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Light Novels: Brief Return of, the

bookpile

 

I’ve been postponing this way too long, and the longer I wait, the more books keep piling up. In any case, it’s finally time to deal with the light novels I’ve read since I last posted some five months ago. I’ll try to keep it brief, partly because the reason I didn’t post about them in the first place was that I couldn’t work up enough excitement to write a full-length review. And partly because I’m lazy, obviously.

Despite bravely trudging through the following books, my to-read list has actually grown to an insurmountable 122 titles, reaffirming that I have some sort of sickness that compels me to buy books at a ridiculous rate.

 

nisemon 01

Title: Nisemonogatari v01
Author: Nishio Ishin
Illustrator: VOFAN
Label: Koudansha Box
Year of publication: 2008
Pages: 321

Disappointed, is an easy word to use to sum up the first volume of Nisemonogatari. Having just come off a high with Kizumonogatari, this sequel spiralled into shallow-land and felt much more dragged out. It should have been obvious all along, I guess. Nishio has simply gathered up too many characters, and he’s so intent on keeping them all in the air that he pushes every single girl into the story, no matter if she’s relevant. Kizumonogatari was probably so good because he was able to cast off excess baggage and focus on a much smaller set of people, going back to the roots that made the first stories of Bakemonogatari so strong. Maybe that’s what left me so undecided after the final arc of Bakemonogatari — there were just too many characters involved. The tension flies out the window.

But it’s not really that simple. I initially enjoyed the dialogue not only because it felt extremely funny and natural, but also because he kept dropping hints smoothly into the conversations, which helped uncover what the characters were like. There would be tiny clues hidden here and there in a girl’s line, which only made sense in a later arc when the rest of the context was visible to readers. It created a sense of layering, or complexity, which made me think that here was something deeper than regular comedy. Something intricately planned.

With this initial volume of Nisemonogatari, all these threads have (almost) been untied, and we’re left with what seems like trivial conversations and much more shallow atmosphere. I don’t know if it’s me being blind to the details, or if Nishio just feels unable to pull that “trick” when he’s working with long singular arcs, but it makes the series a whole lot weaker. I’m trying to tell myself there were hints and that they’ll only stand out in my memory once I dig into the concluding Nisemonogatari volume, but… ugh. I’m also really sick of the anime adaptation jokes. They might have been funny last year, but when you get into the series from watching the anime, it just comes across as weird. And almost conceited. There must be a dozen meta jokes in 321 pages, and it’s excessive. Maybe he needs to start a new series altogether.

Amazon link: Japanese

 

lollypop

Title: Satougashi no Dangan wa Uchinukenai
Author: Sakuraba Kazuki
Label: Kadokawa Bunko
Year of publication: 2004
Pages: 201

Having finished A Lollypop or a Bullet, as it’s also called, the thought filling my mind was: What the FUCK? That was written by the same person as GOSICKs? How? What? Huh?

A strange read, really. I find it absurd that they originally published it with illustrations, and no doubt it’s better off in the current format, clean and naked. Reading up on it on Wikipedia I also noticed there’s a goddamn manga of it, which seems ridiculous. If ever there was a light novel that wasn’t a light novel, surely this is it. It’s anything but light. How do you get out of that story without a heavy heart?

It opens with a newspaper article explaining that the chopped up body of 13-year-old Umino Mokuzu had been found in the hills, gripping me instantly. The story then follows her classmate, from the day of Mokuzu’s arrival as a transfer student and her peculiar introduction, then through subsequent events as the two grow closer. And simultaneously, the unravelling of Mokuzu’s background. It’s tragic and depressing and it just goes on and on. I kept thinking there would be a twist eventually, that the girl was really a mermaid as she claimed, that there would be a happy end somehow, but suddenly I ran out of pages, and she was still dead. Where’s the “light” in that?

No wonder Sakuraba went on to write regular novels. Lollypop and Gosick are miles apart, and the former is clearly superior. If the book that won the Naoki prize is even better, I’m going to have to get a hold of it some day. Feels like I owe her that. I spent the rest of the week gloomy, though.

Amazon link: Japanese

 

koohii 01

Title: Oishii Koohii no Irekata v01
Author: Murayama Yuka
Label: Shuueisha Bunko
Year of publication: 1999
Pages: 205

While I didn’t know it back when I first ordered this title, it’s actually written by a woman who won the Naoki Prize for Hoshiboshi no Fune in 2003, just like Sakuraba Kazuki above.

It was surprising to me, mostly because this first part of the now 13 books long Oishii Koohii series wasn’t particularly good. It’s pleasant enough as romantic stories go, with high schooler Izumi Katsutoshi abruptly finding himself living with his two cousins, as the parents in both families move out of town, and figure it’s convenient to have the youngsters under the same roof, looking after each other. Katsutoshi starts out furiously opposing this idea, since he’s been taking care of himself since the death of his mother years ago, but gradually changes his mind as he discovers what a radiant beauty his older cousin Karen has become.

