Light Novel Review : Genshiken : Return of the Otaku / by Iida Kazutoshi & Kio Shimoku

genshikenGenshiken : Return of the Otaku / by Iida Kazutoshi & Kio Shimoku

Based on the manga by Kio Shimoku

Translated from the Japanese by Katy Bridges, 2010.

Del Rey Manga/Kodansha Trade Paperback Edition, 2010

Originally published in Japan as Genshiken : Hairu Ranto no Yabo~Return of the Otaku, 2008

223 pages

978-0345516275

Stars: ★ / 5


From GoodReads:

The deafening whack-whack-whack of a helicopter above campus is the first indication that the balmy tranquility of the Genshiken Club is about to be disturbed. The chopper brings handsome Ranto Hairu: transfer student, scion of a powerful Japanese conglomerate, and newly named chairman of the on-campus club organization committee.

Hairu has strong ideas about the kind of clubs that deserve to survive (earnest, industrious) and the kind that don’t (arty, frivolous), and he’s a big fan of brute force. For Madarame, Kousaka, Ohno, and the others, the idea of losing their cherished club is the ultimate nightmare—but it’s only the first of many.
 
Fortunately, the Genshiken boys and girls have a few tricks of their own, including a certain swordfighter summoned from ancient times who could prove very handy


Unfortunately, the summary is probably the best writing you’ll get with this title. I certainly didn’t have high expectations of this work, but I thought I’d end up laying the blame primarily on the translator. That the story and writing themselves couldn’t be that bad. I’ve heard so often how the translations of these early light novels were horrible… but, there’s more to it than this!

Actually, I don’t think the translator is at fault at all. I won’t believe that they are this poor of a writer. Mostly, I am left feeling sorry for them, since they obviously had NOTHING to work with. For example:

p. 100 [Sasahara] looked around for a vending machine where he could buy something to get the taste out of his mouth. There were several vending machines on the street, but all were sold out of everything. Finally, he found a vending machine with something that wasn’t sold out…

Primarily the text reads like, “He did this. Then he did this. Then this did happen.” It’s just lists of action, with very little description or motive to carry between one sentence and the next. I could go to any page, and point out similar issues, like this one:

p.20 […] The father was an obstetrician, the mother a midwife. 

The murder took place at the clinic while the mother and father were away at a medical conference.

The perpetrator was a twenty-two-year-old student who had failed his college exams. He had hope to become the obstetrician who would take over the clinic when the time came.

The murder victim was his nineteen-year-old sister, who was in her last month of pregnancy.

These breaks between sentences are the actual paragraph breaks. Most of which are begun using the same passive voice, with the same word choices. This selection at least has an excuse for its dull prose by using the heading, “Summary of the Incident.” But, this only excuses the single page. It doesn’t excuse the remaining “novel.”

Now, you may be thinking that I should give more allowance to the writing in a light novel. Light novels are known for their low standard. But, I promise, I have more objections than just the composition of prose!

Objection number two, is the story. 

There are about three elements to make up this story. First, there is a mysterious video game that is possessing its players. Second, there is a demon-possessed jizo statue looking for his sister half. And Third, there is a bored student clubs president who has been tasked with cleaning up the morality of the school.

The Genshiken are in trouble from both the game, which seems to have captured some members, and the new student club president who wants to shut them down. The latter issue, about being shut down, is a tired idea. This has already been done in the manga. There were so many other places a story about the Genshiken could have gone.

The first two “magical” or “supernatural” elements are completely out of place in this story. As much as the Japanese culture is infused with spirituality, the original Genshiken manga itself, which this book is supposed to be based off of, is a story of a college club of otaku. The story is about the day-to-day concerns of interacting with each other, buying the latest merchandise, and finding someone with a working computer for playing erotic video games.

It’s not a story that works with magical elements. Unless maybe those elements are the fantasy discussed by the characters in one of their club meetings.

My third objection, has to do with the characters.

As this “novel” is, I’m assuming, purely fan-fiction the only people who should be reading it are fans. If you are coming to this novel outside of watching the anime or reading the manga, you are not going to know who is who, why they act a certain way, and why it’s important that someone said that particular “something” to that other someone.

The author did not, for a second, consider that anyone other than Genshiken otaku would be reading this. And, even as a Genshiken otaku, I found the characters completely lacking! These are weak, paper-thin characters which is in complete contrast to how they are portrayed in the manga.

There’s actually about a three page discussion between Madarame and Sasahara about the virtues of writing a novel after the manga or anime. They talk about how it gives the fan an insight into the actual minds of the characters, the inner monologue, that they normally wouldn’t get to see.

