If you live long enough, you might just see the impossible come to pass. As of now, everyone reading these words has lived long enough to see Leiji Matsumoto’s original Space Battleship Yamato manga (1974-75) officially translated into English and sold outside Japan! Publisher Seven Seas had the good sense to hire lifetime Star Blazers fan Zack Davisson to do the translation honors, after which Cosmo DNA editor Tim Eldred talked with him at length about this and a few other juicy projects. Here is their conversation in full.
Interview conducted September 18, 2018
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How does a translator of manga get his start if his name is Zack Davisson?
I had gone to Japan on the JET program, because I’d always really wanted to learn Japanese. JET is a government-run program where they give work visas to college graduates, so you go over there and you learn and study in Japan. You’re presumably teaching English, though there’s not much English teaching. That’s a component of it. I went over expecting it to be one year but I came back about seven years later.
I did my master’s degree over in Japan, and one of the things that happened was I fell in love with the work of a manga artist named Shigeru Mizuki, and I was amazed that he had never had any English translations whatsoever. He was so foundational in Japan, but he was clearly unknown in the US. So I made it my mission to bring Shigeru Mizuki to the west, and when I came back I knocked on a lot of doors for a lot of years, trying to get someone at one of these companies to take a chance on it. Then I read in the comic press that Drawn & Quarterly had picked up rights to publish his work and I was heartbroken, because it meant that someone else was going to get the job I always wanted.
So I went on the Drawn & Quarterly website and clicked on the contact button and sent them an email saying, “Hey, you don’t know who I am, but I’m your new Shigeru Mizuki translator, and I don’t know who’s working on your stuff but I’ll prove I’m better than them. I’ll translate 100 pages of anything you want, and if you like my translation better, then hire me.” And that’s exactly what I did. It was a bit cutthroat, but that’s how I got my start.
That’s the way to go. If you can bring the goods you have to blow your own horn or they’ll never find out. I’ve met other people who participated in the JET program, and I’ve always been curious about how much Japanese you need to know in order to teach English in Japan.
None. In fact, they don’t really want Japanese speakers at all. They’re looking for people who don’t know Japanese so they can interact more in English with everyone.
That would tell me that the students on that side have to have some English already.
Maybe in high school, but again the teaching part is almost an affectation. You basically recite vocabulary words. You’re an assistant teacher, which means there are some actual teachers, and you’re there for cultural interaction and pronunciation and things like that. Very few JETS actually do anything approximating teaching.
You’re a sample foreigner?
That’s really what you are. They take you to all these little villages for people to meet you and interact with you. They take young college graduates to indoctrinate them with a love of Japan so they’ll go back and be Japanese ambassadors for the rest of their life. It totally works. You’d be surprised at how many manga translators have been JETs.
Anime and manga themselves are pretty good means of creating ambassadors, too.
Absolutely, and they always have been. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now if it hadn’t been for stuff like Star Blazers or Shogun Warriors. That was the seed that got all my interests going.
Tell me a little more about your translation history, starting with Shigeru Mizuki.
I did Showa History of Japan, that’s what I started with. It was an amazing project to work on, incredibly intense. It was nominated for an Eisner Award, which is the comic book version of the Oscars, so my very first work got an Eisner notation. The series got a lot of acclaim, so I started to get some other contacts. At first I just wanted to translate Shigeru Mizuki, but then I wanted to see what else I could do with it, because there are other people whose work I love.
I did some work with Dark Horse, translating Satoshi Kon’s comics for them, someone else I really, really loved. When you’re working in comics, networking is a huge aspect of it, going to conventions and things like that. I got to know Ben Applegate from Kodansha, and I told him if you have anything I might be a good fit for, I’d love to work on it. I was kind of the “classics guy” who liked this older style of manga. Ben told me they’d gotten the rights to one person and they couldn’t tell me who it was, but he said it was space opera. That floated in my mind and I said, don’t tell you’ve got Leiji Matsumoto…and that’s who it was.
