I'm a librarian who loves anime, manga, and reading a wide variety of genres.
I downloaded Eugene Woodbury's fan translations of the Twelve Kingdoms books ages ago but dragged my feet about reading them. For one thing, I was still holding on to the hope that Yen Press (or maybe Haikasoru?) would announce a Twelve Kingdoms license rescue. For another, Woodbury's decision to translate Higashi no Watatsumi, Nishi no Sokai as Poseidon of the East, Vast Blue Seas of the West made me worry that his translations would be more localized than I'd like. I haven't given up on that license rescue (and would definitely buy/rebuy anything that I'd already read), but I really wanted to find out what happened next in the series and decided I should at least give Woodbury's translation a shot.
I told myself I wasn't going to write anything about the story itself, since I've already reviewed the book, but I thought I should mention that I liked it even more than when I reread it back in 2014. I don't know if it was the translation or if I've just gotten so fed up with the current state of YA fiction. As frustrating as early Youko (I'm going to use Woodbury's romanization in this post) could be, it was refreshing to read about a heroine who actually changed, grew, and learned from her past mistakes. The Youko at the end of the book was definitely not the same person she was at the beginning.
I also liked that there were no love triangles – in fact, no romance at all (yes, I like romance, but it doesn't have to be in every single book, nor should it always be the Most Important Thing). In another novel, Youko might have been paired off with handsome, golden-haired Keiki or kind and dependable Rakushun. However, Ono never lost her focus. Youko had more important things to worry about than the nearest potential love interest. Like survival, and figuring out who she could trust and how much. And later, reclaiming a kingdom and rescuing Keiki.
Okay, enough about the story. Now for Woodbury's translation. I think I liked it better than Tokyopop's translation (done by Alexander O. Smith and Elye J. Alexander), although I'm not 100% sure about that. There were a few passages that were somewhat confusingly worded, and a couple instances of misused words (example: “It didn't peak her interest.” (277)). I also wasn't always a fan of Woodbury's efforts to localize the text, although there wasn't as much of that as I feared. Woodbury's use of Rip Van Winkle in the text instead of Urashima Taro seemed especially odd, considering he included an endnote explaining the Urashima Taro fairy tale anyway. (By the way, I loved Woodbury's use of endnotes to explain a few cultural details. You could click them to be taken to the notes, and then click “return” to be taken back to the right spot in the text.)
That said, Woodbury's translation was really readable and felt more natural, most times, than I remember the Tokyopop version being. For example, in the hardcover Tokyopop edition, Youko calls the blue monkey a “fiend” (203). In Woodbury's version, she says “You son of a bitch!” (130). The second option seemed like a better fit for a teenage girl, although maybe Tokyopop put limitations on its translators as far as swearing went?
Woodbury did occasionally go a little overboard with the colloquialisms, though. As one point, Youko calls the city of Ugou “one happening town” (219). And she refers to brothel activities as “hanky-panky” (243). On an interesting note, the “hanky-panky” bit was so vague in the Tokyopop edition as to not quite make sense.
I thought I'd wrap this up by comparing a single passage from the Woodbury and Tokyopop versions, just to show how very different they could be. Even the paragraph breaks were different.
Here's the bit from Woodbury's version. Youko has just had a vision of her classmates saying what they really think about her:
“They were living far from here in a peaceful country, young women who undoubtedly believed they experienced much misery and woe in their lives. Once upon a time, the same had been true of her.
The thought made Youko laugh so hard she ended up rolling around on the ground clutching her stomach. Curled up like that in a fetal position, it struck her that she was alone, truly alone, totally cut off from the rest of the world.” (127)
And here's Tokyopop's version:
“Theirs was a different world, peaceful and distant. Oh, they would have hard times too, just as Yoko had in her former life. They might even come to know pain, and this thought brought a smile to her dry lips as she settled back onto the ground to rest.
Yoko was cut off from that world now, completely alone. She curled up into a ball and shut her eyes.” (200)
This was one of those instances where I preferred Woodbury's version. It made more sense and had Youko laughing at the absurdity of her past idea of what constituted “misery and woe.” Tokyopop's version, on the other hand, made Youko seem more vindictive, as though she took pleasure at the thought of her classmates' future pain.
At any rate, I'm looking forward to reading more of Woodbury's translations but would still welcome a license rescue and yet another translation of Ono's books. You know, for comparison purposes.
(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)