Maybe this is true. But that’s only if the inner monologue needs revealing. When Sasahara is looking for a vending machine because he wants to wash the bad taste out of his mouth, I don’t need him to think, “I’ve got a bad taste in my mouth” so that I’ll understand. It’s just as easy to read it through the actions he takes in the manga. This novel does nothing more for revealing a character through thoughts than the manga could have done… and MUCH better.

And, if the manga could have done the job better, the novel has no reason for existing! It actually feels like an insult to the fans who love the work, and the author who created it.

A shining light!

I guess the best thing about this title, is that there are some original drawings by Kio Shimoku in it. But…ummm… they’re not enough (in my opinion) to buy the book, and certainly no reason to read it. Okay, that’s not much to go on.

Luckily, this title is long out of print, so less people will have access to it. I heartily don’t recommend this work, and actually may have been completely turned off from trying another light novel… at least until next year!

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Novel Review: Strange Weather in Tokyo / by Hiromi Kawakami

strange weatherStrange Weather in Tokyo / by Hiromi Kawakami

Translated from the Japanese by Allison Markin Powell, ©2012

Published by Portobello Books, ©2014

Originally Published in Japan in 2001 under the title センセイの鞄 (Sensei no kaban) by Bungei Shunju, Tokyo

978-1-84627-510-4

Stars: ★★★★ / 5

 


From GoodReads:

Tsukiko is in her late 30s and living alone when one night she happens to meet one of her former high school teachers, ‘Sensei’, in a bar. He is at least thirty years her senior, retired and, she presumes, a widower. After this initial encounter, the pair continue to meet occasionally to share food and drink sake, and as the seasons pass – from spring cherry blossom to autumnal mushrooms – Tsukiko and Sensei come to develop a hesitant intimacy which tilts awkwardly and poignantly into love.


This was a wonderful first novel to read for the year!

I had received this book for my birthday… and less than a week later, I’m writing a review for it. I haven’t read a lot of prose novels in recent years, so this is a pretty big deal for me.

I had actually requested this. But, I had no previous exposure to this author and her writing. I just was intrigued by the cover design of a girl seemingly floating in what appears to be a “convenience store.” I’ve been to a store that looked like this when I visited a friend in the countryside of Chiba prefecture. It was part convenience store, part grocery and part ice cream stop. We had chestnut soft-serve, and fishcakes from Fukushima and the experience was entirely surreal and floaty like this image. This image is sublime. [FYI, According to the back cover it is called “Today’s Levitation” by Natsumi Hayashi]

I was pleased to find this to be exactly what I look for in a romance. It feels nostalgic, lonely and bitter-sweet. It focuses on the meeting of minds, or an emotional sense of ease with someone and NOT on merely physical attraction. It features my favourite couple relationship of a student and her teacher! And even more importantly at a time in the student’s life where she’s old enough that this large of an age gap doesn’t make the teacher feel lecherous or predatory in any way.

This really checked ALL of the boxes for me!

This is a very short novel (or is this a novella) at just under 180 pages. So it is very quick to read. The language is simple, yet lyrical. Kawakami’s writing is so easy to get into. I was really impressed with this translation by Allison Markin Powell. In my opinion, the writing retained some of its Japanese qualities while also sounding completely natural in English.

I think the only reason this doesn’t receive 5 stars from me is that I found it in some 34236751places too long (which is strange to state for such a short book). Right about the 100 page mark, I fell out of the story for about a chapter. I don’t know if I was just tired, or if the writing was too dry… I don’t know but, I will definitely be reading this again in the future and I may, at that time, go back and re-rate this. But for now, I can at least say that this was a wonderful novel – and I would recommend it to someone who is looking for a quiet, understated and less conventional romance.

 

I’ve already placed an order on Hiromi Kawakami’s novel The Nakano Thrift Shop and can’t wait to read it as well!

Manga Review: Flying Witch, Volume 1 by Chihiro Ishizuka

31172294Flying Witch, volume 1 by Chihiro Ishizuka

Translated by Melissa Tanaka

Published by Vertical Comics, ©2017

Originally Published in Bessatsu Shonen Magazine, Kodansha Ltd., ©2013-

978-1-945054-09-9 

Stars: ★★ / 5

 

Flying Witch is a slice-of-life shounen manga about a 15-year-old witch, Makoto Kowata, who has left her home (with her black cat familiar); as is the “right-of-passage” custom to become a fully-fledged witch (think Kiki’s Delivery Service). I loved the characters in this series – they are so fun, quirky and just like-able. I particularly love the way the characters react to Kowata upon learning she is a witch and even more so, Kowata’s naivety in adjusting to her new surroundings. I think a lot of people will really love this cute, calm, and cheerful slice-of-life manga.

