Friday, 27 April 2007 06:00

Lost in Translation

Written by 

I was chatting about Claymore the other night with K`thardin, about the latest subbed episode, number four. Now, both he and I have read the manga already, what's been translated, as well as looked through the raws all the way up to chapter 71, which is considerably farther along that I expect that the first season of the anime will get. I had noted, though, that the fourth episode was missing a couple panels from the manga that I had been looking forward to seeing put into the animation. They were minor pieces, really - just subtle reinforcements of established facts, nothing that would cost the anime anything particularly major to leave out.

The frames in question were a scene of Clare, having defeated the yoma and in the process of loosing control over herself, damn near cut Raki in half as he got a little too close to her. It was a rather blatant showing of just how close she was to losing full control, as up to that point she'd time and again wound up being in the role of protector, despite protests to the contrary. The other was a shot of the younger knight walking up to Clare and kissing her - and subsequently getting booted right in the junk by Raki. Bastard had to have been wearing a codpiece to still have been standing after the raking that he got, too.

Now, neither of these sequences made the scene overall, though in the first case it certainly vastly emphasized the importance of the scene. While the former example certainly qualifies as important, it wasn't necessary in the animation to show that Clare was in the process of turning full demon. The latter was a pure flavor sequence, but again, by this point in the anime series, anybody that doesn't understand Raki has developed a strange view of Clare as a little sister (well, I can think of a couple other things he might consider her, but let's wait till the anime gets a bit farther before I start popping those out there) in need of protection hasn't been paying attention.

However, while their omission didn't ruin their respective scenes, they did take away a certain amount of character from the episode. That's the trouble with taking a manga story, and translating it into an animated format. Manga plot lines, lacking both the capability of spoken word to convey emotion, and physical motion to convey character condition, depend on small, sometimes almost insignificant details in order to get the larger picture across. Think back to manga you may have read... how often does the artist take the time to specifically denote when a character is panting in exhaustion, for instance, using an actual onomatopoeia to do so. Y'know... 'pant', or perhaps, 'puff', maybe even, 'gasp'. They spend valuable frame space to actually write in a word denoting what the character is doing.

Animated characters don't have that same issue - they can be shown breathing hard, and you can hear them panting for air. In fact, animation allows for much more direct conveyance of many things, just through use of voice acting and a little character design. Sweat running down faces, anger or exhaustion in voices, and let's not forget the remarkably-effective-at-conveying-emotion anime eyes. These are the rudimentary advantages of motion and sound over the written word - you don't have to sit there and imagine voices, character interactions, and such - they're right there, played out for you. Essentially, animation gets to skip the little details, allowing them to be covered by the inherent advantages of the animated format.

However, this skipping of little details, sometimes seemingly insignificant to the story at large, can have remarkably unintended consequences. Let me go back to those two scenes I mentioned above. There was a reason that I chose those two particular panels for my examples in this. Both of them are just reinforcement of established fact, yes... but they're subtle reinforcements, rather than blatant ones. Yes, yes, I realize that a kick in the balls is hardly a subtle action, but stop and really think about the situation for a moment.

Raki has been shown, repeatedly at this point, to be a child - yet one capable of being remarkably mature, and incredibly brave. Yes, he cries, he waffles, he talks about his emotions, and he's not afraid to glomp onto Clare to try to get his point across... and you know what? I can deal with that, because he's also, as I said in my review, one of the single most ballsy characters I've ever run across in anime. It's not a false bravery, either, though perhaps it is somewhat born of his obvious naivety. But then, the same could be said of the Raki that finds Clare to be the most gentle and kind person he's ever met - you know, Clare... the one that's been taking monsters apart left and right, getting herself run through just to assure a kill, constantly pointing out that she doubted that she'd step in to defend him if he got into real trouble, and in general making Terminators look like lame puppies without so much as blinking? Yeah, that Clare.

So, when Raki wound up and tried to punt Sid through the cathedral towers, he wasn't just reinforcing the truth that he doesn't understand there wasn't a single being within sight that could have touched Clare if she'd have so wished to remain untouched. Nor was he just pointing out that he's got a long, long way to go to really grow up, despite how mature he can be. Raki was, quite simply, being Raki. Youthful, naive, over-protective, willing to go to any length needed to get the job done right... The scene was nothing more, and nothing less than a demonstration of his character.

