Ata (Manga)

Title: Ata
Author/Illustrator: Tamaki Fuji
Publisher: DMG
Genre: Yaoi
Rating: 18+ Explicit Content...for some frank discussion, not for graphic sex.

Dear Readers, occasionally I come across a manga that I should not like, and yet...I do. Ata  is such a manga. And not because it's risky, or raunchy, or because it contains questionable aesthetic choices, because Ata doesn't really do any of those a lot of ways it's just another straight-forward, predictable, sloppy-love-triangle yaoi. But it's also less than that, in that it is really badly written. And it's also more than that, in that behind that bad writing and predictable scenarios there is something raw and powerful and heart-wrenching about the art and the genuine emotion that is expressed by these characters. To be honest, it surprised me. I mean it really surprised me. I said aloud to the computer screen, and the dog who happened to be listening in, "Holy crap, am I crying?" And, Dear Readers, I was.

Let's start with the bad:
  1. Straight away (no pun intended) I am annoyed at the protagonist, Kagerou, who is complaining that his troubled, middle-school drop-out, foster-brother and childhood friend has "decided" that he is gay. So, my hackles were raised. Raised! "Decided?" Grrrr. Thankfully this attitude is diverted quickly by a more reasonable discussion, almost so quickly that I thought, maybe they didn't mean "decided." I'm fairly sure the author didn't. Unfortunately, this manga is riddled with not only so much bad writing in general, but also so many blatantly obvious proofreading errors that it's hard to tell if "decided" was a mistake or intentional.
  3. Clunky translations might not bother every reader, but they make me want to throw things. If translation is an art (and it is), whomever translated this just handed you a placemat with a crayon drawing of a cat which wound up looking more like an eggplant with a deformity. And typos? Typos are unacceptable, and yet...

    Faught is not a word. 
    if the whole fought/faught thing were an isolated incident I might overlook it, but there are others. At one point Kagerou's name even shows up as Kagefou.
  5. Poor translations can do more than just sound clunky. Sometimes they can change the meaning of the passage. For example, rape is a serious word. Rape is violent, brutal and is NOT about the physical act of sex as much as it is about the concepts of power, control and viciousness made physical. It is not a word to be thrown about lightly. And it is not molestation. Molestation is bad too, but it isn't rape. Molestation is unwanted sexual advances and can lead to rape, but these two things, although related, are not the same things. Language is subtle, friends, and often things that seem like synonyms to the (kill it with fire) thesaurus, are not things that are synonyms in the real world. No one is raped, thankfully, in this manga. People are, however, molested. But even that seems like the wrong word at one point. Maybe the word was coerced?  Seduced doesn't seem right? Translations ARE hard, but words need to be used wisely, Dear Readers.
  7. Sometimes poor translations just make a mess of everything. At this point I don't know if it is the translators or the original author who should take the blame for one of the stupidest and most biologically improbable discussions of ejaculate ever. I'm assuming here, Dear Readers, because I don't read a lot of ejaculate discussions. If the translator is to blame then okay, status quo for this manga, I suppose. But if the author is to blame, then I have to ask that manga writers do a little research when dealing with the male anatomy and its functions.
  9. The plot is predictable in a lot of ways, boyhood friendships grow into unrecognized adult affections and it takes a love triangle for the characters to realize their true feelings. Nothing special or startling happens plotwise, but...I still wound up in tears.  Let's explore why.

Kagerou doesn't seem to understand Ata at all, but he still sets himself in the role of protector, a role he took on when he and Ata were very young. Ata was a foster-child in Kagerou's home, and had a troubled past. They formed a close brotherly bond and spent much of their time together.

Little Kagerou (dark hair) comforting a  little Ata (light hair) after a bad dream. 
 Kagerou takes his role as big-brother and protector very seriously even now. He calls the men Ata sleeps with "garbage" and he's right...they are. They're abusive, manipulative, cruel and selfish. But sadly, Ata can't seem to live long without falling from one bad relationship to another. At times Kagerou even has to step in physically to protect Ata from his choices in partners.

Adult Kagerou and adult Ata after one of Ata's nasty breakups.

Ata doesn't seem to understand Kagerou either. Ata wants to be with someone, but not just someone--someone who will care for him. He discovers, to his dismay, that he has been in love with Kagerou for a very long time. The string of lovers serve to occupy his passions, because he would rather keep Kagerou by his side than lose him completely. The lovers he has are ultimately unlovable, but that's fine with Ata, who feels as if he is unworthy of even the cruelest sort of partner, since, he believes, he is betraying them all with his love for Kagerou. Kagerou is Ata's home, and he is so afraid of poisoning that home with his desire, that he shuts himself off from any real feelings. He is used to men who use and mistreat him, so he becomes nervous when one of Kagerou's friends, archery Captain Sanuki, becomes interested in him. Ata falls into a secret relationship with him, and when their affair is revealed shit hit the fan for only a second before Kagerou backs down--he only wants the best for Ata, and Sanuki is a good guy for once, someone that Kagerou can approve of.

The problem is that Sanuki knows Ata's feelings for Kagerou, and eventually tires of playing second string, forcing Ata to admit his feelings to a broken and astonished Kagerou, who has been waiting for Ata all along.

Argh! Why am I crying when this is so badly written?
I am totally ashamed of myself right now.
And that, Dear Readers, is the moment I actually start to cry.

So, despite the bad grammar and the stupid assumptions about male physiology, there's something so painfully raw and beautiful beneath the surface of this otherwise cliched story that it moved cynical old Dr. M (who does not believe in things like true love, or soul mates, or unicorns, or tragic-pretty crying moments in the rain) to tears. And that, Dear Readers, is a pretty significant thing. I just really wish the writing were better. I can't approve of this manga, or recommend it as is...the writer/teacher/reader I am will not allow me to do that, but I can say that IF you can tolerate bad writing, then the story may be worth the effort it takes to slog through this train wreck. Better yet, just look at the pictures. The pictures are very nice.


