Archive for the ‘ Reviews ’ Category

こいのうた // Koi no Uta

This song—and from Cirno’s theme no less!

こいのうた
 Koi no Uta
 Love Song
おてんば恋娘|東方紅魔郷
Circle: かちかち山
Album: どうぶつのうた 肆
Event: 例大祭16

どうして 貴方は遠い場所へ
何故なの 私だけを残して

doushite anata wa tooi basho e
naze nano watashi dake wo nokoshite

Why did you have to go so far away?
How could you die and leave me here alone?

交わした幾つもの言葉が
凍ったままで今も彷徨って

kawashita ikutsumo no kotoba ga
koota mama de ima mo samayotte

I remember the words we spoke to each other
Frozen in time as I walk lost among them now

ひとりの夜は長くて この胸が張り裂けそう
貴方を失った世界は 時間が止まったようで

hitori no yoru wa nagakute kono mune ga harisakesou
anata wo ushinatta sekai wa jikan’ ga tomatta you de

Every night I spend alone feels never-ending, my heart ready to burst
Without you in the world, it’s as if time has stopped dead in its tracks

凍てつく 景色はモノクロのよう
果ての無い 雪原をただ歩く

itetsuku keshiki wa monokuro no you
hate no nai setsugen’ wo tada aruku

Everything appears frozen and devoid of color
As I walk aimlessly over endless fields of snow

全て奪う氷の世界で
暗い闇に飲み込まれそう

subete ubau koori no sekai de
kurai yami ni nomikomaresou

In this world, where ice has stolen everything away
I feel a darkness ready to swallow me at any moment

永遠を誓い合った 夢のようなひと時も
貴方の優しい歌声ももう…
悲しみの海は深く 鮮やかな青で愛を
凍りついた 私の心溶かして 

eien’ wo chikaiatta yume no you na hitotoki mo
anata no yasashii utagoe mo mou
kanashimi no umi wa fukaku azayaka na ao de ai wo
kooritsuita watashi no kokoro tokashite

The eternity we promised ourselves, the little moments straight out of dreams
Along with your kind singing voice, are no longer…
The sea of sorrow is vast and deep, so with a brilliant blue, send me love
Something to melt my frozen heart…

月日が流れても 色褪せない思い出が
両手からこぼれて 大地を彩り

tsukihi ga nagaretemo iroasenai omoide ga
ryoute kara koborete daichi wo irodori

Even as the days turn into months, unfading memories
Spill out of my hands and color the earth

貴方が教えてくれた 風景の鮮やかさも
包み込むような歌声ももう…
止まったままの秒針 もう一度動かせるなら
凍りついた 私の心溶かして

anata ga oshietekureta fuukei no azayakasa mo
tsutsumikomu you na utagoe mo mou
tomatta mama no byoushin’ mou ichido ugokaseru nara
kooritsuita watashi no kokoro tokashite

The brilliance of my surroundings, which you made clear to me
Along with your voice, which embraced it—all, no longer…
If there is anything that can make time move forward for me again
Please melt my frozen heart…

Sound Euphonium! Welcome to the Rikka High School Marching Band! Mid-Point Review

Cover Art for Part I (left) and Part II (right)

Sound Euphonium! Side-Story:
Welcome to the Rikka High School Marching Band!
By: Takeda Ayano

響け!ユーフォニアム シリーズ
立華高校マーチングバンドへようこそ
武田綾乃

(*note: This “review” is not exactly spoiler-free, but I masked some major spoilers, which you can read by highlighting the text.)

Rikka follows Suzuki Azusa as she navigates through her first year as a member of Rikka High School’s nationally acclaimed marching band. Despite rising quickly through the ranks of the trombone section, Azusa is not satisfied playing second fiddle to anyone, and will not rest until she has usurped her section’s ace, third-year Sezaki Mirai. However, being part of a band with such high expectations does not come without its challenges, and Azusa must not only hone her skills as a trombonist among the best, she must maintain balance in a web of interpersonal relationships stressed from all sides.

