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Mr. Steak
May 8, 2013

I've got hot meat for your bun.

-Original TL

So here's the story. I was looking for a new Japanese-language mystery novel to read last night when I decided to check out 十角館の殺人 by Yukito Ayatsuji (1987) because I found the first few pages intriguing. That's when I discovered that it has an English translation (The Decagon House Murders), so naturally, being a native English speaker AND a huge nerd for translation, I was curious how the part I read was adapted. And let me tell you I was greatly disappointed! Enough to want to make a post complaining about it!

Don't misunderstand, it's not a wrong translation. Each sentence has its meaning correctly interpreted with no important details left out. It's just kind of poorly written. So, since I love reading and writing and translating, I think it'll be a fun exercise to put my money where my mouth is and try writing my own version.

So, okay, I'm not making this post to be all high and mighty about my translation skills and saying that I'm better than professionals (in this case Mr. Ho-Ling Wong). I fully acknowledge that there's probably a whole slew of external factors contributing to his writing not being the best: deadlines, company style guidelines, lack of proper editing process, etc and all the other reasons I don't want to translate professionally. But if we judge based solely on the quality of the writing, and most importantly judge it as its own work and NOT in the context of a translation (which I personally think is essential), then I think it's quite mediocre. Which is a shame, considering how much I like Ayatsuji's writing style so far. I could easily have forgiven all of this if I saw a clear reason for phrasing things a certain way, or choosing certain words over another based on the raw text. HOWEVER most of the small changes I noticed reflect more of a focus on portraying the cut-and-dry meaning of the sentence, without much thought put behind how it was written in the original. That's probably all well and good for a mystery novel, by which I mean perfectly functional, but I still can't help but be disappointed when I compare the two.

To be honest, it reminds me of this thing called "No Fear Shakespeare." I'm not sure how widely known it is, but they "translate" Shakespeare plays line by line into standard modern English. They'll summarize entire beautiful poetic diatribes as just the bare meaning of what it was meant to say to progress the story. The" translation" is technically readable and you will be reading the same story, but the experience is way different. That's what some of this translation feels like.

If any of y'all are interested in comparing two different retellings of the same passage, feel free to comment or whatever. Please also feel free to roast me if you think I'm bad and shouldn't have made this post.

PS: I'm reading the "revised edition" from like 2006, so I have no way of knowing whether these changes reflect that or not, but since this translation was published in 2015, I'm willing to bet they were using the revised text too.

PSS: I haven't read any more of this novel yet, so in the event that a TL decision was made in light of later events, I won't have a clue.



The sea at night. A time of quietude.

The dull sound of the waves welled up from the endless obscurity, only to disappear again.

He sat down on the cold concrete of the breakwater and faced the expansive darkness, his body veiled by the white vapor of his breath.

He had been suffering for months. He had been brooding for weeks. He had been thinking about just one thing for days. And now his mind was focusing on one single, clearly defined goal.

Everything had been planned.

Preparations were almost complete.

All he needed to do now was wait for them to walk into the trap.

He knew his plan was far from perfect. It was best described as shoddy rather than meticulous. But he'd never intended to plan everything out in perfect detail in the first place.

No matter how hard he tries, man will always be mere man, and never a god.

It was easy to imagine oneself as such, but he knew that as long as humans were simply humans, even the most gifted amongst [sic] them could never become a god.

And how could anyone who was not a god predict the future, shaped as it was by human psychology, human behavior, and pure chance?

Even if the world was [sic] viewed as a chessboard, and every person on it a chess piece, there would still be a limit as to how far future moves could be predicted. The most meticulous plan, plotted to the last detail, could still go wrong sometime, somewhere, somehow. Reality is brimming with too many coincidences and whimsical actions by humans for even the craftiest scheme to succeed exactly as planned.

The most desirable plan was not one that limited your own moves, but a flexible one that could adapt to circumstances: that was the conclusion he had come to.

He could not allow himself to be constrained.

It was not the plot that was vital, but the framework. A framework where it was always possible to make the best choice, depending on the circumstances at the time.

Whether he could pull it off depended on his own intellect, quick thinking and, most of all, luck.

I know Man will never become a god.

But, in a way, he was undoubtedly about to take on that role.

