Jordan Taylor

Out of this World
A translator reviews untranslated Japanese science fiction and fantasy books

Protocol of Humanity

プロトコル・オブ・ヒューマニティ (Protocol of Humanity)

2024-03-10T19:06:03Z

Summary

Tsuneaki Godо̄ is a professional dancer in his late twenties, but his life and career are thrown off track when a motorcycle accident takes his right leg. During his long recovery journey, he's approached by the owner of a robotics company who wants to offer him a high-tech, AI powered prosthetic leg on the condition he joins a dance company where he'll be put on stage alongside robots. After accepting and starting to get his life back on track, he's hit with another change when he's forced to care for his father, Shin Godо̄, famed dancer and his role model, when he quickly develops severe dementia. Between dancing with robots and caring for his father, Tsuneaki asks the question, “What makes a human 'human'?”

About the Author

Satoshi Hase is a science fiction author who debuted in 2001 with his novel Senryaku Shoten 32098 Rakuen (Strategic Base 32098 Paradise). He is perhaps most well known for his novel series Beatless which spawned an anime in 2018. Protocol of Humanity was published in 2022 and won the 54th Seiun Award in 2023 (which is how I found the book).

Review

Protocol of Humanity apparently started as a collaboration between Hase and a contemporary dance company several years before this novel came out. He wrote a novel for that and they did…this. I'm not a dance critic, so I'll leave that out of my review. Anyway, years later, Hase decided his original novel wasn't good enough and he wanted to try tackling it again. The result is this award winning novel.

Despite being ostensibly a science fiction novel by a science fiction author, I have to admit it doesn't feel very much like a science fiction book. It feels more literary fiction, as the bulk of the story focuses on Tsuneaki's relationship with his father and difficulties in caring for him as his dementia progresses. The science fiction aspects are rather minor and not all that different from current technologies: AI, dancing robots, smart watches, and self-driving cars make up the bulk of it. The book is only set about thirty years in the future in our current world, so we're essentially seeing what Hase thinks will be commonplace soon. There is also no real look at how this technology affects people's lives which is a common theme in a lot of science fiction.

The novel does look briefly at what it means to be human, a human dancer, when there are robots who can dance better, and what it means to be human when you can no longer remember things. It also touches on coming to terms with your own body when that body no longer functions as you'd like, such as in the case of the brain in someone with dementia, or a leg when it's been lost, as well as relationships and how the distance between people affects them.

If I'm being completely honest, I debated dropping this book around the halfway point for two main reasons, the first being that it is more literary fiction than science fiction (and therefore not quite my cup of tea), and the second being that it really drags in some aspects. There are a lot of scenes where the dance company (consisting of Tsuneaki and three engineers designing the robots and AI) just keep talking. And talking. I did stick it out, though, and decided around the three quarter mark that I was glad I did. It may not be my normal cup of tea, but I think reading it did expose me to something I wouldn't normally come in contact with, and that can be a good thing.

Potential Translation Issues

The title.

I'm joking. But only sort of. The title itself actually works fine as a direct translation of the katakana words Hase chose, but the word “protocol” is used over and over throughout the text, particularly with furigana of different words (or as furigana for different words) to allow for a double-layer of meaning, something that is always a tricky thing to translate. I think it would be a challenge each and every time because it's different each time, requiring different solutions. A translator could always consider changing the title of the novel to make this work somehow, if that seemed better, but that's perhaps not the best strategy. This use of furigana isn't actually limited to the word “protocol” either, “humanity” has its fair share of double-layer moments, as well as plenty of other random words.

Trying to make things challenging for us, eh, Hase?

Final Ratings

How many stars? 3.5 out of 5 (Debated dropping it, but the second half saved it)
Would I want to translate it? I'd be willing to give it a shot, but I probably wouldn't pursue translating it myself.

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