Just a smile in need of protecting.
In February 2013, Bessatsu Shounen Magazine ran a one-shot called Koe no Katachi, by Ooima Yoshitoki, advertising it as a comic the editorial office initially didn’t want to print. It wasn’t only a cheap marketing trick, though: it immediately caused discussion on both sides of the Pacific and after a while, the decision to develop it into a longer series was made. In November 2014, first news of an animated adaptation emerged and in September 2016, the film, directed by Yamada Naoko of Kyoto Animation, was released theatrically. Back then, when the one-chapter “prototype” of Koe no Katachi was talked about on /a/, I gave it a go, tempted by all the controversy. And hated it. It remained in my memory as that comic about little shits abusing a deaf girl, and attempting to justify their disgusting, predatory behavior. Therefore, when the film recently went out on home video, I hesitated whether I should watch it. I guess it being made by KyoAni, and being a part of the recent chain of good anime films, made me choose to see it. And, as I was surprised to admit, I regretted nothing.
The first volume of Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku series was originally published in 2012, but its English translation came out only recently, a few months after the animated adaptation. As a MahoIku fan, I could not miss the opportunity to buy and read it. The cover looks nice, doesn’t it? A cute mahou shoujo on a pitch black, ominous background. Very appropriate.
Since this one volume was adapted into a 12-episode anime series (one packed with content, too), one would expect it to be a rather thick, dense book. But it’s not. The afterword begins on page 193. Having read it only confirms my suspicion that making it at least 220 pages long would be good idea. Things happen way too fast. For example, Nemurin’s death gets unceremoniously checked off – the novel pretty much spends three lines on it. The fight between La Pucelle and Cranberry happens entirely offscreen. The chapter ends and after a while you’re informed that La Pucelle died. There’s plenty of moments that were added in the anime – like the “Schoolgirl in Concrete” bit with Hardgore Alice – that was one hundred percent anime-original. And I could think of more. Even though this novel wasn’t the author debut work, it seems like one. The crew responsible for the anime did a great job elevating this flawed piece of storytelling into one of the best shows of 2016 – it’s a middle finger shown to habitual 原作厨.
Also, when reading, I thought that this story, in all its incarnations, missed a golden opportunity to be a story centred around an idea, one that imparts a conviction in the reader, which would elevate the story a notch higher on the quality scale. You know how the winner of the battle royale is the girl who never killed anyone? Isn’t that saying a lot?
Endou Asari could point out that the Magical Girl Raising Project is a spectacular failure of a social darwinist ploy to select the best fighter out of all participants. And yet, in the end Fav and Cranberry don’t care about that. They turn out to only be a pair of sick fucks who decided that the usual “selection exams” are boring. It’s only my opinion, but making them ideologically motivated would be so much more impressive.
Anyway, the novel is a disappointment if you’ve seen the anime beforehand. Don’t read it. The anime is so superior it isn’t even funny.
Out of all Spring 2017 shows, not many were making me look forward to the next episode as much as Seikai Suru Kado. The reason why it first caught my attention in November 2015, when it was first announced, was the name of the person responsible for its screenplay and series composition – Nozaki Mado. He’s a cult writer, completely unknown in the West until recently. If you have heard of him, it’s probably because of his first major work, [Ei] Amurita, a Dengeki Novel Prize winner from 2009, a romance about a boy helping a genius girl produce an independent film. Among others, he’s also written Nozaki Mado Gekijou, a collection of fucked-in-the-head short stories. His latest work, Kado, is a story of humanity’s first encounter with a superior alien civilization…
The Japanese cover.
While googling around for information on Rokka no Yuusha when I was writing my recent blogpost, I noticed a certain comic being mentioned several times: 11-nin Iru! by Hagio Moto. Or They Were Eleven in English. I’d heard of the title before, but since it’s a shoujo manga from the 70s, my interest in reading it was low. However, feeling curious after reading Rokka, I finally decided to check it out. It has been translated and printed by Viz as a part of an anthology called Four Shoujo Stories, published in 1996. It’s obviously out of print, but I’m sure you can find the scans floating around. There’s also an animated film from 1986 based on it. I, however, decided to buy the recent Polish edition. So, what is this piece of old-ass shoujo-science fiction like?
Distant future. The space era. The entrance exam into the elite Cosmic Academy is underway. However, after the examinees finish its written part, they’re suddenly informed that the most important part of the exam is still before them. They’re told they will be divided into groups of ten. The group of men who performed best on the exam are sent off to a drifting abandoned spaceship with the objective of surviving fifty three days there without contacting the outer world. Upon arrival, they’re welcomed by a one-sided message from the examiners. They’re given the option to press a red button to prematurely end this “exam” in case of emergency – that’s the only way to send out a message to the trial’s supervisors. The exam reeks of ill intentions towards the cadets. What if somebody dies? I guess the examiners would be like “Oh I guess he wasn’t good enough to pass the trial. Next!”
The second volume of Oregairu (originally published in 2011) was released recently in English, so I couldn’t miss the opportunity to buy and read it. And write a few words on it, so here goes.
As I’ve written before on Twitter, it’s a typical second volume. The author didn’t have to put as much effort into it as he would have to if he was a debutante. As a writer, he’s already beyond that initial step of trying to get a foot in the door of success.
What happens in this second volume? Unfortunately – not much. The novel is 180 pages long, but it can be easily summarized like this: Hachiman and the Service Club are visited by two people in need of help. The first case to deal with is Hayama Hayato’s friends squabbling between each other, while the other is convincing a new character, Kawasaki Saki, to quit her part-time job. Sadly, both of those storylines are mundane and low-stakes. And the way Hachiman solves his requesters’ problems is even less impressive – a very slight change gets the job done in both cases.
That description might make you think that book is ignorable. Don’t cross out Oregairu v2 from you wishlist just yet, though. Who cares if the plot is inconsequential? Even though it isn’t half as impressive as the first volume, time goes by fast when you’re reading it – it’s still pure pleasure to consume. Although this volume is uneventful, Hikigaya Hachiman is still his usual self. This series is all about the humor of the protag making transparent excuses about being a loser. Or making painful observations about his resigned personality. And obscure intertextual references. Oh, and Chiba prefecture trivia. Those novels are character studies written in first person, so the border between “how it’s written” and “what the protagonist’s personality is like” is vague. However you call it, Hachiman’s hilarious, ranty inner monologues are the reason to read Oregairu. Even though it’s a second volume, this book is still better than most light novels.
Oregairu is the best thing Watari Wataru has written and will ever write. Probably because it’s such a personal, true-to-life work. Maybe he should stop forcing himself to be a “writer” and producing stuff like Qualidea Code…