In relation to the broader Sound Euphonium! series, Rikka is concurrent with respect to the first three books (or four, if you include the first short story collection), which cover Omae Kumiko’s first year at Kitauji High. If you are familiar with the books, anime (see season 1, episode 5) or movies, you may remember Azusa as Kumiko’s friend from middle school—but, to be clear, Azusa was friends with everyone, and the main reason Kumiko sticks in Azusa’s mind at all is that (apart from Kumiko being such a lovable derp) Azusa feels guilty about letting Kumiko’s status deteriorate within their middle school band after Kumiko took the spot of an upperclassman. Apart from that, Kumiko is mentioned only in passing, as if to remind us that yes, this story does take place within the same universe as Kumiko’s struggles.

The stylistic format and general outline of Rikka is identical to that of the other Sound Euphonium! novels—it follows a progression of episodic scenes, in a close third person perspective—but this book is a very different beast, and it owes that difference primarily to the fact that Azusa is a very different protagonist, and Rikka is a very different school. Although Azusa is not exactly the polar opposite of Kumiko, she functions like an anti-Kumiko. Kumiko is not the sole narrator in the mainline series—we get glimpses into the minds of Mizore and Nozomi in the second year books, and in the short story collections, even minor characters like Niiyama Satomi (the woodwind instructor) get a chance to narrate—but what sets Azusa apart is that she’s not meant to be relatable (at least at first). You may think this sounds like a recipe for disaster—but it works for a variety of reasons: First, the characters surrounding Azusa are much more relatable, and serve to keep your bearings. Second, as exceptional as Azusa is, the environment she is in is just as exceptional. A more neutral, relatable Azusa would feel unnatural in the same environment. Third, and most important of all, Azusa functions like an inverted Kumiko, and this inversion allows a different perspective even as Rikka rehashes many of the themes already explored in the mainline series. To put it simply: Kumiko develops as a character by running around and trying to put out fires. In Rikka, Azusa harbors the biggest fire of them all, but remains oblivious to it, resulting in a grand dose of dramatic irony. In Rikka, other characters develop by trying to put out this fire. Essentially, everything is flipped on its head.

This inverted formula introduces and requires a sort of dissonance between the reader and the narrator. Like Kumiko, Azusa is very perceptive and laser-focuses on certain aspects of other characters, but unlike Kumiko, Azusa makes too many assumptions, and is very blind with respect to herself. However, given the very subjective narrative style, it takes some poking and prodding to clue us into a more objective view.

One way this is accomplished is through a sudden shift in view, usually introduced by another character without any change in narration. Takeda uses this technique to great effect with Nozomi in “Daytime Christmas Lights” (from the Year 2 short story collection), where Nozomi projects unto the unlit lights, seeing ugliness and suffering, only to have that view challenged by Natsuki, who sees underappreciated beauty. A similar scene happens in Rikka where Azusa’s thoughts of how unsettling a scene is all but interrupted by another character seeking affirmation of its beauty. Not all of these introduced dissonances are so stark—some are long takes of misunderstanding, where Azusa spends most of her time talking past someone, without grasping their side of the conversation—but what matters is that we come to understand that Azusa sees things differently compared to most people around her.

After we are made keenly aware, through these dissonances, of where Azusa’s perception is warped, we can piece together a more objective view and work backwards from that view to examine Azusa herself, in a way that Kumiko might, to see if we can solve her problems. Once we take that stance, in effect, we are siding with the other characters in the story who instinctively know something must be done about Azusa. This is how we end up with the Kumiko formula turned on its head.

Another way Rikka differs from the other Sound Euphonium! books is in the environment of its setting. Rikka’s marching band has a different starting point and a different set of priorities compared to Kitauji’s concert band. For example, SunFes, the first major performance for Kitauji and climax of the second chapter in the first book, is little more than a footnote in Rikka. Rikka only sets aside two weeks of intense practice for the first leg of the National Concert Band Competition, whereas Kitauji turns its attention to the competition immediately after SunFes. At Rikka, the instructors mostly leave the students to self-govern, only stepping in for intensive practice sessions and deciding auditions for the concert band competition. Students are responsible for the choreography of their marches, and decide who will participate in the marching competition. As for the Agata Festival, featured prominently in the main series? Azusa laughs it off. Nobody has time for that at Rikka.

As the start of a new arc, Rikka has to spend a lot of space introducing characters, and there are many. The marching band has 103 members, thirteen of them trombone players. There are nineteen names listed under major characters at the front of the book. I’m going to focus on only a few here.

