This year, for the first time, the Manga Translation Battle offered a new challenge: light novels. Compared to translating manga, which has a combination of visual storytelling, dialogue and sound effects, light novels are mostly prose, which brings with it different challenges.
When translating manga, translators are challenged to edit down translated English text to fit into word balloons. Light novels don’t have those constraints, but translating light novels places greater weight on the translator to not just translate text, but to provide well-written prose that is true to the original Japanese author’s style while being readable and enjoyable for English readers. On top of that, Holmes of Kyoto is set in, well, Kyoto, and as such, features characters who speak in a distinctive regional dialect.
Minna’s translation of Holmes of Kyoto took on these challenges admirably. Minna’s effort stood out because she made some notable choices that are more conversational than literal translations of Japanese idioms, such as “antiques lying unused at home” versus “antiques slumbering at home.” While there are a few awkward turns of phrase and typos here and there, her translation manages to be a generally pleasing interpretation of this quirky tale of a curious high school girl and sharp-witted college-age proprietor of an unusual antique shop.
This novel had some seriously tough to render bits, chief among them the use of "kimono" as a slang term and the double entendre of the protagonist's name as reading either Yashigara or Holmes. One tricky bit came up in the first line, which doesn't mean "antiques slumbering" or "sleeping" but rather "old antiques you aren't using anymore." Minna's rendition of this as "antiques lying unused" was, if slightly unnatural sounding, the only one of the three to understand what the sentence meant. Minna's rendition of "kimono," as a slang term, as "dressy" was an inspired touch as well.
If I have one piece of advice, it's to trust that same sensibility: don't get get too hung up on the dictionary definitions of words and try to come up with more natural-sounding equivalents, even if they aren't precise matches. This is particularly key with stretches of dialogue. Reading them aloud often helps. But overall, Minna's was a very admirable, very well done translation.
In this novel, characters speak in a Kanto accent, Osaka dialect, and Kyoto dialect.
Minna's translation was the most successful in maintaining the difference in each dialect and keeping them consistent throughout. The Kyoto dialect was a little too casual, but you could still tell the characters were speaking in three dialects.
A glaring error was translating the Japanese tea bowl as teacup. Minna had correctly translated the other antique terms, so this error should've been caught when double-checking the terms.
The main challenge in novel translations is that the information in a Japanese paragraph often needs to be broken up and redistributed to make sense and read naturally in English, and this was one of Minna’s strengths in this translation. For the most part, the prose flowed naturally and contained few of the problems that come from an over-fidelity to Japanese sentence structure. A specific part that I liked was how the questioning of the Japanese word for “renaissance”—which is relatively common word in English—was changed to an explanation of the “Rinzai school.” Still, Minna had a problem shared by all of the translations in adapting Mieko’s dialog into a lower-class British accent, when to the Japanese ear, Kyoto accents represent delicacy and sophistication. That didn’t detract from an overall very strong performance in prose translation. Congratulations!