The Yellow Scarves arc was one of the draggier bits of the anime, so it's a relief to discover that the original novel version is much tighter and tenThe Yellow Scarves arc was one of the draggier bits of the anime, so it's a relief to discover that the original novel version is much tighter and tenser. Which is weird because the novel doesn't have any of the subplots where we see individual Dollars getting hunted, or when Horoda's goons chase after Anri. Instead the book is tightly focused on Kida and his backstory. He screwed up two years ago, and no matter how lighthearted and flippant he acts nowadays, he's still haunted by that past. The stakes here aren't a gang war and the destruction of the Dollars (though that's certainly present), but Kida's very soul, and that makes for a better story. Narita really gets into Kida's head as things spiral out of control and he has to decide whether to run away or make a stand that could cost him dear....more
The first entry in Mori's S&M (view spoiler)[Get your mind out of the gutter -- S and M are the initials of the main characters, Souhei and Moe (hThe first entry in Mori's S&M (view spoiler)[Get your mind out of the gutter -- S and M are the initials of the main characters, Souhei and Moe (hide spoiler)] mystery series (view spoiler)[The series that the anime The Perfect Insider is based upon (hide spoiler)] to get an English release is a short side story. The plot is minimal -- Moe throws a dinner party and asks Souhei to talk about something interesting. He offers an architectural mystery about an Indian pagoda carved out of the Earth, but with its finial carved into the ground next to it instead of from the roof where it belongs. The other guests offer theories; Souhei tears each one apart before revealing the truth.
So basically this is a story about being stuck at a party with one of those annoying guys who tell long and drawn out stories that never come to a point.
The translations from BBB are slowly getting better, but they're still stiff and contain too many signs the translator doesn't speak English as a first language, such as pluralizing collective nouns ("architectures"). I applaud their efforts in bringing more J-lit across the Pacific, and I know they can't be making much money off this, but they really need to hire a copy editor.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
The original SAO is such a frustrating series. The premise is golden: 10,000 people trapped inside a virtual reality MMORPG with no way out but to defThe original SAO is such a frustrating series. The premise is golden: 10,000 people trapped inside a virtual reality MMORPG with no way out but to defeat the game's final boss -- but if their character dies along the way, their brain gets fried in real life as well. The initial set of characters kick ass -- Klein the elite guildmaster who leads his men through countless battles without any casualties, Agil the trader who keeps the front lines supplied with the best weapons, and Asuna an amazing female warrior who inspires loyalty in all who follow her.
The first problem with the series was that none of those guys were the hero. Instead we were given Kirito, who, despite the author's attempts to make him a dark and brooding character with a troubled pass, was overpowered almost to the point of being a Mary Sue. Worse still, as the story wore on all the cool characters fell by the wayside. Klein pretty much disappeared after the first book, Agil after the fourth, and though Asuna stuck around she was depowered and turned into a damsel in distress (complete with threats of rape, both by a skeevy villain and a VR tentacle monster). In their place, Kirito was introduced to a series of other female characters (even when we're flat out told the game is like 90% dudes) all of whom fall in love with him, which, combined with his ever increasing skillset, pushed him over into the realm of pure Mary Sue.
But even that wasn't the worst part of the series. No, the worst part was that the series abandoned it's premise after the second book. The first volume was written for a literary contest which required the story to stand on it's own, so the author skipped straight from the set-up to the climax. He hinted at all sorts of cool adventures that took place in the intervening period, but they didn't appear in the first volume. The second book was a bunch of short stories that filled in some of the gaps (though not all -- we've still never had a proper account of the Laughing Coffin Crusade), but then the story moves on with Kirito entering other VR games. But with the threat of death removed, the story lost everything that made the first book interesting. The writer came up with new threats to make up for this, but none of them ever equaled the initial concept.
Which brings us to Progressive, the author's attempt to reboot SAO and retell the story of the original death game from beginning to end. (Well, almost. He skips straight to the end of the first level, so if you want to understand the setup, you still need to read the first book. Or at least watch the first episode of the anime.)
