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, Art by Miyako Hasami Translated by Agnes Yoshida
Tokyopop, 184 pp
Rating: Teen (13 +)
Calling You is a collection of three short stories from light novel author extraordinaire Otsuichi. Unlike many of the stories in his other collections these are not horror stories and are instead touching, emotional tales of people dealing with loss or painful situations. The book opens with the titular “Calling You” whose plot revolves around a young isolated teen and her imaginary cellphone. The second story, “Kiz/Kids” involves two friends and the painful but miraculous secret they share. “Flower Song” rounds out this collection and is a touching tale which explores the troubled life of an accident victim as they attempt to deal with the losses suffered from said accident.
I have to admit to being a bit surprised at how divorced the three tales are from the horror work which makes up the bulk of the stories I’ve read from Otsuichi so far. The stories in Calling You are far closer to his work in Faust or the short story involving the android in Zoo then anything else. Like most of his work all are written in the first person, something he uses to nice effect throughout the volume. The unifying theme in all three are troubled and lonely people coming to terms with something in their life. Usually this occurs through unexplained surreal or supernatural means, giving the book a bit of contemporary fantasy feel. Also, like most of his other works, the stories are all told from the first person perspective, making them all fairly quick and easy reads. It also allows him to reach into his bag of tricks and utilize the unreliable narrator trick, something he’s done well in the past and something he does nicely here as well. All three stories are so focused on the emotions of loss and reconciliation and are so touching that it’s almost hard to believe that these are from the same author who’s cranked out many of the fantastically disturbing and horrific tales that populate his other collections. It’s definitely a tribute to Otsuichi’s versatility as an author.
Miyako Hasami’s artwork is absolutely gorgeous but, sadly, there isn’t much of it here. When they do turn up they do a fantastic job at capturing the emotions of the characters and the scenes they depict. The facial expressions are quite lovely and reinforce the mood and atmosphere surprisingly well. It’s a bit of a shame that there isn’t more of them, but at the same time I don’t feel like Otsuichi’s stories really needed the artwork, they’re just an added bonus really. That said, I wouldn’t mind seeing more of Miyako Hasami’s artwork at some point.
I think Calling You was the first collection of Ostuichi’s work published in the US and after reading it it’s easy to see why Tokyopop and other companies have been publishing other work from him since. For fans of his work this book offers a better look at a side of Otsuichi you only get glimpses of elsewhere. For folks who have heard of him but have been avoiding his books due to not being fans of the horror genre, this book is a chance to sample his light and enjoyable style without the blood and guts of Goth or Zoo. Either way, it’s a fantastic and enjoyable read with some wonderfully touching and haunting moments that are sure to linger after the final page has been turned.
Calling You is available now from Tokyopop.
By Gakuto Coda, Translated by Andrew Cunningham
Tokyopop, 232 pp
Rating: Teen (13 +)
The second of the thirteen volume Missing series brings more of the supernatural weirdness and magical theory that marked the initial volume. But this time Aki Kidono takes center stage, as her friends at the Literature Club race to solve the puzzle of a mysterious cursed fax which threatens her sanity and her life!
In the first volume, Aki Kidono played a rather crucial role. Being one of the two most capable and intelligent members of the five man literature club she was key in rescuing Kyoichi Utsume from the nebulous “other world.” During the course of the story it was mentioned that Kidono had a rather interesting link to the supernatural herself, and it’s that link and the cursed fax that brings it to the surface, which is the focus of this volume. That’s not the only thing that Gakuto Coda brings back from the original novel, as several supporting characters reappear and are expanded upon, including a mysterious “witch” who attends the same school as our protagonists. The horror in this volume felt a bit more tangible than in the original volume. I’m not sure if it’s just me; maybe I’m just more susceptible to the idea of being watched rather than being lost and confused, but about halfway through the volume is a fantastic sequence involving Aki and Ryoko that was wonderfully tense, creepy and paranoia inducing. The story is again clothed in the feeling of realism and research that made the original novel so enjoyable.
