Image and Narrative
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Issue 1. Cognitive Narratology

Maison Ikkoku

Author: Simonetta Ceglia & Valerio Caldesi Valeri
Published: August 2000

Abstract (E): This research sets out to look into the different ways of interpreting the text-image relationship as shown up by two Italian publishers issuing the same Japanese comic strips, Maison Ikkoku by Takahashi Rumiko, through a consistent adherence to their own translation policies. Not just the translation of language, even the 'translation' of cartoon, featuring the twofold register, iconic and verbal, did bend to those publishers' translation policy, which was overall kept throughout

Abstract (F): Cet article se propose d'examiner la politique de traduction des mangas en Italie, plus particulièrement la manière dont deux éditeurs italiens ont traité les rapports entre texte et image dans une même bande dessinée japonsaise, "Maison Ikkoku" de Takahashi Rumiko. La politique de traduction s'avère toucher non seulement au "texte", mais va jusqu'à régir aussi certains aspects de l'image.

Keywords: manga, translation, visual metaphor, onomatopeia


1. Premise

This research sets out to look into the different ways of interpreting the text-image relationship as shown up by two Italian publishers issuing the same Japanese comic strips, Maison Ikkoku (hereafter MI) by Takahashi Rumiko, through a consistent adherence to their own translation policies. The two versions prompted to ponder on the conflicting choices carried on within the same medium. Not just the translation of language, even the 'translation' of cartoon, featuring the twofold register, iconic and verbal, did bend to those publishers' translation policy, which was overall kept throughout. Before getting at the core, some few remarks need to be supplied about the manga as a genre, to which MI does belong, according to a semiotic and historical-philological perspective.

2. Manga, Japanese approach to comics

Within comics the image may turn out to be a component of a speech chain and the parole, whether written or spoken, may gain its own figurativeness to the extent that it is capable of pointing out whether this 'speech act' is related to the 'telling' (caption) rather than the 'showing' (balloon) (Chatman 1987); furthermore, we are not to leave aside the meaningful significancy attached to the parole layout either, namely its informativeness (Levison 1987) to readers. By this mutual exchange of semiotic roles, better still by the lack of their fixedness, strip cartoons need to be decoded.

Little wonder if modern attempts at analyzing comic strips from a semiologic standpoint (among all, REY 1992 and ECO 1995) focused on this very respect and, as it is bound to happen while outlining a semiotic system, the scholars sketched out an excursus, a diachronical path with a view to dignifying comics, to raising them up to the rank of narrative genre, by tracing their origin back to renowned ancestors: from the graffiti pictured on the Lascaux caves to far-Eastern calligraphies, from the virtuosity performed in medieval illuminated manuscripts to the monumental cufic writing, a response in its ornamental exacerbation to the constraints laid down by a non-iconic art. Ambitious as it may be , this genealogical tree nonetheless emphasizes the tie between word and its representation, bringing out the twofold nature germane to each writing, as both graphic sign, mirroring portrait, and oral interpretation, coding of the phone, articulate epiphany of orality (Ong 1996). Magdalenian-era walls bearing upon rhythmic signs meant to depict horses (Sanga 1994:113), stand witnessing to this dual value in writing. The scene pictured there is mimesis, it hints at an action or an event (Genette 1986:211-215; Chatman 1987:41-45), but, by the same token, it can become 'telling', i.e. it can be read, reported, loudly repeated according to suitable verbal formulae; if the latter is the case, the text has seldom a bearing on the image content, rather the image acts as a neutral support to any utterance.

All the more reason for these remarks to fit manga, as the boundary line marking therein the iconicity of parole off from the diegesis of scene, gets blurred to the utmost: Osamu Tetsuka, surnamed "the god of manga" or "Walt Disney of the Rising Sun", maintained that a manga has to be read like a kanji, that is by splitting the semiological values of manga away from each other, the semantic one (the image within the cartoon) and its phonetic counterpart (within the balloon) represented by another image which is an imagic script (Orsi 1993). Osamu is here stating that manga and kanji are alike, the Japanese comics depending both on a semantic part built through strip-drawing and the phonetic part based on the dialogues within the balloons. These two parts are image-based elements like kanji, where the semantic radical is an image and an image as well is the other phonetic part suggesting the kanji's pronunciation. The odds between alphabetical and 'ideographic' systems may be synthetically pinpointed in the relationship the latter keep with objects in reality, i.e. the level of reference. If the relationship between sign and 'object' is arbitrary in nature or 'symbolic', abiding by Pierce's terminology, when it comes down to kanji, the amount of 'iconicity' increases on account of their prevailing component, what Pierce defined 'icon' and 'index' (Peirce 1980). The concept of 'iconicity' or 'form miming meaning' has recently undergone new linguistic scholarship; it has been definitely upheld that 'ideographic iconicity' does not simplistically convey a 'pictographic iconicity': in that case we are dealing with 'imagic iconicity', like in the portrait or onomatopoeia, where iconic needs press for a 'perfect mirroring', completely freed of the speech act.

