Posts Tagged 'books'

Nishi no Yoki Majo (Good Witch of the West) pt. 1 by Ogiwara Noriko

Yeah, it’s a book “review”. I bet you all look like Firiel here.

Tokyopop released the first volume of the Good Witch of the West quintology late last year. Some of you may be familiar with its anime counterpart, which is somewhat incredibly different from the actual novel.

How different, you ask? The creators of the anime took a five-volume series (each book being about 200 pages in English, apparently) and crammed it into thirteen episodes. That would be a problem, no? If you liked the anime in any way, shape, or form, the novel will be a real treat, as it’s the anime, except with the bits that they cut out put back in. I’m at a somewhat interesting vantage point reading this novel, as I already know the truth behind many of the events in the series, due to watching the anime, but the fun thing for me is finding out the little details that got axed. This first novel covers the events in the first two episodes, roughly, in much more detail.

For those who haven’t seen the anime and have no idea what it is, I’d recommend reading the novel before seeing the anime, if you ever do, for the reasons stated above. Good Witch of the West is Ogiwara Noriko writing about schemes and plots in the nobility for five books. Firiel Dee, the main character, finds out rather suddenly that she’s actually a princess, similar to the characters in the fairytales she reads all the time; however, unlike these fairytale characters, when she finds this out, she is immediately swept into a world of plots, schemes, and conspiracies. It’s all pretty fun, if perhaps a bit on the escapist side.

The hallmark of the series is the relationship between Firiel and Rune. It’s exactly what you would get if you shoved two tsundere characters into a relationship with each other. That’s how awesome it is. The two are constantly in a love-hate/hate-love relationship, both of them trading insults and digs at each other, and both of them thinking the other is uncouth and unrefined. It’s a weird romantic (for that is what it ultimately ends up being, as anyone can plainly see from the first novel) setup, operating on the axiom that opposites attract. It’s fun to watch them ricochet off each other, and Ogiwara does this especially well in the book.

Good Witch of the West doesn’t quite stack up with other, Western adult fantasy books in totally unfair comparison, and either the original writing or the translation is somewhat strange to my finely honed reader’s eye, but it’s certainly leagues ahead of most of the things that get churned out for YA pubishers nowadays, which is the market that this appeals to most. I do know that many library journals give the manga adaptation high praise, and it’s always hard to wring out that starred review from Kirkus or Booklist, but there you have it. Kid-tested, librarian approved!

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IT’S SPREADING, DOCTOR. IT’S SPREADING: Japan is slowly taking over my life. I call Shintoist conspiracy.

So, somewhat belatedly, I’ve noticed something horrific incredible about myself: slowly, through the magic of anime, my other “hobbies”, namely, reading books and listening to music, are starting to fall more and more in line with that of Japanese popular culture. The music thing’s been going on for a while, but here in the last month or so it’s started to spread into a general exploration of Japanese music in general. I mean, I started off exploring into well-tread avenues for otaku: I’ve sound, Momoi Halko, MOSIAC.WAV, various other denpa acts. Then I started following doujin and related music, such as Sound Horizon, ALSTRORMERIA RECORDS, IOSYS, and Shikata Akiko. Then I found the Polysics. Then on some random whim I started hunting down music from bands who were featured in one of the two Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan games (I maintain against the tide of the internet that the soundtrack to 2 is fantastic, although 1 is fantastic as well, but in a different way), so now my musical interest is kind of spread into this general mismash of all things both music and Japanese.

The book thing isn’t quite as bad (despite being an avid lover of books, I don’t have much time to sit down and read, unfortunately) yet, but many of the books I’ve read in recent months have been Japanese in orgin. Brave Story, the first Twelve Kingdoms novel, Socrates in Love, and I’m working on Good Witch of the West v.1 now. Plus, I have copies of Dragoin Sword and Wind Child, Kino no Tabi v.1, and Boogiepop and Others lying around unread (and come March I’ll have to add Shinigami no Ballad to the growing pile), so it’s not like I have a dearth of things from Japan to read.

It’s just an unusual trend I’ve noticed in myself, but slowly, and directed by anime, I’ve started exploring tangentially related parts of Japanese culture I hadn’t seen before. I don’t think I’d call myself a “Japanophile” in the sense than one might normally call oneself that, by which I mean you think that Japan is the best country ever and that it can do no harm. However, at the same time, “Japanophile” is probably the best term for it. I don’t know what it is about the material I’ve seen from them, but it’s all been farily interesting. I think what gets me most is that they do things with a flavor and style I rarely see outside of Japan. Sure, Americans and Westerners in general are experimenting with rock and going down one direction, but I don’t like that direction, whereas Japan’s direction is much more palatable to my ears.