Unfortunately it’s not all roses, as it drags a bit in the beginning while the group attempts to establish whether or not the cursed fax is genuine, or whether it’s all in Kidono’s head. Speaking of Aki Kidono, she suffers the curse that seemingly all openly strong and capable female characters suffer from in Japanese fiction. Namely it’s all just a show and she’s not as strong as she presents herself. Also, after reading this I really had to wonder what the big deal about Kyoichi Utsume was in the original volume. He certainly comes across as an intelligent and capable person, but unfortunately he also comes across as pretty cold and unlikable, not to mention being a bit too perfect.
While the characters still feel fairly stock-ish, and the plot takes a little bit to really get going, I think the worst thing about this book is the last fifteen pages or so. No, they’re not the climax to the story, but a preview to the third volume that will probably never be printed. It’s a horrible, horrible tease of something that most likely will never come. In the end though, I was pretty glad that we at least got the first two volumes in English. They’re flawed, but still fairly entertaining, and the mysteries and the world that Coda is building are fascinating and I’d love to see more of them both.
Missing, vol. 2: Letter of Misfortune is available now.
By Gakuto Coda, Translated by Andrew Cunningham
Tokyopop, 208 pp
Rating: Teen (13 +)
Nearly a decade ago, young Kyoichi Utsume and his brother went missing. Days later, Utsume returned, but his brother never did. The experience left an indelible imprint on Kyoichi which marked his development over the intervening years. Now years later and a high school student with more than a passing interest in occult studies, Utsume goes missing once again leaving his friends in the Literature Club to unravel the mystery of his disappearance.
While reading this I couldn’t help but think back to The Summer of the Ubume. Both are eyeball deep in real world theories on magic and the occult, demonstrating the nice amount of research done by their individual authors. The story follows the missing person formula fairly well, but with a supernatural twist. Instead of going to the police or looking into crime in the area, the cast of teens immediately turn their eyes towards the paranormal and dive into a world of psychics, witches, fairies and more. Gakuto Coda seems to sow the seeds for a much longer series throughout the volume, introducing us to groups, characters and organizations that one can’t help but figure will turn up repeatedly throughout the thirteen novels that comprise this saga.
While the story and the ideas it plays around with are engaging and entertaining, the main characters feel a bit flat. Each of the five main characters could have been drawn from a collection of stock character types. Kyoichi Utsume is the brilliant, quiet, pretty boy. Toshiya Murakami is the loyal and physically strong friend. Ryoko Kusakabe is the young, good hearted but overly emotional young girl, and so forth and so on. It’s very, very noticeable and a bit puzzling given the rest of the story. I almost have to wonder if there’s something more to it; if perhaps Gakuto Coda was setting up some kind of metaphysical balance with each character representing an element, or trait or some such.
At first I thought there simply were no illustrations for this novel, kind of like Goth, but apparently that’s not the case. There are no illustration in the Tokyopop release of it but in the Afterward, Gakuto Coda does thank his illustrator. The decision to remove the illustrations is a bit baffling and a little irritating, but I have to be honest when I say that I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything major. Light Novel artwork is always a bit hit and miss, and most of the time just feels like a bonus and doesn’t really bring or add anything to the overall reading experience. Admittedly in some cases they can help give you a better grasp on individual characters appearances, and in the case of sci-fi or fantasy novels that’s definitely a good thing, but for a contemporary novel set in a high school I just can’t imagine the artwork bringing that much to the table.
The ending hints of things to come, but sadly we’ll probably never get to see how everything will ultimately play out as Tokyopop’s only released the first two novels in this thirteen volume series. Despite this, and the flat characters, I found myself pretty engaged and entertained by the book. I think of a lot it has to do with the amount of research Gakuto Coda put into the theories that fill it, and I am a sucker for books on the occult and folklore.
Missing, vol.1: Spirited Away is available now.