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Toren Smith, 1960-2013
March 7, 2013 7:10 AM   Subscribe

I had discovered the Animage comics version of Nausicaa, which provided my entry into the world of Japanese comics--a world which was to cause me to devote my life to bringing it to all English-speaking people.
Toren Smith, a brilliant editor and translator and one of Japanese comics' first and greatest advocates in the English-speaking world, is dead.

Anglophone otaku the world over have Smith and the manga import company he founded, Studio Proteus, to thank for much of the existence of their hobby. In addition to his instrumentality in bringing titles like Akira, Domu, Oh My Goddess, and Blade of the Immortal to the English-speaking world, Smith and Studio Proteus translated much of Science Fiction legend Masamune Shirow's oeuvre into English, starting with Appleseed and continuing with Dominion, Ghost in the Shell, and Orion.

Over the course of his career he became involved with über-nerd animation studio Gainax, who immortalized him in Gunbuster as "Smith Toren," a robot pilot aboard the Exelion.

Of Studio Proteus's legendary and unimpeachable translation of Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind, Smith said:
Above all, Tom, Dana and myself all agreed that despite all the hard work we were doing, we wanted our work to be totally invisible to the readers. We hoped that, when we were done, the English-language readers would never notice the translation, the sound effects or the lettering--they would simply read and enjoy this incredible story without ever thinking about the fact that it was translated from another language.
posted by Sokka shot first (30 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by 23 at 7:11 AM on March 7, 2013


Well, crap. When I first started reading manga, the Studio Proteus translations were always really solid. I also see that he was way too young.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:15 AM on March 7, 2013


Oh man. Smith really was a pioneer in bringing manga to a western audience. That's bad news.
posted by MartinWisse at 7:18 AM on March 7, 2013


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I think I still have my copy of Nausicaa somewhere. It's an amazing story. I'll have to check to see if he was involved with the translation.
posted by loquacious at 7:22 AM on March 7, 2013


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If you haven't seen Nausicaa, now would be a great time.

Seriously, put down any hangups you might have over how nerdy or childish watching a 'cartoon' is and just watch it. There's a reason so many of us hold it in high regard.

Mr. Smith, I never knew you were to thank for bringing so many great tales into my realm. But it sounds like you'd call that a win.

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posted by RolandOfEld at 7:29 AM on March 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


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And please, read Nausicaa.
posted by phooky at 7:30 AM on March 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


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So, did he work with manga, anime, or both?
posted by rebent at 7:31 AM on March 7, 2013


You can read Nausicaa here. As I understand it, Toren translated the first four volumes, and Matt Thorn the last three.
posted by theodolite at 7:32 AM on March 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Poking around the original source for this appears to be the blog of James Hudnall, an illustrator and longtime friend (though ANN says they verified it independently). He says "details are pending", and mentions that Smith was divorced "recently", looks like sometime in the past few years. Toren doesn't seem to have had any Internet presence of his own (not that he needed it). The wiki article for Studio Proteus indicates he got out of the market right when it was picking up and not under quiet circumstances.
posted by 23 at 7:34 AM on March 7, 2013


....hah. I guess, given that this is an online conversation about manga, I shouldn't be surprised that within ten comments there was a link to mangareader.net.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:50 AM on March 7, 2013


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(read right to left)
posted by Artw at 8:11 AM on March 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's funny you would say that, Artw, as Smith was one of left-to-right page order's staunchest defenders.

For those interested in the version of Nausicaä described in the post, what're you're looking for is the Perfect Collection. This is the version with reversed artwork (such that it reads left-to-right), honest-to-god hand lettering, and painstakingly retouched sound effects. A more recent edition uses the unreversed artwork and footnoted sound effect translations, as opposed to the far more labor-intensive approach taken initially.

