Archive for the 'light novels' Category

Novel: The intrigues of Haruhi Suzumiya

by dm00

Hardcover (left) and softcover (right)

If someone from the future comes to tell you what you will do with your life, how free are you to do otherwise?

This is the question at the heart of this seventh volume in the Suzumiya Haruhi series. This volume is the first that consists of material that is entirely new to viewers of the anime franchise.

In Disappearance, Kyon learned to appreciate Haruhi. In Intrigues, he learns to appreciate the other members of the SOS-Dan (even Itsuki), perhaps most especially himself. Tsuruya also plays an important role as the Tom Bombadil of this book series: knowing, able to be helpful, but more a natural force than an ally.

The novel begins with a prologue that involves a bit of time-travel to clean up some loose ends from Disappearance, then jumps directly into a puzzle in which a second Mikuru appears suddenly in the clubroom broom-closet, and informs Kyon that, eight days from today, he will shove her into the broom closet and tell her to leap back in time to this point. Also puzzling to Mikuru, she got immediate permission to perform the time-leap Kyon demanded of her.

After that, the plot is driven by letters that appear each morning in Kyon’s shoe-locker — Kyon’s week of geo-caching. Trudging about in mysterious corners of the city in February isn’t the most pleasant way to spend one’s time, but mostly Kyon is puzzled about the apparently random activities and his own motivation for sending Mikuru back in time.

On top of this, Haruhi seems subdued, but not to the extreme that she’s generating closed spaces as a side-effect. Haruhi’s blues eventually clear up (and Kyon, seemingly, was the only one who noticed they were there), and, since Disappearance, Kyon now appreciates an inspired Haruhi.

And an inspired Haruhi is no longer quite as unpleasant as she was earlier in the series. She’s mellowed. Further, she’s almost a minor character (after the first book, this series has never done well when Haruhi is on center stage).

Finally, there are actual encounters with minions of the sinister opposition force that caused the snowy mountain syndrome episode.

After something of a rough start, these novels continue to improve. Tanigawa is growing as a writer, and developing a firmer, and deeper grasp of his characters.

Yen Press’ softcover includes monochrome illustrations throughout the book and a collection of color plates at the back.

Book Girl and the corrupted angel

by dm00

Cover of the Yen Press edition

Book girl and the corrupted angel is volume four of the Bungaku Shoujo/Literature Girl/Book Girl series of light novels about Tohko Amano, a book-devouring demon and the author Konoha Inoue that she has enslaved
Continue reading ‘Book Girl and the corrupted angel’

The wavering of Haruhi Suzumiya

by dm00

Hard cover edition

I just finished The Wavering of Haruhi Suzumiya, a title that makes me think of Alexander the Great for some reason.

Book six of the Haruhi Suzumiya series is a collection of short stories. The first two stories, “Live alive” and “The adventures of Mikuru Asahina episode 00”, were among the highlights of the first animated season (which I think appeared shortly after this book was originally published in Japan).

In the new stories in this volume, Yuki is on the receiving end of a confession of love, Mikuru asks Kyon out on a Sunday afternoon (“The melancholy of Mikuru Asahina”), and the cat Shamisen is a key witness in the murder mystery that got derailed in “Snowy mountain syndrome”.

Continue reading ‘The wavering of Haruhi Suzumiya’

The Rampage of Haruhi Suzumiya

by dm00

Hardback cover, paperback sticks with the single-color theme of past paperbacks

Volume five of the Suzumiya Haruhi novels, The rampage of Haruhi Suzumiya, has been out for a while now, and I finally read it. It consists of a couple of short stories, and a novella. The paperback appears to be out of print, but the hardback is available for paperback prices.

The stories are Endless eight (which only takes us through the last iteration — which is all it can do, since that’s all our narrator, Kyon, could know about to write down in his memoirs), and Day of Sagittarius, the story of the game contest with the computer club.

