Now that the initial controversy has subsided I finally feel able to form and voice an opinion on Aku no Hana. The art style didn’t put me off, surprisingly. I actually had reservations about whether the main characters would be so flawed and twisted that it would be impossible to form any sort of attachment to, or interest in, what happens to them. It is in fact a breath of fresh air due to its unusual approach, and is a textbook example of ‘grimly compelling’.
I also started following the graphic novel after learning that it’s currently ongoing, and it’s a fascinating piece of work. Thematically it reminds me a little of, as some other viewers have pointed out, Shunji Iwai’s All About Lily Chou-chou, plus Tetsuya Nakeshima’s Confessions but also a bit of Onani Master Kurosawa I think (only without the fapping). It’s a top-tier piece of suspenseful psychological character study that plunges a literary probe into the deepest recesses of its protagonists’ minds, and for this reason alone I’d recommend it.
Although I was intrigued by the first two Kara no Kyoukai movie outings I wasn’t totally sold until I’d seen the third one. The brutal and shocking opening scene made me sit up and take notice, but the way the whole film was constructed convinced me of how unusual and special this story is. This is I think the point where Nasu really started to hit his stride as a writer.
Part 3 of the original novel begins with a different scene from the film adaptation, although I can understand why Ufotable took the route they did because it has more dramatic impact. The Gate of Seventh Heaven remix movie includes the deleted scene though, and I sort-of wish that it had found its way into the theatrical version somewhere; it dramatises the conversation between Mikiya and the university professor when they’re discussing parapsychology related to the Fujino Asagami case, and adds some useful background details in the process.
The second chapter of KnK may seem like one of the weaker sections since it’s so heavy on exposition and concepts that don’t gain much from the transition from print to screen; even in novel form it doesn’t have many exciting moments. The novel has a ‘greater than the sum of its parts’ thing going on though, and the character study of this chapter is one of the main reasons why it feels that way. If you’re patient and take the time with this part, it’s easier to appreciate the rest.
By which I mean: it’s important in understanding how the two protagonists’ minds work and what drives them to make the decisions they make later on. I guess the narrative also needs time to pause and offer something character-driven before leaping headlong into the next action-orientated arc. After reading this chapter through, the first one feels like a ‘cold open’ to get the reader’s/viewer’s attention while the heart of the story lies elsewhere.
The process of adapting a novel for the screen fascinates me, if not as much as the writing process itself. On those rare and wonderful occasions where there’s no “…the book was better…” sensation, the people responsible for the adaptation are competent but also recognise what it is about the original that made it special.
Could I find a pic of Kirie on her own? Could I heck. This is much better though (click to see in its fully embiggened glory)
Reading the the opening chapter of Kara no Kyoukai after watching the movie, I can’t ignore the fact that it’s a very ‘early’ attempt on Nasu’s part to focus his creative energy and bring his inspiration together into a tangible, and readable, form. It has a rough-around-the-edges, first-draft feel to it, which is bad for casual readers but interesting to fans and those of us who like to dig beneath the surface to find out what makes the story, and the mind that wrote it, tick.
Yesterday I finished China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station. It’s a prime example of his ‘New Weird’ brand of fantasy fiction, and my opinion of it reminded me of an old draft of a post I had languishing since way back when. That article was concerned with two of Miyuki Miyabe’s novels, The Book of Heroes and Brave Story; I’ve read her Ico: Castle in the Mist as well, but since it was an enjoyable but rather pedestrian videogame-inspired adventure I can’t think of much to say about it.
BS and BoH on the other hand deserve quite a bit of discussion because, like PSS, they seem to be conscious attempts on the part of their author to break away from the traditional and predictable types of fantasy fiction. This in itself is a good idea and makes for a more interesting read, but comes with its own problems. I’ll try to keep spoilers to a minimum here because these three books are rewarding in their own right.
Viz have been very savvy in their selection of novels to translate and publish in the English-speaking world, with the end result of the Haikasoru imprint being a range of books that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed so far. Admittedly, some were more impressive than others but each and every one of them has been deserving of reaching a wider international audience.
Which brings us to the first short story collection (not counting the excellent Stories of Ibis), which showcases some shorter pieces whose length wouldn’t justify stand-alone releases. Tellingly, these are not comprised purely of Japanese writers: the selection appears to be based on general cultural themes rather than the basis of the contributors’ nationalities. It’s an unusual move for the publisher, but I daresay it makes the end results even more interesting and their rationale makes sense when you read the stories themselves.
My introduction to Natsuhiko Kyogoku was the anime adaptation of his second novel of the Kyogokudou series, Mouryou no Hako. Then there was the sci-fi-themed Loups Garous. The first novel of his Kyogokudou series, The Summer of the Ubume, has in contrast been available in English for some time, but I daresay it’s slipped under most people’s radar…which is a bit of a shame. It’s perhaps understandable though since it’s a bit of an acquired taste: it gives an experience akin to a Mamoru Oshii story, building an intellectual ‘wall’ around itself, for want of a better term, that it expects the reader to climb over. The effort is worth your while but I can understand why some people wouldn’t bother.
There are a couple of segments in particular that go off at quite demanding tangents, which is fine for those of us with a passing interest in philosophy, psychology and Japanese folklore, but to most it would come across as self-indulgent on the author’s part (Kyogoku is a youkai enthusiast and boy, does it show up in his writing). Getting through these – and seeing how they are relevant to the story – is the main reservation I’d have in recommending this novel, but overall I loved it.
The hardback edition of 1Q84 was always going to be one of the highlights of this year’s reading list, so however good or bad it turned out to be I was going to make a big deal about picking it up and savouring every page. You can’t get New Book Smell from a Kindle, either.
I’ve seen Orwell comparisons frequently mentioned but unless I’m missing something really subtly woven in to the structure or prose, Murakami hasn’t gone down the homage or pastiche route here. Beyond a couple of passing references to the date in which the events take place, there isn’t much in this novel that’s Orwellian at all; although it’s been a number of years since I read Nineteen Eighty-Four this is just another Murakami novel as far as I can tell.
Super Dimensional Fortress Macross and Good Luck Yukikaze are two offerings in the diverse and well-trodden region of speculative fiction in which humanity tries to come to terms with, and survive, an alien invasion. Although they have not directly influenced one another as far as I know, they do share a similar level of care and attention devoted to showing how the events affect individuals.
Macross is renowned for being a character-driven romance rather than a political space opera; for all the loving detail lavished on the hardware and military tactics Yukikaze still has plenty of time for humans and their relationships (even when the relationships are with machines!). The war is of course for the whole of humanity, but often for the combatants very personal issues are what matter.
I was planning to write a bit about Lord of the Sands of Time but as engaging and imaginative as it is, the whole affair is a bit short so I can’t really think of much to say about it. It’s an interesting take on the time travel and alternate history concepts and doesn’t take long to read either, so I recommend you read it. I suspected that it wasn’t the best showcase for Ogawa’s writing though; The Next Continent proved my suspicions right.
The upbeat vs. downbeat divide in SF is quite stark to me: many of the former are warnings that depict us as a species on a path to self-destruction. In our environmentally-conscious and cynical times I guess it’s not surprising that this is currently holding sway over the optimistic ‘inspirational’ type that speculates about how we could make our outlook brighter; I personally prefer a mix of both, but The Next Continent thrives on the latter.