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 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.

14 comments for ‘The Witches of the Sphinx: doujinshi goes global’.

I think the big question here is, how long before the next Handley case happens? Certainly, transportation of physical doujins might sound the moral majority alarm at customs. Otherwise, this is good news if it manages to open the floodgates for doujins being obtainable in a physical format in the US I suppose.

In case it wasn't clear from the entry itself, this particular doujinshi is entirely non-pornographic.

In fact, that seems to be the case as well with all other doujinshi Manga Pal has in stock (most of it seems to be all-age BL, which is a kind of material already sold in brick-and-mortar shops in the US already), so I don't think Handley is a real concern for their American customers at present. If the movement paves the way a wider availability of material that might become a Handley-like problem for you guys, what can I say: it's not just the US out there, caveat emptor.

Yeah, I jumped the gun there; I'm sorry about that. I realized it far too late after I made my post. Regular doujinshi isn't really that much of a problem, I don't think.

[...] at Mangapal (which is in english) – I’m sure bikasuishin will do a write up on it soon UPDATE: here it is. Nogami-sensei’s post is translated into english so you can see more details there but [...]

Wonder if they'll bring any firstspear things to Japan Expo...

It's already sold out D:

I think it's still "pre-order" so maybe they're just saying "none in stock"

I'm pretty sure that's what it means. They don't seem to be used to pre-orders, so the website isn't really adapted to the task.

I wrote them an email asking for clarifications by the way. Today's a holiday, so expect an update tomorrow. I encourage people placing preorders now regardless, though.

I don't think I can get it right now anyway due to being broke from my last spending spree. Shame, as I love Strike Witches.

When you say : "he list of corrections should be released shortly", you mean that the book will be corrected before printing or will they print it again with the corrections ?
Hon and next time, don't forget to speak about the price. Like you said, it's a premiere, so what should we expect ? It's not like if bough several doujins a year, you know...

The price is shown on the Manga Pal site: 1000 yen (about 11 USD or 8 EUR), which is the same as the price at COMIC1, and is pretty standard for 90 pages B5 size. Shipping is via EMS though, so it may be a good idea to combine orders to mitigate postage costs.

As for the corrections, all I know is what Dan Kanemitsu wrote about them on Twitter. Will update if more information comes up.

[...] mt-i, and then Manga [...]

[...] also notes that there will be a second printing to fix translation errata, which is a rarity for [...]

[...] et du Bismarck), un caméo de Marseille qui remplira de joie les amateurs de la série de doujin  Witches of the Sphinx et quelques épisodes qui sont d’excellentes surprises (je pense à l’épisode 6 et sa [...]

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