Flowers and Metonymics in the Translation of Narutaru

A metonym is a figure of speech in which you refer to A with a different word B which is closely associated to A or is a part of A.  For example, in the expression “counting heads”, the word “head” is a metonym for “human being”.

Translation is shockingly hard!

Since every word in a language sits in a web of relationships with other words, so that every word we use is already a metonym whether we like it or not, we can call metonymics the study, or just simply the awareness, of this fact.  Metonymics is a huge issue in translation, I’d almost call it a dangerous issue.  Say that you want to translate a text from Language 1 to Language 2, and you find a close match between Word x in Language 1 and Word y in Language 2.  You cannot automatically just substitute y for x without looking at the metonymic reality of the two words involved!

Spanish “porcelana” can very accurately be translated as “china” in English, but you can see how the word “china” has a very obvious association with another concept (China the country) that you may or may not want in your translation. It might be better in the end to translate “porcelana” as “porcelain”.  Then again, this will raise the register of your translation, because “porcelain” sounds more polite than “china”, and depending on the context of the translation you might not want to do that.  In conclusion: every word in a language comes with its own unique baggage, and this makes translation a big headache.

Narutaru Chapter 39 is a beauty of a chapter, one of those 100-page plus cinematic chapters in this series that I love so much.  It’s the chapter where Satomi Ozawa decides to kill Shiina Tamai once and for all, and Takeo and Norio do their best to thwart her.

Banda Academy, which is closely associated with flora as I wrote in an earlier post, separates the girls into groups with flower names.  Girls that enter Banda in the Junior High become either Cherry Blossoms, Violets and Camellias.  Later on the groups get changed around, so a Violet this year could become a Camellia the next.  But the girls that enter Banda only in High School belong to a single flower group that never gets changed.  The flower in question is not the same in the original and in the official English translation.  In the original, it is the Lily.  In the English, it is no longer a flower but a tree, the Pine.  Here metonymics comes into play big time.

Immediately the question of why was Lily changed to Pine surfaces, and I don’t really have a good answer.  One of the girls in the English dialogue says that the high school-entry girls are called Pines because Pines are Trees, and we are left wondering what’s the point of this statement, unless it is that Pines are Trees instead of Flowers, and so the High School-entry girls are different from the other ones [also, trees are taller than flowers].  But this solution only defers the question, since that explanation in the dialogue is not in the original at all.  Why was the name changed then? I’m not sure, but let’s look at the metonymics of the matter.

Pine in Japanese is Matsu 「松」.  The tree shows up all the time in puns in Japanese poetry, because it sounds just like the verb “to wait for” 「待つ」 and in Japanese poetry a lover is always sitting by the door waiting for his or her lover.  By a stroke of luck the English word Pine also sounds just like a verb (“to pine for”) that is quite close to the essence of “waiting for a lover”.  Translators have put this metonymic similarity between the tree in Japanese and in English to great use in recreating the puns in the original Japanese poems.

Lily in Japanese is Yuri 「百合」.  To a foreign anime fan the word “yuri” immediately brings to mind the genre of lesbian manga.  I think it’s at least possible that the English translators of Narutaru might have feared that some of their readers would make the connection:

“lily → yuri → lesbian”

Since Satomi, who is the girl being discussed, is heterosexual through and through, the translators might have chosen to steer clear of this association.  In any case, Lily and Yuri have different associations in the two languages, beyond the small issue of the manga genre.  Lily in the West connotes the beauty associated with Purity, and is linked to Mary the mother of Christ.  In Japan it is said that a beautiful woman stands like a Chinese Peony, sits like a Tree Peony and walks like a Lily.  The Lily is equated with the beauty of Grace or Elegance.  The Lily is more active than passive here.  Just as in the case of homosexuality, it would not do for an English-language reader to start associating Satomi in Narutaru with Purity.

I like the Pine translation too, because it reflects Satomi’s school history, and I imagine that of many other “Pine girls” at Banda.  Satomi tried and failed to enter Banda Junior High.  As such, she had to wait (=Jp. matsu) for 3 long years to enter at age 15.  I bet you Satomi pined and pined for Banda.  The Pine tree fits in here perfectly!



