Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 1 Comparison (Viz Media and Chuang Yi)

"Alchemy: the science of understanding, deconstructing, and reconstructing matter. However, it is not an all-powerful art; it is impossible to create something out of nothing. If one wishes to obtain something, something of equal value must be given. This is the Law of Equivalent Exchange, the basis of all alchemy. In accordance with this law, there is a taboo among alchemists: human transmutation is strictly forbidden - for what could equal the value of a human soul...?"   (Narrator, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood)
The answer is a right arm! It says so in the FIRST VOLUME!

Too many have seen this titan of an anime or manga for me to spend much time synopsising it. The story centres on two teenage brothers in a world where science and magic meet at a crossroad in the process known as alchemy. After a failed attempt at raising their mother from the dead, an act that cost one brother two limbs and the other his entire body, the two of them journey forth to fix the damage this forbidden act has caused. This throws them headfirst into a conspiracy involving the military leading to something bigger than both of them ever imagined and testing their commitment to their cause and to each other. A story involving colourful characters that often feel like real people, while still having many silly moments to lighten the tone where needed, this tale of sacrifice is not to be missed. So if you haven't seen or read this story before, well...don't just sit there and let this blog spoil it for you...go and see it...NOW!

Now I have to be honest with you guys, I missed this anime when it was on TV. I think I caught a glimpse of the coal mine episodes before 'Wolf's Rain' started, but I was watching so many other things at the time. It was only years later when the name 'Fullmetal Alchemist' kept coming up again and again in anime groups and message boards that I finally decided to take a look at it.

And now, years later in 2013, I can safely say...
I'm a fan! Though I still need the movies.

 Important Note: Because I don't own a copy of the Japanese volume nor any knowledge of the language, aside from the covers, I will not be comparing the English releases to the original Japanese.  

Also, there may be spoilers, but I'll try my best. 


The Covers
Again, I'm seeing a greater attempt at mimicking the Japanese tankoban release while Viz decided to go in their own direction with the cover. There are little touches that are enjoyable about both. Like the inclusion of the original Japanese name underneath the main title in Chuang Yi's release or the partially holographic part of Viz, making it shiny like actual metal. I have to admit, my eyes kept straying to the Viz cover for that reason and I know many fans are disappointed that the holographic covers get dropped after volume 3. Me too! However, the black Chuang Yi cover has a very classic look to it and fans will appreciate the similarities with the original Japanese. 

 Ok, this time I will have to say it. What do the Japanese companies have against blurbs?! How do they expect to pick up new readers? Regardless the Japanese back cover is easily the simplest of the three with just the bare minimum to tell it apart from its shelf brothers. Thankfully, Chuang Yi has included a blurb on their back cover as well as a line of dialogue quoted from the volume. Both make use of 'The Flamel' an alchemic symbol which appears in the series on Ed's coat and Al's armour. Viz, being the non-conformist, has chosen to display the same image of Ed and Al that was on the front.

One thing I forgot to mention, in my Fruits Basket entry, is that the inside slip of the Chuang Yi releases almost always contains the author information. Unlike the Fruits Basket slipcovers, which were laminated, these have a matte finish. What does that mean? It means it's very easy to leave nail marks and smudges on it. The fact that the covers solid black doesn't help either. Exactly why did they think this would be a good idea? The only reported problem with shiny Viz covers is that they can curl if you leave them in direct sunlight too long.

And I should probably mention if there's any difference in size and thickness.

Ok done.

Well, now that's out of the way.


Viz Media
Chuang Yi
Cover Design
Amy Martin
We Swee Pheng
Touch-up and Lettering
Wayne Truman
Nicole Ng

Between the two there isn't much to say as there are no colour images in either. As you can see, the only real difference is that the ink has come out blacker in Viz's release. This remains countered by Chuang Yi's whiter paper, which makes the artwork stand out from the background more.

Alright, who altered this speech bubble?!

Except for Alphonse and peoples clothes, Hiromu Arakawa didn't really rely on screentones very heavily in Fullmetal Alchemist, preferring to use ink and keeping artwork black and white as is typical for many shonen series. This has the effect of causing the artwork to bleed through to the opposite side of the page more in Chuang Yi's release. Their volumes also have a tighter binding, making some dialogue hard to read due to being very close to the spine.

Translation and Terminology

Viz Media
Chuang Yi
Akira Watanabe
O. Keime
Egan Loo
Jason Thompson
Low Sin Lu/Ching Kin Min

I guess a good place to start is with the contents page. Here you can a few small differences in how each company translated the chapter titles.

Both companies approach the sound effects in a different way. In the 90s it was normal to replace all the Japanese sound effects with their English equivalents. However, the tastes of the intended audience and trends have changed over time and now simply writing the translation underneath is the excepted norm. Viz Media stands as the only company that has refused to change with the times and are perhaps better for it as they are still one of the leading distributors for manga in the West. Chuang Yi, being a newer company that began releasing manga in English in the early 2000s, follows the modern approach and write the English underneath. However, that's not what lets down Chuang Yi's translation. The real conundrum is that not all the sound effects are translated. Almost as if the translator only did their favourites or the ones they knew. Honestly, it sadly decreases the quality of the book. Some people argue that having the translation underneath disrupts the balance of the panel, laid out by the artist, but Chuang Yi have fixed this issue by either placing the English words inside the Japanese or out of the panel entirely. Here's hoping they improve with time.

