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Light Novel Review: Saga of Tanya the Evil Vol. #01

The Saga of Tanya the Evil anime was a surprise favorite for me in 2017. With a title like that, I was almost too scared to give it a try, but conniving little Tanya turned out to be nothing like I anticipated. Yen Press has released Volume 01 of the manga adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For reviews of other Tanya the Evil works, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

At the very edge of the front lines stands a young girl. She has golden hair, blue eyes, and pale, almost translucent skin. This girl soars through the skies, mercilessly cutting down her enemies. She barks crisp orders with the unmistakable voice of a child. Her name is Tanya Degruechaff.

But her true identity is that of a 40-year-old Japanese elite salary-man who was forced by god to be reborn in the vessel of a little girl who must live in a tumultuous world racked by war. Concerned with being ultra-efficient and desiring self-promotion above all else, Degurechaff will join the ranks of the Imperial Army’s Military Mages and become one of the most feared existences in this new world…

The Review

The Saga of Tanya the Evil is categorized as a light novel, but it actually makes pretty heavy reading. Anyone who’s familiar with the anime or manga knows the story has a complicated set-up. On top of that complex plot, the novel delves deep into the sci-fi and military aspects, which means readers won’t be breezing through this one.

Our main character is a highly intellectual human resources manager from our modern Japan. However, we meet him just as he suffers an untimely death at the hands of a freshly terminated employee. Upon his demise, he comes face to face with God, who, frustrated by the faithlessness of our main character and humanity as a whole, decides to inspire faith by reincarnating the man—memories intact—as a female in a parallel version of World War I Germany.

The novel’s opening is somewhat difficult to follow. It introduces our main character as his consciousness is transitioning into his reincarnated form Tanya, and then it delves into an overview of the Stanford Prison Experiment before transitioning into social commentary. If I wasn’t already familiar with the Tanya anime and manga, I’m certain I’d have gotten utterly confused.

Compounding the problem of conveying the main character’s complicated circumstances is the writing itself. Dialogue is annoyingly short on tags, so I was often guessing at who said what. Combat scenes rely heavily on dialogue to paint the action, but unless you’re well versed in military jargon, you may have trouble understanding what’s happening. Verb tense constantly shifts between past and present, sometimes within the same scene. There are a lot of POV shifts, which can be disorienting, and our main character simultaneously uses “I” and “Tanya”/ “she” to refer to self. I’m not sure how much of these issues stem from the original Japanese manuscript and how much from the translation process. Either way, it makes for a difficult English text.

However, things are much less problematic if you’re acquainted with the anime or manga and understand from the start that Tanya is a modern salaryman trapped in a child’s body whose ultimate aim is a safe, cushy job. In that case, the value provided by the novel is detailed explanations of key points of the story. For instance, all the Tanya works portray the Type 95 computation orb as an impractical contraption that only works with divine intervention. However, the novel describes at length the scientific/magical theory behind computation orbs, why the Type 95 is both revolutionary and unstable, and its functional value to a mage. Regarding the military aspect, the novel includes maps and diagrams of the unfolding war. We also get a prolonged look at the war room conferences that decide army movements and the discussions among higher-ups that determine Tanya’s military career path. Unlike the manga and anime, there’s less comedy derived by juxtaposing Tanya’s conniving thoughts against those of the people she’s trying to manipulate; what we get instead is a better picture of the personalities within the cast.

One of those personalities is Major von Lergen, seeming the only person in the Imperial Army to question Tanya’s suitability as a soldier (and a human being). At every step of her career, he raises objections, and the novel spells out the reasons he’s so concerned about her rise in the ranks.  I’d hoped for a better rationale from this supposed unbiased Personnel Officer than his gut feeling, and his main criticism of Tanya (the way she objectifies people as resources) is rather hypocritical. After all, the Imperial Army does that all the time as evidenced by the way Tanya gets shoved into her first combat situation at age nine. However, double-standards are certainly common among humans, and the novel seems to be setting von Lergen as an eternal obstacle to Tanya’s goals.

Another aspect detailed in the novel is the impact of the Type 95 computation orb on Tanya’s psyche. As in the anime and manga, it forces her to utter praise to God when in use. However, there’s more to it than just embarrassing instances of worship. In the novel, its side effects include memory lapses and a sense of brainwashing, which makes Tanya doubly resentful of the divine.

Extras include map and fold-out illustration in color; appendixes explaining military strategy and history timeline; author afterword; and six black-and-white illustrations.

