Saturday, 26 July 2014

My Thoughts on Kodansha USA's Sailor Moon release

Sailor Moon has been with me for a very long time and is very dear to my heart as a result. When I first saw the DIC English dub on Fox Kids during the early 2000's, I found myself swept up in its dramatic story about a princess seeking to defeat an ancient evil from her past and reunite with her one true love. A truly powerful tale of love and devotion accompanied with cheesy music and talking cats. I should point out that the episode in which I entered the show was "Bad Hair Day" where Serena had already been revealed as the Moon Princess, way past the halfway point of the first season. Sailor Moon disappeared off Fox kids UK after R had finished airing though they did tease the S season at one point, though sadly nothing came of it. This is where my childhood nostalgia ends as I never read Tokyopop's initial release of the original manga and didn't watch the S/Super S seasons until finding them on YouTube several years later. This quickly rekindled my love of the series despite hating how Cloverway had translated it. Unfortunately, by this time Tokyopop's release was long out of print so I was long out of luck.

The announcement of Kodansha's re-release left me, like many others, giddy with excitement though I didn't find out about it until after the first volume had already been released. Flash forward over 2 years, all the books are out and what do I have to say?

Well...they were OK. Sadly that's my opinion. OK, not great. Now before you reach for your crossbow, I'm guessing you want the answer to one more question. I should point most of my problems were with Kodansha's handling of the translation. Having said that I don't think this release is all doom and gloom and would like talk about some things I do like about the series re-release.


Colour pages
A major bonus to the Kodansha release was the inclusion of previous artwork in colour where it could be seen in all it's glory because let's face it; the Tokyopop black and white images don't do Naoko's artwork justice.

Whether it be because of the amount of ink or type of paper used the artwork in the Tokyopop releases are much darker compared to the Kodansha release. Anything that was hard to see before is now clearly visible. When looking at the two side by side it becomes clear that many details from Naoko’s beautiful work were either faded or lost in the ink. Kodansha’s release is much lighter showing all the delicate lines that Naoko likes to use on the characters hair.

Redrawn Panels

Another major bonus to the Kodansha version is the artistic changes that Naoko Takeuchi has brought to the manga in between releases, which we begin to see here with Usagi’s first transformation into Sailor Moon. In Kodansha's re-release, the page has been completely redrawn to show the brooch as well as Usagi's outline before transforming. More detail has been added to Usagi's hand and some new screentone patterns have been chosen. These aesthetic changes continue on with some changes to Queen Beryl.

A lot of her jewellery has been removed and there are more details and shading in her hair, which makes her resemble her anime counterpart a lot more closely. This is a very nice touch in my opinion and conveys a stronger sense of foreboding dread upon glimpsing the main antagonist for the first time. I could go on, but there are too many to keep track of.

Reverting to the Japanese Names

As attached to the English dub names as I am, it's always great to see the original names the creator intended. Tokyopop made a wise move to use the name Bunny to preserve the Rabbit of the moon jokes, but it sometimes makes it hard to take the character seriously.

Hail to the Letterer

And despite how I will voice my displeasure about the sound effects later; the letterer of certain volumes,  Jennifer Skarupa,  does a brilliant done of replicating the style of the Japanese. If only they had remained consistent on that.

Moving on to the negatives. This next part was very difficult to write as most have already pointed out the flaws on this release, but I still wanted to add mine to the mix, which can only amount to one thing:
Opinions, opinions,  opinions, tequila.

Top 11 things that bug me about Kodansha's Sailor Moon release

Why top 11?

Because that's the number I thought of.

Now, most of these will mostly be translation choices. This has, in my own opinion, harmed the immersion factor and prevented me from getting as invested in the story as I would have been. 

This list is not meant to offend anyone who enjoys this release and if you like this release then you are a more tolerant person then me.

11. Spark Ring Wide Pressure/ Death Ribbon Revolution

These can be easily fixed in later printings and to be fair Spark Ring Wide Pressure has recently been fixed, which is why this isn't higher on the list. So Kodansha USA shows that they can learn and will in a way quite fix glaring mistakes so it may just be a matter of time before Ribbon becomes reborn. That being said, I feel I still have to mention it as at the time of this release Sailor Moon was 19 years old. These attack names had been around almost 20 years at this point and had been available on the internet to look up for over a decade. In an age where most people can readily connect to the internet from their own phones, I don't believe there's any excuse for not double checking this.