Sasaki Azusa, the protagonist of this story, is inhuman in her propensity for work and incredibly conceited. Her pride is served by her spectacular musical ability, a product of hard work more than talent, but she feels threatened by the notion of prodigies—anyone who is as good or better than her despite having spent less time learning their instrument. Although a true extrovert who thrives on interpersonal interactions, Azusa wears a mask at all times and prefers substance-less talk she can easily parry over meaningful discussions fraught with chances for her to slip up. She views the number of friends you have as a measure of status, but also a liability, because it can be difficult to maintain a neutral relationship with every single one of them. Her pride leads her to see discord within her web of friends as a failing of her own social skills, and rarely gets close to anyone because of her defensive stance. But here’s the catch: Azusa also has an intense, overwhelming desire to be needed. Azusa’s bandmate Amica fulfils this role for Azusa, and somewhat ironically, Azusa becomes dangerously dependent on Amica’s dependence on her. Apart from this, Azusa lives alone with her mostly absent mother, and although she has a good relationship with her, the absence fuels a jealousy of others and shoehorns Azusa into her fierce independence. Furthermore, a past relationship with a girl at her middle school, yet to be made clear, unnerves her so much that a chance reunion nearly sends her into shock.

Nase Amica is a complex little marshmallow. Out of all 103 members of Rikka’s Marching Band, she is the only one (this year) to start learning an instrument after joining the band. She immediately latches on to Azusa, who is more than happy to take her under her wing. Their relationship appears lopsided, but, as mentioned before, the dependence is mutual. Azusa is fiercely protective of Amica and genuinely does seem to care about her more than she does any other human being (apart from herself). The problem is, however, that Azusa infantilizes Amica to the point of being downright insulting, and feels threatened by any sign of Amica gaining independence. Amica’s feelings toward Azusa are a bit more pure.

You see…

Amica was ostracized from the rest of her classmates at a relatively early age and found herself burdened with social anxiety as she struggled to break out of the corner she had been boxed into. She explicitly notes that she’s terrified of boys, but honestly, she’s probably just as terrified of other girls. What prompted Amica to change was her family’s move to Kyoto, where she had a chance at a fresh start. She decided that her best shot at a fulfilling school life was to mimic the behavior of the popular girls at her previous school—and part of this mimicry entailed joining the school band. Little did Amica know how big of a hurdle that would be. From Amica’s perspective, if Azusa was not there to help her, she would not have lasted a week. Her plan would have fallen apart and she would not have had the courage to try again. However, in part because the band is so demanding, Amica did not really get a chance to make friends outside of band, and to make matters worse, she faces hostility from other first years in her section. Therefore, Amica’s dependence on Azusa becomes so great that when Azusa has to turn her attention to Shiho to deal with a problem, Amica falls into what looks like an irrational panic, pleading for Azusa to not abandon her.

After that incident, Amica becomes more aware of both of her dependence on Azusa and how her over-dependence may negatively affect her, so she starts looking for other ways to support herself within the band, for both of their sakes. Eventually, when Azusa starts to go a little off the rails, Amica confesses that she’s in the process of reworking her personality, starting from mimicry but rediscovering herself in the process. She reiterates how important Azusa is to her, and how she wants to build some independence from her for both of their sakes, but to Azusa, each step towards independence feels like a betrayal. This comes to the head at the end of Part 1, with Amica taking a confident step forward, but Azusa only feels like she’s being stabbed in the back.

There are three other characters of note, whom will likely be more important in Part 2: Sezaki Mirai, Takagi Shiori and Hiiragi Serina.

Sezaki Mirai is the ace of Rikka’s trombone section, and Azusa’s goal to beat. Like Amica, Mirai only started playing the trombone after she joined Rikka’s band. Regardless of their age difference, the fact Azusa remains behind Mirai despite having had more time with her instrument bothers her. Apart from Mirai’s playing ability, she is also a competent leader: She notices early on that Azusa may have a problem and moves quickly to resolve discord among the first years (due to Togawa Shiho’s frustration with Amica and her own struggle to improve).

Takagi Shiori is Mirai’s former mentor, the second most proficient third-year trombonist, and second-in-command of the section. She has a inferiority complex with respect to Mirai due to how quickly Mirai surpassed her, and has a lot of difficulty connecting with Azusa, despite her best efforts —particularly after Azusa bests her in auditions for the concert band competition. Shiori is also tasked (among others) with developing choreography for marches, which takes up a lot of her time.

