When Hikaru Was Upon the Earth is the latest series from Book Girl creator Mizuki Nomura. Well, latest in English -- the final volume should be out in...moreWhen Hikaru Was Upon the Earth is the latest series from Book Girl creator Mizuki Nomura. Well, latest in English -- the final volume should be out in Japan by the end of the year and Nomura has already announced her next series (which has something to do with vampires -- sigh).
If you're familiar with the Book Girl series, it should be no surprise that Hikaru is about literature, but whereas the earlier series focused on a different work in each volume, Hikaru is just about one -- The Tale of Genji. Just as Hollywood loves to relocate Shakespeare to the modern world (in everything from Luhrman's otherwise faithful Romeo + Juliet, to the far more liberal Ten Things I Hate About You), so here Nomura transports Genji to a modern Japanese high school.
Our protagonist in this version is Koremitsu, a young man cursed with the looks of a street thug. After starting high school a week late due to an injury, he encounters Hikaru, a dashing young man beloved by all the girls in the school and hated by all the guys. The next day Hikaru dies in an accident.
But Hikaru isn't ready to leave the Earth that easily. He has unfinished business with his fiancee Aoi, a girl he's been betrothed to since elementary school, and his spirit decides to force Koremitsu into resolving those issues. Only problem, Aoi hates Hikaru's guts and isn't willing to listen to any cock and bull stories about Koremitsu being haunted by Hikaru's ghost.
While the story is interesting, I didn't feel it had any hook that pulled me in the way Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime did with that series. The great Teh Ping, who's translating the series, has said that he didn't get hooked until the third volume, which isn't very promising, but given how awesome Book Girl turned out to be, I'm willing to give Nomura the benefit of the doubt.(less)
This is sort of a breather episode in the series. After the chaos of the previous two books, a number of main characters are temporarily out of commis...moreThis is sort of a breather episode in the series. After the chaos of the previous two books, a number of main characters are temporarily out of commission -- Izaya's in the hospital recovering from a stab wound, Mikado's trying to come to grips with the fact that he's turned to the dark side, Celty decides to spend a day out of town with Shinra, and Anri's off doing what ever it is Anris do. Which leaves us with Shizuo and a bunch of side characters to carry the story.
The book's really a collection of novellas that flesh out the secondary cast. First we have a story focusing on Namie, Seiji and Mika, who, let's be honest, have barely been in this series since the first volume. But now Namie, finding herself temporarily free of Izaya's sway, decides to go out and exact some long delayed revenge upon Mika -- which doesn't go too well as we learn that Mika is just as badass as everyone else in the series and maybe even more knowledgeable about everything that's going down than Izaya himself.
After that we get a tale of Akabayashi, one of the Awakusu-kai's "demon" hitmen, dealing with some ... personal problems, which also gives us a glimpse at how the Awakusu are dealing with the aftermath of the whole kidnapping fiasco of the previous book.
Then finally we get a story about Shizuo and Tom Tanaka taking the now-unemployed assassin Vorona under their wings as a debt collector, and the various problems that ensue from this.
So in terms of over-all plot development there's not much here until the epilogue, which does pack a couple surprises, though there are a couple interesting revelations about Anri and Mika earlier in the story. But the stories about Akabayashi and Shizuo are worth it for the ass-kicking that goes down, and even if the first story isn't as good, it's still nice to see Seiji, Mika and Namie in action again.(less)
Y'know, I really miss those old fantasy novels where some ordinary fellow from our world gets sucked through a whirligig and ends up in some fantasy w...moreY'know, I really miss those old fantasy novels where some ordinary fellow from our world gets sucked through a whirligig and ends up in some fantasy world where, instead of being killed as a heretic or starving to death in the streets because he can't talk to anyone, he works his way up to become a bad-ass hero. Sure, it's just wish fulfillment, but what else do you want from the fantasy genre. It's not like Rand al'Thor and Kvothe are any less of Gary Stus.
ZnT (The Familiar of Zero) gives the genre a slight twist in that the hero is a Japanese teenager who finds himself in a bog-standard medievaloid fantasy world. He's there because an inept mage-in-training accidentally brought him there while trying to summon a familiar. Which basically means he's now her slave. On the bright side, this means he gets to help her dress and undress. On the downside, he has to both sleep and eat on the floor, do her laundry, run errands for her, risk his life for her, and generally get treated like a dog that hasn't been house-broken.
