Japanese reading report

This week began and ended with two chapters each of 本好きの下剋上 vol. 1, which I have just now finished. I enjoyed this book a lot all the way through and I actually have the next two volumes sitting right next to me, freshly delivered from Mandarake. It’s still up in the air whether there will be a spinoff wanikani book club to continue the series, but either way I’ll definitely be continuing. The last few chapters revealed some interesting information about the world which had been left unclear, as well as a hint about what the 下剋上 in the title might actually refer to. Feeling good about having finished this; it makes my fifth novel this year and it was a lot longer than any thing else I’ve read.

For my weekly manga I read さとうとむとう vol. 1. “Two weirdos at school” might be a common premise nowadays but I’ve yet to be disappointed by it; the characters and writing in this were entertaining and I could definitely see myself continuing to read it. It’s a pretty new series, which is always fun.

Since I’m back in the land of highspeed internet for the first time in a good long while, I decided to check out Netflix’s offerings for anime and…there’s not too much. I settled on a movie I’d never heard of, 海獣の子供. It had a pretty strong start with some quite lavish visuals, but I didn’t end up liking it too much. The last half hour of the movie was essentially an extended fever dream sequence and I ended up with no real clue what was actually going on. Oh well.

The 内・外 dichotomy

Over the last couple of years, as I’ve spent a lot of time reading Japanese literature and immersing myself in the language, I’ve become increasingly aware of a particular phenomenon which is endemic to the language at large; which can easily and precisely explain many seemingly unrelated mechanics; and which is so rarely mentioned that I didn’t even realize it had a name until I stumbled across it one day. The 内・外 dichotomy (“uchi/soto”; essentially translated as “inner/outer”) is, with only slight exaggeration, what I might consider in many ways to be a “unified theory of Japanese”. It forms a key component of both the language and the societal practices that define the culture at large, and by understanding it I believe it’s possible to form a deeper, more intuitive grasp of Japanese as a whole.

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Japanese reading report

This week I’m actually putting in my report early (last week I had completely lost track of what day it was).

First priority this week was to stay current with 本好きの下剋上, so I read three more chapters before spending time on anything else. We had one about cooking (it seemed I was the only bookclub member who actually enjoyed this one) and the rest were dedicated to setting up plot developments which will theoretically serve as the hook for the next book. Just one more week until the main story is finished (with a bit of bonus content at the end).

The next thing I read was 阿波連さんははかれない vol. 4. I actually started it as something I could read while falling asleep, and that was an abject failure since I was laughing hysterically throughout the whole thing. Learned some good new words; one standout was 手相, just because I thought it was funny how the meaning was totally different than 相手 despite using the same kanji.

Over the last three days of the week I read one volume of 見える子ちゃん per day, which catches me up with the series. It started off good but has developed into something quite special; vol. 3 in particular had some very good character development and set us off on what seems to be a main trajectory for a while. Excited to see where this goes (of course I have to wait six months for the next one…). I’ve learned a lot of fun JK slang from this one; 既読スルー・いや量・待受・映え are some good ones in particular.

Finally, finished up my Bloodborne playthrough. Not a lot to report here but I did have one fun moment where I recognized 花澤香菜 as the voice actress for a character in the DLC.

Abstract meanings of かける

According to JMDict, かける is a word with around 37 definitions. The idea of memorizing all of these definitions is enough to make anyone think twice about learning Japanese at all, but even taking them one by one can be daunting if it’s not clear which one applies to the given moment.

It’s my belief that all of these “definitions” share a common abstract idea, in the same way that the English words “run” or “get” can be used in a multitude of ways that all make intuitive sense to a native speaker, even when encountering a new collocation for the first time.

Personally I find it especially helpful to split this overarching abstract into three more specific (though still widely applicable) glosses.

かける meaning 1: “set upon

 ・メガネを掛ける set some glasses upon your face
 ・腰をかける set your body down on a chair
 ・負担をかける put a burden on somebody
 ・心配を掛ける lay your worries on someone
 ・金を賭ける set money upon the gambler’s table ★
 ・水をかける to sprinkle water onto something ★
 ・10かける10 ten times ten; ten set upon itself ten times

かける meaning 2: “expend into

 ・スパイスをかける to add spices into a dish
 ・金を賭ける to bet money ★
 ・腕によりをかける to put effort into work
 ・水をかける to sprinkle water onto something ★
 ・時間を掛ける to spend time doing something

かける meaning 3: “engage or activate

 ・かける (standalone): the standard “use” action in video games (“open” the door, “pull” the lever)
 ・アイロンを掛ける to iron clothes
 ・電話をかける to make a phone call; to use the phone
 ・鍵をかける to engage a lock

Each of these three broad meanings fall under one single overarching meaning, which I think of as “raise up“, because to me it evokes the idea of a movement upwards, whether abstract or concrete, towards some end. In the first case, you must “raise up” that which you wish to “set upon” something else. In the second, you figuratively “raise up” that which you wish to spend (a parallel may exist with あげる, where you “raise up” what you wish to give). In the third case, the thing that is being “raised up” is your own hand, to manipulate objects.

