All You Need Is KILL

Posted by DiGiKerot in Novels at August 31, 2009 on 8:34 pm

I find myself in something of a quandary here. Typically, I tend to like to write about the translated novels I read. Well, all the translated novels I read which aren’t Vampire Hunter D – I don’t even want to think about where to start writing about those.

I’ve also made it known already that I’ve been reading All You Need Is KILL, by Yoku Wakaru Gendai Mahou author Hiroshi Sakurazaka – well, “read” more than “reading” – I finished the thing a week ago. Done, dusted and stuck on that big pile of books I have lined up against the wall, having ran out of shelf space.

So, yes, it’s procrastination time once again. I’ve ran into what seems to be the same problem that Omo had writing about the book, that being that Joe Iglesias review at Eastern Standard says pretty much all you’d want to say about it in a nice, compact form. There’s nothing more to add on the subject, really.

Which leaves me wondering what on earth I’m supposed to write about it, given that I don’t want to merely rehash what Joe has written. I’ve already had my say on the whole Haikasoru line as well, so I don’t even have that to fall back onto like Omo. I didn’t even do anything weird, like reading the chapters in the order displayed by the flowchart in the front of the book rather than in the order that they’re presented. Maybe I’ll save that for a re-read at some point next year.

This pretty much just leaves me with nothing to do but, like seemingly everyone else, register my approval of the book. It’s good stuff.

xxxHolic – AnotherHolic (Novel)

Posted by DiGiKerot in Novels at August 16, 2009 on 12:05 pm

I like xxxHolic. I’ve been reading the manga since Del Rey started publishing their English print of the series all those years back.

I also like Nisioisin. Minor translation niggles aside, I really liked Zaregoto (insert usual bitching about the second volumes non-release). I also really like Magical Girl Risuka, and his Death Note book was good as well.

You’d forgive me, then for making the assumption that Nisioisin writing a xxxHolic novel would be like combining two fantastic tastes into one. Except in this case, the tastes are like bananas and Hobnobs. Not chocolate Hobnobs, obviously – those are an abomination unto one of the finest tea-dunking biscuits in existence – but regular Hobnobs. Anyway, Hobnobs and bananas taste great on their own, but spliced together?

Surprisingly not bad, actually – a chunk of banana sandwiched between two Hobnobs and dunked into a hot cup of coffee is, astonishingly, something of a taste sensation. Or a hideous concoction that only I’d subject myself to. Either way, it’s possibly not the best of examples, as AnotherHolic really isn’t all that good.

To be honest, whilst I think Nisioisin tried his best with this, I don’t think xxxHolic is particularly suited to be taken to a non-visual format. I think the big issue is that Watanuki is really more of a photogenic character than he is an interesting one – most of his personality tends to come across in his wildly flailing reactions rather than his dialogue. His other defining character traits are his spazzing over Himawari, and his irrational hatred of Doumeki, yet presumably in an attempt to minimize the chances of doing anything overly out-of-canon, neither appear in the book.

Which leaves Nisioisin with a main character bereft of of all that makes him entertaining to work with. This is problematic, as Nisioisin tends to write really quirky characters who’d come up with the kind of dialogue that Watanuki never would, and the result of something of a bizarro-world Watanuki who has something of a distracting ability to suddenly do character breaking things like discussing the cast of Pani Poni Dash. Otherwise, he’s just pretty boring, and Watanuki really can’t carry the book.

Which means it comes down to Yuko to try and save the affair, which is fine whilst she’s in a more playful mood. These are not story-progression-centric xxxHolic stories, though, and much like the same kind of one-off stories in the manga, they are ultimately punctuated with Yuko having to explain everything that’s been going on to Watanuki. What you end up getting is a combination of what was typically a fairly dialogue-heavy chunk of manga, with a heavy dialogue-heavy author, resulting in pages and pages of dialgoue which is more tedious than anything, as it reiterates points that anyone with a passing familiarity with xxxHolic (basically anyone who would want to read this manga) would have likely already figured out.