10. Bun-had, Mikos and Spirits Be Gone - The Inconsistency Of It All.

This is one of the reasons I don't like Japanese honorifics left untranslated in manga. It appears to open the door for other Japanese words that have English equivalents. My opinion is "It's an English translation, so put as much of it in English as possible." The word priestess or shrine maiden would make much more sense to an English reader. If you're going to leave priestess as miko, you might as well leave guardian as senshi.

But wait, that's not all, it clearly says priestess in volume 8, before the translator change. So Kodansha can't stick to their own terms even after explaining the choice in the translator notes of the first volume.

These inconsistencies can also be seen in Sailor Mars attack in the first volume.

Personally, I prefer the second translation as it sounds more natural when said out loud.

This second example isn't so much of an issue as I see it as taking advantage of a broader selection of words from the English language, but it is still worth mentioning.

However from the kanji in the Japanese, we can see that both Mamoru and Haruka call Usagi the same nickname, "odango atama", but the translator has chosen to localise one and simply translate the other. Dumpling being the literal translation and bun-head being the equivalent as William Flanagan points out that is what the hairstyle is called in the West.

Was this change intentional or did he simply forget? Either is possible in my opinion.

9. Adherence To The Bubbles!

I have already said this but Kodansha's strict literal adherence to the Japanese is what drags this release down for me more than anything. However, when it comes to the speech bubbles that appear to be undergoing mitosis, I can't help but feel that if the sentence had been swapped around it would have flowed more naturally and still being part of the same sentence; it would depart.
People would criticize switching the two parts of the sentence around, but they are technically part of the same speech bubble. So I decided to see if it would work that way round. Also, I can't believe I only just noticed that Rei has fewer highlights in her hair in the Kodansha rerelease. There's also that leaf screentone in the background.

8. Princess/ Queen Beryl - How Does She Fit Both Into Her Schedule?

This is probably the panel that appears on peoples examples of bad translation more times than anything else. When I read this I rationalized, not having read the manga, that perhaps Beryl had been a princess on Earth. I quickly realized how stupid that was as Earth was a single kingdom and for Beryl to be a princess she would have to be Endymion's sister putting a very messy awkward slant on her interactions with him. Sorry about that. It's been pointed out by many that "Princess" is not even in the original Japanese making this very head-scratching. Elly, at Miss Dream, pointed out that maybe Kodansha wanted to provide clarity who she was addressing, but I would have thought that was obvious from the previous panels.

Still, with that in mind.
If this was a mistake then they really should have caught it.

7. Nervously/ Anxiously - The One Everyone Remembers!
Scans of the Japanese release come courtesy of the hardworking people at Miss Dream and is their property.

To be honest, this easily falls into the category of my number one gripe. However, I feel I need to give special mention to this though, as it has been hotly debated during the initial release of the first volume. Hopes were deflated that this was going to be fixed when the second printing was released and it remained unchanged. Pandering ensured, however, when the third printing showed it had been changed to "anxiously" and I apologise for not have a picture of it. A replacement that while an improvement still failed to capture the meaning. Many fans have suggested/shouted/boldly tweeted that nervously should be replaced with either "seriously" or "responsibly", but it seems Kodansha is unwilling to diverge from what the original kanji literally mean. A prime example of sacrificing meaning for faithfulness and the main reason this is number 2 on my list. Originally I fell into the group that sad responsibly should be what it should be changed, but I've since had a rethink and have included them below.

Sailor Hell has stated on her blog that the kanji for "nervousness" is in the panel. Many fans have suggested/shouted/boldly tweeted that nervously should be replaced with either "seriously" or "responsibly", but it seems Kodansha is unwilling to diverge from what the original kanji literally mean. "Carefully" or "careful" is a much more broad term that can mean both being anxious or responsible. This way we keep the accuracy to the Japanese while conveying the meaning in smooth English. That's just how I see it though. When in doubt: be vague.

6. Borrowed Form
"Borrowed form" makes me think back to my days of watching Cardcaptors when Kero and Yui referred to their other forms this way. It made little sense to me back then. Who were they borrowing them from and the same can be applied here? Was there another girl with that face and name on Earth before? Is Minako a body snatcher?
Sailor Moon has long since been considered a great female superhero of the 90s and marketed as such so "secret identity" makes a bit more sense.

