A few weeks ago Tuttle Publishing released Sōseki Natsume’s I Am A Cat…but as a manga edition! Adapted by Chiroru Kobato, readers can now experience the satirical classic in a completely different way. To get a bit more information on this version, I reached out to the translator for it, Zack Davisson, who explains what led to working on the manga and some of the challenges of translating it.
TheOASG: How did the opportunity to translate the manga version of Sōseki Natsume’s I Am A Cat come about?
Zack Davisson: I’d done some writing work with Tuttle, and we got into conversation about doing translations. They had been thinking of branching out into doing some translated manga and I was excited to work with them more. When they brought I Am A Cat to me I was thrilled at the chance to translate a world classic adapted to manga form. Chiroru Kobato did a brilliant job adapting it.
From when you were assigned to translate it to its completion, how long have you been working on this manga?
Gosh, I actually think I finished the translation more than a year ago, so it is hard to remember exactly. I think it took me about two months? A bit longer than most manga I work on, as it was fairly text heavy.
How much of the content would you say the manga version adapts from the novel?
It adapts most of the main points but is a considerably lighter version. The novel is about five hundred pages of prose versus two hundred pages of comics. In the novel Sōseki waxes poetic on the parts of the plot, often going on for chapters about some idea or how it relates to some famous work of art of philosophy. But even without that I think Chiroru Kobato captured the heart of the story.
What were some of the challenges of translating I Am A Cat?
Anytime you translate something that has been previously translated you have to make some decisions. Will you rely on precedent or try what you think works best? For example, in the prose version translated by Aiko Ito and Graeme Wilson they chose to translate names literally. You have Coldmoon and Waverhouse and such. My personal philosophy is not to translate names, so in my version it is Kangestu and Meitei.
I tried to keep it classic while still feeling fresh and modern. This is always a challenge, but as someone who has worked on many classic works it is a balance I feel I am able to achieve. I hope readers agree!
Was there any particular moment while translating the manga or a chapter that surprised you the most?
I think the biggest surprise is how relevant it is, and especially how it spoke to me during the hard times of quarantine and COVID. Many of the characters have been dealt hard cards and are making the best of them. Easily the most memorable moment to me was when the cat Kuro was speaking about his life, saying “As if one good day makes up for the rest of a pointless year?” That struck a chord with me. It is, in a way, a nihilistic book. But perhaps it is more realistic in its view of human nature. We all do the best we can to get by. Life can be hard, yet not without its moments.
And of course, the ending, which I don’t want to spoil for anyone who hasn’t read it yet.
Now that it’s out in bookstores and on digital platforms, what should readers expect when they dive into this manga?
Like many classics, I Am A Cat is a classic for a reason. It dives into some pretty deep stuff, speaking about what it means to be human through the eyes of a cat. Chiroru Kobato’s adaptation will give you the feeling of reading this great classic of world literature, a story which everyone interested in Japan should know. It is worth your while. And…bring the tissue box.