In Summary

For a light novel, The Saga of Tanya the Evil is a pretty hefty book. If you have no familiarity with the Tanya the Evil anime or manga, there’s a high chance you’ll get confused if you read the novel first. However, if you’re already a fan of the series and want to understand more about that world’s geopolitics or mage technology, this book will provide you with an abundance of background information as well as a range of character viewpoints.

First published at the Fandom Post.

 

 

 

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Light Novel Review: your name.: Another Side – Earthbound

While there are scores of spectacular animated films, it’s a rare one that attains mainstream success. But in 2016, Makoto Shinkai’s your name. rose to meteoric success and rightfully so. Now for those who can’t get enough of the your name. universe, Yen On presents your name.: Another Side: Earthbound novel.

Back Cover Blurb

This hardcover edition tells the story of the hit novel your name. from the perspective of Mitsuha’s friends and family as they deal with her strange new quirks–and avoid disaster. Featuring side characters Tak, Tessie, Yotsuha, and Toshiki, Mitsuha’s father.

Mitsuha is a young girl living in a rural town named Itomori and is fed up with her life. One day, her family and friends notice she’s suddenly acting strange. Little do they know, a high school boy from Tokyo named Taki Tachibana found himself randomly switching places with her when he fell asleep. But he has no clue how to act as a high school girl in an unfamiliar place!

The Review

your name.: Another Side: Earthbound is not so much a novel as it is a collection of four stories, each from the POV of a different resident of Mitsuha’s hometown Itomori. Earthbound reads very much like fanfiction in that it expands upon details glossed over in the original works and offers alternate perspectives of the story’s events.

Earthbound begins with “Thoughts on Brassieres.” Those who loved the hilarity of Mitsuha and Taki switching bodies will get more of the same with this story, which delves into Taki’s struggle to live as a girl. As you might guess from the title, it’s got a LOT about boobs and bras throughout and, yes, more self-groping from Taki. It also expands upon the movie’s glimpses of Taki (as Mitsuha) playing basketball and confronting classmates talking smack about Mitsuha. In addition to the body-swap comedy, the story also includes Taki’s growing fondness for Itomori and his reflections on the girl whose body he inhabits but whom he’s never actually met.

Next is “Scrap and Build,” where we get the perspective of supporting cast member Tesshi. The movie presents him as Mitsuha’s friend, but this story makes clear that he’s more than a childhood buddy. He, like Mitsuha, has certain responsibilities because of his family’s standing in Itomori, which means he understands her position better than most. So while there’s the comedy of him baffled by Mitsuha’s periodic “fox possession” behavior, he also shows how the pressures within Itomori can lead to a real love-hate relationship with the tiny community. In addition, we learn about the influences that enabled him to help Taki (as Mitsuha) evacuate the townsfolk the day of the disaster.

After that is “Earthbound,” which follows Mitsuha’s little sister Yotsuha. She provides observations of the body swaps from the perspective of a family member and a grade schooler. For some reason, breasts feature largely in this story, which strikes me as odd. It’s one thing for Taki, a teenage boy, to be obsessed and baffled by them, but it feels like a tired old joke when Yotsuha also goes on about them. However, a unique thing in Yotsuha’s narrative is her perspective on Miyamizu Shrine. As a shrine maiden, she shares her sister’s intimacy with its traditions, and that intimacy allows for a surprise encounter with a long forgotten past.

Finally, we have “What You Joined Together,” which dives into the memories of Mitsuha’s father Toshiki. Included in the initial part of the story is a conversation between Toshiki and his future wife Futaba about the purpose and meaning of the Miyamizu rituals. Unless you’re acquainted with Shinto folklore or academic analysis, this dialogue —although it does point to the coming comet strike—is a slog. Fortunately, after this first meeting, the narrative simplifies to that of a man falling in love. For those curious about the Miyamizu family, it provides an extensive look at Mitsuha’s mother, who receives only brief mention in the original works, and the circumstances that estranged Toshiki from his daughters.

By the way, regarding the translation, it flows satisfactorily for the most part. However, there are parts where the formatting (specifically punctuation and italicizing) gets awkward, and a couple sentences seem to be missing a word. In addition, the Itomori residents speak in dialect, but for some reason, Futaba speaks normally for her initial academic conversation with Toshiki and then drops into dialect for the remainder of the story.