Judgement. Yes, judgement.

In the name of revenge, he was going to pronounce judgement on them -- on all of them.

Judgement outside the court of law.

He was not a god and so could never be forgiven for what he was about to do -- he was completely conscious of that fact. The act would be called "a crime" by his fellow men and, if found out, he himself would be judged according to the law.

Nevertheless, the common sense approach could no longer keep his emotions under control. Emotions? No, nothing as shallow as that. Absolutely not. This was not just some powerful feeling within him. It was the cry of his soul, his last tie to life, his reason for living.

The sea at night. A time of quietude.

No flickering of the stars, no light of the ships off-coast could disturb the darkness into which he gazed. He contemplated his plan once again.

Preparations were almost finished. Soon they, his sinful prey, would walk into his trap. A trap consisting of ten equal sides and interior angles.

They would arrive there suspecting nothing. Without any hesitation or fear they would walk into the decagonal trap, where they would be sentenced.

What awaits them there is, of course, death. It is the obvious punishment for all of them.

And no simple deaths. Blowing them all up in one go would be infinitely easier and more certain, but he should not choose that route.

He has to kill them in order, one by one. Precisely like that story written by the famous British female writer -- slowly, one after the other. He shall make them know. The suffering, the sadness, the pain and terror of death.

Perhaps he had become mentally unstable. He himself would be the first to admit that.

I know -- no matter how I try to justify it, what I am planning to do is not sane.

He slowly shook his head at the pitch-black roiling sea.

His hand, thrust into his coat pocket, touched something hard. He grabbed the object and took it out, holding it in front of his eyes.

It was a small transparent bottle of green glass.

It was sealed off securely with a stopper, and bottled inside was all he had managed to gather from inside his heart: what people like to call "conscience." A few folded sheets of paper, sealed. On it he had printed in small letters the plan he was about to execute. It had no addressee. It was a letter of confession.

I know Man will never become a god.

And precisely because he understood that, he did not want to leave the final judgement to a human to make. It didn't matter where the bottle ended up. He just wanted to pose the question to the sea -- the source of all life -- whether, ultimately, he was right or not.

The wind blew harder.

A sharp coldness went down his spine and his whole body shivered.

He threw the bottle into the darkness.



The night sea. A time of quiet.

Nothing but the dull sound of waves wells forth from the endless dark, only to fade away.

A man sat on the cold concrete of the breakwater, wrapped up in the white vapors of his breath, and squared off against the oppressive darkness.

For how many months had he suffered? For how many weeks had he despaired? For how many days had he kept thinking the same thoughts? Until now, when he was in the process of channeling that determination into a singular, concrete shape.

The plan was already in motion.

Preparations were nearly set.

Next was simply waiting for them to get caught in the trap.

However, the plot he had formulated, he knew, was far from flawless. Rather than meticulous, it would be better described as extremely sloppy, in a way. But in the first place, he'd never set out to form a plan that's perfect down to the last detail.

No matter how we squirm, Man will always be Man, and never a god.

While it is quite natural to wish to become a god, the fact of reality is, as long as Man is Man, that wish is impossible for even the most talented among us; he understood that.

For those who can never be gods -- whose futures are governed by human psychology, human behavior, and perhaps even chance -- could it be possible to perfectly predict and anticipate what will happen?

Even if we view all the world as a chessboard, with humans as the pieces on top, there would still be a limit to how far one can read ahead. And even if you polish a plan down to the tiniest, minutest detail, you never know when it will, somewhere, somehow, come crashing down. Reasoning based on calculated observations can never be truly effective in a world overflowing with coincidence. A world overflowing with the whims of the heart....

Therefore, in this case, the most desirable plan was not one that carelessly restricted his actions, but one that could adapt on the fly, as flexibly as possible -- was the conclusion he'd come to.

He refused to be set in stone.

The important part wasn't the order of events, but the framework. And that framework must have the flexibility to allow for the most optimal course of action, regardless of circumstance.

After that, the plan lives or dies by his own wit, his cunning, and more than anything else, by chance.

(I understand. Man can never be god.)

However, in a different way, he was undoubtedly about to take on the position of "god" himself.

Judgement. Yes, this is Judgement.