BUT… there are some major issues with it for me.

I hate this art style! I don’t know if I will ever get behind fully digitalized illustration. The background scapes suffer enormously in this style, and the screen tones leave me feeling cold. I can’t see a creator’s hand in this type of work. You can’t learn anything about an artist who hides behind their computer… it’s incredibly dissatisfying.

And, the translation: The translation itself is fine. But, I HATE the choice used in translating the thick accent of Kowata’s uncle. Her uncle is a rural Aomori farmer(?) — so, of course the natural conclusion is that he be written sounding like Foghorn Leghorn?! This feels incredibly lazy. Instead of trying to seek a more natural translation, we have an incredibly generic cartoonish, and out-of-place sound.  In an otherwise quiet story, this loud, and brash type of accent doesn’t match the quiet tempo, this ‘lifeless’ art style, and it certainly didn’t match the uncle’s character design. I’m not from the U.S. so, my experience of this accent is limited to television, but the stereotypes that I’ve gleaned from that at least ruin my expectations of what this character should actually sound like. An invented accent with the same or similar characteristics and cadence of a rural Aomori prefecture dialect would have been a much better approach. This cheapened the experience for me; more work would have been appreciated.

This could have been better: the story is there, but the art and packaging is missing. I’ll continue borrowing and reading the series from the library as it’s released but, it won’t be joining my own collection.

Graphic Novel Review: Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham

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31145178A wonderful graphic autobiography for middle-grade readers by one of my favourite contemporary authors. Shannon Hale focuses on her early experiences making friends… from the ease of friendship as a pre-schooler, to the complicated social pecking order of grade school.

Shannon’s mother is convinced that everything will be all right if she just has 1 special friend. This friend is Adrienne. But as they grow older, Adrienne becomes friends with the popular “the group” and as they move from grade-to-grade Shannon must now traverse the treacherous landmines of what being associated with “the group” means.

This story deals with mental health (particularly anxiety), bullying, friendship, and even religion. But mostly, it is a common tale of growing up and making friends. I basically found myself nodding my head to just about every scenario… especially the sibling relationships.

The situations feel real to someone who had a relatively boring/happy childhood; they are so reminiscent to my own childhood it’s not even funny. It doesn’t feel preachy or didactic in any way. At least it didn’t feel that way to me. And, I loved the slightly ambiguous ending, a proper depiction of how someone “would” act in a situation, rather than how they “should” act.

LeUyen Pham’s art is bright, and youthful – and serves the story well. The storytelling is grounded in reality, but also fluid enough that you could easily forget this is a biography (if you wanted to).

I highly recommend this story to any child — and better yet, reading this with your child!

Graphic Novel Review: A Castle in England / by Jamie Rhodes

A Castle in EnglandA Castle in England by Jamie Rhodes
Illustrated by: Isaac Lenkiewicz, Briony May Smith, Will Exley, and Isabel Greenberg.
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

There is so much potential in this title, from the concept showcasing the history of the residences of a single castle (I love histories); the artist contributions (showcasing 5 different creators/whose styles matched beautifully the historical context they each represented); to the unusual peach and tan colour palette (which I actually thought was quite splendid). I was pretty excited about it — but it fell so very flat. Where could this have faltered?

The biggest detriment to this comic was the commission status of it: paid for by the National Trust and Arts Council England. A commissioned work where money issued furthers the idea of arts and history. This isn’t a bad thing, but in the context of comic books and graphic novels greatly affects the creation process and henceforth, the reading experience. It was not written for the public, but FOR its commissioners.

As a Canadian I often pick up comic books commissioned by the Canadian Arts Council. And this same sentiment holds true. But at least in these instances, they are telling the story of my country, and they are expressing it with a Canadian sensibility. These works are more innately understood when it is your own country paying for it. But this isn’t. It’s foreign to me. And any potential subtle “cultural-isms” are lost on me.

The reading experience of this is like a friend returning from vacation and I’m now stuck watching a slide show of the experience. Looking at a photo of people standing around. Having to listen to an explanation of what is happening not in the picture, but behind the camera. This is not a good time.

