CRESTFALLEN OF THE STARS
Imagine for a moment that you have been made aware
of a novel with a reputation which places it on the same lofty plateau
as the Foundation
Trilogy, the Lord
of the Rings, or Dune. Its author has
carefully crafted an entire culture and society, complete with a
language so detailed that many have learned to speak it fluently. Its
plot is epic in its scope. Its quality is attested to by a legion of
dedicated fans, multimedia adaptations, and widespread acclaim.
In short, it is reputed to be a masterpiece. And
you have never read it.
So you go looking for it, but are frustrated to
discover that it cannot be had. You are literally unable to discover a
single copy of it. But the more you learn about it, the more it sounds
exactly like the type of book you want to read.
And then you get some wonderful news: It's being
reprinted! You'll finally be able to get a copy! Frabjuous day!
So the day finally comes when you hold a copy of
the newly reprinted masterpiece in your hands. You crack the cover...
... and discover that the new publishers have
decided to not only abridge the book, they've also decided to rewrite
it as a juvenile.
Imagine, if you will, that you had spent several
years searching and hoping to find a copy of the Lord of the
Rings or Dune or the Foundation Trilogy.
And then, when you thought you finally had a copy, it turned out to be
a novelization of the movie which was based on the book.
The emotion you'd be feeling at that moment is
roughly akin to the emotion I felt when I finally managed to get my
hands on the Crest
of the Stars, a space opera masterpiece by Hiroyuki Morioka.
The original novel was written in Japanese. For
many years it has been known in English only through the anime
adaptations. Starting last year, however, Tokyopop began
releasing translated versions of the novel. As is typical for the
Japanese market, the book was serialized into three volumes. Tokyopop
kept the same format and released it as a trilogy: Princess
of the Empire, A
Modest War, and Return
to a Strange World.
The novel was translated by Sue Shambaugh. And,
unfortunately, the decision was made to release the novel as part of
Tokyopop's juvenile line. The work was minorly abridged, but this was
almost a minor sin compared to a translation which fundamentally
kiddified the work and stripped out its complexities. The glimmering
remannts of Hiroyuki Morioka's brilliant world-building which shine
through in these botched translations is utterly eclipsed by the
incessant need to make the characters sound "hip" and "current" (in
that utterly artificial way which only a thoroughly dreary adult can
achieve when trying to copy "the way kids speak these days").
Imagine, if you will, an edition of the Lord of the Rings
in which Theoden would say things like: "Fine, spoilsport! Oh jeez! I
really don't want to go fight Saruman's orcs!"
Perhaps you'd prefer it if Frodo's hair was
described using an analogy to a chocolate pudding pop?
Do you feel the pain?
Then you can imagine my pain.
I'd really love to encourage people to go out and experience this
wonderful story. But, realistically, you have to be willing to squint
your eyes and try to read between the lines to recreate Hiroyuki
Morioka's masterpiece from the wreckage of Tokyopop's hamfisted
NITPICKING TOKYOPOP'S EFFORTS
(1) The first words of Crest
of the Stars consist of a quote from a fictional text. This quote
begins: "This crest depicts the Gaftonash. The grotesque eight-headed
dragon was long lost to the ages -- forgotten, alive only in myth.
Resurrected on an Imperial crest, the Gaftonash became infamous..."
When you flip open the book to
the very first page you'll discover a large rendition of the Imperial
crest described. Count the heads: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7...
Yup. That's right. The
eight-headed Imperial crest has been rendered with only seven heads.
This same image is then reused in miniature throughout the volume to
break up the text.
You can literally say that
Tokyopop screwed it up starting right on page one.
(2) One of the unique things
about the original Japanese publication of Crest of the Stars was the
way in which Hiroyuki Morioka worked the fictional language of Baronh
into the story. As Tokyopop describes it: "In the original Japanese
version, all the text is in kanji, and then above
those Japanese characters are the Abh language words (called Baronh) in
rubi (a smaller, phonetic alphabet)."
Fascinating. How could you duplicate this experience in an
Well, you could duplicate it precisely: Print the book in double-space
print and insert the Baronh words on the interleaving lines. This would
be awkward, but I've got an edition of Caesar's Gallic Wars
that does essentially this (printing a line of Latin and then the
matching line in English and using two different colors to make them
You could also use footnotes. Or you could put the notes on the facing
page (like the Folger's Library editions of Shakespeare). Or you could
consistently put the Baronh words in parantheses.
Or you could do what Tokyopop did: The first time a Baronh term is
referenced the English version is written with the Baronh term
appearing in parentheses immediately afterwards. So far so good... But
then the English term is never used again. Only the Baronh term is used.
This might have worked if only a few select terms had been selected.
For example, if the book refers to the "Imperial Emperor (Spunej)", I'd
have a pretty good chance of remembering that Spunej is the Abh title
But it becomes ridiculous when someone talks about taking a shower (guzas),
and forever after the word "shower" is never used again. To the extent
where you feel like you're learning key phrases in a foreign tongue,
it's fun. But when the latter half of the book becomes an increasingly
frustrating exercise in referring to the glossary at the back of the
book to parse simple sentences, something has gone wrong.
(3) Making the ubiquitous use of Baronh terms even more painful is
that, for reasons beyond comprehending, Tokyopop decided to Capitalize
Every Single Baronh Word. It makes Everything look like a Proper Noun,
and it makes Parsing sentences difficult even When You understand the
Baronh Words to begin with.
What makes this even more absurd is that Tokyopop got it right when
they used Japanese terms like "kanji" and "rubi" in their foreward: See
how I italicized them in the bit I quoted up above? That's because
they're italicized in the book.
It would have made sense to capitalize titles and ranks (like Spunej)
while italicizing common Baronh words (like guzas).
It makes no sense to capitalize everything.
Final analysis? I'm glad I finally got a chance to read Crest of the
Stars. I've been waiting a long time for it.
But I'll never buy another
TokyoPop novel translation.