5. The Bonus Comics- Done Away with!!! 
Kodansha USA's 2011 re-release of Sailor Moon is a direct translation of an earlier release that had taken place in Japan, in 2003, to coincide with the PGSM live action series. This release happened to include several pages of bonus comics that had been present in that 2003 release and spoke of the decision-making process behind the Sailor Moon manga including ideas that were never used (e.g. Makoto being a smoker). Details never shared before with an English speaking audience. Sort of like Naoko's interviews with Mixx in the Tokyopop release except told in a comic strip and not a complete lie. Naturally, a lot of fans were naturally very excited by this.
Now imagine how aghast they were upon the first few volumes being released and discovering the bonus comics were not included. Obviously, there had been some mistake. Had there been an accidental oversite or Kodansha had simply decided not to include them?
However,  Kodansha was clearly aware of the bonus material as stated in their initial press release so it was a mystery until brought up over a year later at a San Diego Comic-Con panel. There the truth was finally let slip where it was revealed that Sailor Moon's creator, Naoko Takeuchi, had pulled the bonus comics at the last minute without any given reason why. While it was entirely her right to do so and Kodansha USA are in no way to blame for the last minute change, they should have let us know right away through twitter or another social media site. Leaving fans clueless in the dark until asked did little to improve their opinion of an already polarizing release and that's why it makes the list.

4. Heavenly bodies
My number four pick is one that takes place in the final two volumes of the series. Some people might find this to be more of a nitpick then others. It is Kodansha's choice to translate "hoshi" to "heavenly body" rather than "star".

It's true that Hoshi can mean heavenly bodies as that can be another way of referring to planets, worlds...STARS (see above), but it all depends on the context and when the last panel, of volume 12, talks about how SM is a "beautiful shining heavenly body" I can't help, but think they made the wrong choice. If she's shining, why not call her a star?

Japanese scan comes courtesy of the hardworking people at Miss Dream and is their property.
The kanji for "heavenly body" also isn't in the Japanese text (see above).
However the kanji for "Star" is present. I admit I could have gotten this horribly wrong, but it seems that although they can mean the same thing, they are written differently in kanji.

Take this manga for example (and I'll probably review this at some point).

This manga is "Hoshi Wa Utah" or "Twinkle Stars" as Chuang Yi have translated it. Now imagine if the title was actually translated to "Twinkle Heavenly Bodies". Most would read that name and think it was an ecchi. Maybe it's just my dirty mind. Considering the name of the story arc, where this term appears, is called "Stars" as well, it just feels unnecessarily awkward.
3. Legendary Silver Crystal

 Seeing what was bugging me?

By the end of this book, I was getting quite tired of reading “Legendary Silver Crystal” over and over again. Do they think we'll get confused if the word "legendary" isn't written there every single time? Another thing, why the quotation marks? Who is being quoted? It's been pointed out to me that due to it being written that way in the original Japanese version, even changing it to saying “Silver Crystal” or just “crystal” occasionally would be classed as adaptation and not a translation.
This led me to ask myself the question: If a literal “word for word” translation can come off as awkward and lacking in fluidity, is deviating from the source material even slightly or “adaptation” unavoidable then?

“Legendary Silver Crystal” is in itself an adaptation though as the original Japanese, means “Phantom/Illusionary Silver Crystal”. Each company appears to have a different rulebook when it comes to these decisions. Can Kodansha USA really claim that their translation is 100% faithful with changes like these? If they adapted crystal's name then why can't they adapt the dialogue more to make it flow better?

2. The Sound Effex
This is where I would put in a photo to help explain my point, but there are so many examples in this blog post already. It feels redundant at this point. Having to go to a scanlation or the old Tokyopop release to know what the sound effect is saying isn't really acceptable in my opinion. Kodansha couldn't seem to decide whether to translate the sound effects into English or simply write the Japanese romanji instead. Some consistency to the madness, please.

Even ran across a few, in volume 1, that were left untranslated.

One next to Luna’s tail on pg. 219 and another next to Usagi’s head on pg. 141. I’m hoping this has been fixed in the third printing.

