Faust #1

Posted by DiGiKerot in Novels at August 30, 2008 on 12:56 pm

It’s been some time in coming, but a couple of weeks ago, Del Rey released the first volume of the English version of Kodanshas literary anthology Faust. Featuring a hotch-potch of short prose stories, shorter prose stories and short stories in manga form, this English edition pulls content from a number of prolific authors from across not only the Japanese volumes of Faust, but also from other Kodansha published titles.

The volume starts off, somewhat unfortunately, with something of an unexpected misstep from Zaregoto author Nisioisin, in the form of a chapter from his xxxHolic tie-in novel (to be published in full in October). It’s not a bad story, per se, but I think it suffers from the fact that I actually read xxxHolic. As a story, it’s not sufficiently removed in style or content from the originating manga – it’s the same kind of tale that anyone who reads xxxHolic will be familiar with already. When the time comes for the book to spend some ten pages explaining indepth what has transpired, those familiar with the source will undoubtedly just be groaning as what has been plainly obvious to them for a while is laid out in excruciating detail. I rather suspect that those with no prior experience with xxxHolic will get more out of it – there’s enough explanation of the series set-up for them not to be completely lost – but at the same time I wonder if any of them would bother reading it. For those who are familiar, it just doesn’t add anything to the whole xxxHolic experience, neither being an interesting story or, being a tie-in novel, bringing anything of any importance to the continuity.

Nisioisin does, however, manage to redeem himself at the other end of the volume, having penned the story for a short manga illustrated by Loveless author and Gundam 00 character designer Yun Kouga. After School: 7th Class is the story of weapons developer who has become disenchanted with the futility of his work, who is suddenly made the warden of the ludicrously named source of his disenchantment – Snowdrop Buck Pinpointmind. Bound and incarcerated in a prison of her own design under charges of treason, her previous eleven wardens were driven to suicide when they realised that no matter what they came up with, Snowdrop had probably already surpassed it. It’s basically just thirty pages of people talking, but it’s a riveting thirty pages as it’s really not clear as to whether this latest warden will join the other eleven in death, or somehow come through it all.

Getting back to the prose stories, the second of the book is Outlandos D’Amour, by Boogiepop author Kouhei Kadono. It’s the story of Koryo Kunio, a man who was found in a construction site as a child and possesses not only the ability to sense the “fractures” on people, but also the alarming tendency to inadvertently cause strange things to happen under dangerous circumstances. Except it’s really about the fact that he gets married to a girl he falls in love with a first sight, only for him to find himself unsure how to handle her social ineptness. It’s not anything you’d consider humorous – don’t confuse the set-up for any kind of rom-com – yet it proves itself unexpectedly charming despite it’s tone, and the content is interesting. The only real issue with the story is that it basically ends at the point where it’s making the transition from being merely interesting, to being really interesting, but I’m under the impression (from the dialogue in this story and the titles of other short stories he’s written) that Kadono wrote further related tales (beyond the fact that, somehow or other, this probably all ties back into Boogiepop) that we’ll no doubt see assuming we get further volumes of Faust.

Following on from Outlandos is Drill Hole in My Brain by Otaro Maijo, a story perhaps best described as “challenging” – in that the act of reading it made me feel like a moron. Drill Hole focuses on the delusions of a teenager who is, I’d assume, slowly dying from having a screwdriver embedded in his head by his mothers spurned lover. Delusions including Gorillas climbing out of young girls, errrm, underbits.

Yeah.

Whilst I wouldn’t say it’s not an enjoyable read, it’s violence coupled with it’s frequent, and often bizarre, erotic imagery does make it something of an uncomfortable read at times. the pre-amble to the title describes it as being “avant garde”, and I spent much of the story wondering whether I was, moronically, missing some key point that would make everything going on suddenly make far more sense, or if it was all just being weird for the sake of being weird (and it is very, very weird). I eventually decided it was somewhere in between, and whilst the story never really fully clicked, it’s hard not to respect the creativity and imagination the story is positively dripping in.

Coincidently, Drill Hole is probably single-handedly responsible for the “16+” tag on the back of the book.

The forth of the longer prose titles is probably my personal favourite of the volume – F-Sensei’s Pocket, by Calling You and GOTH author Otsuichi. It’s a story focusing on the juxtaposition of a real-life High School story and common manga tropes as two girls stumble upon Doraemons fourth-dimensional pocket. To begin with, the pair enjoy messing around with the assorted gadgets kept within, but then one of them goes off the rails and enacts a scheme straight out of a seventies comic book…

Written in a first person style that’s chatty and humorous without ever reaching the perhaps grating and overly rambling levels of the likes of Maid Machinegun, it’s funny and devastatingly charming with just a hint of melancholy.

Rounding up the main bulk of the prose titles is the first chapter of The Garden of Sinners (aka Kara no Kyoukai), by Tsukihime and Fate/Stay Night author Kinoko Nasu. Its spends far more time banding around high-level concepts and meandering through the characters – neither of which may not hold up to any real scrutiny – then it does with actual events, but that’s fine. I’m not entirely sure that isn’t the point – people are always spouting illogical crap, so why should characters in novels? What they are saying speaks volumes about the characters, and Nasus work predominantly relies on strong character writing more than they do particularly good stories. Also, given that the core of Fate/Stay Night is basically the fact that Emiya is a muppet who spouts a whole load of nonsensical theories and ideals, I’m not convinced that Nasu didn’t know what he was doing.

That said, I think having seen the first of the Garden of Sinners movies, which was adapted from the chapter presented here, probably saved the prose version for me. Partially this is because I was listening to the OST whilst reading it, which certainly helped to set the right mood, but largely because it’s all a little muddled. I don’t think the fact that the story unfolds in a non-linear fashion would have caused me any real problems, but despite the fact that there’s a awful lot of additional exposition provided here compared to what the movie version presented, there’s a few key points to the proceedings that really aren’t adequately conveyed. If I hadn’t seen the movie, there’s at least one thing of importance in terms of character motivation that I probably wouldn’t have realised had occurred from what is said in the novel.

Regardless, Garden of Sinners is an entertaining read, and a fairly positive way to round out the main portion of the books content. In addition to the chapter of the novel, there’s also an interview with Kinoko Nasu and GoS/Tsukihime/FS/N artist Takashi Takeuchi on the subject of Garden of Sinners, the anime adaptations and book being released in English, which is a fairly interesting read.

Following the main prose are a few shorter pieces of five or so pages. They’re too short to be really worth going into here – the most ambitious is probably Yabai de Show, not because it’s interesting, but because it’s a story based entirely around puns which, despite the translators best efforts, was never likely to work regardless of how much effort was expended attempting to successfully render it in English.

From the backend of the book, there are a number of short manga. I’ve already mentioned the most substantial of these – After School: 7th Class – but there are a few other running at around a half-dozen pages each. A word of warning about these, though – in my copy of Faust, everything other than After School is printed on colour pages, and are indeed really beautiful. They are also, however, duplicated on black-and-white pages, which suggests to me that they’ll be dropping the colour plates after the first print run of the book. I can’t say there would be any appeal to these pages if they weren’t replicated in colour (being too short to be considered stories, the pretty art is the whole draw), so be cautious about waiting too long to purchase the book if you are interested.

And that’s it, Faust Volume 1. It’s an uneven book, to be sure, but at the same time, it’s an utterly fascinating, and far more substantial (in both size and content) than most of what we having been seeing published novel-wise in English. It’s a bold move by Del Rey, and something that I can’t help but applaud, and certainly one I hope to see continue.


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