I was assigned to do Queen Emeraldas, which was beyond even my greatest hopes. It still astounds me to this day that I got to be the translator for these classics that were just sitting there. Part of me likes to think they were sitting there just for me to come along and do them justice. (Laughs)
Queen Emeraldas was just magnificent, and once I’d done that I got an email out of the blue from Seven Seas, a company I never thought I’d work with because their style was so different. But their editor in chief reached out to me and said, hey I really like your work and we’ve got the license to some people I think you might be good for. If you can sign a non-disclosure agreement I can tell you who it is. So I did, and they said they had the rights to Leiji Matsumoto and Go Nagai. And my head just exploded. Oh my god, everyone I ever loved. They gave me a list of potential titles; it was Captain Harlock and Devilman and Cutie Honey. They asked if I had anything I would like to add to this list, and I immediately wrote back and said Yes, Space Battleship Yamato. And that got added to the list.
I guess the tough part was just them breaking into the Matsumoto vault and finally doing what someone should have done twenty or thirty years ago.
I had no part in the license negotiations, so I have no idea what magic tricks they pulled to get everything working. I’m just a freelancer there, but whatever it was I’m so grateful and happy that they did it. And that they do such genuinely beautiful versions of his work. It’s astounding.
For some reason none of us understands, it took a really, really long time for Leiji Matsumoto properties to find their way here. I’m curious to know, what was your first contact with a Leiji Matsumoto manga before you joined this world as a translator?
Like probably a million other people in my generation, my first contact was probably Star Blazers. I don’t think I caught it from the beginning, but I certainly remember that it was the one show – and my mother loved Star Blazers because of this – it was on at 6am and it was the one thing I would actually get up early for. So it got me to school on time.
Earlier than Star Blazers I had found Shogun Warriors in the 70s, but when I saw Star Blazers it was completely unlike anything I had seen before. Everyone who’s the same age probably has the same story, that American cartoons at the time were so basic and simplistic, and they’d recently reversed a ruling on toys being advertised in the cartoons, so because of that all the cartoons at the time were essentially 30-minute toy commercials.
Then you’d watch Star Blazers, and it was so much more in-depth and the characters mattered and people died, and things that happened mattered from one episode to another and it wasn’t just this plastic world of rinse and repeat, buy the toys. And I just fell in love with it, especially the countdown with so many days left to save the Earth. That was just gripping, it made you feel like you had to watch it every single day. And of course I fell desperately in love with Nova, because what else could you do?
Then at some point, it must have been about 1980, I know my mother took us all out to see the new Robin Williams movie Popeye and one of the weird things – I wish I could meet the person who decided on this idea so I could shake their hand – but somebody put Roger Corman’s really bad Galaxy Express dub in there as a double feature with Popeye.
Did it come on before, or after?
Before. So you went and sat through Galaxy Express, and then there was Popeye.
That’s a long afternoon. I didn’t think kids would sit still for that long.
We loved it. I saw Galaxy Express and my mind exploded. I thought it was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen. And I was coming out of that and my brothers were all “Oh, Popeye, Popeye” and I said, what are you guys talking about? I mean, I liked Popeye, but didn’t you see what came before that? Oh my god, it was the most astounding thing.
So that was your passport from Yamato, which Matsumoto had only contributed to, to something he created, which belonged entirely within his purview.
I didn’t even know it was the same person at the time. I don’t know when I first heard the name Leiji Matsumoto, but I’m sure it was much later in high school.
It helped a lot that the artists who interpreted his work for both productions were dipping into the same well. You could very easily recognize the traits from one in the other.
I don’t even think I was aware that it was from Japan because they were only speaking English, so I don’t know that there was a lot of awareness back then.
Was there anything in particular about Galaxy Express that reminded you of Star Blazers?
Definitely the ships, because you had the same concept of these old vessels, like the train itself flying in space. And I think Nova and Maetel’s facial features definitely have that Matsumoto look to them. And I remember the scene in Galaxy Express that really blew me away was at the very end with Maetel and Tetsuro kiss. As someone who would have been that character’s age, to actually have him kiss the adult woman was like…wow, I think I just fell in love right there. (Laughs)
That takes care of the anime side of things, what about the manga side?
Obviously the manga was much harder to get ahold of, and I didn’t have access to anything. I grew up in a pretty small town, Spokane Washington, and we didn’t have any Japanese stores or markets or anything like that. The closest thing we had was a place called Merlin’s, a comic shop that would occasionally have imported models or things like that, or magazines.
I’d always been enamored of the anime, and everything I would buy was in Japanese. I couldn’t read it, but I’d look at the pictures. At some point in time video stores opened up, and that’s probably where I started to learn Leiji Matsumoto’s name. I remember finding Galaxy Express in a video store and going, Oh my god I remember this from my childhood, and renting that.