Does he succeed?
In parts. The tension's definitely back. There are hints of things to come, including what looks like a hint about the origin of The Laughing Coffins, a secret society that murders other players later in the series. And instead of the frontline players being a unified front, there are fractious relations between various cliques which threaten to destabilize everything. (There are also a lot fewer frontliners since most players are still working to level-up to a point where they have a chance of surviving.)
But Kirito's over-poweredness is still present, and the author never acknowledges that some of the people who don't like him have good reason. His attitude, while it makes some sense in context, is pretty assholish. Klein is one of the players still leveling up, so he only gets a couple passing mentions, and Agil's presence is little more than a cameo, though he does demonstrate bits of awesomeness. We do get a few new characters who look like they're going to be long runners, and although Argo the Rat flirts with becoming a founding member of Kirito's harem, she manages to remain an independent female character.
And then there's Asuna. Because this is a reboot her character isn't yet a fantastic warrior queen. In fact, at the start of the story she's a newb who needs basic game concepts explained to her. She's not weak, though, and proves herself capable of fighting on the frontlines through her sheer willpower, and there are already hints of her eventual development. Frustratingly, though the author's turned her into a tsundere. Thankfully she's the kind who's mostly nice and only occasionally goes into tsun-tsun mode, but those occasions are still too many, especially when it's presented as, "Oh, she's mad at Kirito! Isn't that endearing?"
The translation of this volume is a big step up from the original SAO's first volume. I recently came across an interview with the translator where he says he started out in manga, which is of course 90% dialogue and internal monologue, so when he moved to prose fiction he faced a learning curve with descriptive passage. He's also the translator on Durarara!!, and the first volume of that also had a nice, smooth translation....more
The main story here is better than the first book, with some interesting character work going on. Unfortunately the main story is (a) only about a hunThe main story here is better than the first book, with some interesting character work going on. Unfortunately the main story is (a) only about a hundred pages long, and (b) not so much a story as a sketch that ends without any real resolution. Everything's banging along, some interesting mysteries are set up and then -- STOP! Whatever the big secret is behind the story, Jin is saving for some future volume. Which I could live with if we had some resolution elsewhere, but no, we're left hanging.
To make matters worse, after the main story concludes, the narrative switches back to the characters from the first book. They don't do anything other than hang around an amusement park for fifty pages. There are some wacky antics, but just like the wacky antics in the first book it's not very interesting. Or perhaps it's more accurate to say the characters aren't very interesting.
At least this volume shows signs that the story is going somewhere, but it'd be nice if it was going there a little faster....more
So this is yet another addition to the geeky-loser-gets-trapped-in-an-RPG-inspired-fantasy-world-where-he-becomes-a-super-awesome-hero genre. When SAOSo this is yet another addition to the geeky-loser-gets-trapped-in-an-RPG-inspired-fantasy-world-where-he-becomes-a-super-awesome-hero genre. When SAO popularized the trope, there was at least a vaguely plausible explanation for how it happened and why the world operated according to artificial game mechanics. When Log Horizon took the idea and ran with it, the lack of explanation was a deliberate part of the mystery. But now we're onto third order imitations, the trope's become so codified that authors aren't bothering to explain it. Just like people in zombie movies know the rules of zombie movies even though it doesn't make any logical sense that the rules of zombie movies would apply to the zombies they're encountering, now the fact that parallel universes operate exactly like an RPG is taken for granted by authors.
In Rising of the Shield Hero, the characters who get sucked into the alternate universe are so accustomed to the concept that they don't even need it explained to them -- they immediately assume that they're there as heroes of destiny who must defeat some evil force before they'll be allowed to return home, because of course that's how it always works. As such the opening chapters of the book proceed in a downright sketchy manner, with the author assuming the audience understands the situation as well as the characters and not bothering to fill in the details beyond what's specific to this universe.