Each of the five stories that make up this book require extensive explanation to be understood. The illustration isn’t doing it’s job. One of the first questions I ask myself when I’m evaluating sequential art works is “If I take away the text, can I understand this?” The answer is a fervent “no”. And this work has FIVE sets of text: The family tree to start, a quote at the beginning of each story to set the mood, the text represented in the comic to give the characters speech, the brief history of the events to give context to the story, and the brief history of the family history currently residing at the castle to explain the action.

All but the family tree and quote at the beginning are essential to understanding this work. Remove any of the others, and this work crumbles into nonsensical gibberish.

If you think about it in the reverse… “If I take away the art, can I understand this?” The answer is definitely “yes”. But who would want to read the scant historical summary that remains?

There are so many good things about this comic, but the fact that the art requires instruction at this intense of a level is a problem.

And then… to rub salt in that wound…

The formatting of this text! Each story has the text handwritten in the style of the art/artist (wonderful). The histories unfortunately do not follow in the same style. Instead they are presented using a small textbook-like font on blank white pages (from a graphic novel stand point is incredibly boring to look at), each paragraph numbered (for no apparent reason but to perplex me greatly) with one small illustration from the preceding comic (for no apparent reason but to remind me that the summary has some relationship to the previous story). It just didn’t make sense, and didn’t match in the slightest the graphic portion of the work.

If you want to read a work that gets it right, I’d recommend going for 750 Years in Paris by Vincent Mahé instead.

Non-Fiction Review: Writing About Art by Henry M. Sayre

Writing About ArtWriting About Art

by Henry M. Sayre

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As this was intended for beginner students of art history, I can’t say this was exactly for me. I’ve been wanting a refresher on how to approach art, think about, and examine art. Though this did give some hints in that area, it was more focussed on the essay writing process… and I would say not so much for the serious student of art history, but more for the student of art appreciation. I would never have gotten away with the ephemeral approach of writing an essay purely on observation and feelings. If you’re a new student take this guide with a grain of salt. Every professor you have will expect a different approach to art writing, down to the fine points of how to make references. It’s almost always better to start by asking your professors what their expectations are.

Comic Book Review: A.D.: After Death / by Scott Snyder

A.D.: After DeathA.D.: After Death by Scott Snyder

Illustrated by Jeff Lemire

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This started strong, with a unique graphic structure and poetic prose. I was immediately intrigued. For the most part, I thought this mixed format and art style worked. But, there were big gaps in the story which should have been resolved; the ending was weak (and obvious); and the art failed to interact with the text about 25% of the time. Often times the prose structure moved into the territory of “picture book” rather than “graphic novel” — when I have to remind myself to look up from the text to see the pictures there’s a problem. I liked the concept and the ambitious undertaking, but overall it felt under-done. This book could use about two more volumes to resolve the issues I have with it.

[And an aside, there were at least half a dozen obvious spelling and grammatical errors in this work. Would definitely have benefited from additional editing. Almost all of these were in the prose sections — I wonder if this wasn’t due to an editor not used to working outside of comics…]

Manga Review: The Walking Man / by Jiro Taniguchi

The Walking ManThe Walking Man

by Jirō Taniguchi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The walking man encourages you to forget the pressures of life and enjoy every step of the journey; to appreciate every experience and meeting. This is less a story and more an expression of feelings told through beautifully rendered, compact illustrations. And, can we just appreciate Taniguchi’s mastery over screen tones…. this is how it should be done!

The only issues I had are with the publication: flipped pages were entirely unnecessary; and it would have been wonderful seeing some of the watercolour spreads printed in colour. Disappointing, but hardly deal breakers.

I have never felt more calm while reading a manga. I loved this. I would recommend reading this outdoors on a comfortably warm Summer evening as far from city noises as possible.

Webcomic Review: Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero by Michael DeForge

Sticks Angelica, Folk HeroSticks Angelica, Folk Hero

by Michael DeForge

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Though it was drawn in strips it felt like a complete story. Overall the writing was incredibly Canadian; and not just because it was set in Canada. It had that same quality of bizarre, whimsical and dark humour that I expect. I enjoyed this, looking forward to checking out DeForge’s less conventional works in the future.

Manga Review: Times Two by Shouko Akira

Times TwoTimes Two

by Shouko Akira

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’d read this before and didn’t remember it being so cute. Basically a series of 5 unconnected stories about the agony of falling in love in high school. I especially enjoyed the story “Second Impression”. There’s something about ESP in shoujo manga that I absolutely love. Maybe because it’s an easy way for one of the characters to really find out how the other feels and removes that annoying ‘trope’ of tension created through miscommunication. If you like innocent pure love shoujo, or are a fan of the authors other title, Monkey High, you should consider giving this a try.