Extras include fold-out color illustration, character sketches, and nine black-and-white illustrations.

In summary

This book was written expressly for fans of your name. so if you haven’t seen the movie or read the light novel, do that first. Then if you’re hungry for more details about the town of Itomori, Mitsuha’s family, and the traditions of the Miyamizu Shrine or if you just want to revisit the your name. characters, pick up Another Side: Earthbound. There are bits that do get tiresome, but overall, it balances comedy and drama as well as the original.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Light Novel Review: your name.

While there are scores of spectacular animated films, it’s a rare one that attains mainstream success. But in 2016, Makoto Shinkai’s your name. rose to meteoric success and rightfully so. Now Yen On brings Shinkai’s your name. novel to English readers for a new perspective on the events of the movie.

Back cover Blurb

Mitsuha, a high school girl living in a rural town deep in the mountains, has a dream that she is a boy living an unfamiliar life in Tokyo. Taki, a high school boy living in Tokyo, dreams that he is a girl living in the mountains. As they realize they are changing places, their encounter sets the cogs of fate into motion.

The Review

Confession: As of the writing of this post, I have not seen the your name. movie.

Therefore, I am unable to draw any comparisons between the film and the novel. That doesn’t mean I’m not familiar with Makoto Shinkai’s work. His name got stamped into my otaku consciousness when Voices of a Distant Star came out, and since then, I’ve associated Shinkai with two things: breathtaking skies and the longing of separated lovers. While novels can’t provide dazzling visuals of the heavens, filmmaker Shinkai displays his mastery with words as he depicts the angst of his lead couple.

For those completely unacquainted with your name. that lead couple is comprised of two modern-day high school students, Mitsuha Miyamizu and Taki Tachibana. Mitsuha lives in the rural community of Itomori in her grandmother’s house. As the granddaughter of a Shinto priestess, Mitsuha’s life is steeped in tradition, but she’s dying to leave her tiny town for Tokyo. Taki lives in Tokyo and works part time at a fancy Italian restaurant. The two don’t know each other at all, but for some unknown reason, each starts dreaming about living the other’s life. Then they realize that they are actually switching bodies when they feel the consequences of the other person’s actions.

It’s a complicated set-up. That brings me to the one weakness of the light novel. It’s written in first person, and the viewpoint switches frequently and sometimes mid-scene between Mitsuha and Taki. If you don’t know the story involves body-switching, the first few pages can be really confusing. However, if you can get through that hurdle, the rest of the book is spectacular.

The cover flap touts the novel as “in turns funny, heartwarming, and heart-wrenching.” Sounds like a lot, but Shinkai actually delivers on all fronts. The comedy comes as a natural outgrowth of the circumstances Shinkai has laid out. In addition to the awkwardness of inhabiting a body of the opposite gender, there’s also city-versus-country humor, and I did literally laugh out loud in places. The heartwarming part comes as the two start appreciating the experiences of the other, and then hearts get wrenched when the swaps stop and Taki goes in search of Mitsuha armed with nothing but his hand-drawn sketches of Itomori’s scenery.

So the guy goes, finds the girl, and they live happily ever after, right? Not exactly. Shinkai throws in a couple major twists that turns Taki’s efforts to find the girl into a desperate quest to save the girl. It’s a dramatic shift in tone from the first chapters of the book, yet it works. Thanks to the groundwork laid by Mitsuha’s  shrine maiden duties and Grandma Miyamizu’s explanations of the family’s traditions, readers are easily carried along as the supernatural aspect goes from a comical glitch between two individuals to something much bigger.

But even as forces push Mitsuha and Taki together toward a seemingly cosmic goal, other factors tug them apart. From the onset, the memories of their body switches are hazy. It’s only when they find workarounds to communicate that they are able to get a sense of each other. However, once the swaps stop, the precious knowledge they’ve gained starts to evaporate from their minds. Shinkai does an amazing job with these scenes, making the agony of those disappearing memories worse than the pain of separation.

In addition to the breadth and intensity of emotion, Shinkai skillfully weaves in foreshadowing and symbolism, and he interconnects the details of events and characters in seamless fashion. Some nuances of the story do require knowledge of Japanese culture, but the book does not contain a cultural notes section. However, even if you’re unaware of the significance of the “red thread of fate,” you can still appreciate the role that Mitsuha’s hair cord plays in connecting our main characters.