Then in the late 80s there was the little manga boom where people started putting out manga, and I’d just buy everything starting with Mai the Psychic Girl, Crying Freeman, Xenon, just whatever was available. Grey, Ranma 1/2, whatever I found, I’d buy it. Then one day Captain Harlock came out on the stands, but it was clearly not Leiji Matsumoto’s work, it was something complete different. It was Ben Dunn who did that one.
It was Ben Dunn, and then a few months later it was me.
And that was my first introduction to the manga version of it, through you guys and Eternity Comics. Then much later when I moved to Japan on the JET program, I hunted down some of Matsumoto’s manga when I was over there and I got Galaxy Express, which I’d always loved, and Queen Emeraldas. I’d go to these used bookstores called Bookoff, and you could get lots of manga there pretty cheap. I’d hover around the Matsumoto sections to see what I could pick up. I got quite a bit there in addition to the other things I was enamored of. Shigeru Mizuki’s manga, Matsumoto’s manga, all this stuff I’d loved from my childhood but never had the opportunity to dive into.
And fortunately that stuff never seems to go out of print there.
No, it really doesn’t. It’s almost all available. That was also part of my Japanese learning process. I think it’s a great when you’re trying to study Japanese to find something that doesn’t exist in English, because it gives you that lure to get in there and read it.
And some instant rewards. You’ve got tremendous incentive to keep digging deep into it and finding out what happens on the next page.
I miss Bookoff, because there’s still so much Matsumoto stuff to buy and read, but I don’t have easy access to it.
I read an interview with you a few months ago, and there was something in it I found quite intriguing. That was an ability of yours to identify the individual voice of a manga creator. What are some of your tricks for differentiating one from another?
I don’t know how anyone else does it, I only know my own process as a translator, which is really to try and find that writer’s individual voice. It was a pretty big shift when I moved from Shigeru Mizuki’s work. I knew his voice pretty well because I’ve been inside his head for so long. When you’re doing translation, that’s really what it is. You’re not looking at the words, you’re looking at the emotion and the feelings, and I was able to craft Mizuki’s voice really well.
When I started doing Queen Emeraldas, it was really not working because everything came out sounding like Mizuki and I knew that this was just not going to work. Especially with Matsumoto’s work because the nature of his language is so melodramatic. There’s a lot of repetition in his work, and a lot of set phrases that he uses over and over and over again. When I was doing the English version it was so cheesy, and I thought, how am I going to make this work? And I actually thought about what uses repetition of phrases over and over again and sounds good, and music does that. Obviously when you sing music, you sing the chorus over and over again.
For example, Emeraldas is constantly introducing herself. Every few sentences, she’s like, “I am Emeraldas.” Yes, I get it, you are Emeraldas, we all know. So I tried thinking of it not as words, but as rhythmic poetry, and I started putting on Wagner’s operas when I was translating Queen Emeraldas to get me into what I call the Matsumoto mood, where you have to reach inside and summon up all this angst and melodrama, and pour it out in a way that sounds important.
I do these translation battles sometimes with various people where we’ll take a piece and we’ll both translate it and we’ll put it up to compare with each other. I did a translation battle with Jay Rubin, and I picked Queen Emeraldas as my entry for him to work on. And it was really interesting to see the difference each of us brought to the text. I approached it from this very operatic sense, whereas he went hard sci-fi, and he said his inspiration was the narrative screed from Superman, where it said “strange visitor from another planet…” so it was choppy and short.
(Click here to see the translation battle on Twitter.)
I know that’s a long answer to a simple question, but I just get in and find it, and it’s a magic moment when I know I’ve got their voice. I’ve done so much with Matsumoto’s work now that I believe everything that’s been translated to English is from me, and it’s across multiple companies, which is really astounding. It allows people who follow Matsumoto to have a real consistency of voice.
Galaxy Express 999 manga from Viz, first serialized in Animerica.
Prior to this, the only Matsumoto manga translation I remember was a few episodes of the Galaxy Express manga in Animerica magazine.
Viz did put out quite a bit of Galaxy Express. So that is the one thing I did not do.
