Author: hhd795

UOW- Bachelor of Creative Arts, major in Graphic Design. hhd795

Group Project: Asian dragons as Arts

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I consider this project to be an extension of my own graduation project: to rebrand an Asian (Vietnamese to be specific) restaurant called Little Vietnam. The reason why is because when I perform researches on various topics to acquire additional knowledge in order to be able to approach the rebranding in various direction, I came across the possibility of appropriating traditional arts that are distinct to their respective cultures, as graphic elements that would constitute a unique brand identity, helping the restaurant to gain an advantage when compete with more established brands.

From that point, as I continue with my research, I realised the importance of dragon in Asian cultures and the way such creature was used as a big topic for traditional Asian arts. Thus, this project sets out to scrutinise the utilisation and perception of dragon in Asian cultures arts.

So what is a dragon?

Dragon is a creature born of myth and legends, depicted in various ways across different cultures. In Western cultures, dragons are usually the antagonists: they kill humans, wrecking havoc on kingdoms, stealing treasures and kidnapping princesses, they are the subjects for heroes to terminate. In Eastern cultures however, they are often regarded as deities, capable of granting miracles, helping humans and are highly intellectual. Their appearances are usually associated with creatures of serpentine, reptilian or avian traits, meaning that they either look like a lizard or a snake and can fly.

Since dragons are essentially myths, it is impossible to determine the exact or even relative date of its invention as a concept, but since the word dragon, which derived from Draco (Latin) and Drakon (Greek – a massive flying snake), was added to the English vocabulary, we know for a fact that Dragon has long been existing in people’ minds.

The focus of this project is to learn the different ways dragons are depicted in different Asian cultures, thus it is important to learn the significance of this creature, what it means to the people of that region. Aforementioned, dragons are subject of worship in many Asian cultures and are often used to determine the highest hierarchy in many different classification systems. For example:

  • Kingship was strongly associated dragon: the king was regarded as the dragon, or the dragon’s son. His/her clothes were embroidered with dragon patterns, the throne was decorated with dragon sculptures and all of his tools (stamps, room, crown, etc. were decorated in similar fashion).
  • Gold was considered to be the dragon’s colour because of its value and rarity.
  • In China’s justice system, the tool of execution, guillotine, often has three different blades: the dog’s blade for executing commoners and non-government personnel, the tiger’s blade for killing people in power like government officials and nobles and finally, the dragon’s blade, reserve only for the decapitation of people in the royal bloodline.
  • Dragon is also used to represent strength, Japanese soldiers and other combatants often tattooed themselves with dragon drawings.

Chinese dragon

China is arguably the most influential culture in the Asian region due to the vastness of its land, the richness of its soil and the sheer number of its people, which translate to superior military might, thus having amount of influences on other Asian cultures. Therefore, the Chinese dragon can be seen as a prototype that other cultures used to develop their own dragons by adding other unique traits from their own cultures (Ernest et al. 2013).

Dragon in Chinese culture represents strength, luck and royalty. In fact, several medieval Chinese empires use dragon as the symbol of their realms (Frank 1997). The image of Chinese dragon is essentially the combinations of various quirks from a collection of animals that are native to the land. For instance, the thin and long body of a snake, coiled in circles, the head and tentacles that resemble that of a catfish, scales of a Chinese carp, hands of the turtle and fangs of a carnivorous beast (Frank 1997).

Japanese dragon

They way Japanese people  view dragon is very different compare to the rest of Asia. Indeed, while there are dragon deity in Japanese folklore, most of them are depicted as not so much villainous and malignant but troublemakers. And as such, their depictions contain alot of “human-like” traits such as mischievous eyes and grimaces. Japanese dragons are usually humans who encountered mysterious forces and thus became the animal, they often served as the representation of hardships that must be overcame, unexplained forces of nature as well as the exaggeration of human emotions that must be suppressed. Hence, in the paintings, the Japanese dragons are never the main focus, utilised as a narrative graphic elements to more clearly convey the authorial intents, mounted or partially covered by the main subjects of the painting such as humans or covered by a light shade of shadow (as presented in the presentation).