By the way, even though I haven’t seen the movie, my husband saw it on his last flight to Asia (thank you, All Nippon Airways). Once he got home, he dived into the book. As for me, I’ve really got to see the film…

Extras include an afterword from the author and a short essay from Genki Kawamura, who produced the your name. movie.

In summary

Over a decade ago, Makoto Shinkai wowed me with his filmmaking; now he wows me with his writing. your name. is about lovers brought together by fate, but it’s much more than a romance. The story incorporates goofy humor, reflections on the fragility of human memory, and a heart-pounding, race-against-time to thwart disaster. And the amazing thing is that it all works. Hats off to Shinkai!

First published at The Fandom Post.

Light Novel Review: Is It Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon? Vol. 1

The “Dungeon” referred to in Is It Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon? doesn’t refer to a jail cell. Rather it’s the type of place you fight monsters to obtain treasures in RPGs, and this fantasy setting gets combined with harem elements in this light novel released by Yen Press.

Back Cover Blurb

In Orario, fearless adventurers band together in search of fame and fortune within the monstrous underground labyrinth known as Dungeon.

But while riches and renown are incentive enough for most, Bell Cranel, would-be hero extraordinaire, has bigger plans.

He wants to pick up girls.

Is it wrong to face the perils of Dungeon alone, in a single-member guild blessed by a failed goddess? Maybe. Is it wrong to dream of playing hero to hapless maidens in Dungeon? Maybe not. After one misguided adventure, Bell quickly discovers that anything can happen in the labyrinth–even chance encounters with beautiful women. The only problem? He’s the one who winds up the damsel in distress!

The Review

From the light novel’s silly title, I expected a clever romance comedy. Instead, Is It Wrong to Try to Pick up Girls in a Dungeon? is better described a fantasy adventure. Although meeting girls is what drives Bell Cranel, the story’s hapless hero, to become an adventurer in Orario’s Dungeon, there are zero flirt scenes in the monster-ridden labyrinth. Bell’s delusions of finding dream girls in the Dungeon are quickly destroyed during a Minotaur attack in the prologue, and the humiliation he suffers turns the story into that of underdog newbie striving to transform from weak to strong.

The ironic thing is that even though Bell gives up his fantasy of attaining a harem at the beginning of the book, he attracts a sizable one over the course of the novel. Despite the title, Bell’s too shy and naive to pick up anyone, in the Dungeon or elsewhere. Yet women all over town–from humble waitresses to demi-humans to voluptuous goddesses–are inexplicably attracted to the scrawny, dirt poor, country born, Level I adventurer. Now Bell does have a very rare adventurer skill that puts him into a category all to himself, but only a couple of the goddess characters are aware of it. The rest of them fall for Bell just because. To the women of Orario, he might as well be the only man in town, and actually, except for three bit parts, there aren’t any other male characters besides Bell.

Yen Press touts the light novel as a “hilarious send-up of sword and sorcery tropes.” The fantasy tropes it has in spades, but it falls well short of hilarious. Part of the problem is that the world of Dungeon is modeled after a RPG, complete with progressively difficult Dungeon levels, monsters that leave drop items once they’re killed, and status profiles. Unfortunately, that means the first couple chapters read like game manuals with several paragraphs of world-building/setting descriptions.

Another weakness of Dungeon is that some humor involves physicality that might work in anime or manga but falls flat as pure text. Specifically, a couple female characters have ridiculously oversized breasts that Omori-sensei tries to use to comic effect. Unfortunately, the descriptions of the mayhem caused by pillow-sized bosoms comes off as awkward or vulgar rather than funny.

This light novel includes a color foldout illustration with the four goddesses on one side and Aiz and Eina on the other, seven black-and-white illustrations, profiles on Bell and the Hestia Knife, a short epilogue, and author afterword.

In Summary

Unless you enjoy reading video game manuals for fun, the first chapters of Dungeon are going to be a slog. If you tough it out, your reward is a not particularly original story of a newbie fighter striving to succeed in order to impress his crush. Bell Cranel’s efforts and aspiration might be engaging, but the blatant harem aspect of the story waters down the impact of his adventures.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Book Review: My Neighbor Totoro: the Novel

Totoro is one of the most recognizable characters in all anime. Though 25 years have passed since the release of My Neighbor Totoro, you can still find Totoro goods and fans everywhere. Totoro is the face of powerhouse Studio Ghibli, what Mickey Mouse is to Disney, and he’s still popular enough to claim a role in Toy Story 3.