Hiiragi Serina is a girl from Azusa’s middle school, who apparently shook Azusa to her core by seeing right through her. Serina was never the part of any band, and is currently a student at Kitauji. You may recognize her name if you read “The Friend of a Friend is a Stranger” from the Year 2 short story collection. Like Kumiko, Serina chose Kitauji to distance herself from the people who went to her middle school. So far, we know very little about her, but no single person has bothered Azusa more. Additionally, as Serina is featured on the next cover (and can often be found among Azusa and Amica in fan art), I expect her role to become much more important in Part 2.

Finally, to address the last remaining, all-important question (for shippers anyway): how gay is everyone? Well, compared to our always-horny bi-hero Kumiko, Azusa’s gaze is fairly subdued. She herself claims to be uninterested in love, because she does not understand it. However, she does show a mild interest in a fellow male first-year’s appearance, and her eyes often move to her own set of beauty points when interacting with some of the girls—particularly Mirai. The main difference is, whereas Kumiko has a healthy obsession with thighs, Azusa often focuses on girls’ fingertips and nails—and in Mirai’s case how her ears peek out from under her hair. We do get some attention to calves, but mostly on their function—i.e. how muscular they are.

Amica on the other hand, is a different story. Despite what we learn later about her motivations, Amica is very close to Azusa and very comfortable with that closeness. She physically touches Azusa often, in a way she does with no one else. She reacts when her Azusa (on rare occasion) touches her back. She brings up the topic of love to Azusa while they are alone. Amica is clearly bothered by Serina and Azusa’s relationship and tries to ask about it. According to Amica’s parents (who are supportive), Azusa is all she ever talks about. Most importantly, Amica pays close attention to Azusa and tries to factor what’s best for her in her decisions. The Sound Euphonium! series doesn’t like to throw around concrete labels, but I’m not sure you’re going to find more evidence than what I’ve listed above. AmicaxAzusa forever.

As for the other characters, Shiori definitely gives off gay vibes. You could easily slap a “gay idiot” label on Saijou Kanon (one of the twins), and Mirai’s cool, somewhat-masculine demeanor seems to attract more than just Azusa. Mirai scoffs at the band’s straight members fawning over Taki (Kitauji’s “hot” instructor), and we get some sweaty hugs from her as well, but it’s hard to be definitive about most of the other characters. Shiho and Taiichi (the other two first-year trombone players) are both as straight as a board though.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to Part 2. The inversion of the regular formula keep things interesting, and it is easy to fall in love with Amica. Azusa’s pride can get aggravating at times, but there’s a good amount of comic relief to offset that, and she is most certainly an interesting character. I think, so far, I’d recommend at least reading the Year 2 books before starting Rikka, if only because you can better appreciate the differences after following Kumiko’s development, but Rikka does not depend on hardly any knowledge from the rest of the series, so it is possible to dive right in.

If you would like to take a look at my real-time impressions about the book, search my Twitter (@ZephyrRz) for the tag: “#eupho rikka”. Year 2 and Year 3 are tagged “#eupho y2” and “#eupho y3” respectively, and if you dig deep enough (to around 2015), you can find comments about the Year 1 books under just: “#eupho”.

A good unofficial character diagram of the Rikka characters (including many I have not mentioned) may be found [here] (in Japanese).

*Final Note: Rikka’s Marching Band is based on the real life Kyoto Tachibana SHS Marching Band (京都橘高校吹奏楽部) so, if you’re having trouble visualizing the kind of movements that earn them the nickname “The Blue Devils” in the books, looking up a few videos of the real band online should solve that.

Anticipating Reitaisai 10 // 第十回博麗神社例大祭

There’s a lot of the Girls’ Sealing Club this time around, and I’m definitely not complaining. Please recommend other albums for me to list either in the comments or via Twitter.