Beyond that, we have to hold in due consideration a farther iconic level, called 'diagrammatic iconicity', where the analogy between sign and reference is based on a mirror-like connection spanning not simply the object and the 'graphic shape' (the pictogram), but the referee and the sign in its whole, as both graphic shape and phonetic utterance. This second-tier iconicity is founded upon the structures and the cultural background peculiar to the language itself and pokes out in literary artworks; manga cannot hold back from its rules as well. An effective example from MI is given by the main character's family-name: Otonashi graphemes are the kanji of 'sound' (oto) and 'no/nothing' (nashi), thus meaning without sound, non-noisy; the spelling of it refers homophonically to the adjective 'otonashii', mild, submissive, docile. It is the perfect portrait of the Confucian wife or daughter. The more perfectly it fits the ideal behaviour Kyôko Otonashi's parents would expect from her, the farther it is from young Kyôko's character, as the author wants to depict a new and yet more Japanese-sized model of feminism, that maybe is less strong than its Western twin-phenomenon and nonetheless strives to untie women from their burden of past customary obligations. Currently the adjective is written in plain hiragana, but its etymological origin is still clear to a Japanese native speaker: otona (the grown-ups) and rashii (be similar, like) hint at an adult-like attitude, a full-grown man's way of thinking, a balanced behaviour, no more violent and noisy, unlike the way a naughty child may act. Otonashii can also be associated with non-garish colours; it refers to something far from being either showy or childish. Takahashi Rumiko succeeded in building a perfect and allusive 'three-fold layer pattern', a kind of bridge linking Otonashi, as a family name, with Oto-nashi (a grapheme reference built through kanji script 'no-noise', no longer used for the foregoing adjective, but here suggesting the etymologic-semantic reason for that Confucian 'virtue' called the 'golden mean', which depends on an adult sense of even-mindedness, naughty and noisy kids traditionally were thought deprived of) and otonashii (assonance bringing back to a traditional aspect of Oriental womanhood).

3. Back to the origins of manga: Katsushika Hokusai

In English this genre is interchangeably referred to as comics, cartoon strips and comic-strips, respectively stressing out the comic-adventure themes the first characters were engaged into, the concept of fictional frame along with its power to give rise to diegetic sequences, either facet. Whereas both the French bande dessinée and the Spanish histonetas stick to the second aspect, the Italian fumetto narrows the dual sense to one alone among the available communicative strategies, the balloon, and cuts out other expressive means, such as lettering, captions, visual metaphors. The Japanese word manga is comprised of two kanji, the latter (phonetic value ga/kaku) points up the drawing, the sketch, the painting, but the key to interpretation lies in the former character (phonetic value: man/sozo(ro)). It ranges over a telling semantic area: mangen/sozo(ro) means 'to talk non sense', 'to chat haphazardly'; manpo/sozo(ro) stands for 'to wander around aimless'; manpitsu indicates 'scattered literary notes'. It all gets across the flavor of casualness; whatever has not been set up on purpose does partake in this concept of non-deliberateness, as another reading of man might well bear out, would some tie it up with the adverb sozo(ro)ni to the effect that it means 'in spite of oneself, involuntarily'. On one hand the action is carried through in the name of spontaneity, on the other order lacks and so does the rhetoric notion of dispositio, ruling and dividing up the various elements in a speech. This 'spontaneous feature' displayed by the kanji man is not perceived on grounds of a negative overtone by connecting it to such concepts as confusion, dispersion, scattering. In other words, consistency is not undermined at all, insofar as it is built up on desultoriness itself; thereby consistency within a manpitsu narrative must be sought into free connections, what is called in rhetoric 'chaotic hoarding/stockpiling' (Garavelli 1991:219).

The term manga was brought into the artistic scene for the very first time by the painter Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) and it originally meant 'freehand drawing, sketch easily drawn'. Catching on in the West since the II half of XIX century, Hokusai Manga consist of printed sketches: "manga represent a sort of encyclopedia per imagines" (TANABE 1993:7). An etymologic creation by Hokusai, nowadays manga come across as one of the favorite pastimes the Japanese like enjoying: on trains, subways, at home, either in the department-store (depātô) or in the bathtub (ofuro), they are flipped through by business-men, students, housewives and clerks, at so frantic a pace as to allow for the post-modern concept of "Consumption of Knowledge" (IVY 1988: 423): 320 pages by 20 minutes, 4 seconds a page on average. This mass-literature phenomenon yields both eminent and low-rate outcomes, likewise in the West.

