There is quite a bit to unpack in this week’s offerings, so I’ll leave my commentary for next week. For now, I hope you enjoy the [comic]!
When thinking about how to approach this translation, it occurred to me that I am somewhat blessed in having Rakuten’s own tri- and bi-lingual manga to work from, to see how he works multiple sets of text into his [comics] (often haphazardly), so as to free myself, as he does, from a slavish devotion to sense in order to work from the perspective of effect. The original of this text is, of course, entirely in Japanese, yet its translation by my own hand would not be out of place with any of Rakuten’s bilingual manga.
On their surface, Ippei’s film stories might be read as quaint domestic comedies, fodder for the much maligned and quite often stereotyped pedestrian predilections of bored housewives, and a superficial understanding of women’s magazines in prewar Japan would certainly buttress that reading. However, the historical print milieu in which Ippei’s manga quite often found itself was neither decidedly middle brow nor exclusively for women, even if the print matter where they appeared was a woman’s magazine. In fact, given what is readily apparent about the kinds of stories regularly published in newspapers and magazines, it is entirely possible that Ippei’s manga aspired to a certain high literary status.
It became clear that what I needed to do was not replicate Ippei’s text in one of its extant forms nor one purely of my own invention but rather relate to it in a manner analogous to how his own eiga shōsetsu do not quite resemble other contemporaneous examples of the “form.” I had to remember for myself and, more importantly, show how Ippei’s manga represent an aesthetic attitude, not just a visual format, an orientation that has as much to say about how we might approach translation as how we might regard [comic] form.
Pre-war manga, like pre-war modernism, requires us as readers to shed most if not all our presumptions about what Japanese [comics] are, to rethink them from the ground up in a manner than is neither clichéd nor dwells obsessively on well worn tropes, as so much thinking about manga as style does nowadays.
Oshii’s animated film and its source material posit a world in which one’s racially marked body is rendered irrelevant, that it can be discarded at any time for another that in no way resembles one’s “original” racial makeup. To be sure, the choice to cast Johansson as Kusanagi is likely a cynical one, but at the same time casting a white woman in an “Asian” role could be read as a subtle reflection of the very indifference to race and to conspicuous racial markers that both the underlying narrative and the mukokuseki ethos of Japanese commerce cannot help but embody.
This is the first in my ongoing series of translations of kindai manga from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, beginning with the work of Kitazawa Rakuten. Unless otherwise noted, the originals are taken from the Rakuten zenshū published in 1931 by Atorie-sha, though they originally appeared throughout Rakuten’s earlier periodical work.