Recent Novel Roundup: Zaregoto 2 and More

Posted by DiGiKerot in Novels at June 27, 2010 on 6:09 pm

About time I did another one of these, I guess…

Zaregoto Book 2 – The Kubishime Romanticist
I’m really glad this book got published. Ecstatic, thrilled, kind of happy. It’s fairly hard not to assume that its English-language release had, at some point, been cancelled altogether, only for its “we’re not sure if this’ll ever see the light of day” release date to be rendered a reality thanks to Bakemonogatari’s anime adaptation generating interest in the works of Nisioisin. It’d be nice to think that this books release came about as a result of a noticeable increase in the sales The Kubikiri Cycle, but I’m not that optimistic a sort.

The plot isn’t really worth summarising – our perennially Kyon’ed protagonist Ii-chan (now referred to as Ikkun by his new circle of acquaintances) once more finds himself embroiled within yet another series of murders, and once again that’s not really the worthwhile mystery in the book. Rather, fathoming out our “blank state” of a narrator remains a major point of interest. If the first book saw Ii-chan constantly contradicting himself into a state of extreme vagueness, this instalment calls into question the validity of every single thing he says. There’s a number of “Oooooh!” moments right at the end of the book that make you not only want to go back and re-evaluate what you think this book had told you, but also go back an reassess the first book all over again. I honestly can’t help but think I’ve done the first book a disservice when I reviewed it previously, like I missed something, perhaps even an entire layer, of interest.

Really, though, it’s a terrific book. It doesn’t have the philosophising that marks much of Haikasoru’s output as a class above, but it’s no less clever for it, and it’s funny with it too. You’ve (or at least I’ve) got to appreciate a book who’s idea of establishing continuity with it’s forerunner is to have our protagonist attempting to reconcile himself with regular food, after the first books stay at a fabulous resort, by destroying his sense of taste by eating nothing but Kimchee.

Honestly, though, whilst not necessarily the best, I think this has to be the most entertaining book I’ve read so far this year. For me, the true sign of a great book is how inclined I am to read it when I’m in a position where I could be doing something else, and I absolutely ploughed through this at great speed. It’s fabulous, and it breaks my heart that it’ll probably not see the sales to justify it’s third volume materialising in English.

Not that anyone should let the series questionable English-language future put them off reading this – it’s stands alone perfectly well on it’s own.

Spice and Wolf 2
Another second volume. I’m in the odd position here of having seen the first season of the anime in gap between the two books being published.

I don’t think I ever wrote about the first volume of the book, but I found it to be a highly enjoyable romp. Having read the book before seeing the anime was the right way around to do things there, though – like the animated adaptation of the first Shana novel, they remixed and added content enough in good enough a fashion to render the material feel more substantial than it did in the novel. Whilst there’d still be probably be something of interest to it simply by pegging the points of difference between the two, the fact that it would have had to end in the same place would strip it of some gravitas.

The problem with this second book is that the anime version was pretty much a straight facsimile of the original work. I guess hindsight is a wonderful thing, because it now becomes crystal clear that those changes they made for the anime version of the first book had little to do with making the content more interesting, rather they were done as a way to vocalise Lawrences inner monologuing, and anything beyond that was a coincidental bonus. With that out of the way in the first story arc, they didn’t have to do anything with this second one.

Which is hardly the fault of the book, but Western fandom for these things is not the same as Japanese fandom. I’m an exception in that I’ll read pretty much everything that’s put out as a matter of personal interest, but mostly interest in these things stem from those who’re familiar with the related works. Despite what Yen are trying with their facepalm-inducing covers, it’s hard to imagine the series selling to a more general audience. Whilst I won’t say I didn’t enjoy the book personally (my memory is sieve-like enough that I’d had enough distance from the anime to forget enough of the minutiae), it’s kind of hard to recommend to fans of the anime. It’s actually a good read, I just don’t think there’s enough that anyone would find new or different for it to hold the interest of most.

To the books advantage, I do have to say that all the financial and economic discussion works a lot better when the pacing isn’t dictated to you – being able to take matters slowly, or just skim over it, as appropriate makes stretches of the content a lot less dry, confusing or tedious than they can be at times in the anime.

Of course, I’m unlikely to have seen the second anime series by the time the third novel comes out in December, so I’m foreseeing myself enjoying that a great deal more. Who knows what position I’ll be in by the fourth, though… Oh, I’m imagining see-sawing over this series a great deal in the future…

The Stories of Ibis
Reviewing books published on the Haikasoru imprint has started to feel like something of an exercise in futility. Frankly, they’re so consistent in their excellence that it seems kind of pointless having to recommend them – there’s no point in highlighting any in particular unless they’re aggressively bad. When the worst thing on the label is probably Otsuichi’s Zoo, you can’t help but think that they are doing something right. Perhaps, sadly, the “right” is distancing themselves from the otaku market, and whilst this means we’ll likely never see the anime-esque material we see other publishers failing to sell from them, it does give them a far, far richer tableau of material to pull from. Ibis does nothing to sully their reputation.

Stories of Ibis is, essentially, a short story collection, collecting a series of tales from the same author focusing on the roles of technology in communication, be that interpersonal between people, or that between people and machines. The stories on their own aren’t disinteresting for the most part – as with any anthology piece, they’re variable in their quality, but exactly which count as “good” and “less good” is going to vary based more on personal taste rather than actual quality.

The real master-stroke with the book is what goes around the stories in question – everything is framed by a separate fiction, where in a world now populated and ruled mostly by machines, a robot recounts these tales to a recuperating human captive. The effect is somewhat like having a High School English teacher lurking over your shoulder and expecting you to formulate a point or theme from what you are being forced to read, only less obnoxious. It serves to focus ones attention, and whilst in some cases I’d question whether or not what I got from the stories (or what the author was expecting you to get from them) was necessarily what was intended when they were first written, I’d say that it resulted in me getting far more out of the individual stories than I would have reading them in isolation. The additional context adds a lot to the experience.

Omo has written at length about the book already, in a far more cognisant and coherent fashion that I’m inclined or able to do, so go read what he has to say about it. I’ll just say it was a good book.

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