4. Takahashi Rumiko's Maison Ikkoku in Italy

The manga Maison Ikkoku (1980) belongs to the former category, not merely in view of its author owing much to the great mangaka of the past (most of all, sensei Tetsuka Ozamu who borrowed from Disney the soft line in picturing feminine characters, the very same Takahashi moulds after by depicting her doll-like Kyôko), but even because of her successfully drawing upon a cultural heritage, that is the tradition of fantastic literature (through works like Urusei Yatzura 1979, Lamł in Italy, e Ramna ni bu no ichi 1987, Ramna1/2) and the modern autobiographic fiction (shishôsetsu or 'I novel') as well; MI or Ikkokukan is indeed the name of the ryokan, a family-managed hostel, on whose background the whole story takes place, environment statedly reminiscent of her own experiences over the university years while she herself was residing in a gakusei kaikan, a student hostel. MI characters are hosted in a low-rent ryokan, whose structure keeps up with Japanese traditional buildings. The young widow Otonashi Kyôko takes upon the charge of running this hostel, her father-in-law's property, with aim at winning herself economic independence and a slow, on-going though, release from cultural and social rooted customs. Her counterpart, Godai Yūsaku, falls for Kyôko since their very first meeting; he is a freshman, coming to grips with the hard university entrance exams. In this tense atmosphere, love between the two of them hardly springs up, due both to Godai's shyness and to Kyôko 's deep affection tying her down to her deceased husband.

In Italy this manga underwent two versions, the former issued by Granata Press (episodes 1-47, henceforth GP), the latter by Star Comics (still printing; onwards SC), following up the previous publisher's failure. Whether these two publishers' policies are plainly sticking out or stand implicit, they stretch underneath the connective tissue paving every translation path and eventually make up the corpus of rules the translation is submitted to.

5. Enculturation and Localization into Translation Policies

Raking through a translation policy that is inevitably triggered whenever translating is undertaken, two opposite methods are to be discerned: enculturation and localization. The semantic model outlined by Lévi Strauss is still applicable with regard to its antithetic couple Nature-Culture: wherein each nation has a subjective and one-way vision of their own legacy, made up of historical experiences and traditions, as Culture, 'matrix' and generator of texts, set against what is outside, foreign, in a word Nature. By definition translating embodies a bridge cast across these polarities, a medium connecting Culture to Nature, addressee, interpreter and decoder of such texts by the language, in order to either supply or compare or deny them in its own cultural setting. Considering the fact that the Nature pole is labeled out of its dialectic opposition to the Culture pole, but it is Nature itself in turn, this transition cannot be neutral, nor exclusively one-way. Translation needs to set off a mutual approach and calls for the opposites to come to terms with the 'difference'. The rules whereby such a compromise is pursued are enculturation and localization.

In case of enculturation, the unconditional abidance by the 'matrix' text sways translation to the extent of an absolute adherence to the original language; this principle brings about a set of adjustments, within the language addressed to, either syntactic-grammatical or conceptual in nature. The variations range from slight alterations to heavy straining of the host language and allow to import the whole original text information as integrally as possible. A translation accomplished through enculturation bears plain signs witnessing the preference granted to the outbound language at expense of the inbound one; names and toponyms, even concepts, customs and cultural references are neither translated nor paraphrased. The resulting version will near the original and will be marked out by Weltanschauung. In case of localization, the point of view is reversed indeed, since the inbound language becomes focused upon and therefore all the correspondences between outbound and inbound concepts get as far relevant as possible. At the risk of forcedly drawing culturally ill-grounded links, the strategy of localizing assumes that translation is chiefly a transition toward another language. The actual task inherent to translation would boil down to an interpretational compromise slanting towards the inbound language: if the understanding is deemed necessary to be enhanced, 'matrix' language concepts have to be localized and comply with the host language. Localization is resorted to within 'popular' literary genres where the message must get through as familiar: for instance, an Italian picture story portraying a couple kissing in the background of Coliseum has known a new setting in its French version, that is Tour Eiffel. However risky, if successful, localization can be regarded as a 'deep' translation, enabled to import the so-called deep structures, innate to a language, into another.

ill. 1

ill. 1

A striking evidence as to both procedures may be spotted in the layout itself of MI's Italian version. SC fashions the pagination according to the typical Far-Eastern custom, wherein the book is read through in harmony with the right-to-left direction of writing, i.e. the reading sequence of both cartoons and balloons starts off from the farthest right-hand page, which is the last one, according to any Western binding convention, and is carried out right to left and top-down, just like the Oriental model. SC, evidently hitting the trail of enculturation, is compelled anyway to warn the unaware average Italian reader: on the first 'Western style' page he is in fact helped out by a note joining a sample, that shrinks a standard page and numbers each cartoon and each balloon inside, whereupon the readership is taught how to cope with the novelty. This explanation compulsorily owed to the readers is a direct reflection of and supplies the enculturing tendency SC chose to follow. By contrast, GP puts forth a less troublesome westerly-moulded reading, rather sympathizing with localization (see ill. 1).