He would judge them -- all of them -- in the name of revenge.

Judgement above the law.

As a mortal, he would never be forgiven for this; of that he was more than well aware. He would be deemed a "criminal" by society, and if caught, he would be the one facing judgement in the name of the law.

However, he was already beyond the point of letting his emotions be swayed by rational thinking. ----Emotions? No, this was not so shallow an affair. Far from it.

This was more than a fleeting passion.

It was now a screaming from his soul, his tie to life, his very reason for existing.

The midnight sea. A time of silence.

Neither starlight nor the lights of departing ships were visible across the darkness where he stared, digesting more of his plan.

The preparation phase was nearing completion. Soon enough, they -- his sinful prey -- would fall right into his trap. A trap consisting of ten congruent sides and interior angles.

They will arrive clueless. Without an ounce of doubt or fear, they will step willingly into his decagonal trap, where they will be caught and judged....

What awaits them, of course, is death. That is the appropriate sentence for each and every one of them.

On top of that, there are to be no lazy deaths. Blowing them all up at once with a bomb, for example, would be a significantly simpler and more reliable technique, but he had no need to use such methods.

He must kill them off one by one, in order. Indeed, exactly like the plot set up by a certain female British writer -- gradually, one at a time. That's how he would make them learn. The pain of death, the grief, the suffering, the fear.

From a certain perspective, he would probably seem to have gone completely mad. He could acknowledge that himself, even now.

(I understand. No matter how I try to justify it, the plan I am about to carry out is not a sane one.)

He calmly shook his head at the cowering black sea.

Hand concealed in his coat pocket, he touched something hard. He gripped it tightly, removed it, and held it in front of his face.

It was a small glass bottle, tinted green.

Inside the bottle, which was stopped up firmly with a cork, was everything he'd wrung out and collected from the recesses of his heart, packed to the brim with what you'd normally refer to as his conscience. Countless sheets of folded paper were enclosed inside. All the contents of this plan he had been arranging were diligently detailed on those pages, in small print. Addressed to no one in particular, it was his letter of confession....

(I understand. Man can never be god.)

That's why -- It was precisely because he understood that, that he wanted to entrust his own final judgement to those not of this world.

He was not concerned with the question of where the bottle would drift. He merely wanted to ask the sea -- from which all life springs forth -- whether, ultimately, he was right or wrong.

The wind blew harder.

The cold stabbed at the back of his neck, making him shiver.

Calmly, he threw the bottle into the night.


-I made sure to add as few embellishments as possible, and to keep as closely as possible to the words and ideas presented in the raw text. For example, I didn't add any "therefore" or "however" or other logical-type words that weren't present in the raw, so any additions you notice were likely either removed by the initial translation, or are parts that were revised (for clarity?) in the edition I'm reading.

-The "how many months" part was indeed not phrased like questions in the raw text. They are a type of sentence that can be used interrogatively, though mostly I just think it works way better like this dramatically.

-I kept the thoughts in parentheses just because that's how the author chose to show it, but I have nothing against changing them to italics.

-At the 2nd "a time of silence" part, there is indeed a more specific word used for "night" and a stronger word for quiet which I'm pretty sure the pro TL overlooked since he translated the line exactly the same.

-"He slowly shook his head..." --> this line in the raw is the most metaphorical sentence in the whole prologue, because it personifies the sea in a weird way, so I don't blame Mr. Wong for basically just winging it. Unfortunately, he failed to bring ANY descriptive writing to the table. Well okay, he called the sea "roiling" so there was an attempt. To be honest, I kind of guessed at how to interpret that line too, but at least I still personified the sea!

Mr. Steak fucked around with this message at Jan 31, 2019 around 04:50


Aug 2, 2002

Grimey Drawer

i fixed this translation. i didn't read it beforehand i just went line by line, but i think i got the gist of it.

The water is dark but makes so sounds.

Nevermind, the waves are making sounds. The sounds they are making come up from endless obscurity, only to disappear again before anybody can question what that means.

A dude sat down on the thingy that jutted out into the ocean--he didn't know what it was called--and bravely looked out into the darkness where there could be monsters. His breath condensing in the air meant there were at least a few ghosts nearby.

