dreamingfifi: (Default)
This essay/rant is mostly based off of an essay by a friend of mine whose website vanished from the internet because she's moved on. Or died. I have no idea, she's just gone. Farewell Nurvingiel, you were a great writer and your essay on using foreign languages in story-telling was one of my favorites.

Whether you're writing about Middle-earth or the Beika district of Tokyo, you'll be dealing with foreign languages that you may or may not know. You may be tempted to work in some of the native languages to give your readers a greater feeling of immersion in the world. There are several things I'd like you to keep in mind though.

  1. Don't assume that your readers will know as much about the language as you do. Therefore, use the same language you use for the narration for all of the dialogue. Any term not in this language should be clearly defined for the reader. This also applies to honorifics, titles, and terms of address, like Mr./Mrs./Mz./Miss/Lord/Lady. Translate them or leave them out entirely.

Say someone is jumping into a fandom for the first time, and doesn't speak any Elvish or Japanese or Na'vi. They click on a fanfic that looks interesting, but they can't read the dialogue because it's a word-salad of languages they don't know. They give up and go away.

  1. Write the dialogue from the point of view of the characters whose point of view you're using. You can use a different language to reflect the characters' inability to understand what is being said to them, immersing the reader more into the characters' perspective.

So, you've got a Japanese character in a Japanese setting, and you're writing in English. They'll be able to understand everything said to them in Japanese, so write all of the Japanese dialogue in plain English. But, if the character doesn't speak English well, or at all, you could phonetically transcribe the English into the Japanese phonology, so it seems just as foreign and bizarre to your English speaking readers. Here's an example:
“Ah, I didn't see you there; forgive me,” Kogorou said, stepping aside.

The woman with a long nose and carefully fluffed brown hair looked confused a moment, then said, “Aimu sari, ai dina kachi za. Kudju ripii za?”

Kogorou blinked, uncomprehending. What was this strange amalgamation of sounds this woman was spewing?

Conan sighed loudly behind him and answered the woman. Ran tugged him aside and whispered, “It's English; Dad, they're speaking in English.”
As you can see, it is as confusing and incoherent as Kogorou would find it.

For another example, say you're writing in English; your POV character only speaks of Westron in Middle-earth, and they meet an Elf, who only speaks Sindarin.
I stood back, surprised. To me, it'd looked like the tree and sprung to life, but now, I realized I was looking at an Elf. A real, live elf. The elf backed up a step, hands up to show she wasn't holding any weapons. “Goheno nin. Ú-ethilen dhe thostad.”

I blinked. What was this “thostad,” and did it hurt?
Another situation that you may come across is a bilingual character. You need some way to distinguish the fact that they're speaking another language, but it needs to be in plain English. I suggest putting the dialogue in the other language in italics (no more than that though, too many layers of italics, bolding, and underlining can be distracting) or simply mention in the narration that they're speaking this other language now.
Ah, I didn't see you there; forgive me,” Kogorou said, stepping aside.

The woman with a long nose and carefully fluffed brown hair looked confused a moment, then said in English, “I'm sorry; I didn't catch that. Could you repeat that?

Kogorou blinked, uncomprehending. Conan sighed loudly behind him and answered the woman, “He just apologized for bumping into you. He's very sorry.
In scenes such as this, using the foreign language in the dialogue makes sense. Most of the time, just don't.

  1. Make sure that the translations you use are accurate. Bad translations could end up annoying or insulting everyone who does speak the languages in question. Or rather, it's a pet peeve of mine and it drives me up the wall.

This is so bad in Anime fandoms. The Fan-Japanese is so... so... *tears hair out, flails uselessly at the screen for a few minutes, mouth starts frothing* MAKE IT STOP.

  1. Using foreign terms in the narration is the most effective, and could lead to using them in the dialogue.

This is pretty simple to do, actually. You have a character think about or discuss the term. Here are a few examples:
Ran scowled down at Shinichi, hands on her hips. “Stop using my name without honorifics. Little boys should call older girls 'Neesan.' I'm older than you.”

