Azumanga Daioh Omnibus (English – Yen Press Edition)

July 21st, 2010

It was only a few weeks ago that I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing ADV’s Azumanga Daioh Omnibus. Today, I have the pleasure of reviewing the Azumanga Daioh Omnibus by Yen Press! Reading this same collection twice in a short period of time has given me a completely different perspective on it.

Let’s take a few steps back before we start. Reading the ADV edition made me realize how far we’ve come with translation – and how far Azuma has come as an artist. The cleaned up art in this edition removes an obstacle to enjoyment. As a result, the story seems less rough this time around.

In this edition, Yen didn’t hesitate for a second – honorifics are in place, names remain unchanged. And you know what? It’s *still* not perfect! ^_^ I’ll get into why that is, in a moment.

Let’s first talk about the story itself. Like Azuma’s current hit, Yotsuba&!, Azumanga Daioh ran in Dengeki Daioh, a magazine for adult men. I mention that because as one reads this story of a group of girls moving through high school, it’s hard to avoid some really obvious issues that, when thought about a shade too long, make one feel creeped out. Chapters begin with alternating pictures of the main cast, some of them of a “pinup” sensibility. And there’s a character who represents the readership – an adult male who obsesses about young women inappropriately and who has no mental filter, so does not hesitate to say what he is thinking. This character, we are later told, is a nice man, but it’s hard to reconcile ourselves to that – unless you’re him. Which the original audience was. Nice guys – who just *happen* to be inappropriately obsessed with young girls = the original audience of Azumanga Daioh. I mention this in case you are not this audience and are reading this book thinking “who thinks this is funny?” The Kimura-senseis who were reading it, that’s who. ^_^;

Aside from this persistent creepiness, the story is pretty realistic. This group has a number of extreme characters, but Japanese comedy is largely made up of extremes. A good (legal, free!) example of this is the live-action Moyashimon, in which screaming and flailing make up a large part of the “comedy” every episode.)

Other people have noted that this is really the story of Chiyo-chan and the girls she befriends. Chiyo-chan is a genius at 10, and has been skipped up to high school. During her three years she meets and becomes friends with the rest of the cast, does school festivals and school trip and field days and other normal activities. Because she is an outsider, it makes sense that most of the people she gathers around her are also outsiders – quiet, serious Sakaki-san, loopy Osaka, hyper Tomo and her childhood friend, Yomi. So these normal, everyday activities are seen through the eyes of not-normal people and thus turned into comedy.

I said at the beginning that despite the skill of the translation it still wasn’t perfect. Here’s why. As you fix the really big things, it becomes easier for us to see the small things. ^_^ So, yes, we have honorifics and names and you did your best with the puns, but now we can see things like the problem with Osaka’s accent.

The problem with Osaka’s accent:

Osaka is a big city, with a lot of businesses and is well-known for being a “foodie” town. It’s not the political capital of Japan – it’s considered the business/finance capital of Japan. The people there speak very fast and very loud and are seen as being really wacky and money obsessed. If anything, Osaka sounds more like New York than anywhere else, IMHO. (And having been there for a total of like 2 hours, I’m obviously an expert. ^_^) I’d say that isn’t far off. I liked Osaka a great deal and I want to get back. So, the joke is that Ayumu, who comes from this crazy, energetic, loud, wacky, busy city is kinda loopy and slow and not at all like “an Osakan.” Got that?

When they brought Ayumu over to America, they translated the *wrong part of the joke.* Yes, Ayumu is slow and laconic. But her accent isn’t. The joke is not that she’s slow and loopy – it’s that she’s from *Osaka* and is slow and loopy. Imagine you’re a kid in Iowa and the teacher says, “Hey, we have a transfer student from New York City” and everyone panics because they’ll be CRAZY and probably pack heat and deal drugs and graffiti and gangs and OMG!!!! And then they walk in and they are like, “Hi….my…name…is….Terry.” and they sort of wander off in the middle of their sentence. That’s Osaka.

By giving Osaka a Southern accent Yen has blown that joke completely to hell, thanks. But, hey, we’re all still working on this translation thing, so I give them credit for trying. Just – get a comedian on staff, okay? You’re obviously all too literal. ^_^

Other than that one thing – I have no complaints at all. This book looks and feels good. It made me laugh and got me a little sniffly at the end, like it was supposed to. It has the one of two cats I can stand in manga (The cat in What’s Michael? is the other) and I still grin and say “heh” in my head upon breaking chopsticks evenly.


Art – 7
Story – 8
Characters – 9
Yuri – 4
Service – 4

Overall – 9

My sincere thanks to Yen Press for supplying this copy (and a copy of Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime, which I am now reading and really, really enjoying to my utter shock! I may manufacture a reason to review it, just because it is really original so far.)

And FYI – this books *totally* passes the Bechdel Test.

It’s a funny book, the new edition is solid and despite my little discussion of the accent issue, it’s still a very excellent read. I’ll be donating this copy to the AnimeNEXT traveling Manga Library, so if you can’t buy it or get it at a library near you, look for it at an anime show in your neighborhood! If your library has a Graphic Novel section, why not buy this read it and donate it? It’s a great book to share with others. Then they’ll laugh when they break chopsticks evenly, too.

Send to Kindle

18 Responses

  1. L.B. says:

    I’ve watched AzuD and read the original ADV omnibus but I had never really thought of Osaka that way. I suppose this is because I watched the anime first and Osaka accents in the dubs were always treated like southern accents. So when I read Osaka as having a southern accent I didn’t blink an eye. It’s interesting to me that you pointed out the difference there. Right away a couple of my favorite throwaway gags from Osaka sprang to mind that made me chuckle as I applied that new line of thought to them.