6. The text beyond the balloon

In this section a self-evident tier in the text-image relationship is looked over as it is outlined by the text beyond balloon; within this category does fall the text that has to be constrained inside the image boundaries: for example shop signs, posters, inscriptions on stele, writings on clothes. Beside this shallow level, another kind of text beyond balloon shapes up: it is not necessarily under any obligation to image, rather interlaces relations with the latter, whether symbolic or metaphoric in nature. The relationship between text and image in a manga, but generally in comic strips is not only a telling - showing connection based on a task allotment, as if the text inside the so called "Speaking Clouds" (Favari 1996) (diegesis) were purely an act of 'telling' and the cartoon (mimesis) showed the scene. Between the balloon parole and the image framework, the ordinary sensorial devices of communication should not be taken for granted; in a comic strip the speech is not always bound to hearing, nor is image to sight. Within comics the linguistic act of telling can include visual aspects, too, from the shape of a balloon informing the reader whether that text is either thought or speech, to the text layout telling if it is a scream or a whisper, up until a chiasmus type relationship that sometimes occurs between text and image. Let's think i.e. of 'visual metaphors', so common a rhetoric mechanism in many strips. This image-text relationship takes the rhetoric shape of 'trope', which is a figure of speech clearly based on substitution. Here the exact sense of a word is 'diverted' from its original literal content and a new course of meaning is set, since that word is 'invested' with a further figurative content. What is brought into action here, is a co-existence and correlation link called "double hierarchy" (Garavelli 1991:101) and through it only such a displacement within the borderlines of the parole can take place: metaphor, onomatopoeia, irony, symbol - allegory, synecdoche and hyperbaton are figures of speech depending on that dislocation and 'leap' of meaning.

(a) Text within image boundaries

ill. 2

ill. 2

Two different strategies are applied to this text: whereas SC keeps the Japanese text, resorting to a caption, GP removes the original kanji, replaces them with the fitting translation and, out of space limitations, its text layout sometimes comes off quite unnatural with regard to Western writing/reading context. This concerns the tenchū incision (heavenly punishment) carved out on a tree (see ill. 2; SC & GP: cap.38). In SC version kanji are still standing, while the caption outside the cartoon provides the translation; in GP version, instead of Japanese, a translation shows up on the bark in an unusual fashion, that is not along a horizontal line, left-to-right oriented, but a top-down upright way, since translating and writing "heavenly punishment" according to Western habits would have led to overstepping the scanty area available, i.e. the trunk.

Whereas kanji, thanks to their graphic-synthesis peculiarity, are suitable to boil text into a few lines, hence in narrower room, this option is not altogether shared by Latin alphabet. This observation explains why these strategies come to grips with mise en page issues involving both Japanese and Italian and some substantial inconsistencies occur despite the overall principle.

ill. 3

GP's behaviour is namely a direct consequence of the localizing tendency. A bigger amount of independence from the model follows upon localization and, in case writing is not liable to being localized, due to the Italian analogue lacking space, the original graphic frame undergoes a cancellation: GP goes as far as to manipulate the text by utterly erasing the inscription (cp. the same stele which undergoes a different semiological treatment in another narrative excerpt and Maison Ikkoku front door sign). (see ill. 3)

ill. 4

ill. 4

Likewise, SC is not constantly displaying explicative captions, compulsorily space-saving, otherwise so cumbersome as to overly modify the original pagination; therefore signs on Ikkokukan walls, showing off house regulations and some mutually-agreed-upon rules, are not exposed in Japanese and compensated by a caption, indeed translated tout court, as well as a too wide 'no thoroughfare' traffic sign near a level crossing. Sometimes no caption whatsoever is provided, thus letting the Japanese script unchanged: this befalls the name of Kyôko 's dog 'Sôichirô-san' (even inconsistently kanji or romaji (Latin letters) - shaped, within the same episode) or too tiny a traffic sign script near the same railways crossing level, meaning 'hijô batton', 'emergency push-button' or 'densha ni chūi', 'beware of the train' (see ill. 4; SC: cap. 35, such scripts are erased in the G.P. version).

The sole kind of script within image boundaries which is never translated in Italian, neither through localization nor enculturation, is the text appearing on MI characters' clothing. SC keeps the Japanese kanji script or the English one, according to the original manga; GP prefers English but such an English recurrence cannot be considered a localizing translation of the Japanese, not at all. A simple comparison between SC and GP will give evidence to it: Godai's T-shirt bearing the kanji-shaped term 'Daifukuchô', 'old fashioned account book', becomes 'Steoreogram' in GP version; same image frame is provided by another T-shirt with text stating 'kôtsū anzen', 'road-safety' in SC and becoming its semantic opposite in GP: 'random'. Both in GP and SC the most recurrent scripts on clothes are trade-marks, fashionable brands and all the best makes of shoes or sports clothing such as ACS, Puma and many other labels, a clear reference to the contemporary mania for fashion that settles through advertising the ever changing borderline of being in and out.

(b)Text-Image: a symbolic relationship

While dealing with the treatment of such a subtle distinction as between metaphor and symbol, Umberto Eco wrote "A symbol is not a metaphor; a metaphor cannot be constructed according to its literal meaning: it never tells anything the 'recipient' could accept as literally true. A woman is not a swan, neither is a warrior a lion. Things run differently within the symbolic expression. Even the dull-minded reader, whether he does not grasp the symbolic value of a sentence, can scan through the passage literally, because what has been said 'symbolically' does not prevent from any literal understanding, thus laying aside the semantic coherence of the text" (Eco 1984:249). The symbol, like its medieval allegoric counterpart, can be read according to its plain meaning, since its second layer pattern, if not perceived as such, does not hinder any clear communication; the hidden symbolic meaning is no more than a 'figurative surplus' and whenever missed, it does not cut across the comprehension of the whole text; simply the reader will not enjoy some nuances of the message's informative gradient provided. The second-tier allusive meaning of a symbol is built through either the language or some cultural codes forming and 'in-forming' a Weltanschauung based on 'mute opinions' and 'shared archetypes'. The examples in M.I. gives support to that, witnessing that there can be also a mutual interaction of both linguistical facts and cultural background, as it did happen with the epithet chosen by Takahashi to depict Godai Yūsaku.