Observing Katsutoshi as he tackles his feelings is somewhat amusing, but the way things turn out is laughably convenient. Even then, the biggest problem lies in the fact that in spite of being written as the first person narrative of a male character, it is utterly impossible to shake the knowledge that the author was female. I’ve never known a man who’d care so much about the details of someone’s clothing, and all the mannerisms added to make the protagonist act manly simply feel contrived and silly.

Still, parts of the book manage to charm, and after the shocking transformation I saw from Sakuraba, I was willing to give Murayama the benefit of doubt, and her award winning title now graces my bookshelf for future perusal.

Amazon link: Japanese

 

index 01

Title: To Aru Majutsu no Index v01
Author: Kamachi Kazuma
Illustrator: Haimura Kiyotaka
Label: Dengeki Bunko
Year of publication: 2004
Pages: 297

Everyone must know this title intimately by now, what with the anime in 2008 and its spin-off Railgun still running. If by some odd chance you’ve been hiding in the closet, all you need to know is that it’s a mixed sci-fi and fantasy series about a high school guy called Kamijou Touma, who wields a fist with the power of nullification, and lives a hectic life in a special city built for the education and research of kids with different abilities, varying in levels from 0 to 5.

Kamijou, whose power seems to defy all the tests designed to determine the potency of an ability, obviously gets labelled as a 0. But fear not, my friends, for a cute girl soon falls into his life (quite literally), opening his eyes to the existence of magic, which works as a kind of opposite to the “scientific” abilities, related more closely to religion and myth. This brings with it an extreme amount of jargon, and wading through it can only be compared to Shakugan no Shana. Luckily Index manages to be a lot more fun and exciting, with some decent jokes, action pieces, and cute characters — especially the adorable Misaka Mikoto, a fierce tsundere who discharges electricity at will.

Amazon link: Japanese

Finishing the first volume left me hungry for more, so I went straight for its sequel…

 

index 02

Title: To Aru Majutsu no Index v02
Author: Kamachi Kazuma
Illustrator: Haimura Kiyotaka
Label: Dengeki Bunko
Year of publication: 2004
Pages: 317

…which of course turned out to be a massive disappointment. It wasn’t a bad book, the second half. Once they stopped babbling about the hundreds of years of important history and important details used to build the story into something more … intellectually rewarding? I don’t know. It didn’t do a thing for me, at least. I was more amused by Index-tan showing some jealousy, but maybe I’m a romantic teenage girl at heart, rather than a hard-boiled sci-fi nerd burning for techno babble.

I estimated that as much as 90% of the first 120 pages were given to endless explanations, often repeated twice over. To make a James Bond comparison, instead of enjoying the anticipated bang-bang and womanising, you only get a comprehensive two-hour tour of the villain’s lair. Without the sharks. The experience left me sick to death of the series, and I’ve put it on hold indefinitely, while I work through the rest of my library.

Amazon link: Japanese

 

kiiri 01

Title: Kiiri v01
Author: Kabei Yukako
Illustrator: Taue Shunsuke
Label: Dengeki Bunko
Year of publication: 2003
Pages: 281

Encouraged by the information that Kiiri was both a finished series at 9 volumes, and that it had won the Dengeki Novel Prize (beating out Baccano), I picked up the first two parts, and eventually even got around to reading this first book. It quickly sets up an interesting atmosphere on a settled world in the distant future, where war has wasted most of the natural resources, and technology has started to regress, leaving society in decline.

The protagonist is a 14-year-old orphan girl who happens to see ghosts, including her talkative dorm roommate. One day she runs into Harvey, a young man who, just like her, sees the spirits of the dead. Except in his case, it’s because his heart has been replaced by a now mythical power source that has rendered him immortal, a practice used in the war to build super soldiers. With the war finally over, the members of this legion suddenly found themselves hunted down and destroyed, their existence no longer deemed useful by the governing church. Attracted by the bond they share with the realm of the deceased, Kiiri joins him on his journey to put to rest the soul of an old friend who dwells in a radio, meeting new ghosts along the way, and helping them come to terms with their situation.

Summarized like that it probably sounds alright, but the author’s style is a clear example of thesaurus abuse and not knowing when to stop. The writing is filled to the brim with excessive detail, describing every little thing right down to which step on the staircase someone’s foot has reached. It makes for a tedious read, and much like Murayama a few entries up, Kabei Yuka is unable to write convincing male characters, where she attempts to emulate the way a man would behave, without capturing the essence.

This was the second time in a short while that I’d been struck by flawed cross-gender writing, but it’s normally not something I think about. In the multitudes of novels by female authors I’ve read before, the male depiction has never bothered me, but here it sticks out like a sore thumb. I can’t even imagine what it must be like for girls to read novels written by insensitive men.

