Errantry: Strange Stories, a collection of short, strange stories is the latest release from Elizabeth Hand. This collection is comprised primarily of tales about normal people and their encounters with things far beyond the norm.
Being a short story collection each tale is ultimately different, dealing with different characters and ideas, though many are unified by shared themes. The most obvious among them being encounters with the supernatural and otherworldly, and the recent loss of a loved one. This turns up again and again in the volume, most notably in the opening story, “The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon“, “Uncle Lou” and the deeply unsettling “Near Zennor”. In addition Hand often sets the stories in the wilderness or at the edge of civilization. Isolated Maine communities, something fans of her Cassandra Neary stories should be familiar with, hard to reach, rural English towns, abandoned islands in the South and more. Hand uses these lonely, natural settings as “soft spots” areas where the skin between the “mundane” real world we all know and the “other” world is at its thinnest and where they often interact. They’re the areas one expects and associates legends of fairy mounds, hauntings, big foot encounters and more. These encounters almost always occur without explanation which, bizarrely, lends them a certain grounded feeling. As a result, each feels less like some spectacular, over the top urban fantasy story, and instead carry the same feeling as modern accounts of encounters with ghosts, UFO’s and other unexplained phenomena. It’s a smart move and one that makes the encounters that much more effective and genuine.
While all the stories are entertaining and enjoyable, the stand out in this volume is easily “Near Zennor”. The story starts off normally enough and focuses on a man dealing with the death of his wife. What starts out as an attempt to clear out her belongings leads him on a quest with disturbing implications regarding her childhood, and ultimately leads to one of the most terrifying and disturbingly realistic paranormal encounters I’ve ever come across in fiction. It’s a moment that left me deeply unnerved, and something that haunted my dreams and left me with an unsettled feeling which lingered for several days after having read it.
Errantry seems like it would be a decent introduction to her work for newcomers, while appealing to her already existing fanbase by collection some of these wonderful gems in one handy location. All in all, it’s an enjoyable and solid collection with “Near Zennor” along being worth the price of admission.
Errantry: Strange Stories is available now from Small Beer Press. Review copy provided by the publisher.
Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters
By August Ramone
Chronicle Books, 200 pp
Rating: Not Rated
Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters is a look back at the life and career of one of the most influential names in Japanese cinema. Perhaps best known in the west as one of the co-creators of Godzilla, Tsuburaya’s legacy goes far beyond that and August Ramone does a fantastic job at illuminating other aspects of this legendary creator’s life and career.
The bulk of the book focuses on the different eras of Tsuburaya’s career, beginning with a biographical like look back at Tusburaya’s childhood, his family and more before it segues into his career in special effects. While the early days of his life certainly hold some interest it’s Tsuburaya’s film career that’s the main attraction here, and what a career it is. As I mentioned above, if people have heard of Tusburaya in America it’s mostly likely as a co-creator of Godzilla, but August Ramone shows that he’s gone far beyond on that and makes a good case for Tsuburaya being an incredible innovator and driving force behind key trends in Japanese pop culture; not to mention laying the ground work for Japanese visual effects and creating techniques, methods, and even camera rigs, which are still used to this day. Along the way he touches bases with all of his famous movies, and a fair amount which Western audiences are probably ignorant of. The Godzilla and Ultraman franchise both figure heavily into the book, but along the way are other movies and TV shows he was involved with as well, including his propaganda films and works such as Booska, a children’s TV series.
In addition to the main chapters focusing on different parts of Tsuburaya’s career, there’s a number of essays and articles from other writers, critics and contemporaries. These range from brief looks at the toys based upon Tsuburaya’s creations, to a look at the careers of his associates like Ishiro Honda and Akira Ifukube, to accounts and remembrances of working at Tsuburaya Productions from his son, Akira Tsuburaya.
If all this wasn’t enough, the book is also full of absolutely gorgeous, eye catching, high quality photographs, giving readers a lovely look behind the scenes of shows like Ultra Q, the Godzilla movies and more. Images of Tsuburaya at work, various movie posters, toys, statues and more litter almost every page of the book, making it a visual treat as well as an engaging read.