And there’s just something about Japanese narratives that I really like, especially ones that pertain to anime in some shape or form. I don’t think I can actually quantify it in words, but anime has, thus far, been the only genre (or medium, however you want to term it) of film that has held emotional power over me. American cinema can’t do things to me like Toki o Kakeru Shoujo did. American TV can’t hold a mesmerizing spell of suspense and intrigue over 74 episodes like Monster did. American books just feel like they have something missing, something to pull me in (Robin Hobb is a notable exception, however, most non-Japanese literature I read comes from Canada, the UK, or elsewhere). There’s just this mystical something that makes things better for me.

Maybe it’s the allure of the unknown or the foreign. Or maybe I’m sick of the way I lived for 18 years on American pop culture. Whatever the reason, there’s some kind of powerful grip on me.

IINBOU DA.

Brave Story novel wins little-known ALA children’s book award; also Tokyo Media Arts Festival awards

I have no idea when the award was given out, but the 2008 Mildred L. Batchelder Award winner is none other than Miyki Miyabe’s own epic fantasy novel masterpiece Brave Story.

You’re probably looking at me like I’m crazy and saying “What on Earth is the Mildred L. Batchelder Award and why do I care?” I hadn’t heard of it hitherto this point either, but (according to the ALA award information page I linked above) it’s an award given to a foreign-language book of exceptional merit that has been translated into English. A list of past winners is available, in case you were curious (the only book I recognize off that list is Cornelia Funke’s The Thief Lord,and I work in a library, so you’re not alone in going “Say what now?”) but, of course, the important thing is that it won an award, which means that at least someone out there is paying attention. Japanese books have won the award before, of course, as that list I linked proves; the difference here is, of course, that the publisher for Brave Story is VIZ Media. Which means that a manga company has won an ALA award. I’m probably the only one impressed by this, of course, due to my librarian nature.

In other award new, spurred by the Brave Story award discovery, I checked Wikipedia for the winners of the Tokyo Media Arts Festival prizes and, lo and behold, two of the four winners of the Excellence Prize are none other than Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann and Dennou Coil. It’s not as awesome as taking home the Grand Prize, like Toki o Kakeru Shoujo deservedly did for 2006, but now people can mention Gurren-Lagann and Kamichu! in the same sentence and not raise eyebrows quite so much. Past Excellence awards winners include Neon Genesis Evangelion, Serial Experiments: Lain, Tokyo Godfathers and Mahou Shoutengai Abenobashi. By contrast, past Grand Prize winners include Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Millenium Actress, Blood: The Last Vampire, the aforementioned Tokikake, and Mind Game (Kemonozume fans are probably rejoicing at this news, all three of them).

I still, however, don’t know if Youhou won a prize in the Entertainment/Interactive Art category. If anyone knows what happened with that, please let me know. It could probably win just on how interactive the fanbase is with the actual source material, in terms of generating content, but we don’t know.

Socrates in Love (Sekai no Chushin de Ai o Sakebu) by Katayama Kyoichi

So I found out while browsing for things to ask for Christmas that Viz, in their infinite wisdom, licensed the Socrates in Love novel a while ago. I never actually got it for Christmas, so I ordered it from the bookstore and devoured it this week (It’s such a short novel, it could easily have been devoured in a matter of three-four hours of casual reading).

It was really good. I think I felt tears starting to well up around page 3. I never actually cried, but I probably would have if I had started reading the book outside of my break at work and finished it all in one swallow. What struck me about the book was how beautifully it was written, even in translation. I spent the rest of the evening obsessing over the 20 or so pages I’d read, and then went home and…waited until school on Wednesday to read more.

The story, as it is, is fairly simple–boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, boy gets girl, girl gets leukemia. The book minces no meat about what happens to Aki at the end–the very first scene is Sakutaro bringing her ashes to Cairns with her family in tow. So it’s not like anything on that end is a massive spoiler for the ending. As in all things, the Japanese value the getting there more than the ending itself (or maybe that’s just me), and the getting there is a beautiful and tragic love story. The emotions of a young couple in love are captured here, for all those without hearts made of solid, frigid iron to enjoy. Like Voices of a Distant Star and Mikako, almost, the novel isn’t about the plot so much as the captured essence of the emotions of Sakutaro. It certainly has the power to affect the reader in much the same way.

I’ve only read a couple books out by Viz so far (this and Brave Story), but they’re doing a mighty fine job of licensing quality novels. And this one even has SHOUJO BEAT FICTION on the spine! How cool is that?!