~ by Haloed Bane on November 20, 2011.

20 Responses to “Flowers and Metonymics in the Translation of Narutaru”

  1. Is this based around the manga translation by Dark Horse when the series was being released in the US, or on a scanslation?

    • Dark Horse. This is from one of the very last chapters they translated. If it had been a scanlation I imagine they’d just have gone with Lily…

      • I read a thing by the guy who translated it for Dark Horse on ANN when he was bowing out of the industry. Apparently his work on the series had been pretty controversial because he not only strayed far away from being literal, but because they censored parts of the manga. He was very defensive, saying things like “why does it matter if we put a towel on an underaged girl?” to which I of course wanted to scream at him through the screen, but I don’t entirely disagree with his defense of altering translations. After all, I’m a proofreader myself. But I do try to keep things as authentic as possible, and a lot of the time my fixing of a translation is closer to what the Japanese phrase really implies anyway.

        • I’ve written about that specific censorship case (the towel) in another post. It matters a lot! Not because you’re shielding the reader from looking at the girl’s body, but because you’re preventing people from understanding the whole dynamic of father and daughter in that relationship.

          I usually translate very literally, too, but that’s because I assume my audience is committed to understanding and learning about Japanese culture. It depends on your audience.

  2. Very interesting thoughts on the translation. I don’t often appreciate how difficult this is. I’d have to agree that they made the right choice in avoiding lily: purity is definitely not a concept that fits with Satomi. I’m still not entirely sold on pine, as it is slightly odd to have a bunch of flowers and a single tree.

    As you can probably guess, Narutaru is one of my favorite manga and cannot get enough love as far as I’m concerned, so thanks for sharing.

    • You know, I noticed your avatar months ago, and kept meaning to bring it up but always forgot.

      I love this manga, though I’m reading it very slowly (partly because I’m reading each volume twice before moving on to the next one, the first time in English and the second time in Japanese). I’ll probably finish it by Christmas though..

      Hmmm…Pines. Could you think of a good flower then? I know very little about flowers so I just don’t know.

      • I have the same problem with flowers, unfortunately. They’re not my thing either.

        I’ve only read the manga once so far, but intend to read it again at some point. It’s completely mind-blowing, emotionally. I thought the last volume or so was a bit rushed, but it was still spectacular. I won’t spoil anything, but you can look forward to the very last page in particular. 🙂

        Have you read Bokurano? It’s by the same guy, and I’ve heard great things about it, but I’ve been putting off reading it so I can have something to look forward to.

        • Incidentally, I’ve been putting off reading more than the first 2 volumes of Narutaru for years, but I did finally read all of Bokurano recently. Instant favorite. I felt like I’d written it myself without realizing it lol. Mohiro Kitoh has a lot of other manga, some short ones that are very cool and then some really weird ones, like right now he’s got a sports manga about biking.

          • I would think that Narutaru is right up your alley (I mean the Akazukin alley, if you know what I mean). I think it’s totally awesome.

            I’ve read a collection of stories by him recommended on Rainbowsphere once. It was very good.

          • He has another ongoing one now, Nanika Mochigatte Masuka, which is starting off well. It’s dark along the same lines as Narutaru. Boy gets magic power, starts murdering people.

            • I only made it through a few chapters of that one, I didn’t like the characters/designs much. The way the characters talk is very shounen light novel or death note-ish which is okay but I’ve read too much like it.

            • I’m reading it now. I haven’t read or seen Death Note but I’m acquainted enough with it that I had the same reaction as digiboy. But I bet it’ll go its own way at some point. I think the big difference in the characters so far is the gender ratio is flipped (compared to Narutaru).

        • I think Bokurano > Narutaru, having read both. I still remember a lot more from Bokurano despite having read it earlier than I read this work.

        • Bokurano is on my list. Anything by this guy is on my list.

          • I feel the same way, obviously Narutaru is on my list because Kitoh Mohiro is one of my favorite illustrators period. Between his and Benkyou Tamaoki’s designs is how I want to draw.

            • I agree wholeheartedly. I don’t think you can get any better character designs in particular than Kitoh and Tamaoki.

  3. […] briefly mentions an allusion to Mary (mother of Christ) in his recent post on […]

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