After reading Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters, I found myself wishing that more of these movies and TV shows were available in the US. While several of the major ones, a large chunk of the Godzilla cannon is currently unavailable, as are a number of movies and TV shows he had worked on. To make matters worse, the book isn’t available anymore either! Still, this is most definitely a must have for hardcore fans of Tsuburaya’s various creations and is worth tracking down through your local library system if you don’t feel like paying through the nose for it.
Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monters was published by Chronicle Books.
Written by Natsuo Kirino, Translated by Philip Gabriel
Vintage Books, 224 pp
Rating: Not Rated
Toshi and her three friends from school find themselves caught up in events following a neighbor’s brutal murder of his own mother. Real World is the third book of Natsuo Kirino’s to be released in the U.S. and like her other novels, Out and Grotesque, offers a dark and unnerving look at the life of women in various parts of modern Japanese society.
Real World depicts the events of the crime and the ensuing fallout through the eyes of the four girls and the killer himself with each chapter switching to a different character’s point of view. This allows us an in depth look into the mind and experiences of each girl and how they relate, not only to each other, but to the world at large. As things progress it becomes obvious that each girl is hiding something from the group. This ranges from sexual orientation, insecurities, broken relationships with their parents and more. Ironically nearly all these deep seated fears and secrets are glaringly obvious to everyone else in the group. Each girl is pushed and pulled by her own desires and the expectations placed upon her by both society, family and her own friends. The result is extreme isolation and alienation from even each other. Because of all the stresses and the feeling of being trapped, when Toshi’s neighbor murders his mother each girl is fascinated with the event. Some are envious, others resentful, and it’s the alienation and fascination with his willingness to cross the line and escape from his situation which draws them into the murder.
While Kirino does a good job at building up their characters and explaining their involvement and the choices they make the girls never quite feel unique and individual from each other. Maybe it’s due to the translation but if it wasn’t for the chapters being named after the character it’s focusing on I’m not sure I’d be able to tell who was narrating, they all seem to share a single voice. The only real noticeable variation comes from the male killers chapter which is marked by delusions which alternate from disturbing to humorous. Perhaps this was intended though, something to show that each girl is internally similar despite her own beliefs otherwise.
Real World is not the best novels I’ve read from Natsuo Kirino and I don’t think it’s my favorite either. The girls barely develop beyond the cliche’s they’re based upon and the killer’s loosing grasp on sanity never reaches the disturbing levels of similar descent into insanity that appeared in Grotesque. It’s still an ok read but it’s not as memorable or as fascinating as her other two books released in the U.S.
Real World is available now from Random House.
Maodhen, Vol. 1
Written by Hideyuki Kikuchi, Ary by Jun Suemi, Translated by Eugene Woodbury
DMP, 258 pp.
Rating: YA (16+)
The latest Hideyuki Kikuchi release from DMP is a bit of blast from the past. Originally published in 1986, Maohden is a tale of Demon City Shinjuku predating Yashakiden but involving the familiar faces of Doctor Mephisto and Setsura Aki. A mysterious and deadly figure from Setsura Aki’s past reappears in Shinjuku after nearly 15 years. What secrets does he hold and how does it all connect to the Demon Quake and the current state of the city? This series promises the answers!
While I’m used to Hideyuki Kickuchi mixing sex and horror in his other works I don’t think any other book of his that I’ve read has ever ever been quite as crude and extreme in it’s usage as Maohden. Within the first thirty pages we’re treated to an employee at a hostess club being raped by a were-bear creature and a female co-worker stripping down and masturbating after watching Setsura Aki slaughter the clubs security. It just gets more bizarre and in your face from there. While Kikuchi’s hardly going to be mistaken for a feminist or a progressive when it comes to gender relations it all just feels a bit more omnipresent in this book. After finishing the novel and reading the Afterward I found out why. He wanted it to be more extreme and over the top in the sex and violence content. The result is a rather brutal, crude and graphic read full of just that, people being slaughtered and screwed. Interestingly enough the sex comes off as cruder and more graphic than the violence but admittedly that could just be my American cultural biasses and influences showing. Aside form all that this book is loaded with information about the city and some rather tantalizing hints regarding the bigger questions surrounding the Devil Quake and what the Demon City means for the world at large. It’s full of Kikuchi’s usual imaginative and over the top characters, powers and bits of world building history that he tends to pepper his books with. References to specific streets, stores and buildings abound! As for the characters, they’re what you should be expecting from Kikuchi at this point, beautiful, stoic, kind of dark and mysterious. I doubt they’ll develop much beyond that during this series.