I think what they did amounted to one or two paperback volumes. It wasn’t the original manga from the 70s, it was a revival manga, probably from the 90s when his style had evolved quite a bit. So rather than the hard-boiled adventure style he was known for in the 70s, this was more fluid and more feminine, like a lot of the other things he was working on in the 90s.
There seems to have been these two big bodies of work, the 70s when he developed all the stuff we’ve come to love, and the 90s when he’d been away from it for a while and came back to it with some new concepts and flavors. And the anime that followed kind of fell into the same category. The stuff that came out in the 90s based on his later works is very expansive, it goes off in a lot of different directions.
And that’s definitely the Matsumoto I imprinted on, the 70s stuff. For me that’s the “real” Matsumoto, and I like that aspect of it.
It was fresher, because he was creating all of it for the first time.
And I love the odd bits of Matsumoto as well. I love that it doesn’t make sense, and that it doesn’t end, which is the thing about his old stuff. Eventually you flip a page and that’s it.
He still claims that he’s going to write one grand tale to pull it all together before he dies.
The grand unification theory of Matsumoto, yeah. (Laughs)
I think it’s going to have to be done by somebody else.
And I don’t necessarily want that to be done. I like the inconsistencies. I don’t want my Leiji Matsumoto work to be like everyone else’s. I think it takes away some of the cosmic grandeur to try and fit these things into little boxes of what would be “approved storytelling.”
You don’t want it to be explainable.
And now we’ve reached a point where he’s begun to step back and we’re seeing manga of his characters being written and drawn by other people, which is an interesting development.
I’m working on Captain Harlock Dimensional Voyage right now, which is a great series. I really, really like it, but it’s clearly not Matsumoto. It’s someone taking his characters and concepts and doing something new with it. I think it’s an amazing comic.
What sort of differences are there when you translate the original Harlock compared to the new version?
The new version definitely does not have that heaviness of language that Matsumoto uses, and it doesn’t have all the repetition. The repetition is I think one of the key factors of Matsumoto, language-wise. In his older works he has all these set phrases, like when they’re talking about Tochiro, he never just says “Tochiro,” it’s always something like, “My magnificent friend who constructed the Arcadia.” These long, verbose, repeated phrases. Or Mimay saying, “I am the woman who has dedicated her life to Harlock.” She always has to be constantly repeating this.
They don’t have that in Dimensional Voyage. It’s a more modern style of storytelling that’s crisp and clean and great. It’s not that thick “density” of Matsumoto. The story moves along at a rapid pace, and you also get a sense that Dimensional Voyage will tell a full story, which is nice, because it will come to a conclusion. It’s hilarious, too, because they have access to all the Matsumoto “toys.” Susumu Kodai from Yamato shows up in a panel and Maetel appeared in one of the more recent volumes.
There are some tricks to that, because whereas he can use some elements from Yamato that he personally created, he doesn’t have full access to that storyline, or to that IP. So one of the nice easter eggs is looking at the ways they involve elements of Yamato without calling attention to them.
Now, something else that strikes me as a big difference between American comics and Japanese manga is the craft of lettering. As the letterer of a comic, I would use that as a means of storytelling in addition to art, because there are all sorts of things you can do with hand-crafted lettering that you can’t do with a font. And yet when I look at a manga, there is no hand lettering except for sound effects. Everything you’re reading was generated by a machine. And I’m curious to know what that aspect of it looks like when you can fully interpret it as a translator.
A lot of that depends on the company. For Shigeru Mizuki, Drawn and Quarterly actually commissioned a font in English that would replicate Mizuki’s hand-drawn font, and I thought that was really nice, that they took that extra step to do that. As you can see with Matsumoto’s work, Kodansha approaches the lettering a little differently than Seven Seas does.
Left: Captain Harlock from Seven Seas. Right: Queen Emeraldas from Kodansha.
When you look at an American comic, you can gain a lot from the way lettering is crafted. You can tell which words are meant to be emphasized. There’s a lot of technique now with the shapes and colors of word balloons. The lettering and the ballooning is very expressive in ways manga is not. And so, when you look at a manga, I’m curious to know if you have any other method of teasing out some of that nuance, when you don’t have variations in lettering to draw from.