His toe hurt, and it made him sad. He though about his toe a lot, all the time no matter what he was doing. He thought about his toe when he was walking, when he was sitting, and even in the middle of sex. He came out to the dark ocean because he'd made up his mind and he was gonna do something about his hurt toe.

He had a notebook with little drawings and everything.

He had a backpack filled with various tubes of ointments and lotions, etc.

It was a good trap, and they would fall right into it and he wouldn't have to worry about his toe anymore.

He knew the plan was stupid, but gently caress, he just couldn't put up with this hurt toe anymroe. He'd come up with the plan in like 2 minutes and never really thought it through, but he made an excuse that made him feel better.

He thought about dumb poo poo unrelated to his hurt toe, like about how many always tries to fly in the sky like a bird, but he will always be just a man on the ground, never up in the clouds with the birds or god.

It was easy for him to think about being a bird, flying in the sky where he wouldn't have to worry about his hurt toe, but he didn't have wings. Even the smartest smarty pants at Harvard couldn't crispr themselves into a bird. Not yet anyway.

Birds never knew wtf was coming next. That's what made it so easy to catch them with a net. How could a bird understand that a man hopped up on redbull standing pantsless in the park would want to eat him?

They can't even play chess, they just poop on the board and get the pieces all covered in poop. They are very bad at chess. So this is why birds are not good at understanding things, because they're bad at chess. They may think they can eat a piece, but they'll just choke on it. That's real life, bird. Deal with it.

Nah, if you were gonna survive out there with no wings and a broken toe, you had to be willing to change things up, that's what he'd realized one day when he was high as fuuuuuuuuuck.

He thought "I can't like.... just let myself be constrained, man."

It wasn't so much that he had his bad plan, but that he'd mananged to actually follow through and get in his truck and drive down to the ocean. He felt real good about everything, he was makin good choices and poo poo.

But was he smart enough to pull it off? Probably not, but who needs smarts when you got luck, and he was pretty lucky.

He knew he'd never be an actual bird.

But in a way, he felt like one.

He was about to poo poo on everybody's chess board.

He was going to give them the what for, just how he wanted and nobody could stop him.

And he didn't even ask anybody's permission.

He was not a bird, and nobody would ever understand what he was gonna do, he knew it made him look weird as poo poo. The act would be technically be called "a crime" by his fellow men and, if found out, he was probably going to get locked up for a real long time.

Nevertheless, he was way too high to think about all that poo poo, now he ran on something else. Emotions? No, nothing as shallow as that. Absolutely not. It was his destiny, probably. Maybe. He really wanted to do it at least.

Oh yeah, the ocean is still there.

"God there's a lot of pollution," he thought, looking into the starless sky. No boats either. Good, he didn't want to think about boats, he wanted to think about his plan.

Had he forgotten to pack any of his tubes? Soon they, his sinful prey, would saunter into his trap. A trap that was like, totally beautiful and symmetrical.

And they weren't gonna know shiiiiiiiiiiit when that poo poo hit them. They'd just be like "whoa what's this pretty thing" then BAM! I'm the bird now.

I mean, i'm totally gonna poop on all them, that's pretty obvious.

And not just your standard turd. Chucking a steamer at them would be infinitely easier to aim, but he needed something more.

He had to get the poop in their eyes, one by one. Like that story by that limey bitch, nice and slow. They'd realize, oh they'd realize good, that they were gonna get pink eye.

Was it crazy to pretend to be a bird and poop on people? Maybe.

But whatevs, that's fine.

He looked at the pitch-black roiling sea and gave it the finger.

He put his hand in his hoodie and carressed one of his tubes. He took it out and held it up real close to his face cause it was dark and he couldn't see poo poo.

It was dark green.

It had one of those child proof caps, and he'd written a note and stuck it inside with a bunch of drawings of birds pooping on people. It was a bit of a confession, but also just kind of funny.

I know Man will never become a bird.

And precisely because we have been cursed by our non-bird DNA, he did not want to leave the pooping to any one human. It didn't matter where the bottle ended up. He just wanted to pose the question to the seagulls -- the source of all life -- whether, ultimately, he was right or not.

The wind blew harder.

A sharp coldness went down his spine and his whole body shivered.

He threw the bottle into the darkness.

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