't try. Hair is stylized the same chunky way it is in anime. Shading as well uses a limited palette. The result are low-rez renditions that appear hand-drawn in some scenes and like sophisticated marionettes in others.

Just as important is how characters move. Watching Appleseed, the eye is drawn particularly to the depictions of physical movement. The brain then tries to interpret the human it recognizes from the motion-capture in the context of something that doesn't look "human." The result is both unsettling and weirdly compelling.

On the other hand, the digitally-animated Tachikoma robots in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex are so tremendously appealing precisely because they don't look "human" in the slightest, and yet the motion capture lends them an almost "organic" presence.

We're not "there" yet, warns Clive Thompson. "The more they plug away at it--the more high-resolution their human characters become--the deeper they'll trudge into the Uncanny Valley." Summarizes James Surowiecki, speaking to the same problem with video games,

After a certain amount of graphical improvement, it actually gets harder to suspend your disbelief and truly immerse yourself. The closer a game gets to resembling the real world, the ways in which it's different become more obvious, and the more psychologically jarring those differences become.

Besides, if we do get "there"--if you can't tell the difference between "real life" and "art"--then what's the art for? The Louvre would replace the Mona Lisa with a (digitally scanned, of course) photograph. And, frankly, after watching Appleseed, you don't think, gee, if they only had a few more million to render the hair and skin textures correctly. You think, gee, if only they hadn't relied on a plot device (big computer takes over world, messes everything up) that was old twenty years ago.

Manga artists instead employ a minimalistic, representational approach that surprises you with its simplicity when you observe it closely. Compare these two frames from Lament of the Lamb by Kei Toume. Only the slightest aleration of line vividly depicts Chizuna's change of mood. But to know what caused that change of mood requires you to read the text.

To borrow from Marshall McLuhan's terminology, the manga is "hotter" than the comic book. Like prose, it requires the reader to actively engage in the narrative structure, not just look at the pictures, in order to follow the story. You rarely see in manga the full-color, "artistic" if idealized human forms that you do in American superhero comics.

Inanimate objects such as mecha typically receive far more attention in design than do their human pilots, who define their character according to their human behaviors, not their human appearance. Rather, characters are physically differentiated by what may be called "meta detail," often highly symbolic in nature. In this respect, the stylistics in manga bear more than a passing resemblance to those of the traditional Japanese theater, Kabuki.

Explains Donald Shivley, the onnagata (a female impersonator in Kabuki drama) "singled out the most essential traits of a woman's gestures and speech and gave to these a special emphasis in much the same way that puppets exaggerate human gestures to appear alive."

Consider the use of shading and color when it comes to hair and eye color. For example, Alisa in Fruits Basket is drawn as a blonde to indicate that she is half-Caucasian. Needless to say, an genetic improbability.

Likewise, Frederick Schodt points out that the color inserts in manga often depict even native Japanese characters with "distinctly blonde hair and blue eyes," illustrations that are clearly not intended to be taken literally.

The quintessential example is Ranma, whose female half is depicted with red hair, as contrasted to the black-haired male. Liana Sharer notes that red hair tags a character (as it does in western culture) as "feisty," indicates spirit possession (Ranma's split personality is the result of an ancient Chinese curse). And, especially with male protagonists, "emphasize[s] their traditional nature." Antonia Levi agrees that hair color "not only serves to differentiate the two personas, but also gives a color cue as to which is the true, the proper Ranma."

However, this abstract, minimalistic approach means that if you are unfamiliar with the metaphors employed, it can sometimes get hard to tell characters apart. You have to pay attention both to the text and the subtext. It is a more artistic and "literary" technique that pushes manga closer to prose and pulls these "traditional" 2-D anime characters further away from the edge of the "uncanny valley."

Related posts

Vexille
Appleseed
The uncanny abyss

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November 05, 2007

Final Fantasy


Final Fantasy is a better movie than it's generally given credit for, and a breakthrough in its own right. Which is not to say it's not a flawed film. It's an egregiously flawed film. But unlike, for example, the egregious flaws in so many Spielberg films, that often render the final product reprehensible, the flaws in Final Fantasy only serve to make it all the more intriguing and thought-provoking.

Final Fantasy is probably better known as the first completely digital "live action" animated motion picture (a couple of oxymora in there); that is, it isn't a cartoon. The attempt was to make it a "real" (another oxymoron--"real" fantasy?) as possible. And on purely technical grounds, it largely succeeds, though years from now it may appear as advanced as Tron does now (a scary thought. One of the curiosities is seeing what does and what does not work.

It comes down to faces; more specifically, the mouth. The gestures that people naturally use to animate conversation also seem a bit wooden at times (motion capture technology has solved the second problem but not the first). Still, there are stretches where you forget you are watching a 100 percent digitally generated image (which says as much about the suspension of disbelief as anything else).

All in all, the science fiction milieu well suits the style: somewhat sterile and shielded from the bothersome randomness of nature. It also helps that much of the time people are dressed up in space suits. But I wouldn't classify it as "live action." It's high-concept, high-quality anime, a combination of two venerable anime themes: "mecha" and what I term "Shinto SF&F."