Manga is simply not translated this way anymore, not even for high-profile titles from famous creators. The production values and labor poured into Nausicaä and indeed nearly every Studio Proteus title are a relic of a bygone era. If you have the opportunity to read any of these books, I encourage you to do so. Such translations are simply not produced anymore, nor does it seem likely that they ever will be again.
posted by Sokka shot first at 8:15 AM on March 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


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posted by joyceanmachine at 9:03 AM on March 7, 2013


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posted by Gelatin at 9:11 AM on March 7, 2013


This is terrible- Studio Proteus' versions of Appleseed are what first got me into Manga. I cannot imagine what it took to make an already somewhat convoluted and nonsensical story even mildly coherent for English-speaking readers.

The work they did on Nausicaä was outstanding.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:26 AM on March 7, 2013


Which is also to say that, dear God, Warriors of the Wind was an abomination unto God and Miyazaki alike. I'm glad it exists, though, because apparently, righteous hatred of it helped bring that amazing, unbelievable Nausicaa translation to the US. As much as I loved the original movie,* the manga is actually richer and deeper and I will throw down with any sci-fan who turns his or her nose up at it.


* I saw the original subtitled Japanese version of Nausicaa on a shitty 5th generation tape that somebody's older sibling had probably brought home from college and stuck in the VHS player at a Chinese cultural event where the parents were playing Chinese party games in the gym and the younger kids were herded into the library while the older teens snuck off to make out in the back rooms. My parents disapproved because a lot of Chinese of my parents' generation have a thing against the Japanese, but I failed to give even a single shit after I saw the part in Laputa where the sky-island is rising higher and higher into the sky with the guardian and the little animals running all over him. And people were telling me that there were more of these movies?

I mean, I'd been pretty much raised on Disney princesses in pretty ballgowns who didn't do much. The story always ended with a prince coming to save the day, but man, the girl in Laputa? And then Nausicaa, with her blue gown and her little fox friend and knife made out of ohmu-shell who actually led her people? And when the ohmu bear her up on their light-extensions towards the end of the movie?

Pretty much the cap and seal for me. I still get shivers when I hear the theme music. Falling for Studio Ghibli was the first time I rebelled against my parents and knew that I was doing it, and oh my god, I loved Nausicaa.
posted by joyceanmachine at 9:27 AM on March 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


This really is a loss. Toren Smith and Studio Proteus paved the way for the current popularity of anime and manga. I really have him to thank for my hobby.
posted by happyroach at 9:36 AM on March 7, 2013


He had a blog years back, but that was it for online presence. I loved his work with Adam Warren on their version of the Dirty Pair

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posted by dragoon at 9:44 AM on March 7, 2013


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posted by Jubal Kessler at 10:18 AM on March 7, 2013


Didn't see it in time to include it in the post, but Jonathan Clements has written an excellent obituary with a lot of information about the man personally, most of which was new to me.
posted by Sokka shot first at 10:57 AM on March 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


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posted by Atreides at 11:32 AM on March 7, 2013


Does anyone know the cause of death?
posted by happyroach at 1:13 PM on March 7, 2013




The comics he brought to the West -- Valley of the Wind, Akira, the Masamune Shirō books -- were my introduction into anime and manga, and are still among my favorites. Toren, you did good work. Thank you.
posted by jiawen at 3:54 PM on March 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sumisu...(sob)

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posted by The Ardship of Cambry at 9:44 PM on March 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


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posted by bouvin at 6:08 AM on March 8, 2013


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posted by radwolf76 at 7:39 AM on March 8, 2013


Does anyone know the cause of death?

My money's on either Space Monsters or rebreather accident. No good way to go, either way.
posted by fifthrider at 2:08 PM on March 8, 2013


Toren Smith was the best man at my wedding. In the interest of accuracy, and to honor his love of niggling details, I wanted to state for the record that he passed away on March the 4th, not March the 5th as has been erroneously reported. I also wanted to state that he has only been divorced once, and that was from Lela Dowling in 1984. I suppose nobody's really going to give a rat's patootie about a comment at the end of a thread that's several days old, but I felt compelled to set the record straight. Thanks.
posted by Bindyree at 7:11 PM on March 9, 2013 [7 favorites]


Thanks, Bindyree. I sincerely appreciate the follow-up.
posted by Sokka shot first at 11:43 AM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bindyree, thanks for the correction, and sorry for spreading the misinformation.
posted by 23 at 10:01 PM on March 11, 2013


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