Quick note: I added a book image to the last excerpt, so check it out!
Winters brings us to Jeff, who we already established in an earlier blog post as, well, this:
Jeff pushed his covers aside and placed his feet flat on the cold floor with a clang. Peeking out from the bottom of his pajama pants was a support harness made of aluminum, steel, and leather, wrapped around each of his shins. The noise echoed horribly in the depth of the darkness, and just as he always did, Jeff scorned his own unpleasant body—Frankenstein’s modern-day monster. An unshapely, pitiful monster dragging around a ball and chain the weight of a bowling ball around his ankles.
And upon leaving on his journey, he had to deal with, well, this:
By the time Jeff climbed the gray carpeted staircase of the abandoned dormitory, down another staircase, walked through the long hallway, and climbed another staircase to finally reach the entrance hall, he was already panting for breath and out of energy. The iron around his legs made them nearly impossible to bend, and he couldn’t lift them up very far, so he struggled when he didn’t have a handrail to walk against. His joints creaked like an unoiled robot, and his calf muscles were swollen and throbbing in pain.
He realized how Tony had always been by his side, casually supporting him for everything. At the time, he was annoyed with how Tony would meddle into every little thing he did, but now Jeff realized that he had been totally reliant on Tony. It even stopped him from getting proper exercise on a daily basis.
How is a guy like me supposed to make it over fields of snow? Jeff worried. I’ve got to cross the ocean all by myself to go save these people I don’t even know.
–Leading to Maxwell handing over the school’s greatest treasure. But not before Tony gets to him.
Spoiler alert: Saori Kumi thinks Jeff is a cutie.
Jeff was staring intensely at the dark ceiling with his curled, thick eyelashes and big round eyes. A single strand of his straight, light brown, silky hair stuck to his forehead, vaguely covered in a thin trace of sweat. The freckles scattered along his cheekbones and button nose, pouty lips and attractive, vaguely girlish face seemed perfectly set. This is just between you and me, but Snow Wood Boarding School has its fair share of good-looking students.
This is just between you and me, but my heart is going pitter-patter! I think, as an English major who’s required to think things like this, no matter how plausible, that this passage is a good illustration of a cultural difference between Japan and the United States, one that would have a lot to do with how we played EarthBound and they played MOTHER 2.
In America, nerds are nerds. Most of them play videogames. I named Ness after myself, because that’s what you’re supposed to do, but as someone who substituted a nice, smug sense of superiority for actual friends and contact with girls I had way more in common with Jeff, whose IQ you have to manipulate, who creates all kinds of cool things instead of learning psychic powers. Jeff probably throws like a girl, like I did, and acts in an awkward, generally uncool way. I empathized with him because he was not heroic, and possessed no leading man qualities.
In Japan, Jeff looks like a girl, and that’s totally hot. God save the man in Japan[ese cultural products] who presents as neither overly masculine nor overly effeminate. The myth of the Cute Nerd is totally ingrained there.
Oh, also, Jeff can’t use his legs. Did I mention that?
Chewy and I need to talk a little more about presenting Chapter Four, so a full set of excerpts might have to wait for tomorrow. But in the meantime I thought I’d present Saori Kumi’s answer to the question of what’s in the interior of Dr. Andonuts’s Skyrunner. (My answer: one copy of Won’t Get Fooled Again on casette, lots of airbags.)
Without another thought, Jeff climbed into the unfamiliar Sky Runner machine. His heart was racing, but for now, he sat down in the cockpit and began studying the controls.
He pressed the POWER button and a display screen popped up in front of him.
[Please input command.]
The armrests on his seat flapped open, and from under his hands appeared something that looked a lot like a Super Nintendo controller.
[Use the D-Pad to select option. Press A to confirm. Press B to cancel. Press X or Y for options. Press L and R buttons together to open HELP screen.]
Jeff made his way through the menu and found the option “Prepare for departure.” He pressed A.
Don’t get me wrong—I love the D-Pad, and I’ll always be a 2D gamer at heart. But controlling a spaceship with it, F-Zero aside, seems like a lot to ask, even of a boy genius. If EarthBound had ended up on the Nintendo64, or perhaps the Virtual Boy, he might not have had such a rough landing.
More later, of course. Thanks for reading.
Liar: So chapter three was 15,000 words. What’s that like to slog through?
Chewy: Heh every time I finish a chapter and look back, exhausted, I feel as proud as if I had just translated an entire novel. Then I flip to the next chapter and all relief pretty much drains from me. It’s such a time-consuming project that I’m curious how long it will take people to only read through it.
Liar: Luckily for us, we don’t have to read it in two languages. A lot has started to happen in the novel, now that Ness is moving from city to city and Paula has shown up, and for me, reading your rough drafts, the book is starting to get more exciting as a result. Do you feel the same way?
Chewy: Absolutely. There are scenes in the book where I actually translate faster because it’s so suspenseful that I can’t wait to see what happens. I start plowing through it so I can hurry up and get the English out and see it.
Liar: I joked about Pokey not being a matinee idol in the last excerpt post, but he’s actually kind of creepy in the book—Kumi kind of brings out the sociopath in him, doesn’t she?
Chewy: Yeah, as a child I was always a little disturbed by Pokey’s behavior, but I can see that Kumi went to town with him—it’s almost like the nonexistent narrator hates him personally. To tell the truth though, even though some of the characters seem to depart a little from how they were in the game, I really think Pokey is consistent with what Itoi was aiming for in Earthbound. Now that I think about it, though, it’s interesting that Kumi, who was 35 years old when the game came out, was also affected by his twistedness. I was young and impressionable when I experienced it, so having that insight in retrospect tells me that Itoi did a good job with Pokey.
Liar: Then, of course, there’s Ness and Paula
Chewy: I was always a loyal Ness+Paula shipper.
Liar: Oh, definitely, Ness and Paula forever. After all, I named Ness after myself.
Chewy: But I gotta be honest, I prefer a more passive romance. Like, the Jim+Pam effect—gotta make them work for it! For now I’ll just be relieved that they haven’t acted outside of their age group yet.
Liar: Chapter four focuses on Jeff, and while I don’t want to give the whole thing away, in case you figure out how to distribute this, it’s one of Saori Kumi’s biggest divergences from the source. Talk a little about it.
Chewy: As you’ll read in the afterword, I think Kumi decided to focus on Jeff particularly closely for a few reasons. For one, he was her favorite character, and from what I understand (having not yet read the MOTHER novel) she wrote the heck out of Loid in the MOTHER novel and didn’t want any overlap between the two books.
At first, I was a little put off by Kumi’s decision to add such a wild element to the story—his backstory is enough to actually establish that this book is not “officially canon” with the game—but as I read on, all the pieces began to fall into place in a way that only truly talented writers can pull off. By the end of the chapter, I was thoroughly impressed when such a random addition led to another seemingly random addition, and by the time you get through it, everything between Jeff and his father—something that seems intensely deep in the game in an ineffable way—is finally completely explained. And I personally feel she made some excellent decisions.
Liar: I like EarthBound’s way of suggesting a lot of what it doesn’t want to say, but I agree that Kumi’s way of explaining things was also very interesting. Okay, that seems like enough teasing for tonight. Any last words before you return to your translating chamber?
Chewy: I just wanna thank everyone for the nice comments, and for following the blog. It feels really good to have a group of people with me as I work through the project.