For me it’s more of a gut thing. I go through and read the script aloud to make sure it sounds right. I think that’s one of the best ways to make sure it sounds like natural English, to actually say the words. So I’ll just look for dramatic beats or moments or times when I feel like this one word needs to have a little more emphasis, and then I’ll just make a note to bold this phrase or put something in italics, or every now and then I’ll put notes in for the editor saying this person is an alien, so maybe we should figure out some way to use a different font, or something like that to get the point across. And then I’ll pass all that along to the editor. Ultimately it’s the editor who makes a lot of those decisions.
When you’re looking at the cold, hard text that appears in a manga, do you see any other methods that they have on their writing side to create emphasis or to make one character sound different from another?
I think one thing a manga does, and they will do it in English but not as much, is to increase the font size so words get bigger and smaller, so they’re more expressive in that manner. But Matsumoto doesn’t really do that. Matsumoto’s stuff is pretty straightforward. I don’t think he uses a lot of lettering tricks. One of his things is he will have characters speak entirely in katakana instead of hiragana, which are different Japanese alphabets. Like with aliens. Mimay speaks entirely in katakana. Volga, too. And that’s really impossible to replicate in English. There’s some stuff that just can’t be carried over from one language to another, because we don’t have multiple writing systems that we can play around with.
I notice Analyzer does that all the time, too. He’ll say Japanese words, but the representation on paper is purely phonetic. It’s a different aspect of the language that we don’t have. I’m interested to dig a little deeper into that because even though we’re seeing it spelled out in a way that’s usually reserved for foreign words, they’re not foreign words. They’re native Japanese words, they’re just being rendered in a foreign method. So what do you think that says about a character, when that choice is made?
In the case of aliens, it’s to make them seem alien, right? Because katakana is generally used for, as you said, foreign words. So when you have people like Mimay and Volga, they’re speaking in katakana and it shows their alien nature more obviously. They’re different. With Analyzer, he’s the oddball in that crew, it’s like there’s this rule that these people speak in katakana, and when Analyzer shows up he does it as well. It shows that he’s not human. It’s a different level of separation, that he doesn’t speak the same way normal humans do.
I came up with a little speech pattern for Analyzer that I used in my Yamato translation, to use some diction and some grammatical choices to give him a more robotic-sounding voice, which is what I believe to be Matsumoto’s goal in using the all-katakana speech pattern. To give him a more dry, emotionless feel. But then Analyzer himself is definitely not emotionless. Analyzer has a lot of personality.
I’m wondering if the English equivalent of this might be if you were to render English words differently, maybe by dragging out syllables, or respelling them in such a way that makes it obvious this is a foreign speaker using a language that’s not native to them.
That’s one of the hardest things to do in writing. I’ve seen so many people attempt to replicate these things in English, and they’re hard to pull off. If you do it well, it’s great and it can really work, but boy is it an easy trick to fail on. The most obvious thing in terms of manga is that it was in fashion for a while for people to render the Osakan dialect as a southern American dialect, and it was just awful. For one thing, if you don’t actually know the dialect well enough it comes across as stereotypical and actually quite offensive, because writing in dialects is really, really complicated. And also, it’s not a one-for-one match. Osakan dialect is very urban, it’s not rural at all. So if you were trying to match it, it would be more like a New York dialect or something like that. With a lot of that stuff, you just have to realize that the phrase “lost in translation” exists for a reason. Some of it is just going to be lost, and that’s all there is to it.
I was going to ask you if you ever run into dialects or accents built within manga, or if the written form of the language just renders that irrelevant.
No, especially in Harlock, Yattaran has a very distinct dialect. It’s hard to describe in English how it works, but basically Japanese has different sentence-enders, and one way you can show a regional dialect is by using a different sentence-ender. I lived in Osaka, and we tended to use HEN as a sentence-ender and it’s sort of my habit. It instantly stamps me as someone that lived in Osaka, because I use the HEN sentence-ender. And Yatteran uses the WAI sentence-ender, and so he’s got a really distinct speech pattern.
What’s the Tokyo version of a sentence-ender? DES?
Yeah, DES. Or, for example, the word for “I don’t know.” Wakara-nai is the most basic version of it. In Osaka, it’s wakara-hen. And Yattaran would say wakara-wai, because he uses the WAI sentence-ender.
I can see how thorny it would be to try and interpret that into an English accent.
What I try to do is give them distinct speech patterns or give them phrases that try to capture their personality a little more, but that’s just the goal of capturing the voice of the character. You’ve got to go through and figure out what this character sounds like.