1. Awkward Dialogue
All the awkward dialogue across the 12 volumes. Isn't this a cheat? Whose blog is this? This admittedly became very minimal after Mari Morimoto took over as the translator, at volume 9, improving the book to no end and most of the awkward dialogue was ironed out.
Oh, but here are a few of my favourites from the earlier volumes.

A funny line, but I'm not sure even Princess Serenity is that childish.

There were a few times when it resulted in bad translation and an unclear meaning.

Do what?! Considering Demande attacks Sailor Moon in the next panel he could only be referring to finishing her off himself, but instead of being shocked at the turn of events; we're left confused at this fragmented sentence structure. 
Yeah...because that makes perfect sense, right?

What's left to say other than a proofreader would have gone a long way. It becomes clear early on that no one read each volume cover to cover before letting it go to the printers. Although someone may have checked that what was said in each panel was correct, it was never read in on sitting to make sure each panel flowed into the next like a good story should. I said before this made the story less immersive and this problem spans across the series. For that reason, this is my number one gripe with the rerelease.

Final Thoughts
All in all, despite everything I just listed, I don't consider it a bad read.  It does, however, have a few too many flaws, in my opinion for me to want to own it just yet. Some flaws have been addressed, which is why they weren't on this list (e.g. Bro, Princess-sama), but many remain and to fix them would probably mean another translator or at least editor would have to be brought costing money that I don't think Kodansha USA would be willing to spend. They've already had to change translator once on this title as it is. Perhaps the new perfect editions that Japan is currently enjoying will be our salvation and Kodansha will be persuaded to try again with someone new. Until then, I guess like me, you'll have to be patient, but with so much hype as of late I, believe it's only a matter of time. Though at this point I do believe I'm beating a dead horse, but if people don't speak out then I fear that this standard of translation will become just that; standard.

For now, if these flaws don't bother you; FANTASTIC! Go get 'em.

Those are my thoughts on this release. Hope that at least made some sense. Really enjoying Sailor Moon Crystal and can't wait to hear more clips of the redub. It's a glorious year to be a Moonie.

Apologies for any spelling grammar, spelling or factual mistakes I've made in this blog.


  1. Awesome article! I totally agree on the "Heavenly Bodies" issue. Stars has always been my favorite arc, so I was very excited to see how Kodansha was going to translate it. "Heavenly Bodies" just sounded so awkward and forced. Like you said, "stars" is just more romantic and flowing. It doesn't matter that the characters aren't literally stars. We're not stupid as readers to figure it out on our own. It's one of the few things Tokyopop got better than Kodansha imo.

    1. Thank you, I really appreciate the comment!
      I wanted to get a picture of the "heavenly body" term, but the library didn't have it and I quit buying the new release at volume 6. I took so long to write it that I ended up going in circles and wasn't sure any of it made sense when it was done.

  2. Translating Spirited Away as "Hell Heist" amused me, just imagining if Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away had received the same translation :|!

    Not going to weigh in much on this post, but thought I'd comment on a couple of things:
    -Inconsistency, is it intentional or forgetfulness - I'd go with forgetfulness, as there are instances in series like Pokémon where in the dub, the name of a Pokémon receives two different pronounciations (Rayquaza), or a character receives two different names (Dani, Yoshi and Jackson, become Marina, Jimmy and Vincent), although it's also possible it's down to a different production team is working on the dub when these instances occurred, although even if it was the same team, would they really remember?
    -Literal translation of Japanese sentence structuring - I don't really see anything wrong with it, but then maybe it's because I sometimes speak in the same sentence structuring, I think, can't think of an example at the moment.
    -Do it myself - amused me the same way Hell Heist did, I can just imagine him, stabbing himself, and then shouting out mockingly "Ha, Wiseman, suck it, I've killed myself, taking the opportunity away from you!"

  3. Lol, that's true. Appreciate your thoughts.

  4. Great blog and excellent points. You really make me wonder if they ever truly can make a 100% accurate translation. Looking forward to your thoughts on the eternal additions.

  5. I'm not sure about the part with Minako's "borrowed form". In the German version, she says: "Das ist nur eine temporäre Form" ("this form is only temporary"). That may be a hint. In the panel before that, Usagi calls her "Prinzessin" ("princess"), which is indeed not her "secret identity" so much as a "temporary, 'borrowed' form" she only assumes for now. Minako knows this, of course, but the others don't know yet.

    I'd like to know what the Japanese version says here.