William Shakespeare said...

That's really too bad. I've been rooting for the DMG model because I think it legitimizes a lot of work that people were doing in the old days out of love and also gives folks some great experience, while bringing manga that might otherwise have never been read by an English speaking market to the fore.

That said: Really?

You're telling me no one actually reads the "final" version of the translation once the team is done with it? If these errors weren't caught by an initial editor, then they certainly should have been caught in a final read before publication.

It's really unacceptable.

Dr. M said...

I am thoroughly disappointed. I have been rooting for the DMG model as well, mostly because it allows some of the better fan-subbers out there to achieve some recognition for work that they do with passion, know-how and, let's say it, love. Being honest, without those early fansubbers, many anime and manga fans would have had little access to quite a bit of work. I'm glad DMG hires these subbers to ply their art, but I'm a little disturbed by the lack of (for lack of a better word) quality control I've seen in some titles. This was a great story, with beautiful artwork that was RUINED by poor translation. On the other hand there are some fantastic groups, like our new pals Cynical Pink, who produce exceptional translations...something that is extremely difficult and time-consuming.

I don't know exactly what went wrong with Ata, but it went really wrong. There was another title I began recently (I can't remember the name offhand) that I had to put down. It was not only poorly translated, but contained a bizarre set of footnotes that attempted to explain some of the story line...usually it was insulting (as in, "A kimono is..."), but moreover it was intrusive, unnecessary and an all-around poor decision.

There has to be someone editing and proofing these before they go to press or live on emanga, right? Then again, maybe they're being a little lax with the digital copies because they think people won't care as much? If so, they're dead wrong. I expect basic readability, and parts of this were nigh incomprehensible (nigh, even!). There aren't really any excuses for this kind of sloppy writing, editing, proofreading, etc. in a published work. I barely find it tolerable in myself in these blog posts (since I'm grumping about proofreading I'm sure Muphry's Law is going to make a hot mess of this comment).

William Shakespeare said...

I'd argue that digitally published materials should have better editing, as they are accessible by a much wider audience, and they aren't really as ephemeral as they used to be.

It's too bad. Really.

lu-na nh said...

I had the same problem with My Sempai, but I have to agree that Ata was worse. I'm not even that picky with grammar, especially since English is not first language, but the mistakes were obvious and disconcerting. I even commented in one of the DMP blogs that the editing process should be more strenuous.

I want to support the DMG, and I will probably still buy more titles from them because I love BL. But I know this will, and has, turn off a few of the fans since they already complain that DMP has done a lot of shoddy works in the past. There are lots of older manga I would love to buy but I'm afraid to because of the bad translation and editing. Thankfully, I do think DMP has improved because none of the printed books I recently bought from them have any obvious mistake.

Dr. M said...


You're right the print versions of their works usually seem better handled, which mean's they're not being as careful with their digital copies. I hope they work to fix the issue with the translations, editing and proofreading because a lot of good stories are being lost to poor quality writing.

Ata was a really good story. It makes me sad that the mistakes took away from what would otherwise be worth a read.

Loke said...

I'm tremendously picky when it comes to what manga I read, particularly BL. I look into artists/authors and other stuff they may have done if I'm iffy on the art. And if I know someone who's read it, then that's even better.

I have some money on emanga to spend and was looking into this title. I spoke to someone who read this in Japanese and I'm a little hesitant. Grammar points and poor editing aside, she kept harping on how the author's own writing was difficult even for native Japanese comprehension. I read this review and then went back and asked her about the usage of the word 'rape' and how strong it was. She said they used the exact word for 'rape' which is rarely used in Japanese itself.

The story seems average enough and the art is ok in the few preview pages, so I still might buy it, but I wish there was a way I could give the guild some direct feedback after I read it. It's not even listed on MAL (yet...)

Dr. M said...

@Loke, I don't blame you for being picky about your manga. I am too. Manga is expensive. Even the digital editions on eManga add up, which is one of the reasons we try to steer people away from some of the things we think are sub-par.

Thanks for the insight into the original Japanese, I appreciate you looking into it. It seems like maybe the poor writing can't be blamed entirely on the translator in this case. Words are tricky things, and the subtleties of language are important in a story. Even when someone has an interesting story to tell, the language used to tell it MUST be just as important as the plot, characterization, setting, etc.

Again, I'm going to say it's a shame this is so badly written. I really like the artwork. Perhaps Tamaki Fuji should concentrate on that aspect of manga, rather than writing? It would be nice to see this artwork (and even this story) told by a better writer, with a more precise translation.

I don't know that I'd recommend this as a purchase. If you're looking for something soon, I'd recommend volumes 1 and 2 of Only Serious About You. Take a look at the preview pages. It's a story about an older couple, it's very well written, the artwork is very nice, and the story is well worth reading. Plus, I only noticed one typo and one stray grammatical error! Unfortunately, that seems like a record low in terms of errors.

I think I'm going to have to write that translation/editing/proofreading post soon. I don't like the kind of sloppy editing and writing I'm seeing lately. It's scandalous.

William Shakespeare said...

I think it's important to separate DMG from DMP a bit, even though they are related. There really are some beautiful early DMP titles, which are well written and translated. There are also others that are kind of bad.

There are also some really well written and translated DMG titles, but it's really hit or miss. Remember, DMG consists of different teams, some more skilled than others. It's nice, because they can offer a variety of manga to a wide audience. The drawback is the quality is just so inconsistent. Maybe some readers don't mind, but I do.

There should be some final editorial oversight for the DMG titles rather than a rush to publish.