IN PROGRESS UNTIL 2013-05-26

TOTAL ALBUMS CURRENTLY LISTED: 24

TOTAL ALBUM XFDS CURRENTLY REVIEWED: 13

TOTAL ALBUMS WITH IMAGES UPLOADED: 12

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THE ANTICIPATED LIST

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凋叶棕 [RD-Sounds] / 徒 “itazura” [*]

Does RD ever disappoint? Both instrumentals and vocals are fantastic and RD again tries successfully to stretch his range of instrumental genres. His folklore-ish tracks never sound forced, his melodies and harmonies are always complex, and he always pushes his vocalists to the limit. Also, nyan-nyan – am I right? There’s not a track on this xfd that I don’t like. I’m especially excited by his arrangement of Enigmatic Doll, an original track I’ve always liked, as well as Nyan-Nyan’s tracks (11-12), 二色蝶 (8), sung by a new guest vocalist, and はるのおと ―同声合唱とピアノのための― (9) (as I’ve always been a fan of 天空の花の都). Everytime I listen to this xfd I fall in love with each track all over again. If’ve been to my site before and -haven’t- listened to RD yet, something is probably wrong with you ^^; We’re looking at another masterpiece. (騙 probably still presides over the number 1 slot though).

鶫 x Adam Kadmon [Tsugumi] / Phonograph [*]

Phonograph starts out as strong as any album ever could. It may be Tsugumi x Adam Kadmon, but even as the feel of the tracks flip back and forth it all fits together seamlessly. It doesn’t hurt the album to have some of the best original tracks behind it, and this album truly embodies the paradox of both light-hearted and dark that I’ve come to expect from Tsugumi. If I wasn’t such an RD fan, this might have grabbed the top spot. Every track is spectacular.

サリー [Sally] / ロープ “Rope” [*]

Sally’s continuing on it’s conquer path, now running over the first half of TH7:東方妖々夢~Perfect Cherry Blossom. Judging just off of the xfd, I’d say that Rope is looking to vy for at least second or third out of all of Sally’s albums thus far (after Sally). I really have completely warmed up to IZNA at this point, and OR, I’ll be right here, ゆきどけ and 爪 are probably my favorite tracks. Fantastic. This, 徒 -itazura-, Phonograph, and Degenerate Dancehall will probably be the first albums to have translations.

Alstroemeria Records / Degenerate Dancehall [*]

I don’t know about you, but I really like Alstroemeria’s “Dancehall” era. I’m a big fan of seamless/gapless albums that are done right, and Masayoshi Minoshima knows what he’s doing. I really like that Nhato (since 2nd) and Camellia (since 3rd) have become a standard part of the dancehall structure. The remixes don’t at all take away from the flow of the rest of the album (unlike the remixes in Haunted and Killed), and they happen to be some of my favorites. If I have to be disappointed in anything it’s that since there are two remixes and they are originally from other dancehall albums, it kind of feels like we’re getting a little cut short – but that’s just nitpicking, and like I said I think the remixes are great.

As always Masayoshi Minoshima tends to pick up on those little arranged PC-98 favorites (博麗 〜Eastern Wind), and that always makes me happy – and for whatever reason, I like when there are specifically arrangements of “Necro Fantasy” (not “Necrofantasia”).

My favorite tracks are “WIND A CLOCK”, “FIRST DAWN, AMBER WIND” and “NECRO EFFECT” then “LIMBO” … and “KILL MAGIC” and “DREAM VISION” – well it’s hard to not count any tracks on these Dancehall albums, they’re built to be all part of a whole after all.

死際サテライト [Shinigiwa Satellite] / AWAKENING EP [*] [*] [*] [*]

I think this is the first time we haven’t had a full pre-mastering demo track for a Shinigiwa Satellite release, but from the minute we get a glimpse of, we know Ei-Seitarou’s singing backup vocals and the emotion that we’ve been feeling in Shinigiwa’s last few releases is here to stay. These little EPs are almost always a hassle to get a hold of, but damn it it’s worth it every time. Some of those trademark “blank CDs” I have sitting on my shelf are worth gold to me. I know Shinigiwa Satellite is not everyone’s thing, but you should all give it a try. Their songs bring manly tears.