(b)-1: DOWNFALL of a RONIN

ill. 5

ill. 5

Since the very beginning of M.I., the author seems to draw the male main character through the unflattering outline of his academic resume: the reader is repeatedly told that all Godai's efforts to pass the entrance university examinations fell flat and such a continuous missing the mark cannot but cause troubles to his familiar milieu. The stress laid on this aspect makes it more than a parenthetical incident in the character's life; it becomes rather a psychological trait of his, a kind of explanatory device to portray Godai and the ticklish issue of Japanese Educative Model where a too blind credit-inspired academic system can be so influential on an individual's professional future. From the foregoing it is clear the significance of Godai's academic failures in terms of getting a job to pursue a career. The failure in the entrance examinations is only an accident Godai overcomes successfully, and yet the epithet rônin, meaning both the medieval knight who lost his lord, samurai with no feudal daimyo to obey to, and the slang-word for students got plucked will stay close to him, keeping all its significant value. In chapter 20, Godai is still referred to as a rônin (see ill. 5), even if he belongs no more to that kind of students. (Viz, "Burdened by a shadow"): Ichinose "The flunkout's girlfriend was here?" Kyôko "Godai is not flunking anymore". In Japanese the dialogical cues are the following: "Rônin no kanojo ga kitano?" 'The rônin's sweetheart came, didn't she?' Whereas Kyôko's answer simply insists on stating the new status reached by Godai "Godai-san, daigakusei desu yo", 'Godai is a student now'.

SC Italian version provides a faithful translation of this passage as well, because it chose to keep in line with by its enculturation policy and kept the word rônin from the very first recurrence through the usual caption; on the other side, from the very beginning, GP leans towards a translation of that university slang expression and Godai is addressed to as Mr. Bocciatura (Mr. Flunkout) which is a clear evidence of localization half in English, with Mr. standing for the Japanese 'san', and half in Italian, using the Italian equivalent for rônin. Nonetheless this translation policy proves too narrow when the author relies on the word rônin to build a deeper symbolic hint. It is high time for Godai to cope with his university exams on the eve of another trial that can decide of his future as either a daigakusei, 'freshman' or again rônin. He is therefore busily studying but his plans are upset by the intrusive presence of the 'Loon Squad', a lazy-bones group comprised of the other MI tenants. Careless of any sense of privacy, they break into Godai's room and upon the pretext of welcoming the new manager Kyôko, they run up a party. Their brain cells dulled by wine fumes, the Loon Squad members go on the spree dancing and singing unseemly and above all they prevent Godai from focusing. attention on his books. The climax of such a feast is reached when they begin to mock the rônin and laugh at his previous academic failures. The scoffing refrain has a different text in the two published issues: in GP Yotsuya is singing "I'm a loser, yes a loser" whereas SC's song version sounds like "I'm happy even to fall down". SC keeps closer to the original pun which refers to the Japanese 'ochiru' (fall down) and the figurative meaning of it as 'rakudai suru', 'ochiru', that is to flunk an exam. SC version attempts at introducing to the audience both the 'symbolic' reference to the language hosting that verbal pun and the 'symbolic' reference to the cultural background where there is a long tradition of defeated heroes to remind of the very much Japanese notion of 'nobility of failure'. Like the rônin who is a samurai 'fallen into disgrace' and dropped behind the social prestige after losing his lord's favour, the verb rakudai suru (raku is the same kanji of ochiru) means not only to get plucked, but also to fall off the university world and to fall in other people's estimation, thus reaching the lowest steps of the academic ladder. Double meaning rônin and ochiru share a common semantic field: the rônin is the hero of failure, but his downfall has the traits of nobility and sense of honour. SC translation offers such a twofold symbolical level over which the Japanese pun is built within the mockery: 1) I'm happy even if I fail in the examinations, 2) getting plucked means to fall from social respectability, but there's nobility even in that. If the reader bears in mind the symbolical tissue through which rônin background is woven, he will enjoy to the utmost another scene occurring at the very beginning of chapter IV. Yotsuya begins to sing once more that mocking song, insisting on the sentence "Fall down and slip, rônin" and Godai actually tumbles down the stairs, the comic strip depicting such a scene gains an even more remarkable humoristic effect, because the image within that cartoon can not but mirror as an icon the idea stressed by Yotsuya's song words rônin and ochiru.


ill. 6

ill. 6

Strips picture Godai walking back to his friend Sakamoto's apartment, where he got provisionally put up. Sakamoto, while slightly opening the door, rises his pinkie, letting on to Godai that a girl is inside with him (see ill. 6). In SC the sign is decoded through a caption below; in GP Godai himself infers the sign meaning and makes it clear just in the balloon. The sign allusiveness does not bring back so much to a speech act as to a cultural code: accordingly, resort to enculturation drives SC back on an explication outside the cartoon, whereas localization policy alters the original balloon enunciation and changes the balloon itself into an explicative tool, as if it were a caption inside the cartoon.