And ironically, when you watch Star Blazers you find the characters are full of accents. I mean, you’ve got Mark Venture obviously from the upper northeast, we’ve got Eager probably from down south somewhere, and Sergeant Knox comes along and he’s got an almost Boston flair to him. We’ve got Orion, who sounds like he just got off the boat from Ireland.
It’s so much easier to get away with when it’s spoken rather than written, that’s for sure.
So let’s talk about translating Yamato. I believe this is a first.
Yeah, first time in English as far as I know. From the first time I read Yamato, it surprised me how different it was from Star Blazers. I expected it to be a somewhat manga-fied version of Star Blazers, which it is NOT in the slightest. It is definitely its own thing. And those key things that I remembered from Star Blazers…when do they get to this scene? Oh, they don’t. When does this character have his big moment? Oh, he never does. It was really surprising to me what a completely different thing the Space Battleship Yamato is from Star Blazers.
And let’s be sure of our terms, because there are three different mangas, and you’re specifically talking about the Matsumoto version. There was an Iscandar manga, and then a side-story, and then he came back and did a Comet Empire manga for a while. He never actually finished it, but all together those three projects total over 600 pages.
And they’re all in the volume I translated. The plan is to publish it in a single hardcover. It’s gonna be quite the beast.
Cosmoship Yamato revival manga, three volumes from Fukkan Publishing.
Another thing that’s interesting to me is the timing, because some very recent projects have come out in Japan from a publisher named Fukkan. Earlier this year they collected all of the Iscandar manga into a single volume, and now they’re doing the same for the Comet Empire manga. They’re splitting that up into two volumes with a lot of extra material.
One of the things I was unaware of before I saw their reprint of the Iscandar manga was that there’s an A version and B version. The A version was published monthly in Boken-Oh [Adventure King] magazine, and then the B version was slightly revised for the paperback edition, and it’s the B version that we’ve been seeing all this time. So this particular project that came out from Fukkan was the first time to my knowledge that we ever got to see the A version collected from end to end. And one of the most significant differences is that Captain Harlock did not appear in the A version, only the B version. I assume you worked on the B version?
Yeah, I worked on the B version. I have my paperbacks that I bought in Japan, and even they had slight differences from the version we were given to work on. Every time you license something, you license a very specific version from the publisher. So I had to make sure I was translating that version of it rather than the paperbacks I had, though I often used both of them together. Harlock is in there, although it’s not really Harlock, as I’m sure you know. I mean, it is Harlock but it’s not the classic Harlock as we know him.
He’s always shrouded. And he doesn’t have a human crew.
They’re all robots, and he himself is devastated, and I think he’s mostly cybernetic.
There are all sorts of interesting permutations to that. I’m sure you’re aware that he was originally meant to be part of the anime, and it turned out he appeared in every other version of the story except for the anime.
And wasn’t he originally supposed to be Susumu Kodai’s brother?
Yes, and it was supposed to happen. There was an anime design for him, but before they could get to that episode, they got the order from the network to cut down the length of the series, so a bunch of things had to be jettisoned. And it was actually pretty lucky for Matsumoto, because that returned the rights to him. Otherwise Harlock would have been a permanent part of the Yamato IP. It’s interesting how fate twists and turns with these things.
Although the Yamato ship itself often pops up in Dimensional Voyage when they talk about all the different classes of starships. I’m not sure how that works, but he seems to be able to put the actual Yamato in there.
Well, he can show a ship that he once had a hand in designing. He can refer to it as Yamato because that name is essentially publicly-owned as a piece of Japanese history. But it is not THE Space Battleship Yamato that is owned by a different company. So he can’t go any deeper than that.
There are other aspects of that as well. There are two ships he designed for the beginning of the series, the Earth battleship and Mamoru Kodai’s destroyer. He still has the visual rights to those designs, but not to the names. So he can draw them, and he can release them as merchandise, but he has to call them something else.
Leiji Matsumoto Mechanical Universe Series model kits. Finemolds, 2011.
Ah, that makes sense. And it’s funny, because when I was translating both Harlock and Space Battleship Yamato simultaneously, switching back and forth from one to the other, he uses the same characters over and over again and just names them differently. And every once in a while I had to make sure I was calling Dr. Sado “Dr. Sado” and not mixing him up with Dr. Zero. You’ve got Analyzer and you’ve got Wawa, and they’re exactly the same character.
