Have you been reading Infinite Dendrogram or In Another World with My Smartphone? Volume 4 of Smartphone released on August 11th, while the first volume of Dendrogram came out on July 10th. You won’t have to wait long for the next one though, as volume 2 will have its ebook release on August 29th. (Or you could already be reading the “prepub” now via J-Novel Club’s website or app.)
Today I’m going to share an interview with the English translator for these light novels: Andrew Hodgson, AKA Steiner. My questions focused mostly on Infinite Dendrogram since we all read the first volume of that for this year’s summer reading program.
Cho: To start off, could you tell us a little about yourself? How did you end up translating books from Japan for J-Novel Club?
Steiner: My name is Andrew Hodgson, I typically go by the alias “Steiner” online. I’m a Japanese-to-English translator and I suppose a bit of an old-timer at this point, though my skills now are considerably more honed than they were back when I started. I got into the industry translating visual novels. Some of the more notable VN projects I’ve been involved with include Steins;Gate and Dies irae. Since then I’ve also dabbled in the realm of more mainstream home video games such as Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkhuni, and a couple other things I can’t mention just yet.
The story behind my becoming a translator at J-Novel Club isn’t an especially exciting one, I’m afraid. They originally caught my eye when I noticed that they had licensed the Occultic;Nine light novel. Being an avid follower of Chiyomaru Shikura’s science titles, I was curious about the people who managed to get the rights from a company that I’d actually had a fair bit of difficulty dealing with in the past. I sent an e-mail in to Sam Pinansky, the company founder, and he gave me a written test to evaluate my skills. He was fairly satisfied with what I handed in, and decided that I was good enough for the next stage of the process: an oral interview over Skype. Honestly during the Skype interview I thought I’d totally flubbed it — I lost connection at some point, and then started sweating bullets and stuttering, but apparently once it was all over he was pretty impressed by what I had to offer.
From there he gave me the choice of several titles, and I opted for In Another World With My Smartphone. I began to translate that title at a pretty darned taxing rate of one volume every six weeks for the first four volumes, and I’m pleased to say it worked out quite well. Once I was into volume 3 of Smartphone, Sam came to me with a proposition. Nick Nomura, the translator of Infinite Dendrogram, had to drop off the project about a quarter of the way into volume 1 due to personal matters, and Sam needed a stand-in ASAP. I was honestly a little flattered that he came to me, and naturally I took the job. It was a decision I have no regrets about.
Cho: How has your effort translating Infinite Dendrogram differed from past stories you’ve worked on?
Steiner: As a translator, I find that Infinite Dendrogram stands out due to the amount of attention to detail it demands. Most of my previous works so far either came complete — allowing the team to check my translation’s consistency multiple times before release — or was a long-running series that was light enough in this regard that simply going along with it and paying attention was more than enough. Dendro, however, is a long-running series that’s planned years in advance. You can never know which seemingly-innocuous line/word/name is going to pop back up again and have its meaning changed entirely, which makes me feel that it’s imperative I familiarize myself with what happens later on if I want to properly translate that which happens before. This level of detail also extends to the terminology. With all the characters, locations, jobs, skills, nicknames, status effects, and items the series has, I dread to imagine how great our term sheet will grow.
Cho: In what ways do you feel this series might stand out among other recent works of fiction dealing with virtual reality?
Steiner: Works dealing with virtual realities tend to trap their characters there, creating a solid barrier between the real and virtual worlds.
There’s none of that in Dendrogram. Though an overwhelming amount of the story takes place in the game, it stays exactly that — a hyper-realistic game that people log into, play at their own leisure and can quit at any time. Also, the inhabitants of the world — the extremely human-like NPCs called “tians” — react to these visitors accordingly. For example, without spoiling anything, I can describe a scene in which a dangerous-looking individual was on the march towards a city. The tians standing guard took note that the person was coming from allied ground, but then went on to say that Masters — the players — have a means of communicating with each other (phone, email) when they’re “on the other side” (i.e. the real world), so they couldn’t rule out the possibility that the person was in contact with the enemy and came through that direction just to catch them off-guard. To the NPCs of Infinite Dendrogram, the human players are a mysterious otherworldly force, and individual tians have quite diverse reactions towards the people that “play” in their world.
The virtual world is affected not just by the players’ direct actions inside of it, but by their possible actions outside of it, as well. Such a solid connection between the worlds seems to be a rarity in the genre, and it’s one I find quite charming.
Cho: What have you liked most about translating this story? And were there any particularly challenging aspects to translating this work?
Steiner: I quite enjoy translating unique item/monster names. It makes me feel like all the hours I spent on lootfest RPGs weren’t for naught.
As for difficulty, besides the aforementioned attention to detail, there’s the simple fact that — on a technical level — Dendro is undoubtedly above many light novels, and translating it properly can be a challenge every now and then. It’s an exciting story that keeps one on the edge of one’s seat, and I have much respect towards the author for crafting such an articulate and engaging world.
Cho: Do you think the virtual reality technology described in Infinite Dendrogram could be achieved within a similar time frame in real life?
Steiner: Hard to say. Technology evolves much faster than most expect, but far slower than most hope. Though, it’s probably a definite yes if we hit the technological singularity before the 2040s.
Then again, in the story, the technology behind Infinite Dendrogram is actually considered to be suspiciously advanced, even by that year’s standards, leading conspiracy theorists to believe that some secret society or aliens are behind it all.
Who knows? Maybe our own Illuminati are having a Dendro-like VR headset tested right now and plan to have it released in 2020!
Cho: Do you think you would enjoy playing the game described in Infinite Dendrogram? What kind of character would you play as, and what kind of setting would you like to start off in?
Steiner: I feel like I would be all about Infinite Dendrogram if it was real. I’m the kind of guy who really likes to get immersed into his games, and I’m a huge fan of roleplaying and tabletop stuff so the game as it’s described and shown in the LN is right up my alley.
As for what kind of player I’d be… I’m not sure! There are the kinds who go in to kill other players or even tians just to blow off stress, and there are also those who act out the archetypal hero/adventurer roles. I don’t really think I’d do either, I’d probably just start in a more classic RPG-style kingdom like Altar, find an interesting class and live out my life slowly while maybe making friends with tians and other players along the way. I’d most definitely go into something magic-oriented, though. I’d say that I’d be drawn towards something like necromancy because the applications of such abilities in a limitless world like Infinite Dendrogram could be incredible, but… well, without going into spoiler territory, volume 2 definitely delves into the horrors associated with the undead arts, and I’m not sure if I have the stomach for it!
The beauty of Infinite Dendrogram‘s system is that there is an extreme amount of freedom when it comes to character classes. Want to be a traditional Paladin? Go for it. Pilot? Sure, sky’s the limit. Mad Scientist? Go nuts! I feel like I’m the kind of person who’d fret too much about what he wanted to be simply because of the extreme variety available to him.
A big thanks to Andrew Hodgson for taking the time to answer these questions!
If you have anything you’d like to ask or comment on, please do so. Also, feel free to share your own answer to the last question I asked. What character class and nation would you choose, if you could play Infinite Dendrogram?