<echo>PROJECT / 博麗霊夢が死んだ “Hakurei Reimu ga Shin’da” [*]

I love it. The first instrumental track sounds like a heart monitor, and then the xfd breaks into “Ghoti〜東風谷早苗が想うこと〜” Sanae’s track, and it is fantastic (definitely my favorite). Then, I suppose Marisa’s in trouble too with “meridian 〜霧雨魔理沙が死ぬときは〜” (When Marisa Dies…), but I’m a sucker for duets, and then the short album ends with a strong powerful Endless Shrine Maiden arrange. “salbier 〜永遠の巫女〜” <echo>PROJECT does -not- disappoint. Even though it’s a sort album, ever since “Mary Had a Little Love” I’ve been waiting and waiting…

MN-Logic24 / Saku-Love Communication (サクラヴコミュニケイション) [*]

Fantastic, with dual arrangements from members of <echo>Project, minimum electric design, cakebox and TUMENECO, this short album is full of LOVE! I’ll have to admit that most of my exposure to MN-Logic24 in the past has just been the track pyrolysis, but that was good and I’m glad to see I’m taken by the whole album this time around.

monochrome coat / Object [*]

Sally originally branched from monochrome coat, and Tsugumi from Sally, so they’re all intimately connected anyway, but it seems this RTS they’re really throwing themselves all together. Thus, I’m giving more attention to monochrome, and whether that’s the reason or not, this album sounds fantastic to me. It helps that it’s a Hifuu Club only album and has so much Merami. Compared to Sally/Tsugumi this one’s got more of a resonant atmosphere sound. Maybe it’s just the bass, but it’s easier to sink in to and more techno sounding. My favorite are probably the first four, but that doesn’t mean the latter half is lacking – it finishes well.

ぴずやの独房 [Pizuya’s Cell] / Clair de Lune [*]

Clair de Lune is fantastic. It’s Gothic Pizuya meets Torifune/Izanagi. It’s a little bit flooded with sound, but that might just be a xfd. I like music that makes me feel a little uneasy ^^. I’m looking forward to the lyrics.

ぴずやの独房 [Pizuya’s Cell] / 瑞雲 “zuiun'” [*]

I’ve always been a crazy fan of Godwood’s piano albums, and though I still think nothing has topped Bibamus.Moriendum.Est, this is a good solid godwood album. If you liked any of his previous albums, you’ll love this one. It’s not pure piano like the first two albums, but it doesn’t divert too much and the other instruments don’t feel out of place.

Barrage Am Ring / Barrage Am Ring 3 Arrange/side [*]

Hifuu Club Only Heavy Scream/Growl Metal. Power-driven and loud. Each track is terrific and varied, and there isn’t a track I don’t like. ^o^

回路 -kairo- / Do not distract the eye in the here and now [*]

Subterranean Animism Screamo and Rock. I’ve been liking kairo more and more ever since I bumped into them through Buta-Otome. This is a good solid album – it’s got the atmosphere right and the screaming’s not near as heavy as say… Barrage Am Ring. Light, blaze, mirror and cold are probably my favorite tracks.

Shibayan Records / TOHO BOSSANOVA 2 [*]

DDBY / 癒しの風 “Iyashi no Kaze” vol.1 大空魔術 “Oozora Majutsu” [*]

Swing Holic / 東方ぴあのとりお “Touhou Piano Trio” [*] [*] [*]

zytokine / Dancing Dollz [*]

Sound Holic / 夢 -yume- [*] [*] [*]

CROWS’CLAW / The Flames Of The Inferno [*]

豚乙女 [Buta-Otome] / 獣道 “Kemonomichi” / “Animal Path” [*]

This one’s a good, solid album. It’s got a bit more of its energy back as compared to the last few albums. I hope that this is going to give me a good excuse to go back to translating some Buta-Otome songs. Their lyrics are usually interesting and I’m afraid I’ve given them the slip a bit. We’ll see more after the release. Here I am talking about energy, but my favorite two tracks via XFD are probably 暖かい嘘 (8) and ソレでいい (5) (the slower songs), so now I’m just being hypocritical ^^; (but they feel… fuller? I don’t know) – Give this one a listen.

Foreground Eclipse / Unnamed Demo

Clockworks Tracer / Shangri-la in bloom [*]

Further Ahead of Warp / The Neverending Story [*] [*]

Alice’s Emotion / Eternity [*]

EastNewSound / Mindless Act [*]

signum/ii / Brighter Oath [*]

黄昏フロンティア [Tasogare Frontier] / 東方心綺楼~Hopeless Masquerade (TH 13.5) [*]

ZUN / 東方輝針城~Double Dealing Character (TH14) Demo [*]

Spi-ca / アリスト “Alice-to” (FAUST Literary Magazine Parody) [*]