The translation is courtesy of Eugene Woodbury, who happens to have been the translator on both the Yashakiden series and the Demon City Shinjuku collection from DMP. From what I remember of Yashakiden I thought the translation was ok with some odd bits here and there. Sadly I feel that the translation for Maohden is a bit rougher and the book suffers from it. I’m hardly a grammar expert so when I start to notice strange sentence fragments lurking about that cause the flow of the text to come to a screeching halt you know something is up. I’m not sure if he was simply attempting to be literal in his translation and these floating fragments are due to grammatical differences between Japanese and English, but they stick out like a sore thumb and make the book rather awkward to read in places. I’m not really expecting perfect grammar throughout, but more often than not these seem like fairly noticeable things that some minor editing or proof reading could have taken care of.
Jun Suemi, whose work appeared in Yashakiden, provides the spot illustrations here as well. His work here also feels a little rougher and stiffer than in that later series and even the cover doesn’t click or grab me in the way Yashakiden’s did. Still, they’re decent enough and don’t really detract or take away from the reading experience at all and in fact do a good job at depicting one or two of the minor characters.
This isn’t the greatest thing I’ve ever read from Kikuchi and I don’t think it’s in danger of becoming my favorite. Still, there are seeds of what’s to come here. The exhaustive and lengthy asides that flesh out the history and culture of the city are as enjoyable as ever. Likewise the teasing hints and promises that we may find out some secrets behind the city’s existence should be enough to warrant a look from any hardcore fan of his or of the Demon City itself. Assuming they can get by the huge amounts of graphic and crude sex that is. It’s not a good introduction to Kikuchi’s work and is something long time fans will probably get the most out of.
The Aniblog Tourny is currently underway and this time around Sequential Ink is taking part in it. For those of you who don’t know, the Aniblog Tourny is a semi-annual tournament pitting different anime/manga blogs against each other. The sites are paired off and the one with the most votes moves onto the next round, and so forth and so on until only one remains.
Currently Sequential Ink is taking part in a first round match up against the fine folks over at Shonen Beam. So, if you haven’t already, please take a look around here and then go check out the competition before swinging by the Round 1: Matches 17 – 20 bracket and voting for one of us.
Hiroshi Yamamoto brings us MM9, an entertaining novel following the exploits of Japan’s Monsterological Measures Department, a group of civil servants tasked with predicting, studying and handling Japan’s defenses when it comes to kaiju (giant monster) attacks!
This is an incredibly fun read. It’s light, breezy and very entertaining. The book is essentially a short story collection, each chapter telling a tale of one of the MMD’s encounters with a kaiju. The stories are primarily linked by the small ensemble cast of characters more than any over arching plot line, though there is a vague one of those in a few of the stories as well. Hiroshi Yamamoto does a great job at capturing the feel of the monster movies with stories echoing and bringing to mind some of the various movies fans of the genre know and love. The entire book is also a love song to the genre as a whole with references and nods to not only Japans pantheon of kaiju but the international contribution as well. Keen eyed readers will pick up on passing references and nods to Lovecraft, the movie Them!, various myths from around the world and more. None of the characters are terribly fleshed out or three dimensional but that really only serves to reinforce the feeling of a kaiju movie and series where characters tend to have one or two pronounced personality traits and roles to fill. The explanations and scientific theories that are used to explain how the monsters exist are interesting and dabble lightly with ideas like consensus reality, quantum physics, Schoedingers Cat and more.
Obviously I’m not familiar with the original Japanese edition but this English language translation from Nathan Collins reads quite well. There’s not a lot of awkward phrasing or verbiage though this causes the one or two moments that an odd turn of phrase pops up too really jump out at the reader. Still it was light and easy, casual read.