Korean dragon

Korean dragons for the most part are very similarly depicted to the Chinese dragons due to the aforementioned influences of China. However, the image of Korean dragon is actually based off of the eel, thus strongly associated with the element of water and has long tentacles protruding from the nose area as “beard” (Roy 2007). Korean dragon in paintings do not usually fly but swim due to the said association. Therefore, the scales of the dragon are often the focus of the illustration, being made up of exactly 81 scales due to the significance of number 9 (an essence of Yang) in the Korean culture (9×9=81). Moreover, Korean dragons always hold the Yeouiju (여의주) orb in its mouth, a divine item that can be rewarded to humans for their good deeds, granting various miracles (Roy 2007).

Vietnamese dragon  

Vietnamese dragon’s appearance is somewhat peculiar compares to the standard Asian dragon set by the Chinese. While its body still stretches long like the other ones, its torso is usually drawn to be extremely thick due to the fact that ancient Vietnamese perceived the concept of “dragon” as something that resembles an earthworm, an animal whose existence is beneficial for agricultural activities. While the scales are still drawn similarly to that of a carp, its head is abnormally big, depicted in very simplistic manner with exaggerated features and like big, round, pupil-less eyes.

Furthermore, all of the Vietnamese dragon drawings demonstrate the animal in a flying motion thanks to the animal’s link to the myth of ‘ascension’ in Vietnamese culture. According to this myth, at the end of every year, any carp fishes who managed to overcome the fierce battle of swimming upstream and reach the sea will be bestowed with the divine gift of becoming dragons, ascending to heaven and live with the gods: an educational way of saying never give up and give it your best shot. Therefore, many of the dragon drawings in Vietnamese folklore are about a carp transforming into the dragon, half-fish, half-dragon.

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From these research, two illustrations will be made. These two original dragon drawings will try and combine all the characteristics of the many version of dragon drawings and produce something original yet still authentic and harbours cultural values.

 

References

■Ingersoll, E et al. 2013. The Illustrated Book of Dragons and Dragon Lore. Chiang Mai: Cognoscenti Book

■Kramer, S 1961. Sumerian Mythology: A Study of Spiritual and Literary Achievement in the Third Millennium B.C.: Revised Edition. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania A Greek-English Lexicon

■Mallory, J 2006. The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. pp. 436–437

■Dikötter, F 1997. The Construction of Racial Identities in China and Japan. C Hurst & Co Publishers Ltd. pp. 76–77

■Aston, W1896. Nihongi: Chronicles of Japan from the Earliest Times to A.D. p.697

■Gould, C 1896. Mythical Monsters. W. H. Allen & Co.

■Bates, R 2007, All About Chinese Dragons, China History Press

 

 

 

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Light novel: the first impact

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The First Impact

I first came into contact with light novel the same way many people did, through the burning desire of seeing my favourite story actually being concluded and not being left frustrated and traumatised by the cliffhanger at the end of the partially adapted material (anime/manga), in other words, I desire to know more.

As explained in the first part of my autoethnography on translation and light novel, the animated industry of Japan revolves around the close connections between three separate mediums, anime – manga – light novel, with light novel typically being the source material, whilst anime served as the promotional material for it and manga as the follow up to the potential success of the anime. Therefore, anime adaptations for the most part, acted as an interactive advertisement as well as the gateway for interested viewers to go and look for the source material. This sounds like the perfect plan and indeed, it kind of is, as anime fans get to know the further developments of the story, light novel fans get to see their favourite characters animated, manga fans get to er, know stuffs and most importantly, authors, producers and publishers get to count the banknotes (according to the Association of Japanese Animations’s 2016 report, the anime industry alone had a market value of 18.1 billion USD and that’s not only from the domestic distribution of the medium (http://aja.gr.jp/date/2016/09)). It’s a perfectly balanced and healthy ecosystem for both the consumers and the producers, yes indeed, if they are Japanese. Western fans (like myself) get bits and pieces of a series.

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Accurate depiction of a Western fan

Thanks to the growing popularity of streaming services such as Funimation and Netflix, Western fans have been getting more and more exposure to 1/3rd of the industry, that is anime, and since the anime, aforementioned, the advertisement for the source material, can only cover a very small part of the source due to budget constraint and its primary target audience being Japanese (who can easily approach the source material anyway), when it ends, Western fans have but 2 options:

  1. Learn moon runes and read the light novel/ manga (a meme for Japanese)

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and then move on.