He seemed to have pretty well adopted the Tezuka star system.
Which once again is one of the things I love about Matsumoto. You just embrace that. In Harlock I think he has three different things called the Deathshadow and we’re just like…what are we gonna do with this? Why do you like the name Deathshadow so much? (Laughs)
Well, it is a pretty kickass name.
It is a kickass name, I get it. And the planet Heavy Meldar is different in Queen Emeraldas than it is in Harlock. And I think it’s pretty well-established that he likes the idea of Maetel and Emeraldas being sisters.
That was quite a surprise. It took a long time for us to get that revelation, and then once you take it on board it adds a lot of depth to the story.
In Dimensional Voyage the writer is really diving deep into Matsumoto’s milieu. He’s saying, hey this story gets retold all the time and sometimes things are a little bit different. This is just the latest cycle, the latest iteration of it.
While you were translating Yamato, I’m sure you heard the echoes of Star Blazers in your head.
It was so hard for me to not use their names. To NOT type Captain Avatar and to NOT type Orion. And Captain Okita sounds in my head like Captain Avatar. There’s no way to get these voices out of my head by now, so that absolutely went into their personalities.
So there is some influence there.
Absolutely. Not even some, I would say a lot. A whole heck of a lot. Because every time I read it, I hear that gruff Avatar voice in my head, or I hear Wildstar or Nova. That is too large a part of my childhood to erase.
What a singular experience that must be for you.
It’s great. When I translate something, I process it on such a deeper level than when I just read something. And it was so wonderful to bring Yamato into English for the first time, it was like touching holy text. (Laughs) It was amazing. And I’m hoping everyone has an equally amazing time reading it, because it’s really good.
It’s going to be a revelation for a lot of us, because we’ve only seen the pictures all this time.
And again, especially how different it is. There are all those key moments that aren’t going to happen, but other key moments are going to happen, and they take you to places that I didn’t know it would. I also have to say it was really great that I have been translating all of Matsumoto’s work because Dimensional Voyage, the modern version of Harlock, will deep-dive into some of the old Matsumoto phrases or cool scenes and redo them, and I get to actually retain that. There’s a great scene in Yamato that sort of gets mirrored in Dimensional Voyage, and if I hadn’t translated both of them, I doubt that would have been caught.
So there’s a lot of value in having these simultaneous projects.
Yes, it’s a lot of work, but there is value in having one translator work on the entire thing.
The two versions of Harlock are ongoing for a while, I assume?
I finished all of the classic stuff, so the only thing I’m still working on now is Dimensional Voyage. And I’ve translated up to the latest volume, so I’m just waiting for the new volume to come out.
Current volumes of Dimensional Voyage from America and Japan (as of October 2018).
And I think the current volume is number 8? You’re quite a bit ahead of your readership at this point.
I finished the translation for Space Battleship Yamato over a year ago. My work is the first thing that gets done before I pass it off to a publisher, and they do all the rest. I am sadly long finished with my Matsumoto projects.
Do you know if there are more on the way, like Galaxy Express or one of his lesser-known titles?
Like everything else, it really depends on sales. The reason no one has published this stuff, aside from my romantic ideal that it was waiting for me to come along, is because historically classic manga sold really, really poorly. And a lot of companies had hard rules that they wouldn’t publish any title more than, say, eight years old because they were just putting themselves out of business. They were dying.
When I talked to Kodansha about Queen Emeraldas, they said, “Let’s just do it. Put it out there and see if there’s an audience for it.” And there was, which allowed Seven Seas to take a little more of a risk. But it’s really going to depend on how many people respond to it. How many copies of Space Battleship Yamato or Captain Harlock sell. If they sell well, then we’ll look to do more Matsumoto. If they sell poorly, that’s the reality of the business and we won’t get any more.
Well, Cosmo DNA will do its part to spread the word.
I love them so much, and I wish that everyone would love them as much as I do. I think some of Go Nagai’s stuff tends to be more dated, whereas Matsumoto’s stuff is really timeliness. I find when I’m working on it that I don’t think the art or the stories are dated in any way.
They all have that timeless, eternal quality, which is exactly what he set out to do.
When you’re dealing with space pirate ships, you’re already in a full-fledged dream world there.
Time ceases to matter.
The wheel of time turns, and will turn again.