I've run into a few panels, which are basically saying the same thing between the two version, but while the information is merely implied in Chuang Yi, Viz prefers to state it outright (see above). 

'Sensei' is translated to 'teacher' in Viz, but left untranslated in Chuang Yi. They were nice enough to say what it means in a footnote though. If you look closely though, it looks like they didn't finish removing the Japanese kanji.

'Equivalent exchange' is 'equivalent trade' in Chuang Yi though, SPOILER ALERT, it will become equivalent exchange in a future volume.

We also get a few situations where the dialogue is in different speech bubbles.

Character Notes

Still, every bit the child prodigy determined to restore the bodies of him and his brother, Edward is equally 'spirited' in both releases, however...
he swears a bit more in Chuang Yi's version.

Alphonse is still the polite grounded influence we know him to be, but he tends to call Edward 'Bro' in Chuang Yi as opposed to 'Brother' though he will occasionally say that too.

Her character is pretty much unchanged, but what's interesting is the way Ed addresses her when the brothers decide they want to meet with Cornello. It's possible the Japanese release had the honorific 'Onii-chan', which does mean 'big sister' and is often used to address people who are older than the speaker. Viz may have chosen to localise it as not many English speakers address people they just met like that. It's equally possible that Chuang Yi translated it wrong entirely.

My guess is that they were translating the 'sama' or 'dono' honorific because while Chuang Yi may have opted for a straight translation, Viz decided to localise it to 'father' probably because, as he was a priest, they thought that would make more sense to the English reader.
And while his followers refer to him as 'His/Your Holiness' in Viz, they refer to him as 'Founder' in Chuang Yi.

The 'Miner' Characters (couldn't resist)
First, the name of the innkeeper is translated differently and I'd love to know which is the correct one. Anyone know?
His son escaped with just a respelling.

Here we see a big difference in the way he speaks. He's much ruder in the Chuang Yi release who I'll admit,  like bestowing accents upon people as you may have guessed from previous panels. It changes the tone of the scene. Amusing to some, annoying to others.

The Governor
While I had trouble finding the katakana for the innkeeper, I did manage to find the governors (ヨキ). When spelt as romanji 'ヨ' means 'yo' and キ means 'ki'so I don't have a clue where the 'r' came from. Looks like Viz triumphs this time.

The Hijackers
According to the information gathered (from Wikipedia), the katakana for the extremist's name (バルド) is spelt as Barudo, when converted to romaji. I wish they'd both left it as Barudo, it sounds more like an extremist to me. Chuang Yi was once again way off the mark, though at least they made him sound dangerous.

Viz's Censorship
Viz censors manga. We all know that. How much? Only someone with a copy of the Japanese release could tell us.

Chuang Yi's Cliches
When comparing different translations, the dialogue is bound to be phrased differently, but it seems to go a step further in Chuang Yi's release that is only vaguely saying the same thing. When I opened up my copy of the Chuang Yi's volume 1, I was expecting to read a different variation of the same dialogue, but what I found...
I mean, seriously, does that even work?!
and in some cases, don't make that much sense to me (see below). In my mind, this causes the story to lose some of its unique flavours.

I'm under the impression that Viz may have done a straight translation, while Chuang Yi interpreted their dialogue to the same meaning, but not as literal. Thinking about this over and over frustrated me so much that I actually went and checked a scanlation, which I found tended to agree with Viz most of the time.

Story Inaccuracies

While I found little to no typos in either release, there are a few inaccuracies that didn't fail to cause a raised eyebrow here and there. Let's begin with Chuang Yi.

 The barman refers to Ed as an 'alchemist of legend'. Odd thing to say as Ed's only been a state alchemist for about 3 years if I've got the timeline right. You could argue that the barman was being overdramatic because word about him has spread so fast, but that might be thinking about it too hard.
Also upon securing the deed to the coal mine, Ed proclaims he's the new manager (see above) then the townspeople loudly proclaim their astonishment on the next page that he's the new owner (see below).
 The only flop Viz made was translating Ed's 'silver' watch as 'gold', but thankfully this is fixed in later volumes (see below). So don't touch that panic button...yet.

No full stop, Viz?
All the bonus material is translated and present in both versions save for one; the image of Ed and Alphonse together at the back of the Viz release was left out of it's Chuang Yi counterpart. That makes me an unhappy puppy as that was a terrific piece of artwork and should have been on the cover of the first volume in my opinion. Lastly, before I forget, while the image viewed above is also at the back of Viz's release, it's under the dust jacket of Chuang Yi's.

At the End of the Day

 The good news is neither release has anything in the way of real grammar problems or typos. All Viz is really guilty of is a little bit of censorship and more then makes up for that with witty dialogue and a flashy cover.
The Chuang Yi release, while still a strong read with no typos, unfortunately, had sound effects left untranslated and doesn't have as many strengths in its dialogue in my opinion. Then there are the possible mistranslated names as well though the jury's out on that one until further notice. Based on the first volume alone, I would say the Viz edition is the better translation at this point. Still, even if you own the Chuang Yi release, there's no need to rush out and buy Viz's as the characters retain their personalities and it's still an enjoyable read. A recurring trend I'm discovering is that the Chuang Yi titles often have shaky starts so we'll see what the future holds.

That's all for now folks!

Until next time!

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