Which is pretty much endemic of the entire book – Nisioisin manages to make each of the stories presented here start interesting enough, but eventually each is shackled down by the conventions of xxxHolic to the point which reading it becomes more chore-like than interesting. The final of the three stories in the book at least tries to break xxxHolic formula somewhat – the other two are pretty atypical of the franchise, with the first having been used as the basis of an episode of the anime – but it’s not enough to save the book.

Then there are the issues coming from the rendering of the story in English. I don’t mean that there’s translation issues as such – Andrew Cunningham has done as good a job as is likely possible, and is certainly deserving of praise for actually managing to get the shiritori to read relatively naturally – rather there’s things in here which just don’t translate at all.

The books second story, about a girl who is receiving text messages from her dead friend, has a set-up similar to a more traditional mystery novel. The problem is that a key point relating to what is going is something that you literally can’t work out in English even once the solution is revealed (to the point where the books footnotes tell you as much). Whilst there’s story reasons why things have to be rendered as they were, there’s nothing that exterminates all the fun of a mystery story more than being told that one of the clues is effectively invalid for you.

Omo on Iglesias on All You Need Is Kill

Posted by DiGiKerot in Novels at August 14, 2009 on 6:07 pm

Omo writes about All You Need Is Kill, or more specifically writes about it as an excuse to point towards Joe Iglesias’ review at Eastern Standard. From what the pair of them are saying, it sounds like Viz have done a pretty good job of misrepresenting the book, which is probably exactly what they were aiming to do.

Not that I particularly don’t understand why Viz would want to take such a tact. Many another publisher has tried to market these novel translations – light and otherwise – to either the manga audience, or else the general teen audience, and have failed dismally at every attempt. Even the Viz publication of the Shana novels lasted but two volumes. I guess the term “Light Novel” has become something of a dirty word with both a lot of readers and with retailers. The attempt to promote these things as promote these books as something that straddles some fine line between reading manga and the gruelling task of reading an actual book failed to generate any kind of interest amongst all but a few.

It’s understandable how we got there, too – Boogiepop aside (and that line on the Haikasoru blog was a low blow), most of these publishers have done a remarkable job of putting their worst foot forward. The move to release books either based on recognisable properties or with well-known manga artists attached resulted in some really terrible books being published under Tokyopop’s PopFiction range, and some of the stuff they released before that imprint when they launched their original novel line managed to be even worse (Yes, I did read Clamp Paranormal Investigators…). When Strawberry Panic was genuinely the best book amongst the titles Seven Seas re-launched their novel lines with, you know there’s a problem there.

Then there was the horrific mishandling of those titles that were actually good – randomly dropping paragraphs from Crest of the Stars and hoping that no-one buying the books notices really isn’t a good way to endear yourself to the people you hope are actually going to buy your books. Then there was the whole Kino situation…

Things started to turn for the better once we started getting more original works, but that just happened to coincide with The Great B&M Purge, where Tokyopop was forced to kill the release anything without the words “Fruit” or “Basket” in it’s title to absorb costs. There’s really nothing like murdering a series midway to stop people buying them until it’s fully released.

So with Haikasoru, Viz’s new novel imprint, it’s entirely understandable that they’d be trying as hard as possible to distance themselves from the pulpy light-novel fair, that’s been proven time and again not to sell, by ensuring we all know that these are proper books of non-trifling content, and definitely not light novels.

Even if some of them are.

Funny thing is (which isn’t really funny), it’s had pretty much the opposite effect on me – I’ve known these book have been available for a week or so already, yet uncharacteristically I’ve neglected to pick them up. I think the issue is that, these days, I end up doing most of my reading during my lunch break at work, and the last thing I want to be reading is something that requires too much thought or feels like a chore. The general writing style and tone of the novels being put out by most of the other publishers (light novel or not) has been a pretty good mesh for the kind of thing I’m looking for. The publicity that Haikasoru has been putting forward makes me think that those books aren’t.