Haikasoru has generally been promoting itself as a hard sci-fi/fantasy line, carrying the best and most popular works of the genre from Japan. This, however, feels like a light novel and not in a bad way. It’s incredibly and incredibly simple and easy read which bats around some high minded sci-fi concepts but doesn’t delve into them to the point where the text becomes dry and boring. Add this to the whole giant monster concept, a dedicated group of scientists battling and directing operations when it comes to them, some rather thin characterization and you have a recipe for a bad light novel. Thankfully, it’s not. In fact it’s exactly the opposite. All the ingredients gel together wonderfully and the result is the kind of light, easy read that makes for perfect vacation, traveling and beach reading. In the end, MM9 is an enthralling, fun read and in a perfect world more folks would be talking about it.
MM9 is available now from Haikasoru.
Written by Ryo Suzukaze, Art by Akira Mutsuki, Translated by Jackie McClure
Tokyopop, 224 pp
Rating: Older Teen (16 +)
The tale of two Midori’s reaches it’s conclusion in the second volume of .hack//Cell by Ryo Suzukaze. The Midori of the real world lies stricken by an unknown disease desperately hanging onto life in her hospital room. Meanwhile the Midori of the World, the MMO, becomes aware of her true origins and searches out her reason for existing. The connection between the two is made clear as both Midori’s face their final fates.
Sadly this volume is a bit of a let down after the rather enjoyable first half. More of the story seems to take place in the real world and the origins of the World’s Midori just feels off. The connection between the two is revealed but feels oddly anti-climatic. Add in to this an extended period of time with the World’s Midori attempting to interact with the real world and the strange way with which everyone she encounters seems to accept her origins and existence with no problem and her existence takes on a weird every day feel despite it apparently not being an every day event. Still, the World’s Midori is rather compelling at times as she wrestles with the revelations of her existence and what it means to her as an individual. The rest of the supporting cast lumbers rather unremarkably with only Adamas showing some growth as he moves from coward into something that more closely resembles a traditional shonen action hero at times, albeit an unsuccessful one.
Akira Mutsuki’s artwork continues to be weird and ungainly throughout the book. Beautifully detailed pictures depict scenes from the book, the characters are clothed in elaborate and gorgeous looking costumes, and then they’re perched on unnaturally long and strangely deformed legs and you’re left wondering how they’re capable of supporting their own weight on those broken tooth picks. Still, there is something undeniably pretty about the artwork, even if it does border on the incomprehensible a few times during this volume.
I really wanted to love and enjoy this book but ultimately it just fell flat for me. The origin of The World’s Midori is weird and feels like a huge stretch and I didn’t really feel the ultimately resolution held together terribly well. Still, I’m glad I know how it ends if only to warn folks away from bothering with this series. In the end .hack//Cell starts off well but sputters to a fairly uninteresting conclusions with this second volume.
.Hack//Cell, Vol. 1 was published by Tokyopop and is available now.
Written by Otsuichi, Translation by Nathan Collins
Haikasoru, 300 pp.
From the fine folks at Haikasoru comes Summer, Fireworks and My Corpse, the latest collection of short stories from acclaimed author Otsuichi. The book consists of three short stories, all skewing towards the horror genre. “Summer, Fireworks and My Corpse” tells the tale of a murdered young girl and her killers attempts at hiding her corpse, from the perspective of the corpse. “Yuko”, the shortest story in the collection, is the interesting tale of a writer, his wife, their new maid and the tragedy that ensues. Rounding up the collection is “Black Fairy Tale”, a chilling horror story about a young girl who receives an eye transplant, only to find herself assaulted by memories of the eyes previous owner.
