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 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 Natsuhiko Kyogoku, Translated by Anne Ishi
Viz/Haikasoru, 458 pp
Rating: Not Rated
Set in a future where contact with other humans is minimal and every single move you make is monitored and recorded by ever present computer terminals, three young girls find themselves caught up in a series of murders. Hazuki Makino, an incredibly shy young school girl; Ayumi Kono, the quiet strong one and Mio Tsuzuki, an eccentric prodigy. As the three girls attempt to unravel the mystery behind a recent series of murders, so too do two adults. Shizue, counselor to the girls and Kunugi, an aging police officer. From Natsuhiko Kyogku comes Loups-Garous.
This is one weird novel. The future it presents us with is a nightmare of political correctness run rampant compounded by the ever present eyes of the government ala “big brother” and the ubiquity of computer terminals. Terms such as abnormal psychology are considered offensive and discriminatory. Interaction between humans has dwindled to such a degree that it’s not uncommon for children to barely see their parents. Classes are needed to try an teach children how to interact in a face to face environment and more. It’s all quite twisted and disturbing. Everyone in it seems guilty of over thinking things to an insane degree. Artificial meat and food products have been created to avoid cruelty to animals, but there are still people fighting for the rights of microbes and objecting to the use of sterilizing sprays and washes.
I’m very conflicted over this book. I enjoyed the world building and the idea of a utopia run amuck, but at the same time it often felt like it came at the expense of the plot which moved at a snails pace for most of the book. There are endless reams of expository dialogue which are a bit of a slog to get through during which the plot grinds to a near stop. There were literally moments where the dialogue and exposition about the world and it’s history was so thick and heavy that I almost forgot about the murder mystery hook. It goes on like this for most of the story while tossing out the odd red herrings every now and then until the last one hundred pages or so. While I did find the expository dialogue awkward and clunky at times, I can’t deny that it does a fantastic job at creating an interesting, vivid and rather unnerving picture of the future. Also, on more than one occasion I found the characters to be so alien in their thinking with their inability to empathize and bizarre attempts at rationalizing apathy that it was a little difficult to connect and care about them. Kunugi and Mio Tsuzuki were the two that I find most compelling. Kunugi because he was raised in times closer to ours and his mindset was a bit more relatable, and Mio because she was off the wall goofy and brilliant that it was hard not to enjoy reading about her antics. I did find myself warming towards Shizue and Ayumi Kono in the later chapters though.
The translation read alright for the most part but there were some awkward and odd moments spread throughout book. Sentences that didn’t feel like full sentences and sentences receiving line breaks and being treated as full paragraphs dot the text. There’s a slightly awkward and stilted feel to it as well, though in fairness I seem to recall Summer of the Ubume having a similar odd flow and rhythm as well so it might just be something inherent in Natsuhiko Kyogoku’s style when it’s translated to English. That said, I didn’t find it quite as noticeable the first time around, so make of that what you will.
In the end Loups-Garous didn’t really grab me. I wasn’t terribly intrigued with any of the characters and the incredibly slow plot made it difficult to really get into it. Despite that I was glad to be able to read something else from Natsuhiko Kyogoku and would still be willing to give another work of his a look should something else make it’s way to the US. Also, the criticisms within it aimed at such things as the slow death of socialization, the reliance on computers and the growing fondness of digital and virtual interaction, not to mention the concept of a police state with 24/7 monitoring of every citizen and how such a thing could be abused are all pertinent and relevant issues that helped give it a bit of meat despite my issues with it.
Loups-Garous is available now from Haikasoru.