Which is why I’ve been waiting for reviews from the types of people who normally read the manga publishers novel translations in order to find out if they’re really the kind of western-styled Fantasy/SF fodder that Lord of Sands of Time appears to actually be – I have perfectly good books of the genre lying around unread already. It does sound like KILL fits somewhat into that mould from what Omo is saying, but both he and Joe use the magic word “Pulp”, which is enough to at least pique my interest. (Digitalboy has reviewed the book as well, by the way).

I guess I’ll read All You Need Is Kill as soon as Amazon gets around to sending me them, or else I get to a bookstore which sells these things. Suppose I’ll get Sands of Time whilst I’m at it as well.

Have I said how much I’m looking forward to Zoo?

Moribito II – Guardian of the Darkness (Novel)

Posted by DiGiKerot in Novels at August 7, 2009 on 8:14 pm

I’m going to preface this by mentioning that I’ve not seen a single episode of the anime Moribito. I’ve got the first two DVDs that Media Blasters put out an age ago, but right now they’re just buried under the ever increasing pile of unviewed media I have building infront of the tellybox. There’s really nothing like a protracted gap of indeterminate length in a release schedule to completely destroy any interest one has in watching something.

I mention this because, as I mentioned when I reviewed the Haruhi book, overfamiliarity with a properties anime adaptation kind of have a habit of rendering a read through of the original novel something of a tedious experience. With that said, just bare in mind that everything I’m saying here is from a position of not really knowing about the content of the book I was going into.

Which probably makes this useless for everyone reading.

Although saying that, I don’t really have a vast amount to say about the book anyway.

After the events of the first book, Balsa returns to her home country with the intention of meeting with the family of her deceased foster father. It turns out, however, that there was even more to their rapid departure from the country all those years ago that even she had believed. Which, whilst bad for Balsa, is probably just as well – it’d have been something of a short and uneventful book if it was just Balsa having a short chat and a pleasant cup of tea.

As the Scholastic label it’s printed under perhaps suggests, Moribito does skew rather younger than most of the novels we tend to see making their way to the English-reading world. It doesn’t place any huge demands on it’s readership – it doesn’t expect you to keep track of multiple factions and their motivations, it doesn’t have any overlapping timeline weirdness, you aren’t expected to have to mentally process any bizarre, non-sensical philosophical nonsense, and it certainly doesn’t require any arcane otaku knowledge.

Not that any of this is especially negative, I’m just saying that you shouldn’t expect anything staggeringly complex out of it. Infact, it probably all works to Moribitos benefit anyway – it’s hard to complain too much about the stories single-tracked nature when it constantly moves forwards with such breathless momentum. Nahoko Uehashi doesn’t really mince her words – there’s nothing here that comes across as wasted or merely existing to pad out the running time. It’s somewhat refreshing, truthfully – it’s nothing that’s going to stick with me, but whilst it lasts, it’s a brisk, yet fun, read, and not in the slightest bit a chore or tedious.

Though this brings me back around to where I started, though – would it have been as entertaining if I’d seen the anime first? Probably – the anime didn’t actually go past the first novel, so the entire opening section of this review was kind of pointless. It does all hold true for the first book, though, and I did fail to actually write a lengthy review of that one.

Presentation wise, there’s not really much to say about this release – as you’d probably expect from a non-niche publisher, it’s impeccable. It’s a nice hardcover volume with a beautiful dust cover. The page layout is good. The print quality on both the text and the images is perfect, and the paper quality is excellent. It’s a fair cry from the oft-embarrassing paperbacks Tokyopop often put out. It’s just kind of a shame that all this means it’s rather more pricey than the kind of audience this material should really be reaching (the tween market) would probably consider being worth it for such a book. I’m sure it’ll come out as a paperback eventually, but I guess it’s not like it’ll get any more promotion than the hardback release got anyways (heck, I completely missed it’s release until it was raised on a forum I read).

Faust Volume 2

Posted by DiGiKerot in Novels at July 18, 2009 on 4:17 pm

You know, I’m kind of surprised that this actually got released.