    Interesting review as always Erica!

  2. @L.B. – I never watch dubs (and ADV was infamous for using Texas accents for *everything* because they were in Texas!) and I read the Japanese, so any accent other than Osakan seems odd to me. I’m a linguistics nut, so this kind of thing is important to me. Glad you liked it. ^_^

  3. Suzuka says:

    This is rather unrelated to the actual post, but I feel like you just entered my life – I’m at school in Iowa, and my friend Terry is from New York, and is PRECISELY the person you described in your Osaka example. xD

  4. @Suzuka – What are the chances?!? That’s hilarious. I assure you, I made it up from whole cloth.

  5. Reading the article brought me back to my days of constantly watching the DVD’s for this series. And it’s THE series that reminds me of the importance of properly translation/communication. Reading the original omnibus was a somewhat jarring experience given Osaka’s now infamous accent. Though I feel kind of petty not picking it up back then because of that. I may have to give it a chance.

    I had to laugh when you pointed out the people that found Kimura’s humor hilarious. Calling us guys out like that.

  6. Sailor Kitty says:

    See, the problem with Osaka and New York is that they are both very local things. Since english is a bit of a global languege(LOLesperanto), the whole “New York” thing won’t be understood by most people who speak english but doesn’t live in America. “LOLNew York” simply mean “Uh, what…?” If somebody goes “LOLSouth!” People have seen enough redneck stereotypes through television or the like and go “LOL! Wacky southerners!” While I do understand where you are coming from with the New York part, I still belive Yen Press managed to adapt the joke better for a global audience.

  7. @SailorKitty – Yes, accents are always a local issue. My only point is that *if* one going to try and communicate it in print, one ought to get the joke.

    I’m a big fan of never translating accents but rather implying them – Seven Seas does this in Hayate x Blade. Momoka is also from Osaka, but they aren’t heavy-handed in their communication of it. She isn’t given accent, but a looser, more crude pattern of speech. It works to maintain her “voice” very well.

  8. Phoenix says:

    So, for a newcomer to Azumanga Daioh, would you recommend one omnibus over the other?

  9. @Phoenix – If you’re used to the honorifics or feel confident that you can adapt to them quickly, I’d say the Yen edition. If you’re really a newbie or take a while to adapt, I’d say ADV. Yen’s looks cleaner, which is also nice.

  10. Ran says:

    I fondly remember pulling the first volume of Azumanga Daioh off the shelf of my local bookstore back in the day (you know when stuff was still carved on stone tablets that could double as hunting/digging implements ^_~, cause it was sooo long ago). At the time I thought, “Huh. Didn’t know ADV did manga.” Then later, “would have been better with honorifics included.” By this time I’d become one of those anime fans just out of the newbie phase, starting to realize the discrepancies between the intended meaning behind language choices in original Japanese and the translated English. I’m glad to see things have come as far as they have in the past decade when it comes to translations.

  11. DezoPenguin says:

    So how did they (or did they at all?) translate “bonkuras”?

  12. Terrific review as always, Erica! Thanks for pointing out the translation issues — as someone with no Japanese language experience, I know I’m not getting the full experience of the text (especially in series with wordplay or literary intent), and I appreciate someone taking the time to spell out exactly what I’m missing. Makes me think that one of these days I’m going to have to dedicate myself to learning Japanese.

    I read Azumanga a while ago and had a “meh” reaction to it, but your review has made me want to dust off my old ADV copy and re-read it.

  13. @Katherine Dacey – Thanks for the comment, Kate. I’m always happy to bring a slightly different perspective to things – and even happier if I inspire people to (re)read manga!

  14. Aaron says:

    I have to say while I agreed that some of the humor does get lost in translation. I think saying Kimura is some kind of representation of the male readership is unfair. It speaks more to the reviewer’s sensibilities then the intended audience. This kind of argumentation seems to be all the rage with the popularity of Moe these days the implication being that my (or someone else’s liking of Moe) is really out of some prurient interest. Not the actual protective or nurturing feelings that Moe produces not trying to lie anything on your doorstep Erica but I see these type of arguments crop up all over Online. I have had people tell me “you don’t really like Strike Witches you only like it for the fan service” like someone can know my heart well that’s all I have to say good article but I have to disagree with you on you’re Kimura assertion.

  15. @Aaron – Thanks for proving my point.

  16. Aaron says:

    @Erica Please explain

  17. Stacy L says:

    I’m late to the party here, but I still, in 2016, automatically make that noise Osaka makes when breaking chopsticks. It’s part of my psyche now.

    I’m just trying to imagine if Azumanga Daioh was translated into *Australian* English, where would Osaka be from? The joke might work if she was from New Zealand.(Despite the geographical distances within it, Australia has surprising homogeneity when it comes to accents, so the joke might have to come down to personality expectations versus reality, as you describe).

    Demonstrates the need for translators to also be good writers, and not only be fluent in the languages they’re translating.

    A brief obvious example: in the Japanese film Confessions, a character says that someone’s life has become “hontou jigoku”, which literally translates as “real hell”, but clearly the English phrase to use is “a living hell”.

  18. Stacy L says:

    Meant to say: In the manga, I much prefer Osaka with a New York accent. With the anime, original Japanese or not at all.

Leave a Reply