The novella is Snowy mountain syndrome, about a ski trip gone terribly wrong. The book has lots for Yuki and Tsuruya fans. In addition, Haruhi has mellowed a great deal and actually shows some consideration for others. It’s an excellent puzzle story, somewhat reminiscent of a Heinlein or Asimov short (you know the sort of story — it reads like the author was inspired by a Scientific American article, and writes a story about a nifty idea). Tanigawa is definitely growing as a writer.

…And it’s a bloody wasted opportunity. It advances the plot and development of the world and the characters. But the “math is hard” Barbies at Kyoto Animation chose to demonstrate their craftsmanship on eight variations of Endless eight instead of rising to the challenge of animating a story in which the resolution requires Koizumi to use a carpet as a blackboard.

Shaft could have done it, and it would have been a miracle of typography. And fanservice — the resolution of the puzzle involves a series of nocturnal visits among the cast members. Oh, it could have been wonderful.

Anyway, this series, after bobbling a bit with The sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya, just keeps getting better. I’m looking forward to the next volume.

Anyway, on to The wavering of Haruhi Suzumiya, which includes the story of “The adventures of Mikuru Asahina 00”, and has yet more for Yuki and Tsuruya fans….

Book Girl and the Captive Fool

by dm00

Let the book fairy be your guide

This weekend I read the third Book Girl novel: Book Girl and the Captive Fool.

In this book, Tohko discovers that someone is cutting pages out of library books. This offends her (despite her own habits where books are concerned), because the person is taking some of the best parts — like taking the strawberry off the top of a cake — and leaving the rest.

She drags Konoha into an investigation, and they catch the culprit, red-handed. As penance, the culprit must take part in the play the Book Club is putting on for the cultural festival — a tale of love, friendship, and betrayal. Soon, it becomes clear that the play and the situation of some of their classmates is similar….

My gosh, these things are dark: suicide, murder, assault, childhood trauma producing warped psyches. And throughout, charming book-fairy Tohko flits among the bloodshed and misery.
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Book Girl and the double-layered mysteries

by dm00

Watch out, Yomiko, here comes Tohko Amano

I was prompted to pop these two books to the top of my reading queue after reading this review of the second book at Erica Friedman’s blog. I’m glad I did, and I can’t wait for the third volume in the series to come out in August.

Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime

Tohko Amano is a “book girl”. She lives on books — devouring them. Literally and literately. She will read a page, then tear it out and chew it slowly, relishing the flavors and describing them in terms that would make a gourmet blush. The narrator of this novel teases her for being a “book-eating goblin”, but she is a charming one.

To feed her habit, she has ensnared Konoha Inoue, a first-year student as the only other member of her book-club. Every day after school she challenges him to write an improvisational story on a theme of her choosing, which she will then consume. To feed her taste for romantic adventure, she has installed a mailbox on the school-yard, with the note that “describe them for us, and the Book Club will solve your romantic problems”. Their first customer is a clumsy duckling of a first-year student who has a crush on a member of the archery club.

After hearing her story, Tohko tells her that the club (meaning the long-suffering Konoha) will provide her with love-letters that she can copy and send to her crush. The price: she is to write a report on how things go.

Konoha writes the letters, but soon grows curious. He asks a classmate, also in the archery club, about the boy the girl has a crush on, and finds that there is no one like that in the archery club. When he confronts the girl, she insists that the boy exists.

On further investigation, Tohko and Inoue discover that the boy committed suicide ten years earlier.

What follows is a mystery that resonates with ghosts in Inoue’s own past, that culminates in a harrowing scene dangling from a rooftop.

For Inoue does have ghosts, and they serve to make him a much more interesting narrator than seems common in light novels. The characterizations are well-done and believable (a far cry from the wordy affectless artificiality of Nisio Isin’s Zaregoto books, despite Tohko’s supernatural nature). Inoue can be almost as snarky as Haruhi Suzumiya’s Kyon, but with Tohko a far more charming character than Haruhi, I think the books may wear better with succeeding volumes.

Tohko is a delightful nerd, a book otaku.

The translation is superb — indeed, I ceased to be aware that I was reading a translation.  Yen Press recommends the books for fifteen and up, probably because of the discussion of teenage suicide, but I don’t think it’s inappropriate for anyone over 12.