The misunderstandings that ravel the two main characters' relationship do play a leading role in MI. Irony against which these misinterpretations are propped, is plainly a thought trope: it skilfully exploits in fact some words by straining them to convey the opposite (antiphrasis) of what either is or is supposed to be, but also to bring something else to attention by means of comic paradox. Therefore its allusive value is bound to linguistic acts, like it befell the pun playing about with ochiru and Godai's falling downstairs. From this viewpoint the process of enculturation and localization has to be catered for as to what extent it might affect both the comprehension of misunderstandings and the humourous outcomes, if involving the balloon-cartoon interaction.

ill. 7

ill. 7

Eventually Godai invites Kyôko to dining out, but when it comes to pick up the local, a mistake sets in because of the homophony between two restaurants' name: the guy speaks 'Ma Maison', an upper-class French bistrot, but Kyôko mistakes it for 'Mamezô' (lit. Bean Depot), a sleazy joint near the station, to the effect of comically reversing Godai's proposition (see ill. 7). That is what comes about in the Japanese original, wherein the phonetic transcription of the French 'Ma Maison' appears in hiragana syllabary , is read as 'Ma-mezon' and might be mixed up with 'Mamezô'. Useless to say, the script outside the balloon, i.e. the restaurant signs, can cast no doubts in Japanese readers - the writings are markedly different (see ill. 7); yet, the misunderstanding relies on the very close pronunciation of the two words, because 'Ma-mezon' is transcription from French and the Japanese sound /z/ out of convention approaches the voiced French /s/ like in maison.

The issue springs when the sound game must fit in with an outbound language that does not feature such an homophonic peculiarity. The script both inside and outside the balloon calls for being probed. In the cues SC labels the dive as 'Mamezô' and the French bistrot as 'Ma Maison': this attempt at enculturizing, though, waters down much of the original homophony, since Italian readers do not voice /z/ in 'Mamezô'. Of course, the signs left as they were and disclosed by extra-textual captions, make once more sure that a kind of misinterpretation should have occurred, but the very nature of this mistake is not grasped to the fullest but by those who access the Japanese reading of the sign. GP, instead, shifts the homophony towards a rough homography blurring 'Ma Maison' with the new 'Mamasan'. Thus, the troublesome transcription 'Mamezô' is purposely missed out over the quasi-homographic script 'Ma Maison'-'Mamasan', a tactic that, although wandering off the Japanese pun, helps a lot more the Occidental readership addressed to by GP's localization policy; accordingly, GP replaces either sign with the Latin writing 'Ma Maison' and 'Mamasan' (see previous ill.).

To sum up, SC aims at importing the original homophony despite all the difficulties following on, whereas GP thinks up ex novo an homographic rather than homophonic pun. Even though the misunderstanding successfully bears up in both approaches, the Japanese reader only is able to see through the twofold essence of the mistake: it plays as much on homophony as on the mental image Kyôko attaches to Godai. This biased perception can be so compelling as to meddle with the proper conveyance of Godai's utterance: he says 'Ma-mezon' (Ma Maison), but Kyôko, regarding him as a hard up rônin, hears 'Mamezô' (Bean Depot). Phonetically, just a /n/ is at stake, but psychologically extra-linguistic inference phenomena are triggered.

(c) Text-Image: a metaphorical relationship

If symbol is a connoting, non-denoting figure of speech so that the text might be anyhow interpreted according to a 'humbler', invariably consistent though, reading, this description does not fit metaphor. Traditional definitions of the latter tend to emphasize its value as 'trope', the meaning of which is 'direction'. The metaphor has to be considered a trope, being a direction bending, a translating 'cast' (translatio) as those used in sculpture, a substitute for another word whose literal thrust somehow resembles the meaning expressed by the replaced word. Yet, these lines do not help to tell metaphor and comparison apart from one another; metaphor is not simplistically a simile devoid of "like", a non-explicit comparison like it has been conventionally sketched, rather it is something beyond, out of the shift in sense it achieves. "Among all rhetoric devices, metaphor stands out as the one liable to being intuitively singled out, regardless of whether theoretical elements are previously provided. Any speaker is admittedly open to accepting as 'possible' utterances that he would deem as a rule unacceptable, even non sense, on condition that he understands them figuratively" (Garavelli 1991:161). The metaphorical mechanisms build up an analogy that can not be taken to the letter, but asks for being figuratively understood, because metaphor is not a semantic surplus, unlike symbol.