Amazon link: Japanese

I’ve finished an additional 7 books (including Durarara), but this post is already TL;DR enough, so I’ll write them up later.

February 25, 2010 at 10:38 pm
31 comments »
  • February 25, 2010 at 10:40 pmretake09

    nice I like the index novels

  • February 25, 2010 at 10:46 pmMike

    @Patrik
    You should read Index Vol.3, its about the level 6 experiment and it is way more graphic than the anime or manga, but so much more spectacular!

  • February 25, 2010 at 11:06 pmahelo

    @mike yeah. the third novel of index is way better since its all about misaka mikoto. you should really read it. It was evcen noticable in the anime that the second arc(2nd vol.) was a let down but the third arc (vol. 3) covered up for it.

  • February 25, 2010 at 11:16 pmKushieda

    Kiiri is also availible in English from Yen Press under the title Kieli. I read that version and can’t wait for vol 2 to come out.

  • February 25, 2010 at 11:24 pmSonicbug

    Weird. I’ve read the english version of Kieli and don’t remember it being overly descriptive or the men coming across as poorly written. I wonder if it’s a case of the english translation being better off than the original. I want to know in what way the guys were coming off as poorly written… I don’t think any are really given a in depth character study compared to Kieli.
    Yen put’s the series out in english: http://yenpress.us/?page_id=516

  • February 25, 2010 at 11:37 pmPatrik

    Mike, so I’ve heard, but I have over a hundred other books to read, so I’m in no hurry.

    Kushieda, interesting. I had no idea, to be honest. I’d link the English edition on Amazon, except it refuses to show vol 1 in the search for me. Is it out of print?

    Sonicbug, translation changes everything. There’s a possibility the English version was edited to keep the overwrought lines to a minimum. Or simply me being more sensitive to it, since I’m reading it in a foreign language, and any embellishment will have me reaching for the dictionary. When a blue stone is described as “sunrays glittering off the slab of azure granite”, I start sighing. Perhaps unfair to the writer, but I can only relate my own reading experience. I appreciate when authors try to evoke the feeling of really being in the middle of the scenery, but everything has its time and place, and in Kiiri it was too much.

    I’m afraid I can’t give concrete examples of the men being poorly written. It’s been a few months since I read the book, and details fade fast, particularly when I didn’t enjoy it. It felt wrong, affected. Mostly the way they talk, but male/female dialogue is built differently in Japanese. I don’t know if it would survive the transition into English.

  • February 26, 2010 at 12:01 amPikow

    I don’t read light novels, although I think I’d like to. I just wanted to comment that I could see why you’d say a male character is poorly written because of some excess sensitivity in the character’s thought or the like that you hinted at in one of the reviews. I always think the same way about cliche and overly moe girls in shounen anime… it really grosses me out. PS: I’m a male.

  • February 26, 2010 at 12:07 amKWeng

    o.O Kiiri / Kieli , there a manga for it too .

  • February 26, 2010 at 12:39 amChaos2Frozen

    Patrik, I can say this much about the Index novel; The history lessons will never go away, and yes I understand what you meant by it repeating over and over again. But for what it’s worth, the author eventually cuts down on it.

    Almost every Index volume will start out with this format – A simple enough introduction to an interesting setting. However, it would be bogged down by the second part when things start to complicate and that’s when the explaination comes in. Once you survive pass the second stage, the pacing shoots up and you get to the really exciting part.

  • February 26, 2010 at 12:47 amXof

    I haven’t been very impressed with the “light” novels I’ve read from Japan. I’ve been awed by the novels I’ve seen, and even some of the more borderline novels that aren’t quite real novels, but aren’t quite light-novels either. 12 Kingdoms, Full Metal Panic, MS Gundam, etc.

    Course, maybe they just seem worse when you go from Toradora or Haruhi to… Inoue Yasushi. Who knows?

  • February 26, 2010 at 2:47 amEcho

    I remember i saw 9S among the light novels in your introduction to light novel. You shold give it a try, I highly recommend for it.

  • February 26, 2010 at 3:53 amrodavis

    The manga was ok, fast paced to!

  • February 26, 2010 at 4:55 ampanda monium

    can anyone recommend light novels with a relatively simple level of Japanese? much as I’d love to read Bakemonogatari, I’m going to have to work up to it..

  • February 26, 2010 at 5:27 amNawk

    Hey Patrick, just wanted to recommend you an underated gem i found, the series is called 嘘つきみーくんと壊れたまーちゃん, As the title says, its about a lieing boy (who is an extemely charming character and witty with his dialogue, the novel is told through his POV) and a mentally trauamed girl (slightly leaning towards Yandere, but the author makes a good effort to make his characters different from the moe-stereotypes).

