Archive for July, 2011

Demon. Wouldn't have tea with that.

The proper pronoun for the embodiment of a pocket dimension existing for the purpose of storing forbidden grimoires would probably be ‘it’. If the pocket dimension is a cute tsundere (?) character, though, nobody is going to think twice about treating it like a fellow human being.

Demon. Would have tea with her.

Our tendency to humanize creatures and objects was strong enough to make Vocaloid, for example, what it is today. Humans were made to become strongly attached to other humans. If so, it only makes sense to make things we are strongly attached to more human, even if it’s all make-believe. The idea is nothing new, and I’m quite sure there’s a blog post out there exploring the idea further. The question is, does the other side reciprocate the feeling?

Yes, are ha ii ningen deshita.

Dalian sums up her previous Keykeeper with the above words. It is remarkable how neatly the word ‘human’ corresponds with its Japanese equivalent. It’s the kind of word you could technically use to describe the old lady living next door, or even yourself, except it is too cold and too precise. You won’t use the word ‘human’ when there are warmer alternatives like ‘man’ or ‘person’ that actually fit into everyday conversation. Outside a scientific context, the word ‘human’ probably made the biggest career in fantasy and science-fiction settings, where it serves to remind us that, yes, humans are merely one of the countless number of species inhabiting this world.

That’s also basically the function it serves here. Not “I liked Wes” or “Wes was a neat guy”, but “Wes was fine by the standards I judge human beings”. Simple, but effective at getting across the distance Dalian feels between herself and the deceptively similar-looking creatures surrounding her.

There might, however, be more to be found in the simple sentence. Because unlike what we see in the English translation, Dalian does not use a personal pronoun, but a demonstrative. To put it simply, you might want to translate the sentence as “That was a fine human.” We reserve ourselves the right to differentiate between ‘creatures’ and ‘people”, why shouldn’t Dalian do the same? The tables are turned on us, and it might be humans that are ‘creatures’ in her eyes.

On another note, the demonstrative Dalian uses is also the one which implies the highest degree of distance from the speaker among the Japanese demonstratives. Why does she make that choice? The ‘distance’ we are considering is an ambiguous quality – it can refer both to spatial position as well as emotional attachment and attitude. Does the demonstrative merely show that Wes is dead, and therefore distant, unreachable? Or does it betray something about Dalian’s feelings towards the old man? That also is food for thought.

But before the episode closes, Dalian reminds us about the difference between her and humans one more time.

Shikatanai kara, watashi mo tsukiatte yaru no desu.

The quote shown above mostly seems to be a more polite version of the standard tsundere declaration. Like most of those, it contains one of the infamous Japanese benefactive verbs (what the tsundere uses to get across the nuance:“I’ll do it for you, so you should be grateful!”) What’s different from usual is that the verb is not the common ‘ageru’ (used between equals as well as towards strangers) but the less formal ‘yaru’. Seeing her otherwise polite wording, it does not seem likely Dalian has any intention of offending Hugh. But then again, it might not be surprising that Dalian uses ‘yaru’ when talking to a human. It is, after all, the verb normally used towards plants and pets…

Subs courtesy of Commie subs.

Read Full Post »

Hands up those of you who can explain exactly how a refrigerator works. No, quoting Wikipedia is not allowed.

I’ll tell you, then. There’s a low-level gremlin living in the back of every refrigerator, and it casts a simple freezing spell-

What? You don’t believe me? What’s that I hear about a scientific explanation and chemical reactions? It’s not like you can explain those in detail, right?


If we can believe something happens because it’s science, without understanding the process in detail, then science has indeed become a new religion. And that is exactly what we see happen in the world of To Aru Majutsu no Index. To the residents of Academy City, nothing that happens on the streets is surprising, even if it involves Gaussian acceleration, movement through the 11th dimension or subverting the principle of entropy. The kids studying there have seen so many incredible things that they can probably believe anything to be possible. That is, as long as you don’t mention magic.

A very powerful defense called the walking church. Supposedly.

The students are firm in their rejection of anything even vaguely smelling of magic. God, angels, demons? There’s no way something so unscientific could exist. That might well be a reasonable approach for the people of the new enlightened age… but how can they calmly reject any notion of this:

And nod their heads knowingly to this:

It certainly doesn’t seem like any of the kids have a firm grasp of what this ‘personal reality’ their teachers keep going on about actually is. If so, aren’t they magicians themselves? But that’s just it. They aren’t magicians

They are ability users. The Japanese term – nouryokusha (能力者) – is not that much different from the ESPers Haruhi made so famous, the chounouryokusha (超能力者). In fact, it is merely one kanji shorter. The missing kanji – chou () – means ‘to transcend’ when on its own, and it is the ‘supernatural’ in ‘supernatural ability user’.

Academy City is a world of the denial of the supernatural, and the brainwashing starts with the words the students use. Every time they use the term ability user, they’re also telling themselves there is nothing out of the ordinary about raining thunderbolts from your fingers. And if they keep repeating that long enough, they will start believing it. Because an ability is just science.

And science justifies everything.

Read Full Post »

Most people who regularly watch anime have probably had at least passing thoughts about learning Japanese. First you pick up some of the words and phrases that have already penetrated the fandom lexicon, like kawaii or ohayou. Then you have a taste of the Japanese grammar and see that, while different from your native tongue, it is not that difficult. Unfortunately, at some point you realize that there are at least two thousand of those shrub-like kanji waiting for you, and you think it’s about time to give up. Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

Rules? What rules?

The Japanese grow up surrounded by kanji. They learn to associate some of the basic symbols with their meanings at the age when discovering the world around is all a big adventure. And then they go to school to start rote learning the hundreds of kanji still left. The people behind the Japanese education system never held much doubt about the best way of internalizing the writing system – write every kanji a thousand times and it will stick naturally. That’s anything but fun. Maho doesn’t think its fun.


Whenever the girls meet up online, take a look at Maho’s speech bubbles. The energetic blonde is happy enough to stick to the easier hiragana and katakana rather than type the kanji. This applies even to very simple words a girl her age is certain to know. As is often the case with contemporary Japanese youth, she evidently has no problem reading the words her friends use, she’s just too lazy to type properly herself. The word processing software that converts kana to kanji is really handy and it takes neither much time nor effort to use… which makes me afraid to think what Maho’s hand-written school assignments look like. Actually writing the kanji is, after all, incomparably more bothersome than just typing them out…

Consider other Maho scenes to see how this detail fits into the picture of her personality. Maho is impatient and dead set on instant gratification. She won’t put more effort into things than is necessary, unless there is an obvious incentive to do so. It is difficult to image her sitting down and practising her kanji when she couldn’t be bothered to research what the ‘thirty-second rule’ in her hand-held basketball game actually is. At least it’s not only Subaru that has his hands full with her. I pity the teacher who expects her to keep still and quiet during class…

Read Full Post »