[special memorial issue] THE FINALE OF NAUSICAA;
NAUSICAA of the Valley of Wind
The New MIYAZAKI Generation
Spreading Even into English Speaking Countries.
An Insensitive English Version
In every genre, in every time, there are works which become benchmarks against which all works that follow are measured. In fantasy novels, J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings is that benchmark; in fantasy comics and animation, it has become Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind. The world in which his gentle princess lives is strikingly complete--the politics, cultures, religions, even the biosphere, have been painstakingly constructed and meshed to create a milieu of stunning believability. The details create an awareness in the reader of a world beyond what he sees, and so they are drawn even deeper into the story. Reading or watching Nausicaa is an experience that, I am convinced, leaves few people unchanged. And for me, it literally changed my life.
I first saw the animated version of Nausicaa soon after it was released on videotape. It was one of the very first examples of Japanese animation I saw, and I could not beleive how good it was. The complexity of the story, the skillful direction and narrative, the superb score...I had never seen an animated film of this sophistication before. In fact, I'd never seen a fantasy film of any kind that was this good.
I instantly became a dedicated fan of Japanese animation, starting a club, setting up the first Japanese animation viewing room (24 hours a day for three days!)at an American SF convention, and eventually running the first convention in America devoted entirely to Japanese animation and comics (with the help of Gainax). I was even the first foreigner to join the Urusei Yatsura Fan Club! In the meantime, I had discovered the Animage comics version of Nausicaa, which provided my entry into the world of Japanese comics--a world which was to cause me to devote my life to bringing it to all English-speaking people.
In 1986, I saw the English-language version of Nausicaa. I was horrified by the butchery the insensitive Hollywood company had perpetrated on this finely-crafted film. Nearly 30 minutes had been cut, including the beautiful opening credits. They had retitled the film Warriors of the Wind--a title horrifyingly at odds with Miyazaki's message, Dozens of other changes had been made, each one worse than the last. As I watched it, I was at first unbelieving, then sad, then finally angry. How could these people be so insensitive? Something had to be done...but what?
and an English Version of the Comic
I had been writing comics for the American market since 1982, and had built up a network of friends and publishers in the industry. I knew I did not have the training, the contacts, or the money to bring Japanese animation to the English-speaking world, but I felt I had a chance to save the comics from the same sad fate as the Nausicaa animation. So, with this in mind, I contacted Eclipse Comics, a small American comics publisher with a reputation for taking chances and publishing quality non-superhero comics. After looking at a variety of Japanese comics, they agreed to give them a try, first co-publishing with Viz Comics, a U.S. subsidiary of Shogakukan. I helped Viz get started in the U.S., and worked on their first English-language comic--Kamui Gaiden. By this time, my involvement with Japanese comics had led me to quit my job, sell all my possessions, and move to Japan, starting a company called Studio Proteus, the purpose of which was to translate Japanese comics into English and sell them to publishers in the U.S..
While I enjoyed working on Kamui Gaiden, I wanted to do more...and Nausicaa was at the top of my list. I wrote an article on Warriors of the Wind for the Japanese edition of Starlog, in which I rather bluntly excoriated the film. The article came to the attention of Miyazaki himself, who invited me to Studio Ghibli for a meeting. As a direct result of this meeting, it was about a year later that the first issue of the English-language Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind appeared, published by Tokuma Shoten and Viz Comics.
Thanks to Miyazaki's insistence, Studio Proteus was chosen as the producer of the English-language translation. This means we were responsible for translation, lettering, and retouching of the artwork. The art had to be flopped right-to-left so that it would read properly for the English-speaking audience. The original Japanese dialogue had to be relettered by hand, in the usual style of American comics. And the original Japanese sound effects had to be removed, replaced by English sound effects, and the artwork retouched to fit the new effects. And, of course, the text had to be translated into English.
First, a translator had to be found. I was fortunate in locating Dana Lewis, who had graduated with honors from one of the top Japanese language university programs in the U.S.. She had been a professional translator for over ten years, doing work for some of the largest companies in Japan, and even for the very highest levels of the Japanese government. Her English-language writing was also of the highest level--she had written cover stories for such U.S. SF magazines as Analog and Amazing, and was a top writer for Newsweek. Luckily, she was also a huge fan of Nausicaa, and immediately agreed to co-translate it with me.
Next, we needed a letterer and retouch artist. There was really only one choice--Tom Orzechowski. He had been a letterer in the U.S. for almost twenty years, and had been given a "Letterer of the Year" award almost every year since he started in the industry (he remains the only letterer ever to win the American comics industry's highest honor--the Inkpot Award). Furthermore, he was trained as a comics artist, and was also a big fan of Japanese animation. To my great good fortune, he agreed to make time in his extremely busy schedule for Nausicaa.