Each of the four heroes summoned to this universe is granted a legendary weapon -- one receives a sword, another a spear, and a third a bow. The main character, however, is stuck with a shield. Its powers are nerfed to the point that it takes him an hour to club a level-1 monster to death with it. Everyone else figures Naofumi, the Shield Hero, is going to be totally useless, and one of the other heroes frames him for a crime in order to steal Naofumi's money and equipment.
Left penniless, bitter and armed only with his shield, Naofumi has to claw his way up from nothing. This is where the story does separate itself from others in the genre. Rather than being a Gary Stu like Kirito, Naofumi really sucks, and his response to his situation is morally ambiguous. Perhaps a little too morally ambiguous. Once he saves up some money, he goes out and buys a slave. He can't afford much, so he ends up with a sickly little girl. He does feed her and get her nice and healthy, but he does so with the intent of turning her into a warrior companion. And if she dies, he can always get a new slave.
Now maybe there's a cultural difference at work here. Japan doesn't have the same relationship with slavery as the US, so maybe over there this whole concept doesn't have quite the same baggage, but as an American I can't help but read the book with a sick feeling in my stomach the whole time.
The writing is downright amateurish. This was first published as a webnovel and at times it reads more like a blog post than a novel. Several characters, notably the weapon shop owner who appears repeatedly throughout the story, never get names but are simply referred to by job-descriptors, almost as though they really are NPCs in games. On the positive side, though, this does make for much clearer writing than some other LNs I've read. This being One Peace Books, the proofreading leaves something to be desired (the word "adventurers" is misprinted as "adventures" several times, for instance)....more
I described the first book in this series as being like Groundhog Day as written by Philip K. Dick. I take that back.
THIS volume is like GrHoly. Hell.
I described the first book in this series as being like Groundhog Day as written by Philip K. Dick. I take that back.
THIS volume is like Groundhog Day written by Philip K. Dick.
You remember that part in the middle of the movie where Phil goes a little crazy and starts trying to kill himself? That's this entire book. Only it's much, much worse. This series has been pretty dark from the get-go, but this volume surpasses everything, even the Game of Idleness arc. And despite that, Mikage still nails the ending in a way that's completely satisfying....more
What this world needs is more fantasy novels where the climax involves sitting around a conference table talking. I'm serious -- people putting asideWhat this world needs is more fantasy novels where the climax involves sitting around a conference table talking. I'm serious -- people putting aside their differences to come up with a workable solution to their problems is so much better than the bloody hack-and-slash that so many fantasy authors fall back upon because they have no imagination beyond fighting....more
I think it took me five years to finish this book. Seriously, I've had the fan translation from Baka Tsuki on my Kindle almost as long as I've had a KI think it took me five years to finish this book. Seriously, I've had the fan translation from Baka Tsuki on my Kindle almost as long as I've had a Kindle, but when I tried to read it I stalled out a quarter of the way in. When the official English version came out, I picked that up thinking it might be a better read, but I stalled out at exactly the same point (when Kamijou comes home and finds Stiyl waiting for him). Hell, I even tried the anime and got bored at that point.
There's just something about the opening to the series that's boring.
But I love the Railgun spinoff manga, so I didn't want to give up. Finally I decided to power through the story.
And you know what -- the story finally kicks into gear a few pages after the point I gave up.
The book's never going to win any literary awards, and certainly not with this translation (which is only marginally better than the one from BT), but Kamijou is a fun hero, determined enough to be likeable but unskilled enough that he's legitimately in danger (unlike the hero of a certain other light novel series), and I'll admit that even after reading Railgun, the twist at the end of this volume blindsided me. It certainly makes Kamijou a very different character than I thought he was....more
Yamaha created a musical voice-synth program called Vocaloid, which is super popular with amateur musicians in Japan. The best Vocaloid producers can create songs that sound like they're performed by humans with just a bit of autotuning. The different voice-banks even have their own characters (Hatsune Miku being the most popular) with personalities imagined by the fans. There's even a 3D rendering program designed specifically to make music videos with different Vocaloids.