Otsuichi is perhaps best known in the US for his horror work and that’s certainly on display here in spades. What’s often forgotten or over looked though, is that he has a fantastic sense of humor and that really comes through with the opening story, “Summer, Fireworks and My Corpse.” Sure, it’s about the murder of a nine year old girl and the subsequent attempt at hiding her body by the murderers, but Otsuichi does a masterful job at setting up hilarious close calls and near misses. The situations start out simple enough but they slowly escalate until the finale which is so gloriously over the top that you can’t help but laugh. The second tale, “Yoko” is also the shortest in the book. The story is one that bears many of Otsuichi’s trademarks, most notably unreliable narrators. There’s nothing terribly memorable about it and sadly I feel it’s the weakest entry in the collection. The third and final story in the collection is both the longest and probably the best. “Black Fairy Tale” is a beautifully done horror tale whose initial premise is more than a little reminiscent of the Taiwainese horror movie, The Eye. A young woman receives an eye transplant and shortly after she finds herself experiencing visions of the eyes previous owners life. Aside from being incredibly chilling it also features Otsuichi’s trademark love of misleading the audience with unreliable narrators and other clever word play tricks. Unlike the previous stories this one contains no less than three interweaving perspectives, one for a murderer, one for the main character and another featuring a short story written by one of the characters within the story itself. At it’s core though, “Black Fairy Tale” seems to be about transience and the passing of time, and with it memories and the changes that occur to us over time. The killer also reminded me of an idea Otsuichi briefly touched upon in his afterward to Goth, that of a yokai of murder. While it was certainly an interesting idea in Goth I just couldn’t make it click with what little knowledge I had of yokai, but for some odd reason the killer in “Black Fairy Tale” felt very much like an extension of that idea and theme.
The stories are very easy and light reads, with all being told in the first person perspective. Otsuichi uses this to his advantage and tosses in many twists and turns. Nathan Collins has done a good job at making the text flow and move smoothly. Some translated novels can be rather clunky with strange turns of phrases or simply awkward sounding sentences scattered through the text. None of that is here. That said it’s not quite perfect. The inclusion of certain Japanese terms without any explanation of what they really struck me as a bit odd. For the most part this isn’t much of an issue and I didn’t find that it made the book difficult to follow or understand, but it did strike me as a bit odd to include a Japanese phrase or teem with no clarification as to what they mean, but maybe I’m just used to manga which often includes some sort of glossary or explanation of certain terms in the back or in the panel borders.
Summer, Fireworks and My Corpse is a great read and it’s perfect for the current season. Also, while Otsuichi may lament the amateurness of “Black Fairy Tale” in the afterward, I thought it was easily the best horror story I’ve read from him since Goth and, quite frankly, think it’s worth the price of admission alone.
Summer, Fireworks and My Corpse is available now from Haikasoru.
Written by Jake Adelstein
Vintage Books/Random House, 352 pp.
Tokyo Vice is exactly what the title says it is. It’s a memoir spanning Jake Adelstein’s career in Japan as a crime reporter for it’s most widely read newspaper, the Yomiuri, and several of his investigations made during this time. The primary selling point and most notable of these is a piece he began investigating while with the Yomiura but wouldn’t write about until after his time there, namely an article on Tadamasa Goto, the former head of Japan’s most powerful yakuza organization, the Yamaguchi-Gumi.
While the Tadamasa Goto story is the one that’s most associated with Tokyo Vice it doesn’t really take center stage until the very end. This may lead to some disappointment for people who were expecting it to be nothing but a full, detailed retelling of this particular incident. Instead it spans Adelstein’s career and time in Japan highlighting several notable cases and incidents that he was involved in while there. These range from his earliest days with the Yomiuri, with some fascinating details explaining the interactions and relationships between the police, yakuza and reporters, hilarious details on office life, a touching chapter on a close colleague of his, details of Japan’s sex industry and the convoluted and bizarre laws that regulate it, information on another notable murder mystery that would later be the inspiration for the movie Cold Fish and more. Throughout each chapter a wide assortment of reporters, prostitutes, police, yakuza and more all appear, some more often than others. Unfortunately since it’s all true he often changes names, fudges certain details or otherwise skips over certain intricacies of the various investigations he was involved in. You add that into the fact that often times months or years may pass between chapters and the result is a disjointed but compelling read.