More Sound Effects Created than in all American Comics over a 10 - Year Period
With the team set up, I flew back to Japan and spent almost three months going over the first few volumes of Nausicaa with Dana. We needed to make hundreds of important decisions--how were the names to be translated? What style of English would be used? How would sound effects and dialects be translated? We called and discussed several points with Miyazaki, who was always kind enough to make time to help us out and give us his advice and input.
I then flew back to San Francisco, and work began on the actual translated script. It was extremely difficult, and sometimes I would spend an entire day on one page. Faxes flew back and forth between myself and Dana, with advice being sought from experts both in Japan and the United States. In particular, I must mention Frederik Schodt, writer of Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics, whose advice was incredibly valuable.
Among the problems we encountered was how to distinguish some of the voicings. In Japanese, the use of feminine, rough, or polite forms of the language often allows a writer to place otherwise unattributed word balloons in a panel. The readers will know, simply by the language, who is speaking. This is not so easy in English. Furthermore, the use of dialect in Japanese is both easy and effective. In English, dialect generally draws far too much attention to itself. To solve these problems, Tom and I worked to develop new hand-lettered typography for various speakers within the story. These included the Ohmu, the "Worm-Handlers," and telepathic communications. Tom worked many hours developing entire new alphabets in order to bring just the right feeling to the final pages.
He and I also worked to develop the hundreds of new sound effects needed. American comics draw from a very limited vocabulary of sound effects, and the rich vocabulary of Japanese sound effects presents a special challenge to the translator. The new effect must both immediately communicate its meaning to the reader, while simultaneously not drawing attention to itself--if the reader has to struggle to understand the sound effect, then the rhythm of the panel is lost. Again, Tom must take much of that credit for this--it's easy for me to write "give this sound effect the feeling of great evil," but much harder to actually do that! Frank Miller (artist/writer of such groundbreaking American comics as The Dark Knight Returns and Sin City) once told me he estimates we invented more new English-language sound effects for Nausicaa than he had seen created in American comics for the last ten years.
Above all, Tom, Dana and myself all agreed that despite all the hard work we were doing, we wanted our work to be totally invisible to the readers. We hoped that, when we were done, the English-language readers would never notice the translation, the sound effects or the lettering--they would simply read and enjoy this incredible story without ever thinking about the fact that it was translated from another language.
With the Impact of "TOTORO",
a New MIYAZAKI Era.
Nausicaa hit the U.S. comic book market like a bombshell. It was (and still remains) one of the top 5 best-selling Japanese comics ever to be released in the U.S.. Even now, five years after they first appeared, the beautiful Nausicaa collections produced by Viz Comics continue to sell thousands of copies a year--something almost unheard of in the U.S. comic book market for a black-and-white comic book. Critics continue to rave about Nausicaa, and a recent article in the Comics Journal magazine singled it out as the best Japanese comic ever published in English.
Soon after the first series was completed, Studio Proteus received a letter from a professor of Japanese at Cornell University. He said that he felt that the translation we had done of Nausicaa was "as perfect as could have been made." This made Dana, Tom and I breathe a collective sigh of relief. We would probably never have the opportunity to work on a comic of this caliber ever again, and we were very happy to see that our years of hard work had not been in vain. Unfortunately, Viz chose to use another translation team to complete the series, once Miyazaki resumed work on the comic in Japan. We were all disappointed, but the new team of Matt Thorn and Wayne Truman have done a good job of following in our footsteps, matching our translation and lettering styles quite effectively.
The recent huge success of the unedited English-language version of Miyazaki's Tonari no Totoro (over 600,000 videotapes sold so far) has made me and a lot of other American Miyazaki fans very happy. This will certainly be but the first of many Miyazaki film releases in the U.S., and his wonderful films will be brought to a new audience of literally millions of adults and children. I'm sure that someday in the future, a newly dubbed and unedited version of Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind will be released in the U.S., and the shame of Warriors of the Wind will be forgotten. Thousands of new Miyazaki fans will want to buy and read the original comics version, and a generation of English-speaking people will grow up knowing Miyazaki as well as they know Walt Disney and Charles Schultz (creator of Peanuts).
And even though Studio Proteus has published over twenty different series and a total of over five million copies of Japanese comics, Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind has a special place in my heart. My thanks to Hayao Miyazaki for letting us work on his wonderful creation, and for letting me, Dana, and Tom live out the dream of a lifetime!