Jin's Kagerou Project is just one of the many albums to come out of the Vocaloid boom, and it's spun off its own multi-media franchise, with the album supplemented by music videos, an anime and this, the first in a series of novels that expand upon the stories of the song.
Really there are two stories here. The first is about Shintaro Kisaragi, an unemployed shut-in whose only "human" contact is a computer virus that takes the form of an annoying girl on his PC. When he accidentally spills soda on his keyboard during a holiday weekend, he has no choice but to venture out to a shopping mall and buy a new one. But wouldn't you know, this happens to be the weekend when the mall gets taken over by terrorists who threaten to blow everything up if they don't receive ten million dollars within the next half hour.
The second story concerns Shintaro's sister Momo, a budding idol who is cursed to attract attention wherever she goes, literally sparking riots just by walking down the street. Momo gets abducted by a crazy cult full of people with similar special powers. Together they'll ... do something wacky.
At this point in the series, it's not really clear where this is all going. There's lots of mysterious set-up, but the payoff at the end of the book doesn't live up to the hype. Things aren't complicated because they're complicated; the author's just making them seem complicated to hide the fact that the story is straightforward and nothing much happens (really, I think there are five scenes in the whole novel)....more
Remember that old Joan Obsorne song? You know, the one that goes,
What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us Just a stranger on the bus
This boRemember that old Joan Obsorne song? You know, the one that goes,
What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us Just a stranger on the bus
This book is like that, only replace God with the Devil.
You see the Demon Lord Satan has been trying to take over the realm of Ente Isla, but just as he was on the verge of victory, a hero appeared amongst the humans of the Western Continent, a woman named Emiliana who vanquished Satan's general Lucifer and drove his forces back to their homeland. Faced with defeat, Satan and his general Alciel escaped through a portal to another world.
But they miscalculated and landed in modern Tokyo. With no money and cut off from the source of their magic, the two have few options available. Satan gets a job at McDonalds -- er, I'm sorry, "MgRonalds," where he hopes to work his way up from lowly part-time stooge to a shift supervisor, manager, and eventually district manager. With careful planning, he's certain he can someday rise high enough in the company to take over the world. Bwa-ha-ha-ha!
As evil plans go, I've heard worse.
But unfortunately for him, the Hero Emiliana has also found her way to this world, and she's managed to get a job in a tech support call center, thus proving that in whatever world they're in, she is better than him.
The story isn't exactly Lord of the Rings -- it's not even The Wheel of Time -- but it's entertaining enough to pass a few hours. Truthfully it'd be a lot better if it focused on the slice of life elements, but the author throws in some fantasy action that takes up way too much of the story without being that compelling. Satan taking orders from customers -- awesome. Satan fighting a wizard -- I might as well be reading Jim Butcher....more
First. I don't know if it's the author or the translator. But this book. Is written with a weird. Prose style. With lots of choppy ........ sentences.First. I don't know if it's the author or the translator. But this book. Is written with a weird. Prose style. With lots of choppy ........ sentences. And ............. excessively long ellipses. It's. Annoying.
There are these two kids. Brother and sister. They are the best gamers in the world. Not the best at any one game. The best at everything. Pac-Man. WoW. Civ. They've even beaten Deep Blue. At chess. One day they get sucked. To an alternate universe. Where wars are settled through games. And humanity is on the verge. Of losing. Everything. The two kids must. Take over the human. Kingdom. And become heroes. By winning games.
