Comment on In Memoriam

  1. I discovered the SB thread for this on Sunday, when I was supposed to be doing schoolwork. The comment section here on AO3 looks lonely.

    I've been reading Douglas Hofstadter's Le Ton beau de Marot lately, and something occurred to me while reading this fanfic: It's a translation. It's a translation of A Certain Magical Index (or rather, Index composited with Railgun), but not from one language to another -- in Hofstadter's terms, the ToAruverse Rewrite Project is a translation from one linguistic medium to another. For instance, Ernest Vincent Wright's famous novel Gadsby is written in the medium of "English without the letter E," or "Anglo-Saxon" as Hofstadter dubs it, whereas Poul Anderson's essay "Uncleftish Beholding" is written in "English with almost no Greek or Latin roots" ("Ander-Saxon").

    The ToAruverse Rewrite Project appears to be a translation from the linguistic medium of "Japanese otaku-oriented light novel franchise" into "English-language urban fantasy set in Japan." Elements that belong only to the former medium are thus jettisoned, to be replaced with elements more appropriate to the latter. So for instance, Engrish? Quite common in Japanese media, but it's got no place here, so the technobabble "An Involuntary Movement" becomes "Involuntary Physical Distortion" and "Level Upper" becomes "Level Plus." 12-to-13-year-olds who act like Kuroko? Creepy by American sensibilities, so the students get an age-up. Characters designed to appeal visually in the illustrations and the hoped-for anime adaptation? Ticking off boxes on the big ol' list of otaku-favored character types? Both non-issues, so the nun habit and the maid uniform go. Characters with romantic attractions that can be described with a graph approximating a star? Well... you get the idea.

    There are other aspects, like the attention paid to characterization balance (Misaka loses the hacking so Uiharu has more to do), and not all of that is necessarily due to the shift in intended audience -- some of it may just be the benefit of hindsight. But just the fact that you are writing for a different audience accounts for a lot. Take Index. A lot's the same -- her age and appearance, her bottomless stomach, her being a pawn of the Church with a perfect memory and 103,000 magical grimoires in her head who escapes and ends up on Touma's balcony. But "cuteness" is famously valued higher in Japan than in the Anglosphere, so that gets de-emphasized, with more stress placed on how she uses that memory of hers, because clever characters are fun to read about. And even that may have a different value in Japan versus, say, the States.

    Setting coherency? Man, I dunno; the benefit of hindsight comes into play there too, but I'm pretty sure tabletop RPGs and the like are more popular in America, so maybe the fanwanking type is more common in this audience, and light novel readers are more easily satisfied by wackier, less balanced, non-peer-reviewed settings. The list goes on, right down to, say, the lack of illustrations, meaning you have to work harder with the narration (not that I know how good Kamachi's narration is in the original Japanese).

    (On another note, despite your favorite emoticon, I'd still be OK with Touma getting a girlfriend eventually. He's a teenage boy; they do that sometimes. Maybe a fleeting crush in one direction or the other, too.)

    Posted Mon 22 Jul 2013 04:53PM EDT

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    1. Hi! Thanks for your comment.

      Wow. That's a really interesting take on the project. I mean, I haven't thought about it in terms anywhere near that complex; I've mostly been thinking about it in terms of "Okay, element A is cool, but element B doesn't make much sense so I'll tweak it a bit to make it work; element X is cool, but element Y is...ohgodwhy."

      But yeah, looking at it that way, a lot of what I'm averse to in the source material comes from the fact that it's targeted directly at the Japanese otaku audience, while what I'm writing is very much targeted at Western SF/F geeks like myself. There is a lot of overlap in subject matter (SCIENCE! WEAPONS! HACKERS! INTRICATE MAGIC SYSTEMS! [spoilers]!). But there are also a lot of character personality traits, design choices, and setting and plot elements--and, likely, themes--that are more palatable to one audience than to the other. (I'll try and keep your comment in mind in the event I get too wrapped up in the idea that I'm a "better" writer than Kamachi, incidentally. He built the damn car, I'm just putting the steering wheel on the left, giving it American-size cupholders and a paint job I like better, and maaaaaybe tweaking the engine a bit.)

      Incidentally, have you read Game Theory by Aleph? It's a Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha fanfic that was one of my biggest inspirations for this (although she left far more of the Nanohaverse intact and roughly canon-compatible than I am the ToAruverse). If this is a good example of a story being retooled and "translated" for a different medium and different target audience, Game Theory is a GREAT example.

      (And no worries, I'm not averse to Touma (and other characters) hooking up with someone at some point. Like you said, they're teenagers, it's what they do. What I am opposed to, and what brings out The Commissar, are A) harem shenanigans and B) rampant speculation on who that someone might be, which tends to get a little...out of control in popular SB.com story threads.)

      Posted Mon 22 Jul 2013 07:26PM EDT

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      1. I've heard of Game Theory, and in fact, parts of the premise sounded very similar to a Nanoha fanfic I had thought up (and probably won't ever get written, given that I probably wouldn't be able to do anything Game Theory hasn't reportedly done better). But no, I haven't read it yet. (Really, given my summer classes, I shouldn't even be reading this. :) )

        Don't worry, I won't speculate on pairings... out loud. :D I'll keep my current theory to myself unless asked.

        Posted Mon 22 Jul 2013 07:57PM EDT

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