The first volume of Sayonara Zetsubou-sensei from Del Rey has been on the bookshelves of American bookstores for several weeks now.
I’d pre-ordered it as soon as it was available for pre-order, and I’m generally happy with my (discounted) purchase. When I first heard about this series, it struck me as one that would be nearly untranslatable. Joyce Aurino, the translator, has taken on a thankless job and done perhaps as well as anyone could.
The first thing you notice, opening this book, is the art (and how well SHAFT adapted it to anime form).
Kumeta’s busy pages, and SHAFT’s busy, text-filled imagery on the screen were made for one another.
But the series is nearly untranslatable, and this volume shows that.
The notes pile up at the end, but the translator has either missed a number of references, or despaired at being forced to translate them. Meru, Kafuka, Nami’s and Kiri’s names are explained, but none of the others. The joke about Chiri asking to be entered into Itoshiki-sensei’s family register is missed (perhaps deliberately — they may not want to suggest marriage between a middle-school girl and her teacher, even after they’ve “slept together”).
I don’t envy the translator her job. The book is full of puns (and stretching the text to create English-language puns would annoy as many people as it amuses). Update: Having made this criticism, I should point out that she succeeds wonderfully from time to time. The treatment of Kafuka’s nickname for Itoshiki-sensei, is brilliant.
With yet more extensive notes, this book would be an ideal companion volume to the anime, but I suspect that sales of volume two aren’t going to be anywhere near as good as sales of volume one, because I don’t think the humor comes through. Having said that, I’m buying volume two. These books are so pretty, so much fun to look at, and it helps to know what’s being said.