These kinds of stories. They're called "isekai". It means "Another World". They've been popular in Japan. Recently. They aren't too different. From American fantasy in the 70s and 80s. Thomas Covenant, all that shit. Except. The heroes in isekai stories. Are always computer geeks. Who are really good at. RPGs. Which inexplicably translates to. Mad skillz in. A fantasy setting. Not all these stories are shit. Log Horizon is cool. But this. Is shit....more
Mizuki Nomura was right -- Osamu Dazai is far funnier than people give him credit for. This is a guy who attempted suicide five times -- three of themMizuki Nomura was right -- Osamu Dazai is far funnier than people give him credit for. This is a guy who attempted suicide five times -- three of them double suicides, two of which left his partner dead and one of which left him dead -- and whose most famous book is about a guy who spends two hundred pages talking about his existential angst before committing suicide, so it's understandable that people tend to think of him as a Gloomy Gus. But as Nomura points out in her novel Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime, this is an incomplete portrait, a mere caricature of Dazai. In truth Dazai managed to be happy at many points in his life, and it's reflected in his works.
Of the seven stories in this volume, four qualify as comedies -- some more than others, but all definitely on the humorous side -- and a fifth is whimsical.
The collection is book-ended by two stories that are little more than jokes. The first is an amusing anecdote about a woman whose husband is temporarily impotent due to a surgery, and will certainly bring a smile to your face as you start the book. The last, however, is rather like the best man at a wedding getting up to give a toast only to let out a loud, smelly fart. The story plays out like something profound is going to happen, building up and up to a tender moment of emotional revelation, but when we get there Dazai pulls the rug out from under us and stands there laughing. Normally the author and reader conspire together to laugh at the characters; seldom does the author make the reader feel like the butt of the joke, but that's exactly what Dazai manages.
The title story is probably the most famous, a tale of a condemned man who receives leave to attend his sister's wedding if a friend will stand as a hostage to be executed if the man fails to return in three days. All goes well until the man has to return for his execution and suddenly finds himself beset by everything from a hangover, to a flooded river, to bandits. It's cute, it's fun, but I'm not sure it stands up to its reputation.
"One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji," is a play on all the various collections of woodprints of Mount Fuji, but Dazai begins by undercutting his subject, complaining that the artists always depict Fuji with a sharp, acute peak, when in reality it's an obtuse 120 degrees, something the average Tibetan would consider bland and unremarkable. Dazai goes on to describe various views he's had of Mount Fuji throughout his life. One of the first he mentions is a dingy apartment he used to live in where he could see Fujisan through his bathroom window every morning when he went to take a leak. Most of the views in the story come from a sabbatical he took in Misaka Pass, where his work was constantly disturbed by tourists coming through to catch a glimpse of the mountain.
The wistful story, which may be a ghost story or it may not, is a sweet tale about a young woman trying to make her terminally ill sister happy in her last days. It's very sweet, but the is-it-a-ghost thing feels a little forced.
Of the non-humorous stories, we have "Eight Views of Tokyo," which is a brief biographical sketch detailing Dazai's various suicide attempts up till that point in life. In many ways this seems to be a rough draft of No Longer Human, though with none of the fictional touches. Given the lack of biographies of Dazai in English, this is well worth reading for the details of his life, even if it does end a decade before his death.
The other serious story is "Schoolgirl," which I'm glad I found here since it's also available in a grossly overpriced standalone edition. The story's set during World War II and follows a schoolgirl through her daily life, from the moment she wakes up in the morning to when she crawls into bad at night. Yes, you may have thought the Japanese obsession with the lives of schoolgirls was something unique to anime, but in fact it has much deeper roots. Nothing really happens in the story, and despite the time frame in which it's set, most of the protagonist's worries are things that are still relevant today.
Sadly, this book isn't published in the United States, or any other Anglophone country for that matter. No, it's put out by Kodansha Japan as a way of helping Japanese speakers learn English. It's not a pure bilingual edition, but the last forty pages are devoted to endnotes comparing the English text to the original and explaining various idioms. But thanks to Amazon, there are plenty of used copies available in the US....more
This is a real curate's egg of a book -- parts of it are excellent, but it's mixed in with all the bits that aren't.
The first and last parts of the boThis is a real curate's egg of a book -- parts of it are excellent, but it's mixed in with all the bits that aren't.