It's one that had been demonstrated repeatedly before that, and, if the anime stays true to the manga, will be demonstrated again... but it was a demonstration at a time when it didn't NEED to be made. And that's what makes it such a subtle loss in the animation. No, the scene didn't have to be in there, and if a slight cut had to be made due to time constraints, then that was a fair cut to make... but it provided a level of consistency to Raki's character, that he really IS just that youthful, just that naive, and just that over protective, that it's not a situational response that would have made him a shallow character... That's really what Raki is. Emotional, at times childish, at times surprisingly mature, and impressively brave, and damn if he cares that the girl he's 'protecting' could utterly erase trouble before it got within a mile of him being able to do anything about it.

Which brings me to the dropped scene of Clare just about killing Raki while gripped in a seemingly irreversible release of her demonic power. Unlike my other example, which, while awesome as a character establishment scene, could, in the end, be dropped without truly effecting the storyline on the hole, the loss of this one reduced what had been an awesomely well planned event to something just between average and par for the course. Oh, watching Clare struggling, at first to take her own head, then fall to her knees and beg Galk to do it for her when she realized she couldn't do it and hold off the demon at the same time, was far from an empty event. Far from it, especially given the events of the episode prior, when she received the black note of her friend. You knew what was happening, what it meant, and where it was going to end...

But seeing Clare, who, despite her every protest to the contrary, had by this point come to care for Raki, come within a hair's breadth of cleaving him in half. This wasn't just a flavor scene, or even just a subtle event, though it did have very subtle repercussions, that could afford to be left on the cutting room floor. No, that single panel, more than any other thing seen in the series up to that point, not her body partially shifting as she draws on her Yoki to fight Yoma, not the detached, emotionless way that she cut down her friend so that she could die with a human soul, not even her persistent, and almost casual protestations that her only goal was the completion of her mission, and not to protect Raki, or deal vengeance for him... That panel depicted exactly the looming darkness that Clare, and indeed all of the Claymores are faced with. The terrible, and terminal knowledge that they are slowly... and sometimes, not so slowly... losing their very souls to a demon of their own choosing.

To think that Clare, even on the verge of losing herself to the Yoma within her body, could come that close to killing Raki... That is what made her near-transformation so significant. Not that she was willing to end her own life rather than become a monster, not that Raki's faith and - yeah yeah K`thardin, I know - love for her managed in the end to keep her human when everything she knew told her that she had crossed the line, and couldn't possibly go back... That panel took a scene that has been done, better, and worse in other series, and crystallized it into something incredible... and the anime discarded it.

I don't think that it was intentional. I, honestly and truly, hope that it wasn't intentional, because if it was... Things do not bode well for the rest of the series. Yet, this is a common affliction. The loss of simple seeming pieces of story happens anywhere a manga story is translated into a screen format. In Ah! My Goddess!, the Keichi we met in the first pages smoked, drank, and in general had a lot a bad habits... habits that took Belldandy all of two pages to clean up, yet they were a part of his character that has never been explored in the animated versions of the story. The first Vampire Hunter D movie, while following impressively along to the book, never really played up D's bounty hunter traits, something that the sequel movie did, and so you found yourself with two different characters because of it. I'll not say that either was better than the other - that's not the goal of this rambling article. It was a small, simple, and somewhat obvious character trait, one that could be left to the addition of voice, and motion to be conveyed... yet without the tangible, visibly shown touch of it that the book had, it evaporated.

I'll not claim that the story of the Claymore anime is bad. Quite to the contrary, as I said in my review of the series, I've been enjoying it immensely, and think that the writers have done a great job overall translating it to a TV series.. If it stays as true to the manga as it has been thus far, then we're in for a great treat. Yet, I can't help but wonder how much better it might have been, if not for the loss of these subtle, seemingly unimportant pieces that have been lost to the translation from written word and still image to spoken voice and animated character. K`thardin pegged it right, in the conversation, though at first he didn't quite realize how true it was. It's the little things in manga, that give shape, form, and substance, not just to the world, but to the characters themselves. Anime can get away with dropping some of it, with the greater flexibility of sound, and motion to fill in the gaps and convey those very details... yet, the trouble is, sometimes details that seem insignificant, that don't seem to be anything more than an extra frame on the page... those get lost in the shuffle too, and it's not until it's too late that one realizes that that single, simple seeming detail was the lynch-pin upon which the rest of the scene relied... and without it, it's simply not the same.

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