That is where the saviour known as fan translators come in. They are not professional translator (like I was), they very often don’t get paid for their works, they have never written a story before, heck, they don’t even write in good grammars most of of the time. But what do they have? They know moon runes and they have alot of passion, heaps of it, so much so that they would go at great lengths to find every single bits and pieces of additional materials about their favourite stories, translate and then share to countless of internet strangers, completely free of charge (imagine going to Turkey to collect that one toy from the Turkish McDonald’s kid meal just to post on your social media for other people who are into this weird hypothetical hobby to see, yes, fan translation are like that, except more tedious).

I first got to experience this full package of the “Western fans’ perpetual struggle” when I finished watching an anime series called “The devil is a part timer”. I was in awe, the story was something so fresh, so intriguing and possessed such an incredible amount of unique comedic values that I have yet to witnessed in any Western mediums. The story revolves around a literal demon king and his aide, after losing a decisive battle against an angelic hero with the holy sword, who has halted their attempted invasion, chose to fled to our world through an dimensional gate while being unknowingly followed by the hero. Upon landing in Japan (of course), both the demons and hero realised for some reason their mythical powers have diminished greatly, to the point where they were no stronger than an ordinary human being. In such a dire situation, the demon lord malignantly decided to (in chronological order): create an ID, move in a cheap room in a sketchy neighbourhood, being hospitalised because of undernourishment, collect CV forms at an agency, get fired repeatedly and finally land a part-time position at McRonald (McDonald) while the hero uses the last remnant of her magic to create a ghost hoax in order to get discounted rent and then proceed to become  a call centre agent lady. Needless to say, the encounters of these part timer demon and office lady hero are anything but normal. Hilarity ensues.

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The 2 devils talking about their concerns of an unhealthy diet

With the burning desire of witnessing the continuation of this fantastic story, I searched for its source material, the light novel. The animated adaptation covered only 2 of the 17 published volumes and while the novel series has been licensed by Yen Press, a publication focuses on translating Japanese materials, only the first two volumes have been translated and the quality of translations was rated 2 out of 5. As I kept on searching, I finally stumbled upon the fan translation. 13 out of 17 volumes translated, and the quality is acceptable (I’m being picky because of my profession). I was overjoyed and at the same time, I was filled with admiration towards these translators as I got to know more about the rules and policies that they have to abide to in order to keep on delivering these translations to the fans. Those rules are the :

Scope of Licenses

When a publisher announces that they have licensed a series, translators will schedule the removal of the following content:

  • ALL volumes of the main series of a light novel project.
  • ALL volumes that may be inserted in chronological order with the main publication run of the series (i.e.: Volume 7.5 or 10.5, etc.).

Unless the publisher has explicitly announced it, translators will assume the publisher has not licensed the following:

  • Bonus chapters and extras (i.e.: bonus material included with Blu-ray DVDs, web content).
  • Independent side stories that do not fit in the main publication run.
  • Spin-off, doujin, sequel, collaborations, or related series.

Abandonment Protocol

Publisher Announces License Acquisition

  1. Project will be flagged as licensed as soon as possible.
  2. All downloadable content (PDFs, EPUBs, MOBI, etc.) will be removed from the Wiki and affiliated spaces.
  3. Project will be frozen and follow Cessation Policy rules. All project contributors and staff are required to adhere to the Cessation Policy Guidelines.

Publisher Announces Publication Date of the First Volume

  1. Gradual deletion of ALL volumes of the main publication run will immediately commence. The exact deletion schedule will not be released to the public.
  2. ALL volumes will be removed, at the latest, by 2 months prior to the official publication date.

(from: https://www.baka-tsuki.org/project/index.php?title=Baka-Tsuki:Project_Abandonment_Policy)

Indeed, the fan translation scene lives under the mercy of the official publisher, all their works and efforts that earn them enough ads revenue to keep the site running and other meagre amounts of donation from the readers will be completely erased the moment an official release is announced, even if the quality is severely worsened.

Still, there are those who refused to live by such rules, and the team that translated “The devil is a part-timer” is one of such, keeping themselves hidden by employing several methods, most of which revolves around the creation of a community that requires its members to go through several steps of verification before they can acquire the translation.