7. Visual Metaphors

In the cartoon language visual metaphors offer a clear example of non sense, tolerable exclusively because responsive to metaphorical criteria: through the channel of sight, namely compulsory in comics, they show through something, otherwise barred to this sensory domain. This recourse, typical of cartoon strips, seeks images, even words, figures or drawings capable of rendering visual perception as a way to other sensorial channels (synaesthesia) or as an expression of some character's feeling. In Tezuka Osamu's Hi no tori (Bird of fire) a frequent visual metaphor represents a burning candle on Acetilene Lamp's head to mean this character's anger. Obviously, visual metaphor like metaphor itself cannot be literally interpreted; what stands perspicuous in the cartoon does not signify a matter of fact, but a figuration whose code is widely arbitrary: depicting either pain from a blow by means of stars revolving around one character's head, or the sudden idea through a shining light bulb, or the sound of snoring by a saw cutting wood, is a mere convention.

ill. 8

ill. 8

In MI such visual metaphors show up during deeply emotional and emphatic scenes. (see ill. 8). Kyôko has climbed up the roof to fix some tiles; Godai notices her presence right above his room and gets lost in a reverie until an housemate abruptly steps inside. After blackmailing Godai, Akemi, while walking out of the room, lets out: "The roof you are delighted by... is engaged" (SC). A disclosure alike is metaphorically contained within an arrow-shaped balloon sticking into Godai's chest. Akemi's wicked gossip nearly stabs the rônin to death; these words are stinging and hurtful to Godai and, furthermore, the whole figuration is enhanced by onomatopoeias like the iconic 'STAB' (GP) and 'ZACK' (SC; in Italian it sounds like the cut of a blade).

ill. 9

ill. 9

As previously seen, metaphor makes use of images, but plenty of occurrences have words, onomatopoeias mostly, take on figurativeness. A dramatically tense scene (see ill. 9; SC & GPcap.39,) stars Godai and Kyôko at a crossing level, waiting out a train to run by. Godai has been drilled into the widespread rumour that Kyôko is about to get hitched to his arch-rival; strips are playing up Godai's thoughts till its final outburst, a reasonless 'Farewell' that bemuses Kyôko. In SC Godai's interior monologue balloon is overwhelmed with and interfered by outside noise, such as the moving train's metallic 'TAKLAN TAKLAN', the deafening 'GROOOOR', and the ideo-phonic 'KAN KAN'. The last onomatopoeia breaks into the balloon itself and flags both on how loud the sound is as to disturb the thought thread and on the onomatopoeia's introspective potential; in Japanese kan kan suits a metallic clang, but also anger or anxiety, the same sort of feelings Godai is having towards a presumably irretrievable marriage. In GP 'TING TING' replaces kan kan and, as in SC, overruns the balloon, almost overlaps the very script, but the figurativeness is dropped out over a much simpler train noise.

8. 'Figurative' Onomatopoeias

Both visual metaphors and onomatopoeias are approached here under the common figurative category because Japanese onomatopoeias, as opposed to their Western equivalent, may disclose hidden and metaphoric meanings. The onomatopoeias which occur in manga and more generally in Japanese language not only express sounds but emotions and psychological or physical feelings. "Are Japanese onomatopoeia adverbs or adjectives, sound effects or sound symbols? One scholar will call them sound symbolisms, another will carefully divide them into mimesis and onomatopoeia, with further differentiation between those words describing voices or sounds and those describing the condition of things or human emotions" (Millington 1993:11).

"If in Italian taratatà or ciuf cuff seem marginal, ridiculous or childish onomatopoeias" (Cardona 1988:82), this is because Western languages recur to phono-symbolism in precise circumstances such as in poetic language (when necessary) or in infantile language which is meant to be an evolutionary step in the acquisition of an adult-like language where onomatopoeias are cancelled as a clear index of immaturity.

Opposed to such an idea, Japanese onomatopoeias are not only used to 'translate' the roar of the sea (poetic licence) or the tick tack of the clock (children's language), but they are also referred to less objective, more personal and psychological feelings such as the fastidious sensation for the stickiness of a wet dress (bisho-bisho sounds something like 'soppy soppy') or a negative state of mind (guzuguzu, 'unwillingly'). This is the background Japanese onomatopoeias should be read through: their 'figurative' value and informative capacity is well expressed by Susan Millington. "Onomatopoeic phrases are widely used in news headlines because they pack so much punch in just one or two words. They also appear frequently in advertising, because they are catchy and appealing. Perhaps their greatest contribution to modern Japanese culture, though, is to be found in manga - the comic books read by young and old alike. These cartoons are littered with onomatopoeic phrases, enabling the artist to create certain moods without detailed description and giving the pictorial action a heightened sense of drama. Frequently, phrases are altered from their dictionary forms to suit the needs of the narrative, often leaving the reader to infer their meaning from the action. As a result of taking such liberties, sometimes the artist inadvertently coins an entirely new word that may gain a permanent place for itself in the language" (MILLINGTON 1993:15). Japanese onomatopoeias do not only express plain sounds the objective reality of which is much more recognizable: a onomatopoeic transcription of an animal call sounds alike in many languages of the world, from the English cat 'mewing' to its Japanese version 'mya mya'. Onomatopoeias can express moods, states of mind, in short, things which are very different from objective sounds, therefore "the phonetic quality of the ideo-phones are not always revealing to an ear used to other languages" (Cardona 1988:82): the Japanese potto (blushing), sotto (kindly) and many other expressions 'translating' psychological or physical feelings cannot be obvious, nor intuitively understood by a foreign reader, but must be seen from within the language. Here onomatopoeias constitute a tight network of associations. A further evidence of how close the link is between metaphors and onomatopoeias, being both figurative, is the massive, sometimes intrusive, presence of onomatopoeias in the manga and almost ever used within cartoon scenes where visual metaphors occur.

