Interview with John Wisnom
English Translator for Five Star Stories Manga
After visiting the Gears Online message board and saying hello John Wisnom, official English translator for the Five Star Stories manga, agreed to an email interview.
How did you get involved in translating Five Star Stories?
A good friend, who was translating another Toys Press publication at the time, Cinefex, into Japanese, called me up one day and asked if I wanted to translate a manga. After we had a good laugh over the whole thing, I said I'd give it a try.
Are there any tools or techniques you find helpful in your translation work?
Curiosity, a sense of humor and a great deal of humility. Most of the tools are out there, it's a matter of you exploiting them, not the other way around. The most important technique for a successful translation is, I think, to set up a cordial, convivial working relationship with the author, who is always the translator's best source of information. (What if the author's dead? Turn me on, dead man... turn me, on dead man...)
Had you read the manga before you started translation?
I didn't even know that it existed.
What are your favorite manga/comic titles (from Japan and/or anywhere else)?
The first comic, other than the "funny papers," I ever read was "Smokey Stover." Then there was the "Mad Magazine" phase, which changed my life and made it a lot more interesting. The first Japanese manga I read was recommended to me by a colleague at the research institute where we worked, "Ijiwaru Baasan" by Hasegawa Machiko, which led me to "Sazaesan." Another colleague then directed me to Shirato Sanpei's "Kamui-den," the world that I was really interested in at the time, the periphery of Japanese society, past and present. I've read Otsuka Osamu's work and of course enjoyed "Gakki Deka" "What's Michael?" and all the other wonderful gag comics. The last manga I read (besides FSS) was "Kasai no hito" by Mori Jinpachi (illus. Uoto? Osamu).
What sort of work did you do before?
Does a mercenary have any choice? Newsletters, X-ray machine operation manuals, Protestantism in China, the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, Pax-Americana and the Japanese welfare system…Come one, come all!
Of the 10 Japanese volumes of Five Star Stories, which was the easiest to translate? The most difficult? The most rewarding?
Easiest: The battle scenes…Not a lot going on there conversation-wise. "Roger-dodger" "10-4"
Most difficult: Dialogue the meaning of which even the author wasn't sure about. Oh yeah! Also his version of the Kyoto dialect.
Most rewarding? The bank transfers after the completion of each volume.
What styles or ideas did you try to bring to the translation?
I'm not sure what you mean by that, but I noticed the author's tendency towards verbosity and cynicism in the form of gag-like humor at the beginning and tried to adapt the translation to that sort of vein. The explanatory blurbs were modeled after "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"'s tongue-in-cheek obsession with objectivity.
If there was a reprint and you were allowed to alter the translation, what would you do differently?
Get you all to help with it, of course. Tear it apart... Make it better... By the way, it has gone through three different printings so far and not one word has been changed.
How do you feel about the extra sections in the beginning and end of the issues for the latest English edition?
I hope that they were both helpful and entertaining. By the way, I also translated a "reference guide" entitled "Twin Towers," only a portion of which (Jagd Mirage) appeared in those sections. The most interesting portion dealt with Dr. Ballanche and his digs.
Which character is your favorite?
Spectre... Unfortunately, the character wasn't developed very well, in the sense that it could have been a very powerful vehicle for the "author's participation in the play." Instead, Nagano copped out for Ladios Sopp, i.e., the extent to which Amaterasu (Nagano) chose to get involved in the Joker world. I guess that works, too.
What areas of the FSS universe would you like to see more of in future volumes of the manga?
I'll leave that up to you, the mania... er... experts... While feedback is not exactly one of the author's favorite inputs, I think that he is open to suggestions. The key to the success of FSS is character development, not just quantity, but quality. The question is "is Nagano up to it?"
What are your thoughts on how the English language edition has been handled in North America?
This is just the translator talking here... The summaries of each volume that I meticulously? prepared were atrociously hacked up by the editors (stoners?) at Diamond Comics. I think that is symbolic of how it has been handled.
Do you feel the English edition is marketed well in North America? What are some possible areas for improvement?
The translation was never planned to be "marketed" anywhere. It was to be a foreign language tribute to Nagano's work (ego), devil take hindmost in gross sales. Personally, I respect him for that and laughed all the way to bank, to boot.
Do you have an interest in translating other manga titles in the future?
What do you have in mind? "If you got the money, honey... I got the time." It's the Spectre in me, I suppose.
What do you think of the large number of Japanese manga titles being made available in English in recent years?
It's probably a good thing, but I hope that they won't become like Toyotas and Walkmen for North Americans, devoid of the unique culture, both artistic and social, that created them.
Do you have any closing comments for our readers?
I hope that Nagano would agree with me on at least the following points:
Here's a little story you can all join in with
It's very simple and I hope it's new
Make your own words up if you want to
Any old words that you think will do
Yellow, blue, what'll I do?
Maybe I'll just sit here thinking
Black, white, stop the fight,
Does one of these colors ever bother you?
Here's a little world you can all join in with
It's very simple and I hope it's new
Make your own life up if you want to
Any old life that you think will do
Love, yeah, it's nothing new,
There's someone much worse off than you are
Help me set them free,
Just be what you want to be.