Of course it turns out there's a reason he was summoned and being an Earthling gives him knowledge that comes in handy between his beatings.(less)
I really think the translators could've found a better title for this. I don't know about anyone else, but to me the phrase "database animals" conjure...moreI really think the translators could've found a better title for this. I don't know about anyone else, but to me the phrase "database animals" conjures images of monkeys in cubicles pounding out TPS reports, whereas Azuma is using both terms in a very specialized manner.
By "animal" he means that people in a Hegelian post-historical society as explicated by Kojeve are free to live in harmony with "nature," which in a modern consumerist society like the United States means that we live to consume rather than worry about the struggle between self and "other" as characterizes historical societies. Simple enough idea, isn't it?
Azuma's concept of "database" is contrasted to "grand narratives." The grand narrative is the overall universe and concept behind a story, which cannot be owned by anyone in the audience -- we can only experience it by consuming simulacra. So for instance with Star Wars, the grand narrative is the whole concept of the Old Republic and Empire, Sith and Jedi, midichlorians and Ewoks, whereas the simulacra are the blu-rays, novels, action figures and video games which allow us to experience aspects of the grand narrative. But Azuma contends that in post-modern culture the grand narrative has been replaced by the database -- what we might call tropes. Otaku (geek) fiction is now made by assembling pre-existing tropes into new and interesting combinations, which can then be taken apart and reassembled by the audience. If anyone ever comes up with a new idea, it is instantly cannibalized and becomes just another building block. The role of authors in this new paradigm is reduced to only what copyright law gives them.
Of course Azuma is writing this from a Japanese perspective (and it should be noted that the original text is ten years old already). I'm not sure American geek-culture is advanced in this direction as Japan's -- certainly A Game of Thrones and The Wheel of Time, despite cobbling together parts from older fantasies, show that the thirst for grand narrative is still alive and well in the US, but Internet culture is clearly headed in that direction.(less)
Mari Okada is notorious in anime fandom for being a fantastic writer who often lets her own kinks and obsessions take over the story. As it happens, h...moreMari Okada is notorious in anime fandom for being a fantastic writer who often lets her own kinks and obsessions take over the story. As it happens, her kinks and obsessions line up with mine, so I don't care. In the case of Ano Hi Mita no Namae o Bokutachi wa Made Shiranai (We Still Don't Know the Name of the Flower We Saw That Day, or just plain "Ano Hana" for short), her tendencies were held in check by a director who allegedly made her change a great part of the plot, though this didn't stop her from including the requisite cross-dressing scene. But if you look to Okada's novelization expecting a revelation about what she changed, you'll be disappointed. There's a hint that she wanted to tell about childhood friends drifting apart as they discover that once they grow beyond running in the woods they don't have anything in common, but that's about it.
The story begins with Jintan, a teenager who attends school just often enough not to be considered a drop-out, sitting in his room playing a video game and wondering if he should take a bath today, when his friend Menma comes in. Now this is very odd seeing as Menma is five years dead, but she won't leave Jintan alone until he agrees to grant her wish. This is even more troublesome since she isn't exactly sure what her wish is, except she knows it requires all their friends from five years ago to fulfill.
The problem is, after Menma's death in a tragic accident, the friends each blamed themselves for what happened and drifted apart. Jintan went from a straight-A student to a loser who barely goes to school; Anaru started hanging out with the sort of trendy girls who wear clothes in appropriate for her age; Poppo started working itinerant jobs instead of going to high school and takes backpacking trips abroad during off seasons; while Tsuruko and Yukiatsu, the only two to remain friends, are attending a preppy private school. So now Jintan has to bring these people back together, convince them he's not delusional, and figure out what Menma's wish is.(less)
One thing I've come to hate about the fantasy genre is how it's 9/10ths adolescent fantasies about hacking and slashing at monsters. After about the t...moreOne thing I've come to hate about the fantasy genre is how it's 9/10ths adolescent fantasies about hacking and slashing at monsters. After about the ten-thousandth battle based upon some really kewl D&D campaign the author played in high school, it gets boring, you know. So it's a relief to find a fantasy novel about economics -- and specifically a currency manipulation plot loosely based upon the Fisk-Gould gold cornering scheme of 1869. Screw you Rand al'Thor, this is what fantasy should be like -- high finance and intrigue. What more could you want from a novel?(less)
The book definitely gets an "A" for effort, but it's strictly a "D" for quality. I like what the author was trying to do, but he just lacks the skill...moreThe book definitely gets an "A" for effort, but it's strictly a "D" for quality. I like what the author was trying to do, but he just lacks the skill to pull it off. He's trying for a deep psychological examination of a group of high school kids in a fantastical situation, but unfortunately all their issues are resolved too neatly, and the fantastical part of the plot get brushed aside in a manner as lame as Trelane's mum and dad showing up to scold him.(less)
All authors have drawers full of discarded ideas they can't make work as novels or short stories. Sometimes these works leak out after the author's de...moreAll authors have drawers full of discarded ideas they can't make work as novels or short stories. Sometimes these works leak out after the author's death when the estate decides to make a quick buck by publishing an unfinished manuscript -- or worse, hiring some hack to finish the manuscript. And sometimes an entrepreneurial author will make a quick buck off by sharecropping these ideas to some hack -- James Patterson, I'm looking at you.