This isn’t me being negative about the content, rather that the first volume came out in August last year and has since done an exceedingly good job of consuming shelf space at my local bookstores. As much as I’d like to think that was due to constant reordering to meet demand, I rather more pessimistically suspect that it’s more to do with them not being able to sell the stock they have. I’m also under the impression that much of the material presented in this second volume has been translated for quite some time, making me think that the original release schedule was a little more ambitious.

Then there’s the situation with rest of Del Reys novel line, which is that there really isn’t any clear indication as to what is actually going on. They’ve pretty much gone quiet on the Garden of Sinners front (last I heard is that it’d been given to a translator other than Paul Johnson, who’d done the chapter for Faust volume 1, though that was because the new translator spoke out rather than Del Rey saying anything). The Kouhei Kadono book Case of the Dragon Slayer, which had originally been announced as a February ’09 release, has disappeared from Del Reys online listings, but is either listed as being released in two weeks or two years time depending on which online store you look at. It’s a similar case for The Kubishime Romanticist, the second Zaregoto book. Even this volume of Faust pretty much just snuck up on us – if I wasn’t relatively proactive when it comes to checking new releases at some online stores, I’d have probably missed it.

Still, it is nice that it’s actually out, though I worry about this volumes sales potential even more than the first volumes – it doesn’t have Type Moon or Clamp attached to it in order generate interest. Indeed, it’s kind of disappointing that the top billing on the cover is Takeshi Obata – the illustrator of Death Note, who provided a few inconsequential illustrations for the Otsuichi story – rather than any of the authors, but I guess that’s what they need to do to try and get it to sell.

It’d be a shame if no-one buys this, though – aside from the fact that I’d rather like to see further volumes of Faust in the future, this volume felt a stronger than the first to me.

It helps a lot that the opening story, again by Bakemongatori author Nisioisin, leaves a far better impression that the xxxHolic tie-in story did from the first volume. Magical Girl Risuka is pretty much that standard light novel fare – a mystery novel. The twist here is that the protagonist is a ten-year-old jackass with a serious superiority complex who witnesses a number of deaths he wants to solve, not due to any sense of justice, but rather because he thinks that he could put the culprit to some kind of use in his world domination plans. Well, that and the fact that his sidekick is an equally young witch with a peculiar manner of speaking, and whose similarities with regular magical girl tropes aren’t quite as sweet as the genre usually leads you to expect.

Risuka is a good read, probably my favourite of the volume. It’s first chapter of part of an ongoing work (there’s three volumes of the series out in Japan right now), but it does a relatively good job of wrapping up what it needs to within it’s story. Whilst the protagonist isn’t exactly what I’d consider likeable, the characters are at least interesting. It does some pretty dark things with the principals behind the magical girl genre, and I’m pretty much for anything which subverts that particular genre.

If I have a complaint, it’s that it kind of has a habit of falling into the same kind of concept-explanation exposition issues that many of these stories do (and Kinoko Nasu is particularly guilty of). It introduces an unusual concept or power (in particular in Risuka’s case, it’s her Destiny Interference abilities) and proceeds to give an explanation that’s initially as clear as mud, and twice as dense. Most of the time, I suspect this is really just done to give the illusion that it’s something the author has thought really hard about giving consistent rules to, whereas in reality they are just trying to confuse you into thinking that they have so that you just except whatever they elect to throw at you. In this case, it does eventually make sense, but there’s a certain amount of pounding it into your head that I suspect most readers will have to perform to get it. It is, at least, something entirely inconsequential to the actual events that they are investigating.

The books second story is Jagdtiger by Kouhei Kadono. Jagdtiger ties back into Outlandos D’Amour from the first volume of Faust, in so much as it covers pretty much the same time period, only from the point of view of Koryo Kunio’s wife Mai. It also explicitly makes it clear that this is very definitely is set in the Boogiepop universe, something that only those who had read Boogiepop at Dawn would have been likely to pick-up from Outlandos D’Amour.