(Examples marked with a star are those which I feel work nearly as well in either of the first two groups)

Japanese reading report

Putting in my report a day early this time because I was able to catch up on all my stuff and I’d like to move on without awkwardly splitting my reading across weeks.

For the beginning of the week I was mostly just reading 本好きの下剋上. I was pretty busy with other things so it took me a bit to get through, The last chapter was pretty interesting because I actually predicted what was going to happen — マイン needs to make ink somehow, and my first thought was “just use lampblack!” Turns out that’s exactly what she ended up doing, though we’ve yet to find out how well it works for her.

Once I finished up this week’s bookclub quota, I was able to move on to 鬼滅の刃 vol. 22, which came out in the middle of the week. This volume was really good; we finally got a backstory for 伊黒 (the snake 柱), which was pretty interesting. The final battle seems to have reached a climax and I can only imagine they’ll wrap up the series in vol. 23. I’m very impressed by how so many plot threads are being tied up here; it seems like certain key elements were planned at least all the way back in vol. 2 and it’s very cool to see them paying off.

I also read 見える子ちゃん vol. 1, which I picked up randomly for free on cmoa the other day. I was hooked by literally the second page and it just kept getting better throughout. The gist is that the main character, みこ, is suddenly able to see all these weird monstrosities that everyone else is oblivious to, and she has to act as though everything is normal. The monster art is super detailed and disturbing, but the story is also surprisingly funny and downright wholesome at times. It’s a pretty young series so I’ll probably grab the rest of what’s out pretty soon.

Random bonus: I replayed Bloodborne up to probably the 2/3 point. I could get through this game with my eyes closed, but paying attention to the JP voice track is fun and noticing the changes made in loc is interesting. Also replayed a bit more Persona Q2 now that my sister has progressed with it.

Japanese reading report

This week I dug in and spent a bunch of time on 十三機兵防衛圏, with the idea of finishing it up before the English version launched on the 22nd. Didn’t quite end up making it in time but I did get there eventually. A 100% clear (including the platinum trophy but not including the optional bonus battle area) took me just about exactly 60 hours, of which over half were put in this week alone. I’m planning to write up my thoughts about it a little later but the short version is: really stunning experience all around, amazing story with a lot of very cool and creative ideas told in a super creative way.

It was a bit close at the end but I did manage to catch up to the WK book club on 本好きの下剋上. We’re past the halfway mark now and I’m still having a great time. This past week hit a page count peak so it’ll be pretty smooth sailing from here on out (especially since I don’t have anything new that I immediately plan to move on to).

Japanese reading report

This week I finally finished 狼と香辛料, so that’s good news. Once I readjusted to the 10pg/day pace it was much more sustainable, though honestly I wish I had shelved it and spent that time doing something else. Overall I just really didn’t enjoy it, and after thinking about it I can only chalk that up to the author’s writing style — the economics bits are clearly written for someone who already enjoys the topic, and that’s just not me.

The majority of my input came from 13 Sentinels, which just keeps getting better. I’m at 27 hours now and have probably just passed the 50% mark. Some sections are more difficult due to long strings of technical kanji compounds, but for the most part things are still going pretty smoothly and I’m able to pick up new words easily.

Rapid-fire minor contributions: I read a bit more of 本好きの下剋上 but ended up falling pretty far behind the bookclub, so I’ll have to catch up this coming week. Just one chapter this time. Three more episodes of 魔法使いの嫁; almost done with the anime at this point. I feel like it’s not quite as good now as it was in the beginning but I’m still enjoying myself. Also played some more Persona Q2 (my sister suddenly overtook me so I’ve got to catch up); about halfway through the third dungeon now.

Book review: 狼と香辛料 (Spice and Wolf)

Emboldened by the success of my first fast-paced reading challenge, I reached for my stack of unread Japanese books and picked one that I’d been thinking about for a while; Spice and Wolf, which I had randomly inherited from a friend long before my reading was remotely up to scratch.