Del Rey and the Growing Light Novel Market in America

I’m sure all interested parties have heard that Del Rey, a division of Random House, has licensed a couple of light novels, including the award-winning mystery/fantasy series Zaregoto. I can’t help but think that, as both an anime fan and a novel fan, the growing trend towards licensing light novels is incredibly awesome.

I remember back about three/four years ago when the news first broke than Tokyopop was releasing the Love Hina novel (why on Earth anyone would want to read a novel version of Love Hina is beyond me, you’re missing out on all that Akamatsu Ken fanservice) and thinking “Huh, novels.” Then the Crest of the Stars novel series got licensed, and (since I already knew beforehand that the anime was based on the novels) I was condiserably more interested. And then, just recently, Tokyopop and Seven Seas have both stepped into the fray and licensed a whole chunk of interesting titles like Kino no Tabi and Boogiepop. I haven’t had a chance to even buy many of these, unfortunately, and I probably should, as I really would like to see more novels of this sort translated over into English.

Viz is also breaking into the novel publishing industry–I read their version of Brave Story earlier this year, and it was quite well-done. I picked up Socrates in Love (Sekai no Chushin de Ai o Sakebu) and their re-issue of Dragon Sword & Wind Child yesterday. I’ve always avoided Japanese author released in America as the ones that tend to make it over here are the literary snob types (Murakami Haruki, although I read Sputnik Sweetheart and it was nice, if not particularly spectacular), but Viz has been pulling in more popular fiction from Japan, which I can only see as a plus.

And, now, Del Rey has taken off the gloves and entered the fray, ready to come out swinging. Del Rey’s always been a publisher who had the money to be able to take risks–when you publish powerhouses like Star Wars novels, you can probably afford to pick up weird titles that other publishers turned down, and then act surprised when they turn out hits (*cough*His Majesty’s Dragon*cough*). So, really, it wouldn’t surprise me to see them starting to pitch Zaregoto not only to their manga readers, but also their fiction readers. If they’re successful, we may have a whole new door open up for us in light novels–one wherein both otaku and novel readers can create a new market all by themselves. I’d love to see a strong light novel market in the States, as who doesn’t want a combination of anime and books? Unless, of course, you hate one or the other. You’re weird.

Brave Story THE NOVEL by Miyuki Miyabe

I’ve always been a reader all my life (although I’m finding increasingly that anime is coming to dominate as my hobby), and I read Brave Story recently, so I thought I’d jot my thoughts down.

For those who aren’t aware, Brave Story is about a young child named Wataru whose father has an affair with another woman, and leaves his mother and bim in favor of this new, younger woman. When his mother tries to kill herself (and Wataru with her) by letting gas from the stove into their apartment, Wataru escapes and finds himself in the magical land of Vision, where he is now a Traveller on a quest for five gemstones that will grant him the wish he desires to change his destiny.

Brave Story was absolutely incredible for Part One. It was high drama with a touch of fantasy elements. All seventeen chapters were immensely powerful, and really made you feel incredibly empathetic with Wataru. There are so many powerful scenes in these 200 pages that I was solidly impressed with the book just from that.

The unfortunate thing is, when Wataru goes to Vision, things take a sharp turn downhill–kind of. Vision starts off as a bland, generic kind of fantasy land, but after having finished the book, I think Miyabe made it “bland” on purpose. I kind of soured on the book for a while, but it does improve remarkably after Wataru finds the first gemstone. That’s probably because of the introduction of the Plot Device called Halnera, where one person from Vision and one person from the real world (i.e. Wataru or Mitsuru) will be sacrificed to give another thousand years of protection from destruction. It was an interesting Plot Device, and it served to further complicate matters in Vision.

On Vision being generic–Wataru plays a lot of RPGs, most prominently the winner of the Not-Dragon-Quest award, Eldritch Saga. Since Vision is unique to every Traveller who enters it (the world is altered depending on who is viewing it, an interesting Heisenberg phenomenon that further serves to make Vision more interesting), Wataru’s Vision is based on his own experiences playing…generic fantasy RPG games. So, I won’t fault the book on the dullness of the book, although, as someone more used to fantasy authors such as Steven Erikson, the initial blandness came as quite a shock.

The ending was also quite well-done, and I won’t go into the details, but it brings a satisfying (if somewhat predictable, but I never let predictability bother me too much in things) and well-executed finish. It’s not, perhaps, as moving as the opening 200 pages, but it’s a solid conclusion.

Having not seen the movie, I have no idea how it compares, but for anyone who likes to read and likes anime, Brave Story is a must-read. It’s like anime in a book! Kind of.


NOTICE SHAMELESSLY STOLEN FROM G.K. CHESTERTON

I cannot understand those that take anime seriously, but I can love them, and I do. Out of my love I warn them to keep clear of this blog.

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