If I was in a more dismissive mood, I’d leave the blog post at that picture. But no–there are things to be said.

It’s been out for a while–I know, don’t get on my case–but having just finished reading the first translated volume of the Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei  manga a few weeks ago, I have some things to say about it, most of it revolving around its translation into English.

By the time the existence of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei was known to the English-speaking world, those keen in the ways of Japanese (and those not, even) knew the material was difficult to translate well. Further more, a commercial release of such a work would be a disaster if not done properly. However, despite seemingly insurmountable linguistic and cultural barriers, amateur translators managed to put out great, high quality localizations of the franchise’s TV anime counterpart. Why is it, then, that professionals can’t handle the manga part of the deal better?

While I can’t speak entirely for accuracy, Del-Rey’s translation of Zetsubou Sensei generally reads decently. It does feel stiff in places, but on the whole it comes off fine. However, at some point in the book–and this is a very specific point–things go all wrong. Once Kaere’s chapter rolls along, it seems as if the guy in charge of quality control just gives up. “Oh no!” is followed by its romanized Japanese equivalent “yada!”, and the translator for some reason feels “eki-in” (駅員) needs a translation note, when it simply means nothing more than “station attendant.” C’mon, guys. Even the fansubs translated that. I can understand them leaving the joke about Kaere’s name to a translation note, but I honestly expect more creativity and smarts out of  professional translators and editors.

Another big issue is the incorrect romanization of character names, and I’m not talking about trivial Shaa/Char shit. That said, this only really effects Sekiutsu, who is first introduced as Sekiuchi, then referred to as Sekiutsu, then is later on in the book referred to as Sekiuchi once more. Guys, I know the 内 in 関内 is typically read as “uchi”, but Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei has furigana for god sakes. This stuff is spelled out for you, quite literally, in conveniently placed bits of hiragana. To add insult to injury, they get her name right not once, but twice after the initial mess up. Then, in the next chapter, our lovable Maria becomes Sekiuchi again. Also, later on in the “Current Charges From This Issue” section–a section detailing the people Kaere sued–Nozomu’s name is rendered as “Noboru”, which is just utterly stupid.

I really feel sorry for any newcomer to the series reading this translation. While it reads decently in other sections, I’m afraid these bits will throw people off and confuse them, if they’re not already confused by all the Japan-specific cultural gags. I do commend Del-Rey for throwing in a glossary at the back, but it’s still missing some painfully obvious things. I haven’t read further volumes, so I don’t know if they improve or not, but this one gets pretty dire.

As for the manga itself, it’s pretty good. Kumeta’s work is still in infant stages here, so these early chapters feel a bit awkwardly paced and somewhat random, but they work well to deliver the franchise’s celebrated dark comedy and social satire. However, I do think the anime did a better job of streamlining these early chapters into something that flowed a bit easier. The art is also still developing, and hasn’t yet reached the point where SHAFT can just trace it panel to panel for their anime adaptation.