Shinichi looked down, inspecting the floor. He hated being reminded of his condition. “Yes Ran-neesan,” he mumbled to his toes.

“I don't think I heard you. Say it again.”

He glared back up at her. “I wanna go home, Ran-neesan!”
Now the reader will know the significance of Shinichi addressing Ran as Ran-neesan when in his child-form, and they get some insight into Shinichi's situation and personality.

My fingers brushed across the net the Elfwoman had tucked my hair into. I'd never seen such a device before, but it was holding in all of the stray hairs with ease.

The Elf tugged gently on the net. “Cathrae,” she said, clearly pleased with my reaction.

“It's a cathrae.” I said, tasting the word.

“Ma!” she said grinning. “Cathrae.”
In the scene, we get a taste of Elven hair-styles by having the elf character teach our human about Elven hairnets.

Once home, she absentmindedly stuffed her shoes into the kutsubako, a small shelf by the door that they put their shoes away in.
Or, it can be as simple as this.

In conclusion:
Write in whatever language you're writing in.
Don't expect everyone to know as much or as many foreign languages as you do.
Use foreign languages from the perspective of the characters that you're telling the story through.
When introducing foreign terms, define them carefully and creatively in the story.
Make sure the translations are correct, because this little linguist and translator is driven insane by bad translations.

Thank you.

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dreamingfifi: (Default)
Christianity is a weird, exotic religion in Japan, one which has a pretty marriage ceremony and has something to do with a slow torturous murder of someone on a cross… and that’s about all most Japanese people know about Christianity. So, it sticks out like a sore thumb when the Japanese characters use references to Christianity, even in passing. And, it pisses me off when people just replace “god” with “kami” as though they mean the same thing… but that’s a rant for another day.

I think it is worth it though, to look at the religious themes that are in the Detective Conan universe. I think that a lot of Westerners, not having in Japanese cultural heritage, may not pick up on these subtleties. The reason that I know a bit about this is that I took a class on Japanese religion and philosophy (mostly a literature class, goodness, the Buddhist monks were prolific!) and a class on ancient Japanese literature, which included the Nihonshoki and Kojiki, so I’m not working off of pop-culture notions of what Shintouism and Buddhism are.

It’s been noticed before by many that the Magic Kaitou series is in a world with magic, and Detective Conan is in a world of science-fiction. But, the supernatural does exist in the Detective Conan universe, and it is powerful, and it is very, very Shintou.

Both Ran and Kazuha are shamanesses of sorts… or witches? Psychics? There isn’t really a direct translation into English, and the term “miko” conjures up completely different images, thanks to pop-culture. Either way, they both have supernatural powers. Kazuha made an omamori (a protective talisman) so powerful it stopped a murder attempt on Conan. She has a reputation for making powerful omamori, and she makes them for other people. Ran is psychic intuitive, meaning that when she guesses, she guesses correctly. She also has supernatural luck, winning at lotteries easily. Both Ran and Kazuha are extremely superstitious.

Conan/Shinichi is a Skeptic and an Atheist. Being an Atheist is likely tied into him not believing in the supernatural, which is a result of him being a Skeptic. Shinichi is an extremely outspoken Skeptic as well, living his life by it. He’s not very tactful about it either, often mocking Ran for believing in Youkai or ghosts. The Skeptism movement is based on using evidenced based reasoning to figure out what to believe. No evidence for something, no belief in it. Shinichi has had very little experience with genuine supernatural things, so he doesn’t believe in them. His ability to sense when someone is looking at him with malicious intent he likely explains to himself as his subconscious noticing something and warning him about it.

Heiji is also a Skeptic, but he does have some supernatural beliefs. It relates to his prophetic dreams. He has direct experience with it, and seeing Kazuha’s power, he’s proved to himself that his dreams are real, and that Kazuha’s omamori have some sort of effect on the world. He hasn’t however, started believing anything and everything supernatural, and joins in with Shinichi in mocking the girls when they freak out over a possible ghost or vampire. He’s debunked many faked supernatural events as well.