But I have to give Kazuma Kamachi credit for coming up with the most unique use for his unused ideas. A Simple Survey is a collection of twenty-four vignettes -- essentially flash fiction -- involving weird ideas like, "What if ninjas got into an arms race?" and "What if someone wrote a computer virus that could hold conversations with users to convince them not to run AV software?" and "What if Superman, a magical girl and Super Sentai all tried to deal with a monster at the same time?" Most of the stories are hilarious -- one or two are horrifying -- but they all end enigmatically.
And if that were all there was to the book, it'd be a nice curiosity. But there's also a framing story at the beginning about a group of college students who've been asked to participate in a psych experiment. All they have to do is watch twenty-four films -- the short stories -- and then fill out a simple survey ranking them. By the time you get to the end of the stories, you've pretty much forgotten about the framing device, or if you do remember it, you figure it's unimportant.
But the stories end less than two-thirds of the way through the book, at which point the narrative shifts to Anzai, a freshman taking part in the survey for extra credit. He fell asleep after completing the form and is woken by a group of girls who are about to head out for coffee. They invite him along to discuss the whole thing and try to figure out the point of the experiment.
At this point you the reader are presented with a flow-chart asking you to choose which stories were better than others. When you reach the end of the chart you're given the name of one of the girls and instructions to turn to a specific page to find out what happens next. That's right, it's a choose-your-own-adventure novel, though this is the only branch point.
But if you're expecting a romance, you'll be sadly disappointed. What you'll find is that your rankings match one of the girls and this will cause you to go off with her to investigate some aspect of the set-up -- the mysterious professor behind the survey, who made the films, who the other survey participants are -- which will lead you into a bizarre, Twilight Zone story. Of course you have to read all the branches to understand what's going on (and even then there's room for a sequel), but it's fun to go the survey route the first time through.
I dunno, when I pick up a book called, "Bugs, Eyeballs and a Teddy Bear," I have certain expectations about the sort of disturbing imagery I'm going t...moreI dunno, when I pick up a book called, "Bugs, Eyeballs and a Teddy Bear," I have certain expectations about the sort of disturbing imagery I'm going to find inside. Those expectations do not include a surrealistic romantic comedy in the Bruce Campbell mode.
Our hero is Sakaki Guryuu, Sooper Genius. At age 19 he's already a Nobel-winning scientist, Olympic athlete, best-selling author, and a bunch of other stuff that would strain credibility even it wasn't coupled with everything else. Basically, he's Buckaroo Banzai's overachieving son. But one day he saves a teenage girl from drowning, falls in love and, in order to be near her until she reaches adulthood and he can properly woo her, he buys her high school and becomes her teacher.
This is not supposed to be creepy.
On his way home after school Sakaki encounters a fortune teller who warns him that the girl, Usagawa Rinne, is about to be murdered by a demon. He rushes to Rinne's apartment, but not in time to save her from a spoon-wielding girl. Yes, you read that right.
The demon murders Rinne with a spoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooon!
With a spoon.
But Rinne's not dead because PLOT.
And the demon isn't really a demon, but PLOT.
And the fortune teller isn't a fortune teler but rather, PLOT.
And the PLOT never quite decides whether it's a crazy comic book adventure or serious horror, so even though there are some neat ideas in the story, it's always derailed by the demon girl threatening people with her spoons.
This would work so much better with Patrick Warburton.
Japanese mystery fiction is an acquired taste. The Nihon version of the genre remains much more closely tied to its origins in the works of Poe and Wi...moreJapanese mystery fiction is an acquired taste. The Nihon version of the genre remains much more closely tied to its origins in the works of Poe and Wilkie Collins than its European and American counterparts -- indeed, horror in Japan is classified as part of the mystery genre, and books by the likes of Koji Suzuki and Ayatsuji Yukito are as much about figuring out what's going on as grisly supernatural murders.
But this also means that Japanese mysteries contain a number of elements that Westerners find off-putting, including unfair tactics like unreliable narrators and hiding vital, need-to-know information until the last minute.