Continue reading ‘Book Girl and the double-layered mysteries’

Zaregoto 2: The Kubishime Romanticist


The narrator is someone capable of mostly ignoring her


by dm00

The second volume of NisiOisiN’s Zaregoto series arrived last week, and I read it over the weekend. It follows a couple of months after the incidents of the first book — the book opens with the narrator drowning his tastebuds in kimchi to burn them out, resetting them so he can enjoy mundane food once again, now that he’s no longer trapped on an isolated island with the world’s greatest cook. As he is doing this, he is confronted by Mikoko Aoii, who invites him to a friend’s birthday party. The narrator finds himself drifting along with events (that include murders, an encounter with a serial-killer, and the return of humanity’s strongest consultant, Aikawa Jun.

I’m not sure — these books remind me of Bret Easton Ellis substituting otaku references for designer-brand name-dropping. For this volume it seems to be Japanese mystery writers or characters more than anime and manga (save for Aoii referring to the strength of the narrator’s AT-field). There’s a curious void at the heart of the characters — particularly the central narrator — and Isin spends more time telling than showing as the narrator talks about his own emptiness. At one point the narrator seems to have a refreshingly human reaction. However, it’s very normality should tip the reader off that something is up.

The blue-haired moeblob hacker is nearly reduced to a footnote.

I’d forgotten from the first book that these are mystery novels with an unreliable narrator. If we are to solve the mystery we have to realize that the narrator may be hiding vital information from us. Indeed, the narrator comes close to being so misleading as to hide necessary clues. He comes close, but doesn’t quite cross that line — when Jun Aikawa does figure things out, she uses evidence that we are also privy to.

And yet, something about the books makes them more compelling for me than, say Haruki Murakami. After finishing this novel, I think the leap to the supernatural that happens in Bakemonogatari is a good strategy for NisiOisiN — it might, ironically, make the characters more human by giving them a reason to be less human.

I’m more-or-less hooked. Del Rey, why not bring the next volume out a little sooner than late 2011?


by dm00

Yummy Take cover art

Yummy Take cover art

When I first read the description of NisiOisin’s Zaregoto:

It’s the vacation of a lifetime, a trip to a remote island filled with geniuses – and murder.

On Wet Crow’s Feather Island, a tiny speck in the Sea of Japan, lives Akagami Iria, the exiled daughter of a powerful family. Born into great wealth, she was a princess of the highest pedigree – until she was cut off by the leader of the Akagami Foundation. For the last five years, she’s lived on Feather Island with her maids. But she hasn’t been alone. She has invited the best minds Japan has to offer to come and stay with her.

And so 19-year-old college student Ii-chan and his best friend, computer genius Kunagisa Tomo, find themselves as Iria’s guests at her elaborate mansion. Surrounded by fascinating women – a chef, a fortune-teller, a scholar, and an artist, not to mention his own friend Tomo – Ii-chan is feeling a little overmatched intellectually. But the sudden discovery of a grisly murder sends the island into shock. Ii-chan discovers that he does possess a bit of genius: the ability to discover what is real and what is fake… who is who they claim to be – and who is a killer.

I wasn’t particularly excited.  “Oh, a locked-room mystery on an isolated island, how uncontrived”.  Not even Andrew Cunningham clearly plumping for it and Omo being cryptic was enough to interest me.

But then I got hooked on NisiOisin’s Bakemonogatari with it’s odd characters and their odd monologues, and grew hungry for more.

Well, if you’re looking for a hit of that Bakemonogatari magic, this is a good place to look.  Once again you have your nebbish narrator surrounded by weird women with the ability to spin words into webs of fascination.  NisiOisin actually manages to make his characters’ supposed genius at least credible (even if they do take a bit long to seize on the post hoc).

And, hey, it’s a pretty decent mystery.  Even better: there’s a twist to the solution that even eludes the main character, delivered with the sort of punch fans of Bakemonogatari are accustomed to.

The only bad thing is that Del Rey doesn’t seem to plan to bring the second volume of the series out until June of next year.  Give them encouragement.  Go buy it.

The Authors (with others, too.)

The Good Old Days

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