My original plan was to read 15 pages per day (a one-page increase over my average pace from last time) and finish it in three weeks, but after the first week it was apparent that this was going to be completely unsustainable and re-targeted to a four-week pace, bringing me to an even 10 pages per day. Even this would prove to be a challenge, though I did manage to finish it one day early.

To briefly summarize the broad concept: whereas some fantasy authors set out to create a world in which to play out their unique ideas for a magic system or to explore a web of political intrigue, Isuna Hasekura has decided to spin a story all about the dirty details of being a merchant. Rather than an encroaching dragon, the driving tension comes from the possibility of taking advantage of a currency speculation scheme that turns out to have some very powerful actors working behind the scenes. I really do have to give him credit; “fantasy economics” isn’t a genre I would have ever thought of, but there’s no reason it shouldn’t work. The political tension between neighboring kingdoms, the risk of dealing with multiple merchant guilds, the potential for worldbuilding with regards to supply and demand across different regions; there’s potential here to tell an endless number of deep, interconnected stories (and considering that there are now 20 books in the novel series alone, it seems that’s exactly what he’s done).

Where it all falls apart is…I just have no interest in what is very clearly the entire point of the book.

The two main characters, Laurence (a traveling merchant) and Holo (an ancient goddess of harvest known as the Wise Wolf) are well written and have good chemistry. Holo in particular is delightful with her old-timey speech style and penchant for mischief. Their scenes together are highly enjoyable, but they’re interspersed with what I can only describe as excerpts from a fictitious textbook on medieval trade theory. It’s quite possible that I wouldn’t have been bothered by this if my Japanese reading ability was higher, but as I am right now, it just felt like a series of speedbumps that got in the way of my enjoyment of the story.

Spice and Wolf is…not a book for me. I can understand what makes it tick, and I can even appreciate what the author has managed to do, but quite frankly there were not a few moments where reading this book made me want to die. What I can say for certain is that I now understand why some of my favorite series — the ones that describe the process of cooking in great detail and go into depth about the nuances between certain ingredients — fall so flat for other people. If you’re not interested in cooking, you probably won’t enjoy a book written by someone who loves it — and I have absolutely no interest in economics.

Japanese reading report

Another pretty busy week…boy am I looking forward to finishing up 狼と香辛料. I was out all day yesterday and barely had any chance to read at all, so even after the work I had done to catch up (reading 12 pages per day instead of 10), I still ended up behind at the end of the week. Oh well. Honestly, the last few days’ worth of reading has been a huge drag. There’s a lot of scheming about how to get Holo out of a scrape, but it’s all politicking and economics talk which I am having a lot of trouble following. I basically just have to remind myself that I learned a lot by reading at low comprehension way back when, so theoretically this is all still beneficial.

I also managed to keep up with 本好きの下剋上, which is fortunately much easier and more enjoyable to read. I’m a little under halfway through the book now. The descriptions of the antiquated customs and technology continue to impress…some standout moments this week were a hog slaughtering party, hand-dipped candles, and an attempt to make papyrus (one of what will likely be many failed attempts at creating something like paper).

My favorite bit of reading this week was definitely 十三機兵防衛圏. I’m about 10 hours in and enjoying myself immensely. Pretty much every line is voiced, which makes it really easy to look up unknown words, but I’m having very little trouble following along (which was definitely not the case when I first started seeing trailers last year). It’s not a very long game so I expect to finish it pretty quickly if I can put the time in.

Played a bit of Persona Q2 with my sister, just cruising through the third dungeon. As usual, not much to report.

Watched the first 17 episodes of 魔法使いの嫁, which I’m enjoying quite a lot.

Last up, since I wanted to keep on track with at least one manga volume per week, I read ギャルと恐竜 vol. 1, which was just good fun. Super easy, not a lot of text, but the art and pacing are both hilarious. I could easily see myself recommending it as a first manga.

Translation work – Persona 5 twitter comic

Earlier today I happened to see this tweet from an artist I follow:

To summarize, it’s a post looking for someone to do some (volunteer) translation for an upcoming comic. Naturally I jumped at the opportunity and sent off a message offering to help. One thing led to another (the fact that I had done a translation let’s-play of Persona 5: Scramble probably didn’t hurt), and they accepted my offer. My translation of the original Japanese text can be seen in the English version of the comic in the tweet below:

Even though it’s just four short lines, this is technically my first proper translation gig and it’s pretty exciting that I was able to be in the right place at the right time!