True fact: I learned Totoro was in that film while cosplaying as Totoro at Anime Expo. (An excited stranger started pointing at me and yelling, “You’re in Toy Story 3!”)

For English-speaking fans who can’t get enough of the lovable fuzzy giant, Viz Media has recently released their translation of My Neighbor Totoro: the Novel.

back cover blurb

The beloved animation classic by legendary Studio Ghibli director Hayao Miyazaki, My Neighbor Totoro is now retold in novel form. This prestige, hardcover edition features original illustrations by Miyazaki himself, accompanying a story written by veteran children’s book author Tsugiko Kubo. Sure to delight both existing fans and new readers!

Eleven-year-old Satsuki and her sassy little sister Mei have moved to the country to be closer to their ailing mother. While their father is working, the girls explore their sprawling old house and the forest and fields that surround it. Soon, Satsuki and Mei discover Totoro, a magical forest spirit who takes them on fantastic adventures through the trees and the clouds–and teaches them a lesson about trusting one another.

The review

This book is beautifully produced. The canvas textured cover and Miyazaki’s watercolor sketch illustrations give it the feel of a classic, which it is, actually. Though Viz Media has only recently released the English translation, the original Japanese novel was published in 1988. A whimsical acorn design decorates the inside of the cover, and the book includes a handy color map of Matsugo Village, where the story takes place.

It’s called My Neighbor Totoro: the Novel, but it’s closer to My Neighbor Totoro, the Chapter Book. The story follows 11-year-old Satsuki for the most part and was clearly intended for readers her age. Still, though the plot and descriptions are written for a younger audience, aspects of the book may pose a challenge for English-speaking readers. Part of it is because of the Japanese names. For instance, the name of hospital where the girls’ mother is being treated, Shichikokuyama, may seem daunting and unpronounceable to a Western child. The other part is the various cultural references of 1950s rural Japan, where breakfast consists of rice and miso soup, people pay homage to various nature spirits, and, yes, families bathe together.

The book contains the same general arc as the Totoro movie. Two sisters and their father move to the countryside to be closer to the girls’ mother, who is hospitalized with tuberculosis. As they settle into their new home, a long-vacant and rumored to be haunted house, they encounter a number of magical creatures, including Totoro, the ruler of the forest. The major plot points are the same, but Kubo-sensei, who wrote the novel adaption, does change a few details, including the cat bus’ role when Mei goes missing. She also adds a few scenes that weren’t part of the movie, including a ten day trip to visit relatives in Tokyo. Interestingly, the famous scene of Totoro and the girls playing ocarinas in the camphor tree on the front cover never actually takes place in the book.

Charming as the Totoro movie is, it moves pretty slowly, and the novel moves even slower. While the totoros are mysterious and magical, most of the pages are taken up by descriptions of the mundane: landscapes, plants, chores, school. However, because these things are seen through the eyes of a girl new to the country, who’s struggling to keep house in a place without the conveniences she’s used to and take care of her younger sister on top of that, the narration is engaging despite its pace.

The book paints Satsuki as a very likable character–brave, responsible, and positive. Mei, on the other hand, comes across as a troublesome, difficult sibling while their father is loving but unreliable, a kind of absent-minded professor. So the ones Satsuki  depends on are her neighbors, Granny Ogaki and Kanta. A few times, the story briefly shifts to Kanta’s perspective, which is pretty interesting considering his fleeting appearances in the film, and readers get a better grasp of his crush on Satsuki that’s only hinted at in the movie.

As mentioned earlier, the story largely follows Satsuki’s perspective. What that means is our first introduction to Totoro is a secondhand account through Mei, and considering she’s only got a 4-year-old’s grasp of language, it’s pretty confusing. Totoro doesn’t actually appear in the flesh until the bus stop scene, and the other totoros, of which Kubo-sensei provides hardly any description, don’t get much mention at all. Also, the book includes no illustration of the medium-size totoro so readers unfamiliar with the film wouldn’t have any idea what it looks like. As such, even though My Neighbor Totoro can be read on its own, it functions better as a companion piece to the film.

In summary

While it doesn’t follow the film exactly, My Neighbor Totoro: the Novel is a delightful companion piece to the movie. It gives readers additional details on the characters and setting and provides a glimpse into Satsuki’s thoughts as events unfold. Although it was originally written for young readers, fans of all ages can enjoy rediscovering Totoro’s forest from a new perspective.

First published at The Fandom Post.