Personally, I feel baffled by the fact that these “underground” translators managed to provide a superior translation compares to the official ones (in regards to sentence structures, grammars and word flow). Thus, as someone who has only been translating official document, I want to for once, experience what it is like being at the receiving end while discovering the reasons behind whole notion of the official publishers are generally regarded as the incompetent bad guys despite them being a good way for fans to support the authors of their favourite stories.

Pondering on translation

So for the research of this subject, I want to do something related to translation since it is such an integral part in the study of Asian cultures from the Australian perspective. However, the kind of translation that I want to delve into here is not the technical translation, or the translation of formal document that requires military-like precision throughout the process of conversing the meanings of each and every words from one language to another. Technical translation requires a limited amount of understanding of culture or context since the original documents themselves are highly academic and technical, thus lacking the possession of any opinionated or cultural elements, thus making it a uninteresting subject for auto-ethnography. Indeed, the kind of translation I’m interested in are the translations of light novels, particularly those are done by the respective fandoms of the original materials.

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2015’s most popular light novel: Overlord 

Light novel

Light novel is a type of primarily Japanese novel, targeting the teenagers and young adults demographic. Light novel are typically about 500,000 words long and are often released as consecutive parts of a series with a rather tight releasing schedule. Illustrations are often included into the novels to help convey additional thematic meanings or simple to pique interests from the young readers (millenniums and their short attention span tsk tsk!). Light novel works in conjunction with 2 other mediums of Japanese entertainment that are anime and manga since any of these mediums can supplements each other by having the original work being adapted into the two other mediums. Typically, outstanding visual novel would use anime as the mean to help increasing the sale and if the adaptation is doing well in terms of its own popularity, it will subsequently get a manga adaptation and so on. The narration of visual novels aim specifically to please the demands of a young audience. Hence, the contents are usually not overly complicated or philosophical, delivered in an informal-oriented tone of writing and utilises a lot of pop-culture references as narration tools. Up and coming light novelists often publish their works online to gain exposure as well as receiving feedback from other writers. Apart from that, publishing companies usually organise contests in order to scout talents.

My relationship with translation

I used to work as a freelance English-Vietnamese translator a few years back, contracted by Vietlabour, a company specialised resolving legal matters that are related to labour relations, to work as a part of their translation team in translating important state-level documents, such as parts of the revised Vietnamese Labour Code in 2010. I guess this is where my love-hate relationship with translation began, as on one hand, I absolutely hate technical translation due to the rigid nature of work as well as the prioritisation of accuracy over the flow of the text. On the other hand, I am fascinated with translation as a concept and its ability to help someone of a different culture understand the essences and  intricate details of another culture. To translate is to broaden your knowledge, to satisfy your thirst for knowledge.

The goal of this project 

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Fan translation and official translation of light novels have always had an interesting relationship, perhaps somewhat similar to the sub vs dub relationship in the anime fandom. Official translations of light novel (i.e. Yen Press) are renounced for their total lack of effort and inaccuracy whilst, the quality of fan translation can really be a hit or miss. A passionate fandom will provide keen readers with a translation that are not only accurate in literal meanings of the text but also attempt to give you all the necessary background information that would reinforce your understanding of the authorial intents hidden in the materials. In other words, these unofficial translators have attempted to utilise their own personal understanding of not only the Japanese language but also the Japanese culture to decipher the message and meanings of the materials. In this regard, each and everyone of them is an auto-ethnographer.  Hence, instead of analysing renounced Asian literature works, I find it more intriguing to look this lawless jungle that is the fan translation scene of light novels where all the translation groups try to one-up another by proving themselves to be a better Japan specialist.

In other words, by reading and analysing the differences in different fan translations of some particular light novels (to be decided), I would attempt to  make a statement about the different ways people use translations as a mean to enjoy a cross-cultural experience.

 

Autoethnography

When I first came to Australia, I made a foolish promise to myself: I would never use my cultural background as basis for any of my university projects, or as the foundation to voice any of my subjective statement. The reason for such an absurd, pointless and no less childish made-up principle was partially because I thought that in order to assimilate into the Australian culture, I have to forgo of my background, something that the people around me would be unfamiliar with (when I first came here the campus had approximately 100-150 Vietnamese students so I spent the first 6 months here not speaking my mother tongue). I tried hard to be Western while concealing the part of my identity that is “Vietnamese”. While it is not uncommon for a Vietnamese person to be ashamed of his/her nationality (yes it is quite common, and very sad), that was not the case for me. In fact, I feel rather indifferent about my cultural background. In other words, I believe that a person identity is determined by the various course of actions that s/he decided to take in respond to the surrounding circumstances. I can have the qualia more similar to that of a Western person despite my background.