    The series is at around vol. 9 right now and i’ve just finished reading 5th. Small to Mid size character cast, extremely subtle harem build up, and the plot twists for every incident/case just blows me away every time. I can guarantee you this a good read.

  • February 26, 2010 at 6:19 amcore

    Patrick, have you read the Majokan series that was illustrated by Clamp. If so, can you give a review on it… I’m toying with the idea of buying the novels… but I don’t want to waste my cash getting something I might not be interested in

  • February 26, 2010 at 9:55 amPatrik

    Xof, I read Full Metal Panic v01 before I started blogging light novels, and it was the worst written book I’ve ever seen, pretty much. Maybe the translation made it decent.

    Echo, 9S v01 was a title I managed to read before this section of the blog was born, so I’m not too excited about the prospect of introducing it mid-series. It’s a decent action title, anyway.

    panda monium, the easiest light novel I’ve come across so far is Zero no Tsukaima. It’s a fun read, too.

    Nawk, I’ve had my sights on it, but never pulled the trigger. Might check it out later.

    core, never heard of it, sorry.

  • February 26, 2010 at 2:21 pmvexx

    Good lord, I feel over-challenged by the merely 3 series I’m following:
    (Spice&Wolf, Haruhi, Toradora). Sigh… they’re about two chapters deeper than my skill level comfort so there’s lots of kanji-lookup and scribbling on notepaper.

  • February 26, 2010 at 2:26 pmshirokiryuu

    Great post! I’m always interested in light novels, I’m glad some series are (being) localized.

  • February 26, 2010 at 2:46 pmPatrik

    vexx, sounds like you jumped in at the deep end. Spice & Wolf is one of the more advanced light novels I’ve seen, and Haruhi is hard to make sense of because of all the irony.

  • February 26, 2010 at 4:33 pmAndy

    For light novel I still enjoy Baka Testo and Summon beast the most, had me crying in tears of laughter.
    Other novel on my list:
    Chrome Shelled Regios, Wagaya no Oinari-sama, Spice and wolf, EX! , Kaze no Stigma and Seitokai no Ichizon

  • February 26, 2010 at 8:56 pmTrunkMonkey

    Hey.. Kieli the Manga is published by Yen Press October 2008. There are two volumes. I really enjoyed the story and a art work expressed the story well. There is an excerpt of the first volume of the novels in the back of the second volume of the Manga. I not sure how far the manga covers the novels but, it seems to go to the end – it’s a good story.

  • February 26, 2010 at 11:35 pmD

    Nice review, Vol. 2 of Index is by far the worst in the series and should definitely be skiped, it isn’t even referenced later on. The story only starts to pick up from vol 8 upwards and doesn’t get really good until volume 13 or so. If you do plan on continuing the series I recommend you rewatch the anime (which is quite a faithful adaption), and skip directly to volume 7 (which is kinda slow) or 8 (I recommend this) and then continue from there. Also I’m curious, what’s your opinion of the DRRR novels? I haven’t read them myself, (may never get the chance to read them) so how are they?

  • February 26, 2010 at 11:42 pmPatrik

    D, my DRRR reviews will show up in a few days, if I can get my brain to move again. I haven’t even watched the Index anime once yet, so rewatching it is unlikely. ;)

  • February 27, 2010 at 12:54 amvexx

    Aye… my speed is more like “Yotsuba” or “ARIA” … but its been fun (if slow)

  • February 27, 2010 at 1:07 amTrejon

    you have nice taste for the titles, and i wish i could afford to buy books until i have over one hundread of titles to read, you must have an impressive library, im jealous!!

  • February 27, 2010 at 2:12 amStrider

    Hey! Thanks a bunch for the post – I can’t wait till you write about the Durarara! novels, I’m pretty curious about them! Are they any good? :D

  • February 27, 2010 at 4:53 amEcho

    so far the light novel that i’m still reading are 9S, Shakugan no Shana, Index and Tasogareiro no Utatsukai. Might be picking up DRRR! soon i guess.

  • February 27, 2010 at 5:56 amRFayt

    Wish i can read the LNs in japanese…. currently reading the chinese translations, If i were to try, which ones would you recommend to start out on ?

    Thanks for the reviews as always, looking forward to the Durarara one ~

  • February 27, 2010 at 3:12 pmLero

    The second volume was to explain more about the magic world and the purpose of the 3rd volume was to introduce the second protagonist of this series, Accelerator who appeared later trought the science side world.

  • February 28, 2010 at 12:32 amBaka-chan

    I’ve been waiting so long for Nisio Isin’s Zaregoto vol.2 “Kubushime Romancist”.
    Does anybody know when it will be translated and published ?

  • March 3, 2010 at 1:10 pmcharizardpal

    Yeah that faulty cross-gender writing is something fun to watch for. I’ve noticed for instance that women often have problems writing fight scenes, and tend to skip over them them even in books with male characters, directed toward men.