Yes, the site is ugly. If I had any design talent, I would draw anime, not write a blog in my underwear.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

オタクのための日本語: Allies and Accomplices in Code Geass

This may or may not catch on, but it is hard to watch shows written for and spoken in the Japanese language without getting at least a little curious about it. I spent about four months last year learning the language online, but the truth is that I lacked the focus for that kind of learning even when I was in school, and having graduated I find it even more difficult to pick up. I may try community college night classes when work slows down, but that may be an imaginary point on an impossibly distant horizon.

Until then, and possibly even after, when I see something in a show that interests me, we may get one of these posts as I investigate it. These could be throwaway lines that catch my ear, or phrases often repeated. Or just whatever. I will assume you know that Japanese has two syllabaries (Hiragana and Katakana) and countless ideograms (Kanji), but I will try to assume nothing more (an easy assumption, since I find I am already starting to forget the katakana letters). I claim no particular fluency, and could well end up making an ass of myself. But this is as much a learning process for me as it is for you, dear reader.

First off, the title of the post translates to "Japanese for Otaku", Otaku being a colloquial term for nerds. Breaking that down, we get オタクのための日本語, pronounced something like otaku notameno nihongo. オタク gets written in katakana partly to emphasize the "otherness" of the nerd, and partly just because that's how it gets done. のための, or notameno, is "for", but specifically meaning "for the benefit of", as in, I bought flowers for mother, 僕は母さんのために花を買って(why is it notameni instead of notameno? I trust Google on this without understanding it). 日本語, nihongo, is the Japanese language, made up of the characters for 日 sun, 本 origin, and 語 language, or to poetically over-literal, language of the rising sun. Note also that the construction is "backwards" from how it is in English

Now that we know what is going on, what is it that has caught my fancy?

Lots of anime (One Piece in particular is famous for this) focus on 仲間,pronounced なかま, or nakama. It is one of those fun words that doesn't correspond perfectly to anything in English and gets translated variously as comrade, fellow, shipmate, friend, or ally. When in doubt always take a look at the individual characters, which are the fairly common Kanji for relationship and space or gap, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me, but that's ok, because this is a living, breathing language, not a code in a cheap puzzle game, so I am willing to let it either not make sense or have some more obscure background (though por que no los dos? is my philosophy). In any case, this is a thing that shows up over and over again, especially in anime with a younger audience like Naruto or One Piece, because they want to promote pro-social values like friendship.

In Code Geass, however, part of the process of subverting the hero archetype is doing away with 仲間 in Lelouch's dealings. Especially as his relationship with C.C. deepens into a professional alliance (and a bit beyond), she specifically goes out of her way to refer to them, not as nakama as would usually be the case, but as 共犯, kyouhan, or accomplices. 共 is a fun character that serves a number of purposes, sometimes meaning we, us, and, both, but here I think the definition I have on my flashcards, "collective" is the operative idea. 犯, the han part, is literally prisoners, leaving kyouhan with the quite sensible literal meaning of a group of criminals, which easily becomes the formal definition "accomplices".

Not all that interesting on its own, but the word does get thrown around a lot, so now you know what it is, what it means, and why it is interesting in the context of Code Geass.

No comments:

Post a Comment