If such an onomatopoeic category is not easily grasped by a Western ear, translation policies either of localization or enculturation will be decisive. While translating psychological onomatopoeias, fundamental for the narrative tissue and for the relationship with images, it should not be forgotten that their phonetic values are only significant within the language of origin and the translation policy, therefore, becomes problematic. In general terms it may be inferred that SC is loyal to the enculturation concept, having decided to create Japanese-type ideo-phones through verbs and iconic words adapted to the narrative framework. In order to obtain this effect, SC does not leave such phono-symbolic phenomena in original, but localizes them either in English or Italian, depending on the more effective iconicity level the two language can offer for that circumstance. They are rarely left in Japanese since total incomprehension would be too likely. On the other hand, GP keeps the onomatopoeias much closer to the American translation by Viz; iconic onomatopoeias are hardly ever used, preferring sounds and transcriptions of the same in English.

ill. 10

ill. 10

In SC's chapter 1 the welcome party thrown in Godai's room echoes with Italian onomatopoeias 'BALDORIA, BISBOCCIA' ('NOISY FUN, BINGE'), turned by GP into screams such as 'HOOHAA, WHOPEE' (see ill. 10). GP's version does not get through the annoyance Godai feels while its room is ravaged by the Loon Squad. Once more chapter 1 portrays Godai flinging his built-in closet open; the cupboard sounds 'ZHOOP' in GP, throughout the various chapter as well, while 'RUMBLE' in SC, the latter highlighting both the hollow sound from the sliding door and the idea of 'finding out, peeping': the closet conceals a hole that provides an outstanding view on Akemi's room and it is the same whence Godai will reversely spy on Kyôko during the welcome party.

From the few examples above, SC's enculturation policy can be viewed as to the treatment of onomatopoeias, made up of Italian, English (rarely Japanese) words or lexemes slightly altered in their morphology, but suitable to 'translating' the action, that is, as Susan Millington recalled, the chief feature peculiar to both Japanese onomatopoeias and manga. GP instead favours a conventional sound transcription, respectfully to the Western concept of onomatopoeia. It's unquestionable that SC's onomatopoeias are fashioned after phono-symbolism and carry along an higher degree of iconicity than GP's respective ones, where Japanese-like onomatopoeias, i.e. meaningful sounds, are seldom opted for.

ill. 11

ill. 11

Embracing one out of the two facets can lead up to diverted narrative outcomes, since onomatopoeias are switches of expressive intensity and so they emphasize an aspect over another. In SC's chapter 29 Kyôko is standing before the tomb of her husband and her parents show a lot of appreciation towards her father-in-law's speech as 'ANNUIAMO' ('WE NOD') stresses, whereas GP uses a 'SNIFFLE', underscoring the parents' emotion and the sound of sniffing (see ill. 11; SC & GP: cap.29).

ill. 12

ill. 12

GP rarely adopts iconic onomatopoeias (as DASH, RATTLE, SLAM, and so forth): they are not strictly associated with a concrete sound, but with a mood, hence are easily ignored, or deprived of their psychological meaning. In chapter 17 (GP & SC: fot. VIII c) Kyôko is sprucing up for the first date with Godai and her stressful waiting is brought out by 'AGIT AGIT' (lexeme for agitation and alike), whilst this onomatopoeia is totally passed over by GP. Yet, sometimes GP fails to cancel these 'overflowing' onomatopoeias and simply robs them of their emotional charge: in chapter 4 Kyôko is alone in the attic and determined to sort a blackout; Godai catches her up few minutes later willing to take advantage of the situation. In fact he tentatively hugs her, each time standing back: his aborted avances are marked with 'INCALZ' in SC (root for the Italian 'incalzare', i.e. to urge) and with the meaningless 'VUUM' in GP (see ill. 12).

ill. 13

ill. 13

In GP, finally, silence, paradoxical according to a narrow conception of sounding onomatopoeias, swings between representation and lack of it. If functional to the story, it is kept, as in chapter 3, when Godai and Kyôko feel so ill at ease during a draughts session (GP 'SHIIN' e SC 'SILENZIO'). If not, the 'silent onomatopoeia' is neglected: in chapter 2 Kyôko falls asleep on the roof while a severe storm is under its way and Akemi calls her out from below; no answer is given back but a thunder's 'RRMMBBL' in GP, a metaphorical 'SILENZIO!' in SC that gives voice to silence (!!) - a further evidence to the Japanese onomatopoeia being fit for metaphor (see ill. 13).


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