The two novellas collected in this book definitely fit into this school of mystery fiction.
In the first we have a letter written by a man in prison to an ex-lover whom he blames for turning him into a murderer (if he is a murderer, which is an open question). This is the simpler of the two mysteries and gives us a simple, straightforward explanation. Except there are a number of subtle contradictions in the narrator's story which force you to question whether he's telling the truth about any of it.
The second story increases the complexity further by presenting a tale in which we get three contradictory accounts of the same incident -- but unlike Rashomon, these are not the accounts of three different people. One account appears to be more-or-less objective, but it only tells of the discovery of the murder. For the murder itself, we have only the accounts of the prime suspect and only witness, and they contradict each other on every single level. One is supposedly more accurate, but as in the first novella this is far from certain. No matter how you put the puzzle together, there are pieces left over and gaps in the picture -- what's with the detailed account of the Mahjong game? What was the moaning Ootera heard on the first floor? What exactly is the deal with Tomoda? Ultimately the definitive version of events raises as many questions as the others.
Amidst all this mystery, the story also contains a good deal of social satire. Hamao was a lawyer and he uses both tales to skewer his profession. He also attacks the misogyny of the early Showa Era when he wrote, with the motives in both cases raising serious questions about society's expectations for women and what constitutes proper sexuality.(less)
After a two year wait (plus an extra month for the Baka Tsuki translation), we finally have HakoMari 5. The previous volume ended on an ominous note -...moreAfter a two year wait (plus an extra month for the Baka Tsuki translation), we finally have HakoMari 5. The previous volume ended on an ominous note -- not a cliffhanger per se, but the hero, having betrayed his ideals to save the girl he loves, lies to her about what he did.
And now it's time for the consequences.
Daiya finally makes a move with his box, The Shadow of Sin -- you know, the one he's had since volume 2 -- and he uses it to destroy sin. And turn sinners into his zombie slaves. Except for the ones who are too sinful. He just turns them into dogs. Naturally Kazuki and Maria try to stop him, but things don't work out exactly as planned due to the fact that Daiya, unlike every previous box owner, has actually thought out how he's going to use it.
The nice thing about this volume is that virtually all the major cast members from previous volumes come back and play major roles (except the two lame-o villains from volume 2 whose names I can't even remember) -- Kokone, Haruaki, Iroha, Yuuri Yanagi. Even Kamiuchi overcomes being dead to make an appearance. The major mysteries introduced in the last two books -- Rino and Nana Yanagi -- also play a significant role this time around, though they aren't resolved, and a new mystery is added regarding Kokone's past.
There are only two bad things about this book:
1) It ends on a major cliffhanger, and 2) The next installment (which I hope doesn't take two years) looks to be the last.(less)
Well that's a big improvement over the last two volumes if for no other reason than the story ditches the girl-in-danger plot that plagued the ALO arc...moreWell that's a big improvement over the last two volumes if for no other reason than the story ditches the girl-in-danger plot that plagued the ALO arc. Of course, in doing so it also ditches Asuna, who only gets a cameo at the beginning. Instead the story focuses on a new girl, Shino/Sinon, who plays the virtual FPS, Gun Gale Online.
Kirito enters GGO at the behest of the government to track down a player who can seemingly murder people in the real world by shooting them in the game. Ah, finally SAO brings back the peril. It's not like the Aincrad days when tens of thousands of lives were at stake, but the story needs some real world consequences to have any meaning.(less)
On the whole this is a fun fast paced read, but it suffers from the same problem as the previous volume -- Asuna is reduced to the status of Princess...moreOn the whole this is a fun fast paced read, but it suffers from the same problem as the previous volume -- Asuna is reduced to the status of Princess Peach waiting for Mario to rescue her from King Koopa -- who again tries to get all rapey with her. She does manage to escape once, but she's of course recaptured since we can't have a female protagonist saving herself.
That would just be lame. I mean, the damsel-in-distress trope has been with us for thousands of years. Why change a good thing? And just to make sure Asuna learns her lesson about being a strong feminist figure, she's threatened with an extra helping of rapeyness with added tentacles.
Reki, Reki, Reki.
How can you take a kick ass character and reduce her to this? Yeah, she does manage to contribute to her escape in one important way, but ultimately she has to rely on her boyfriend to save the day. Lame.
At least the other female character in the book gets to kick some major ass. Sugouha FTW. If only Lizbet and Silica had had a chance to get in on the action, it would've been awesome enough to make up for Asuna's depowering.