Novel review

by Labingi

Volume 4

Volume 4 of the official English Ai no Kusabi is much better than volume 3. Whereas vol. 3 was a mishmash of points of view and timelines incoherently spliced together, vol. 4 is a chronological rendering of events from Guy's disappearance through Riki's return to Iason. Points of view are generally given in long, easy-to-follow blocks and stick with major characters: Riki, Iason, Guy, Katze, Kirie, and a bit of the Kuger family, which runs Guardian. Only a few plot points are covered, and they are covered sufficiently: Riki's search for Guy, Iason's coercing Riki's return by menacing Guy, Katze's run-in with Manon Kuger, and Kirie's subsequent seduction of Manon and extraction of information about Katze. The language is, by and large, not painfully bad. The copyediting continues to improve.

It's a smooth read, but like the other volumes in this new edition, it displays editing choices that lose some of the power of the earlier edition. I'll give a few examples (the first almost certainly a translation difference). Riki gets out of the shower and finds Iason lounging in his apartment. The from-Spanish fan translation: "'Get... out of here!!' howled Riki, instinctively adopting a defensive position" (Translation by San and Shiromori). The new edition: "[Riki] instinctually squared his shoulders into a guarded stance and growled. [sic] "Get the fuck out" (54). The main difference here (aside from the fan translation handling English more smoothly) is "howled" versus "growled." The first is terrorized, the second merely angry. And Riki is terrorized by Iason. His scream upon seeing Iason for the first time a year--in his own home yet--should convey the same effect as the scream of Madame Defarge's sister driven insane by the murder of her family. Growling just doesn't do the job any more than Riki's slightly perturbed tone of voice in the anime does.

Another small but unfortunate loss is Yoshihara's transferal of the "melancholy expression" from Iason to Katze. This relates to the brilliant scene that follows Iason's coercion of Riki back into his household. When Iason leaves Riki's apartment, he catches a ride with Katze, who has been driving around the block presumably the whole time Iason and Riki are having hot sex. The scene beautifully juxtaposes Iason's relationships with Riki and Katze. Riki, the recipient of all the attention, detests that attention and feels nothing for Iason but fear, hate, and grudging physical desire. Meanwhile, the one who loves Iason is waiting faithfully for the privilege of being utterly ignored. So Iason hops in the car, exchanges about two words with Katze, and spends the next substantial block of text ruminating confusedly on how he can control Riki's body absolutely yet still not possess him. He's yearning for Riki's love, and his lack of a concept to comprehend that need greatly elevates his pathos. The fan translation: "The expression on [Iason's] face reflected so much melancholy that, if Katze were to contemplate it, he would never have believed his own eyes." In the new edition, Yoshihara ported that line over to Katze's ride in the subway a bit later: "If any of [Katze's] subordinates had accompanied him there [to Guardian], such an unimaginably dark and melancholy face would have struck them dumb with surprise" (100). The power of this line is diminished in proportion to its distance from the relations among key characters. In the first case, the participants are Iason and Katze, in the second case, Katze and a hypothetical subordinate. The message in the first case is this: "If Katze had looked up at Iason then, he would have been granted a terrifying insight into the pain that a man he loves is suffering for the love of someone else. But Katze has been well trained by Iason never break from his professional composure. He keeps his eyes on the road, so he doesn't see. Thus, Iason's training/terrorizing of Katze robs Katze of the chance to reach out to Iason and Iason of the chance to win solace through real interpersonal connection." The message in the second case is: "Katze is really melancholy about Guardian." I'll leave readers to decide which one they prefer.

A final quibble with the translation (probably) is in the Manon-Katze sequence. This is one of Katze's top two or three great moments in the whole saga. In structural terms, Katze's castration is a "gun on the wall" (pardon the unfortunate phallic metaphor): it's a part of his story that would feel incomplete unless someone took it down off the wall and shot him with it. That's exactly what Manon does in this scene. Despising Katze, he does what every angry, immature kid would do: he lambastes Katze for being a eunuch, right up to asserting dominance through threats of sexual violence. Katze, in turn, does what every skillful authority figure should do: he refuses to lower himself to countering Manon's insults and instead tears directly into Manon, very cogently, for being a stupid kid who is not long for this world unless he shapes up extremely fast. It's a terrific scene, but let's return to the sexual violence. From the fan translation: Manon says, "When I officially inherit the name Cooger, I'll make you into a brothel toilet." From the official translation: "When I'm officially put in charge of this operation, you'll be renting out space in brothel latrines" (117). The fan translation wins the day in two ways. First, "I'll make you" is much more personal and threatening than "you'll be," which omits Manon's agency. Second, "toilet" is a better image than "latrine." I latrine suggests a ditch in the ground; it conveys the wrong shape. It's also more euphemistic, which is not what we want in this scene.

Yes, I am nitpicking. I am nitpicking because it's a bit disgraceful that the official, authorized, legal, professional, etc., etc. translation of this story is so much worse than the borderline illegal, fan translation of a translation that a couple of fans did for free. But this is unsurprising given that while Kelly Quine was paid to do what was probably a very fast translation of a story she may not have known well (a job, in other words), fans translate stories they know exceptionally well for no reason other than love. Which would you expect to be better? The problem is that our publishing institutions favor (indeed, legally demand) the procedure that will, time and again, produce a worse product. It's a shame.

Back to the review, Yoshihara notes in her afterword that she expanded the role of Kirie in this edition, devoting a lot more time to his seduction of Manon. Thus, she expanded Manon as well. This works fine. Neither is a highly sympathetic character, but the expanded text does give me some sympathy (amazingly) for Manon and a renewed sense of respect for Kirie's street smarts. He really is like Riki in a lot of ways; he's just a lot more cold-hearted. (Perhaps he's Riki without a Guy?) His expanded role leaves me wondering if the conclusion of his story will be different from the anime's. (The fan translation didn't translate that far.)

All in all, this volume includes many of the best scenes in Ai no Kusabi, even if it doesn't showcase the best-ever rendering of them. It's a big improvement over volume 3 and well worth reading for any fan who has not already had access to another edition.

Review of volume 3 << >> Review of volume 5




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