Ayappi here (๑˃ᴗ˂)ﻭ
Let’s start off with some facts. Japanese has 3 main writing systems: Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji. Katakana and Kanji should be the most familiar to most the way I see it, as these two are arguably the most prevalent in media overseas. For example, the characters シ、ツ、ン、and ソ are often joked about as the characters for happy, reflecting its popularity. Kanji, well this is the bane of existence for most Japanese learners. However, we often leave hiragana out as this sort of, normal Japanese characters or the curvy characters we often see at that one Japanese restaurant in the neighborhood. As if the purpose of hiragana, mostly, is for when you don’t know the kanji for this and that.
However today I would like to talk about a certain side of hiragana that may seem unimportant for the normal anime or manga viewer, or even a Japanese learner/person who knows Japanese but could actually make for a good way to appreciate the story even further. Specifically, I’m going to discuss the titles of certain works almost exclusively written in Hiragana. With this, I would like to use a certain manga’s title (which I will be posting a review of soon), called “Onii-chan is done for.” In Japanese, the title is written as お兄ちゃんはおしまい, onii-chan wa osimai.
To be honest, I didn’t read even realize this until the translator of the series pointed it out. Honestly I wouldn’t have thought of this had I read the raws instead. Osimai (or oshimai) is a Japanese word pertaining to something being over. You might have encountered this word being uttered at Himouto Umaru-chan’s opening, with the hai! Osimai! 「はい！おしまい」in the ending. True enough, the “official” translation、at least according to the translator, is “Oniichan is done for,” literally over. However, the translator noted at one of the chapters that osimai could also be referring to an extra polite form of using the word sisters, or shimai (姉妹).
Note that in Japanese, one way to convert nouns and some words into super polite or humble form, is to add お (o) to the start of the noun. If we do this to the word shimai, then we can get お姉妹 osimai. Neat huh? Good job translator!
What can we get from this aside from a free Japanese lesson then? We can see that in even something as boring as a series title, there could be hidden meanings scattered all around. This flexible ambiguity that a Japanese word written in hiragana offers the reader gives us many opportunities for many possible interpretations of the story. To illustrate its ambiguity’s beauty and flexibility, allow me to give an example.
I mentioned earlier that hiragana is one way for people who do not know the kanji, or forgot the kanji, to write out their thoughts in Japanese. Now, even in Japanese schools, kanji is formally taught by grade or year level, and there are some kanji that a 30 year old salaryman would know, that a grade schooler wouldn’t know. I never attended primary and secondary education in Japan, but I can assure you I know this much. Moving on, the main character of this manga (and I’m not even spoiling major bits of it, trust me) is already a grown man, but has been turned into someone younger other than to the opposite sex. Now at the body he’s been given, he has certainly turned younger.
Yes we could argue that the body he has been given could be the body of someone who already knows how to write osimai in kanji, both forms of it. Yes we could also argue that this is one of those words that are usually written in hiragana. But, this choice of the author to use hiragana instead of the kanji versions gives it a more young feel. It helps reflect and enhance the notion that the main character has been given a younger body. Please note that Japanese children do not dive in to kanji right away but rather start with hiragana and katakana like the rest of us who studied Japanese.
With that said, please remember that manga is a form of literature, just like a novel, drama or even a poem. Much like poems, I remember how even looking at the title could lead to more valid interpretations of a piece of literature, we could do the same process of close reading and looking at the title to manga. It’s not necessarily something that you’re required to do to enjoy yourself, and really you could still enjoy a manga without going through the mentally taxing process of close reading, but honestly it could help you appreciate the work even more.
Sometimes people take the titles of manga, or really any other form of literature and dismiss them as something merely there to sound cool or catchy. But this manga, Oniichan wa Osimai, could easily show us that there’s more to a title than just being there to sound and look cool. Well you have to admit, that might have been clever on the author’s part, but still.
How about you? What do you think of this entire hiragana title magic? Did you ever tear apart a series and looked at the title? Please do let me know your opinions down below!
With that, please do have a great day ahead ❤