Tuesday, April 17, 2012

"Witch Detective Club" Japanese Children's Novels

What It Is: Set of four "Witch Detective Club" (魔女探偵団, Majo Tantei Dan) novels in the original Japanese:
1. Princess Balen's Magic Staff (バレン姫の魔法のつえ, Baren-hime no Mahou no Tsue)
2. On a Date with a Ghost! (幽霊とデート中!, Yuurei to Deeto-chuu!)
3. I Dream of Dracula (夢みるドラキュラ, Yume-miru Dorakyura)
7. Thousand-Year Love Story (千年のラブストーリー, Sen Nen no Rabu Sutoorii)

Where It Came From: Mitsuwa Shopping Center, Arlington Heights, Illinois; Books Kinokuniya.

What It Means:
Yes, I am a Japanophile.  "Cranky old Japanophile," I sometimes say, but Japanophile still.  It started with anime and manga, but has since branched out, and while Japan's cultural productions are no less of a mixed bag than my native US, I love good anime and manga and find Japanese literature and culture fascinating.  As such, I am a chronic student of the language.  I took four years of it in college without achieving fluency, and it's been off-and-on since; recently I've been trying to brush it up again but I still have a long way to go.

And until I get there, books written in Japanese can never quite stop being cool.  If I see them at book sales, I'll pick them up for no other reason at all (I have a copy of this in Japanese; signed by the author, too), despite --- or more likely because of --- the fact that they're mostly aspirational.  Another fun thing is to scour Amazon.co.jp for books with the "look inside" feature, and there I have found that I can actually read some of the books without a hitch --- the ones written for toddlers.  ("Whooo is it, who is it?  It's a cat!  Meow, meow!  That cat loves fish!  Nom, nom!")  If I stretch myself, though, I could probably get as far as chapter books for elementary school kids and mostly follow them. Which is about where these "Witch Detective Club" books are, probably on a par with the "Vic the Vampire" or "Fifth Grade Monsters" pulps I had as a girl.

You won't find an anime or manga or English translation of these, they're quite obscure and were chosen almost at random.  A few times in my life, I have gotten to an actual Japanese bookstore --- the one in the Mitsuwa shopping center in Arlington Heights, Illinois; when I first went there, it was Asahiya, then it changed hands and became a Books Sanseido.  Either way, the whole shopping center, and the bookstore most especially, was like a journey to a magical land for a rural-bred Japanophile like myself, and, though limited to judging books by their covers, I had to get myself something.  "I Dream of Dracula" is one of the things I picked; it had cute pictures featuring a prettyboy vampire (I'm not into Twilight, but I am into Castlevania), and friendly large-ish print with lots of furigana (in-line pronunciation guides) --- and you'll notice it's the only one I have the "obi" advertising overwrap for (tucked under it in the picture).  It was only some time later that I found out it was part of a series, at which point it took a special order from Kinokuniya to collect the rest, but having a completionist streak on top of the Japanophilia, well, there they all are.

Was it worth the trouble?  Embarrassingly, I can't say.  The series' sole Amazon reviewer warns (as best I can tell) that there's no witchery or detective work to speak of in this Witch Detective Club, and while it seems like I can follow at least the gist if I try to read them, I have yet to buckle down and make the necessary sustained effort.  I daresay stuff like that is why I'm not more fluent.

However, I can give you a taste.  Here is my rough translation of the opening lines from "I Dream of Dracula" (Look, Ma, no dictionary!):

I'm Ayaka.  Hey, listen to this!

I heard Dracula lives in my neighborhood.

Dracula, see, he's a vampire who drinks people's blood.  And if you get kissed by Dracula, you turn into a Dracula.

What am I gonna do!?  I haven't even ever kissed anybody yet!  If your First Kiss turned you into Dracula --- wahh, that would totally suck!

(No pun intended.)

Where It's Going: Nowhere; keeping them at least until I actually manage to read them.

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