Tokyo Vice paints a fairly poor picture of the Japanese Police, their laws, their criminals, politicians and society in general. The callousness and casualness with which the police and society turn a blind eye towards some of the incidents within the book will shock those who are only passingly familiar with the country’s reputation for a low crime rate. That said, it does highlight several police, reporters and others trying to make the best of a bad situation and who are working to raise social awareness of some of these issues and change the laws focusing on them. The most notable of these come in the forms of police officer friends by the names of Sekiguchi and Alien Cop. In fact I almost wish that the book had spent more detailing Adelstein’s relationship and encounters with these two. While Sekiguchi is fairly prominent we don’t know much of his work outside of his encounters with Adelstein who paints him a very positive light. Alien Cop is even more of an enigma though he does come through for Adelstein in a very untenable time in his life. Part of this is due to the focus of the story being Adelstein’s experiences and partly due to Adelstein undoubtedly attempting to protect their identities. Adelstein himself doesn’t exactly come off as squeaky clean. He’s very honest about his flaws, even when he attempts to play coy with certain details and aspects of his life. He’s upfront and forthright about being a horrible, unfaithful and neglectful husband and at crossing professional lines and making his work personal on several occasions. I was a little surprised at his frankness and how he has little problem depicting himself in a negative light, but at the same time found it refreshingly honest.
Perhaps it’s because the story is at times so outrageous that it can’t help but be compared to works of fiction, but while reading it I couldn’t help but think of The Wire, the critically acclaimed crime drama that drew it’s inspirations from one of the producers own investigations and contacts from his time as a crime reporter for the Baltimore Sun. The bits dealing with human trafficking and the attempts of the various law enforcement departments to shove it off on each other were eerily similar to the events of Season 2 of The Wire. This is turn led me to think about similar US crime and how one only has to look to the history of Craigs List now defunct adult services section to find stories about underage girls and foreign women being forced into prostitution. While certain cultural aspects of Adelstein’s stories are unique to Japan, the essence of it, the corruption, crime, apathy and more can and does happen in our own backyard and I think that’s where a great deal of the books power comes from. It may be taking place half a world away, but it hits awfully close to home.
Tokyo Vice: An America Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan
is available now from Random House.
Written by Hideyuki Kikuchi, Art by Yoshitaka Amano, Translated by Kevin Leahy
Dark Horse/DMP, 208 pp.
Rating: Mature (18 +)
The fourth volume of Hideyuki Kikuchi’s Vampire Hunter D saga, Tale of the Dead Town, sees a return to a mystery formula of the second volume. This time around D is hired onto a massive, self contained, mobile town to investigate a vampire attack upon the mayors daughter.
D’s always a bit of a cipher in these stories. We’re almost never privy to his thoughts. He talks about himself and his past rarely, maintaining an appealing mysterious air about him the entire time. Because of this Kikuchi often spends more time fleshing out the supporting characters in the book, or at the very least he gives them more dialogue. In Tale of The Dead Town he unveils three of the series more interesting and entertaining supporting characters to date. John M. Braselli Pluto VIII, Lori Knight and Doctor Tsurugi. Pluto VIII is a very entertaining, very talkative foil to the silent and stoic D. His mouth almost never stops and there’s a certain charm to his character that I found hard to resist. Tsurugi, for his part, almost feels like a proto D and manages to interact with D on a level that few characters have before him. Much the same can be said for Lori, a character who begins in the book as a fairly typical damsel in distress but evolves into a surprisingly strong and capable figure in her own right. I can only hope that some of these characters make an appearance later in the series. The tale itself doesn’t quite hold up well under scrutiny. There are several major mysteries left unresolved, or at least are resolved in an unsatisfactory manner. That said Kikuchi does do a good job at crafting a tale about the dangers of living apart from the world and the potential stagnation and death of insular communities.
I’m not really sure what I can say about Amano’s artwork that millions of others haven’t already said, or that I haven’t already said in earlier reviews. It’s a treat, lovely to look at and does a fantastic job at conveying mood, atmosphere and the odd moment of action. The pieces are also few and far between, making each one a welcome surprise when you stumble across it. Leahy’s translation continues to be easy and smooth to read. This time around he doesn’t stop at the novel but also translates a Postcript from Kikuchi, an exclusive to the English language edition of this novel. Hearing Kikuchi talk a bit about his inspiration and influences is a pleasant treat and something I hope he continues to do in the later volumes.
While the story itself was a little tangled in places it was still a pretty enjoyable read in places. Pluto VIII often steals the show, though Tsurugi and Lori get some wonderful moments as well. In fact I think I’d be willing to read a short story about these two and can only hope they turn up again at some point in the future. All in all Tale of the Dead Town was another decent addition to the D saga.