Interestingly, anyone who tries to profit off of something supernatural, either blaming a murder on it or making money off of it, in the Detective Conan universe, is a fraud who is exposed in the episode. The supernatural here doesn’t come to those who want it, it does whatever the hell it pleases, neither being good or evil, like nature itself.

I keep saying “supernatural”, but in Shintouism, there is no such thing. Kami are part of nature, not outside, or above it. Shintouism also doesn’t have very much to say about any afterlife, other than death being ritualistically impure and something that invites bad luck, which is why Buddhism and Shintouism can coexist so easily. Buddhism is concerned with the afterlife, and it supposedly grants ordinary people purification superpowers – as though living your life in a particular way and holding a specific set of philosophies can make you able to purify away the bad luck gathered by impure things like blood and death. It’s very common in Japan for people to live according to Shintouism – gathering blessings they’ve bribed from various kami at shrines and using the divining services of a psychics to help make big decisions, but to use Buddhist death ceremonies and mantras for funerals or other unlucky events. In fact, it’s hard to see anymore where Shintouism ends and Buddhism begins in Japan. Yin-yang philosophy (called “Onmyou” in Japanese) also has blended itself comfortably into Japan’s unique religious blend, making Duality a common theme in Japanese literature.

Then, we look at Shinichi. He’s soaked in blood and death, as part of his daily life. Shinichi is ritualistically impure, so he’s plagued with bad luck. Even with Ran besides him, horrible things happen around him, sometimes to him, constantly. He even brings his impurity into places that should be able to purify it; people die in shines and temples when he’s there. In that universe, it’s no wonder that the evil organization was drawn to him and ended up trying to kill him. Heiji is similarly plagued with bad fortune, but he has Kazuha’s omamori to offset it, so he hasn’t ended up hounded for years by an international crime syndicate. When Heiji and Shinichi are together though – there will be more than one murder. Though, that might just be the fact that Heiji is a popular side character they like to milk the appearances of…

One idea that’s been borrowed from Buddhism and is omnipresent in the Detective Conan universe is Karma. Bad things happen to people who deserve them. It has a story-telling convenience too – you don’t feel so bad about the horrible deaths of characters that you don’t like. It can be a fun little game – spot the asshole, and bet that character will be dead by the end of the episode. But - the moral themes of the show often directly contradict the Buddhist focus on the afterlife. Many times, either Conan or whatever detective solves the case lamented that people weren't focusing on loving and living their brief time in this life, which is a very important value in Shintou.

There is one other very strong influence on this series, something that was a lot stronger in the 90's, when it first started being published. The evil organization that Shinichi is fighting is likely some kind of Transhumanist cult. The search for immortality, the interest in digital security, hacking, and computer simulations add up to Transhumanism. Then, their members are members for life, secrecy is more important than money making, and the raising of children to be useful for them sounds very cult-like. It also puts Gin's obsession with betrayal into context, doesn't it?

There you have it: a very basic look into the religious/ideological themes of the Detective Conan universe.

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dreamingfifi: (Default)
So, over the past few months I've been wallowing in the Detective Conan fandom. It's kinda nice. It's not very active, but it's cozy. The fan theories are a ton of fun to read and come up with. The source material is excellent. It's a very long running fandom (since 1994!) so there is 20 years' worth of fanfiction, fanart, and AMVs.

So, I just spent the past few months reading hundreds of DC fanfics. I've gotten a pretty good sense of the trends and tropes, as well as some of the more annoying habits that sometimes border on bigotry and/or pedophilia... holy shit does this fandom have a darkside. It doesn't have the vast numbers that the Harry Potter fandom did to explain it; it comes from the canon itself, which lends itself to a particular type of darkside that.... that will have to be one of my rants.

This will be an index of sorts for my rants. Hopefully this will result in something useful for my new fandom. We'll see.

July 2015

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