Not that its particularly relevant – it doesn’t really even matter if you’ve read Outlandos, as it simply means that you won’t know what’s really up with Kunio. The only fact you need to know is that there is something up with Kunio, which this story adequately puts across. Really, though, I’ll just echo what I thought of the previous work – it’s fairly dry, but at the same time it’s bizarrely charming. Whilst, like Risuka, it does do the whole fruity-concept thing in regards to it’s central character, it’s at least entirely clear here. It’s free of issues of confusing bull-poopie.

The books third story is Where the Wind Blows by Otsuichi. As with Jagdtiger, it relates to his story from the previous volume. Also as with Jagdtiger, it doesn’t really matter – whilst it shares the same lead character, it doesn’t assume any prior knowledge, nor is it even clear when it takes place in relation to F-Sensei’s Pocket. It’s rather less whimsical a yarn than F-Sensei was, dealing with somewhat darker material (whilst still related to the random items the heroine has blown onto her veranda, I don’t really want to spoil what it is that causes the issues this time), as well as being generally less humorous, and presented with a less hyperactive narration. Thematically, it’s rather different to F-Sensei too, lacking that juxtaposition between modern high-school drama and 70s cheese. It does retain the tinge of melancholy, though.

Not that the story is particularly any worse for it. Well, OK, it is a little worse for it, in so much as I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did F-Sensei, but that isn’t to say that it’s not an entirely sound story that’s thoroughly pleasant to read. It’s interesting, and kept me wondering exactly where it was going throughout, though the ultimate conclusion isn’t particularly out there (which, to be fair, is probably a good thing for this story).

This volumes dead weight is provided by Yuya Sato, in the form of Gray-Coloured Diet Cola. Actually, I should clarify – it’s an excerpt from Grey-Coloured Diet Cola, which is precisely why it’s dead weight. It’s not like I don’t have any time or can’t relate to a story about a disillusioned student living out in the middle of nowhere, but rather it’s hard for me to get particularly excited about a small part of a book that I’ll never get the opportunity to read the entirety of. It’s hard to have any reaction other than just shrugging and moving on. It’s something that I’d probably be interested in reading if the full work was to be released, but it’s hard to get engrossed when you know it’s not really going to go anywhere. At least with the previous volumes xxxHolic story, and Garden of Sinners chapter, we knew going in that not only did the excerpts provide something relatively self contained, but also that the full books were going to be published at some point (though, as I mentioned, it’s no longer clear in the case of GoS). That’s not the case here.

Which takes us to the last of the longer prose titles, ECCO by Welcome to the NHK author Tatsuhiko Takimoto. The story starts by presenting itself as a Matrix-esque story questioning the validity of reality, before suddenly having a complete change of pace, location and narrator by jumping into the slightly more usual grounds of being a story about a slightly unpleasant outcast highschooler with a superiority complex, and his chirpy, upbeat, cute and entirely pleasant class-rep who happens to have a dark secret. The interest value of this story is really ends up being in the wondering precisely how it’s going to link back into the weirdness of how it started. Ultimately, though, I do kind of think that the way it does tie back in ultimately ended up being a little bit of a cop-out, something of an avoidance of coming up with something that felt more conclusive. I do wonder if Tatsuhiko simply couldn’t come up with a good way to end his cute and charming janky high-school mismatch drama and simply tagged on an opening and ending harking back to his delusional NHK conspiracy rantings in the hope that it’d work itself out in the end. I honestly think the story would have worked well enough without it. What’s left is still worth reading, though.

After that, as with the first volume, we move onto the shorter things – including a second, equally not-really-working-in-English edition of Yabai de Show – that aren’t massively worth going into other than mentioning that there’s an interesting interview with the Faust editor talking to Andrew Cunningham and the guy who is translating MegaTokyo for the Japanese edition of Faust, and another interview with a number of the authors represented in this volume regarding the US edition of Faust.

There’s no colour pages this time around, but the back of the book still presents some artwork and one longer manga work, Iron Man Military Unit by Q-Ko-Chan author Ueda Hajime. Not as interesting as the Nisioisin/Yun Kouga story from the first book, but the art is at least cute.