However, the more I tried to hide it, the more I realised how foolish I was. Social construct is not something one could forcibly repress by sheer effort. My personality, my perspective and my various tendencies are the products of my background. The more I distanced myself from it, the more I longed for any form of exposure to it, the more I felt vulnerable and sensitive whenever the topic was invoked. Thus, I was constantly finding myself desperately hanging onto any kinds of fruitless relationship I could have with people of the same cultural background. I felt isolated being surrounded by friends of different backgrounds.

Thus, I stopped being foolish.

Well look where we are now.

The first time that the term “autoethnography” was mentioned, I feel bothered. Is it even possible for me, a person who used to be so committed in repressing the expression of his cultural background, to suddenly dig it up and utilise it as a mean to perform qualitative research. The fact is that, I might even have less knowledge about the said background than a keen researcher of that topic.

Therefore, I perceived DIGC330 as a chance for me to make peace with the conflicted part of my identity and a way enrich my epiphanies.

 

Godzilla impression

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To me Godzilla, or Gojira is anything but the typical big bad monster “blockbuster” movie of its time. Although at this point I am sure it is pretty much quasi-common knowledge that the monster itself is a direct metaphor for the devastating power of nuclear weapons and the terrors it had brought to Japanese people: its origin as a being that thrived by absorbing nucleus energy, awaken to the impact of the bombs, its scales glowing with radiation and its melting, corrosive breath. The thing is a walking, havoc-wreaking atom bomb in the form of a dinosaur.

However, for me, such obvious implications about the tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are not the mesmerising things about the movie. Personally, Gojira feels more like a confession made by people of the former war-ravaged Japan about their confusions, their doubts and their despair upon losing and at the same time, gaining new identities. In other words, their desperate S.O.S call in the midst of an identity crisis.

“It was often suggested after World War II that Japan’s future lay in becoming a cultural nation, and a great number of people agreed that Japan should become a pacifist cultural country even if it meant being a poor and small one (similar to the “small but brightly shining country” – Masayoshi Takemura (Shin’inchi 1999).

Indeed, Japan did become a nation that yearn for harmony and economic development after the war, but for its people who were very much accustomed to, and held pride in, being the citizens of an Imperialist nation, such changes might have been too much to handle. The war-time virtues suddenly became outdated, unnecessary and might even be perceived as extremists’ ideologies in the post-war society. Yet, people who have experienced the devastation of war would still cling onto them despite knowing all to well about their incompatibility. These virtues are clearly depicted in the film, like the characters’ abnormal willingness to sacrifice their lives for the greater good, their unyielding beliefs in military supremacy, their tendency to reach quick and decisive measures and even their traditional gender roles. However, the movie did go on to prove that stubbornly holding on to these outdated values would do the nation no goods by showing how the physical manifestations of said values are useless under the might of the Godzilla and how the key to overcome such adversary is actually innovation, scientific breakthrough and the yearning for peace.

This phenomenon of a nation yelling out-loud the question of “who are we?” feels all too familiar to me because after all, I was born in Vietnam in a period where its people were also struggling to adapt to the newly created national identity. The war with the Americans ended in 1979 with “glorious victory” to our side despite suffering from ten times the amount of casualties and we preserved our right to remain a communist nation. Now while I know that talking about the choice of remaining a communist nation in a blog submitted as part of the curriculum of an Australian university might seems abit weird but such was choice made by the people and as such, no other nations have any rights to take it away, regardless of their ulterior motive. That being said, post-war Vietnam quickly found its communist identity to be rather troublesome in the process of gaining global communities’ recognition and thus, the fact that it was forced to shred away parts after parts of the identity it had tried and sacrificed so much to protect caused the nation to undergo a massive identity crisis. I can vividly recall seeing the sights of communist propaganda posters being placed side by side with the promotional materials for popular American cinematography throughout my childhood. Hence, I felt a deep sense of sympathy for the Japanese people after this viewing of Gojiro.

 

Shin’ichi 1999, Japan’s identity: Neither East or West, Japan Forum on International Relations, Nationalism, University of California Press, California.