The alien asteroid whacking into the Earth, sending the World's Greatest Minds into frenzy of wondering why-are-they-here and what-do-they-want is also a well-used anime plot device (e.g., Macross, Evangelion).

Mecha (pronounce the /ch/ as in "match") is derived from "mechanical," and refers to anime that centers around mechanical gadgets, specifically body armor and robots manned by human operators. Mecha is not a principle element in Final Fantasy, except in the general sense, meaning attention to mechanical detail. Anything that unscrews, unlatches, turns, whirs, spins and goes click-clack gets screen time (Wings of Honneamise employs this almost to excess).

But the plot itself is "Shinto SF" to the core. And that's where the problems start.

By "Shinto SF&F" I mean an animistic teleology (derived from Shinto, but mixed in with elements of Buddhism and Christianity) that is taken as a given. Miyazaki's Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Princess Mononoke are good examples, though Miyazaki has a light touch compared to others (e.g., Blue Seed). These stories lean heavily on animism and the cultural framework that defines its expression, in the same way that gothic horror defines itself in terms of Christian theology, most of the Catholic school.

It seems obvious to me that this was the working philosophy for Hironobu Sakaguchi and Motonori Sakakibara, the producer/director team of Final Fantasy. But in gearing the story towards the American audience, this scaffolding was stripped away, leaving behind a fat-free, New Age substitute makes you cringe rather than wonder. If you're going to spend a good amount of time talking about spirits and souls and the end-of-life-as-we-know-it, you've got to have a eschatology rigorous enough to support it all.

It was done better (though not commercially so) in Black Hole, a piece of Gothic SF&F that was also better than the critics said ("Gothic SF&F" being the occidental equivalent of "Shinto SF&F"), despite its cutesy, Disneyfied diversions. Black Hole takes Milton as its foundation, and Milton can carry the weight. (Event Horizon revisited the same themes, but didn't pull it off, largely because the director couldn't tell the difference between creating ambience and shoving ambience in your face.)

Another good example is Lewis's That Hideous Strength. Lewis employs surprisingly little overt Christianity, only occasionally pulling back the curtains to reveal the two-by-fours holding everything up. With the introduction of Merlin he creates a kind of animistic, primordial Christian religiosity that I believe Sakaguchi and Sakakibara were striving for.

But without a similar foundation, they're left to pile on the philosophizing, and then grind the movie to a halt so the protagonists can sit around and discuss what-the-heck-is-going-on. A strange thing to do in an animated film. About thirty minutes in I started thinking to myself, this all seems familiar: Mamoru Oshii's Ghost in the Shell (which I also like, despite similar problems).

The protagonist in Ghost, Lt. Kusanagi, resembles Fantasy's Aki Ross physically and emotionally; they are both characters for whom the external conflict is almost completely subsumed by the existential quest. They even sound similar--distant, removed from the outer world, loners (I'm comparing Ming-Na, who voiced Mulan, to Ghost's Atsuko Tanaka; the original English-language dub of Ghost went for a Linda Hamilton/T2/tough-girl reading and ruined it). The leading men, Captain Edwards in Fantasy and Bateau in Ghost are clones as well.

Where they really cross paths is in this thick layer of animistic teleology. And consequently, they share the same flaws: trying to package a novel's worth of Deep Thinking into a short-story amount of space. The more they try to explain, the worse it gets. Probably better to do what Kubrick did in the last half hour of 2001: don't explain anything, just hang it all out there to dry. At least then the "serious" critics will take it as Terribly Profound, whether it makes any sense or not.

But if you're familiar with the genre, if you're familiar with any kind of Lewisian-type fiction, Final Fantasy isn't confusing; you can spot almost at once what they are trying to do, and where it goes wrong. Because the sum of the parts, in this case, is greater than the whole, the entertainment value then is trying to figure out what you would do to fix it.

Final Fantasy is rated PG-13, I think to prevent small children from being bored to death in between the action sequences. Rare that you can fault anime for a lack of explicitness (compare Ghost in the Shell), but in Final Fantasy it is necessary to conclude that protagonists kissing = protagonists having sex. Something a tad more suggestive would have helped, considering that the consequences of that coupling are absolutely critical to the plot.

They also needed to dial up the Trite Dialogue Detector a few notches.

Lastly, the casting is great: Ming-Na, Alec Baldwin, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, Donald Sutherland (providing a much-needed center of gravity), James Woods. Maybe money can't buy you a great work of art, but it certainly can buy you talent.

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November 04, 2007

Chapter 24 (The Shore in Twilight)


路木 [ろぼく] roboku; the riboku located at the heart of the Imperial Palace. The riboku is first described in chapter 53 of Shadow of the Moon. New species of plants can essentially be bioengineered via the roboku. In the wild, they also spontaneously evolve new plants and flowers on their own, as Rangyoku explains in chapter 33 of A Thousand Leagues of Wind.
荊柏 [けいはく] keihaku (thorn oak)
鴻慈 [こうじ] kouji, "the compassion of Kouki"

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November 01, 2007

Powerpuff Girls in Japan




It's not just a matter of adapting to the aesthetics of Japanese animation, but of expanding the audience and maximizing options for licensed merchandise such as manga, costumes (cosplay), and figurines.

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