The first and last parts of the book deal with a serial killer who's murdered three children in the Chofu neighborhood of Tokyo. Some ass hats on a 2chan type message board, inspired by Sakakibara Seito, jump to the conclusion that the killer must be a young teen, and so set out to kick the ass of all the middle schoolers in Chofu. No, it doesn't make any damn sense, but have you seen the shit 4chan gets up to?
Unfortunately while all this interesting stuff is going on, we're stuck in the head of a vapid teenage girl who is utterly oblivious to everything around her until the shit hits the fan -- or, more accurately, until the spinning motion of the fan blades flicks a bit of shit at her, forcing her to take notice. And even then she keeps getting distracted by thoughts of cute guys. And not even like in crappy YA novels where the heroine is always ignoring dangerous situations to think about the cute guy who's right next to her. No, no, no, our alleged protagonist is constantly thinking about how she might use the situation to lure the guy she likes over.
Oh, and did I mention that there's a guy she slept with -- not the guy she likes, but just some guy she was curious to fuck -- who goes missing and may or may not be a victim of the serial killer. Oh, no, actually I didn't forget that. The book did. That plotline gets dropped about a quarter of the way into the story, and when it's brought up again, it's like it's a thing that happened but nobody cares.
There's also some stuff about psychic powers that makes no sense, comes out of nowhere, and doesn't fit the tone of the story at all.
So, what's the good part? Well, the middle third of the book is a series of short stories that turn out to kinda be related to what's going on, but really feel like the author needed to pad things out to novel length and stuck on a couple incomplete manuscripts. One is a trippy dream sequence where the nature of reality shifts about at random like Naked Lunch, and would be very cool if it ended up somewhere interesting. The better of the stories is a fairy tale -- in the most twisted, unexpurgated tradition of the Grimms -- about a group of kids lost in an evil forest. This felt like a cross between Angela Carter's more whacked-out stories and Ralph Adam Cram's The Dead Valley. If it had been published separtely, I'd give it four stars, but mixed in here, it's only able to bring the book up to two....more
Though I'd prefer the final volume of HakoMari, finding a new (to English) book by Eiji Mikage on Baka Tsuki is certainly a cause for celebration. TheThough I'd prefer the final volume of HakoMari, finding a new (to English) book by Eiji Mikage on Baka Tsuki is certainly a cause for celebration. The HakoMari series has always been a bit out there compared to other light novels (perhaps why it's never received an anime adaptation), so it shouldn't be a surprise that this is only classed as an LN by dint of being published by Dengeki Bunko (sort of the inverse of Biblia). The book doesn't even come with illustrations, not even for the cover. It'd be most apt to classify it as J-horror, in the style of Koji Suzuki, Yukito Ayatsuji and especially Otsuichi.
The book actually consists of four linked short stories, each told from the perspective of a disturbed individual, and each in a distinct mode of genre. The first, "Fumi Saito" is classic shoujo manga with an unjustly bullied heroine, while the third is obviously inspired by Kiyoshi Kurosawa's film Kairo (released in the US as Pulse, but not to be confused with the awful American remake of that name). Each protagonist in turn encounters a mysterious figure known as "Kamisu Reina" who ... well, not to give too much away, but knowing her tends to be hazardous to your health.
Exactly what Kamisu Reina is is left vague. The final story seems to give some answer, but the degree to which this answer is true is up for debate. There is a sequel which presumably provides more closure to the mysteries raised in this volume, but it is as yet untranslated....more
Now that the expositions out of the way, the series can finally get down with the the totally epic ... civics.
Yes, this is a series in which the heroNow that the expositions out of the way, the series can finally get down with the the totally epic ... civics.
Yes, this is a series in which the hero saves the day by opening a fast food restaurant, securing a loan, and buying real estate, which gives him enough clout to call a constitutional convention and start a government. Even the one fight scene in the book is equivalent to a sysadmin taking away someone's user privileges. And it is awesome....more