The Witches of the Sphinx: doujinshi goes global
There aren't many avenues for the distribution of doujinshi overseas. There are even fewer cases of doujinshi creators officially supporting the distribution of their works overseas. And official translations of doujinshi into English are practically unheard of. Perhaps as a result, a significant part of the English-speaking fandom tends to confound doujinshi as a whole with the tiny subset of books that get translated and distributed illegally on the Internet—often shallow and graphic ero parodies of whatever popular anime is airing at the time.
But this may be about to change. ABe Yoshitoshi already did a few experiments with international distribution of English-translated doujinshi in a digital format, on the iPhone or the Amazon Kindle. But today, Nogami Takeshi's doujin circle Firstspear goes one historic step further: its new release, The Witches of the Sphinx, is fully bilingual, and a partnership with doujinshi online store Manga Pal allows it to be shipped internationally in paper form. It is probably the first such project ever.
The Witches of the Sphinx is a part of the World Witches series of doujinshi, which are set in the Strike Witches universe but in different theaters of operations, and are considered semi-official parts of the franchise (the first book, The Witch of Africa, was originally set to be published as booklets accompanying the anime DVDs, and the later official Strike Witches novels fit in the same continuity).
As can be guessed from the title, The Witches of the Sphinx takes place in Northern Africa, close to Egypt—more precisely around the Libyan city of Tobruk, which is surely familiar to WWII history buffs (who will be pleased to see Rommel and Montgomery bad-mouthing each other, with Patton thrown in for good measure). It consists of a doujin manga (The Witches of the Sphinx, chapter 1) by Nogami Takeshi, a doujin short story (Before the Storm) by Strike Witches scriptwriter Suzuki Takaaki, and some guest illustrations. Both are fully translated by Dan Kanemitsu! I expected as much for the manga part since Nogami-sensei announced it a couple of weeks ago, but a full translation of the short story as well, following the original Japanese, was a bit of a surprise. It's good to see doujin novels introduced to an international audience (as they are certainly the aspect of doujin culture that is the least well known abroad).
I quite liked both the manga and the short story. They bring you all of what made the success of Strike Witches—subversion of historical events and settings, accurate WWII weaponry, wry humor, twist on the mecha musume concept, physical friendship between the girls, and in the case of the manga, animal ears and low-leg panties (which aren't really panties so it's not embarassing~)—but with a different style and perspective that are quite refreshing. There are even armored ground forces of witches! If you ask me, I wouldn't have minded the girls looking a bit more juvenile, but that's tsurupeta.info for you. I won't reveal the punchline of the chapter, but I can tell you I laughed out loud reading it. Suzuki Takaaki's short story is slightly more serious in tone, and you'll enjoy it a lot if a discussion of the compared merits of various WWII anti-aircraft cannons for piercing Neuroi armor sounds exciting (did you know that there was a 20 mm version of the FlaK 38?), but even if it doesn't, the snarky dialogues are pretty engaging. The English translations also flow well, although there is a number of typos (the list of corrections should be released shortly).
As I said in the previous post, I got my copy at last week's COMIC1, but you can preorder it on Manga Pal and have it shipped to your doorstep at the same time as Japanese mail orders will be dispatched. To place your preorder, follow the instructions on Manga Pal's page: this involves sending an e-mail with your delivery address and a PayPal account for payment. The deadline for preorders is May, 6th (in two days) so order quickly if you're interested.
Since I won't be able to make it to Comiket this summer, that's probably how I will get my copy of volume 2, which is slated to receive a similar treatment next August.
I don't really expect such translations to become widespread for doujinshi, as most of them are authored by fans with limited resources, but it would be great if more high-profile doujin projects considered translation and international distribution more often. Apparently, Manga Pal is looking for translators of doujin material, so things may be moving forward (I'd rather see other professional translators like Dan Kanemitsu get involved, but fan translators working officially is certainly better than surreptitious scanlation).
EDIT (2010-05-06): I have received a reply from Manga Pal regarding their “sold out” notice. They confirm that this only refers to the fact that the item is not in stock yet. They are still taking preorders today, and will continue to sell the doujinshi after the preorder period while supplies last. Get your copy now.
EDIT 2: Nogami-sensei has just published Dan Kanemitsu's errata list for the translation. Typos will be fixed for the second printing.