朧月夜 // “Oborodzukiyo” – ヒカルが地球にいたころ…… “Hikaru ga Chikyuu ni Ita Koro” [4]

I know I need to get back to translating, but I just had a 15 hour day at work, so ^^;

朧月夜 – ヒカルが地球にいたころ……④
 ”Oborodzukiyo” Hikaru ga Chikyuu ni Ita Koro…… (4)
 ”Oborodukiyo” When Hikaru was on the Earth…… (Official-Off-Cover-Translation)
著:野村美月 (Author: Nomura Mizuki)
画:竹岡美穂 (Illustrator: Takeoka Miho)
ファミ通文庫 (Famitsu Bunko)
ISBN-13: 978-4047279889
発売日:2012/05/10

Introduction:

I dove into this volume for two reasons, one because I was a little disappointed with Wakamurasaki, and wanted to give the series an immediate chance to “redeem” itself in a way. The second reason was that I was really behind on my yearly reading goal already, and figured I might as well keep rolling.

Well, I’m glad I did. So far this is the highest point in the series, for a variety of reasons. It had a strong pace, plenty of hooks, mystery, and to top it all off, it overturned several stereotypes. This time it wasn’t just a simple aversion to being an idol like in Wakamurasaki, but a scorn for the worship of purity embedded right into the plot.

It is the “impure” girl who is lauded as the “most beautiful” and “the one I am most proud of”.

Characters:

赤城是光  Akagi Koremitsu [Protagonist / Living]

帝門ヒカル Mikado Hikaru “Hikaru no Kimi” [Protagonist-II / Deceased]

右楯月夜子 Udate Tsuyako “Tsuki no Miya” [“Heroine”]

左乙女葵  Saotome Aoi “Aoi no Ue”

式部帆夏  Shikibu Honoka “Nioi-Murasaki/Purple-Hime”

齋賀朝衣  Saiga Asai “Asa no Miya”

帝門一朱  Mikado Kazuaki

近江ひいな Oumi Hiina

若木紫織子 Wakagi Shioriko “Shi-ko”

Plot Snippet:

Did Aoi just confess to Koremitsu…? Not exactly – Koremitsu is faced with “playing the part of Aoi’s boyfriend” in order to delay all of the high status families from selecting another fiance for her. However, it’s clear that it’s a bit more complicated than that, and Honoka is having none of it, pelting Koremitsu with a barrage of questioning texts, and even resorting to half-stalking him.

In the middle of all of this a mysterious but beautiful upperclassman with long red hair approaches Koremitsu. She carries out the exact same conversation that Koremitsu had with Hikaru when they first met, in the exact same place.

“I have something to ask you…”

“So what is it that you wanted?”

“I want you to be my boyfriend.”
“I want you to pretend to be my boyfriend.”

“Hikaru? Yes, I was one of his flowers, but rather than boyfriend and girlfriend… we were more partners in crime; we were lovers.”

“But really, I need your help. I can’t sleep at night.”

“Is this another joke?”

“If I stay like this, I’ll ruin all of Hikaru’s precious flowers… Watch me, watch me so I don’t!”

“That wasn’t your first kiss, was it?”

“You’ve forgotten that I’ve confessed to you, haven’t you!!!”

“No… If the spiders come to cloud the moon… That woman will appear again…”

“The name of the woman who ate her husband and his lover alive… Rokujou…”

“No matter what I do, all will be forgiven – That’s the kind of person I am.”

Evaluation/Rating:

In a way this volume deals with the side-characters of the original Genji Monogatari it is the first volume to not use a chapter title as its name, and the main heroine is only briefly mentioned (Rokujou isn’t even really given a backstory either), without even making an appearance. Though still heavily Genji-plot based (from what I gather), this is where Nomura Mizuki really shines, when she can use a story as a leaping board for her imagination, not just writing an adapatation, but imagining beyond that.

Honoka is given life again as a character. She is less cookie-cutter, more desperate, and more individualistic.

We find out that Tsuyako only became the beauty she is when she learned to believe in herself, be proud of herself, stand on her own two feet, and then step forward.

First we’re led to believe that the plot is driven by just another bi-polar character that does bi-polar things, and we are wrong. Nomura Mizuki takes a common plot driving structure near the end, and turns it inside out.

Without spoiling anything too much, let me go on an important tangent:

I hate “Hurry up! Hurry up! If you don’t, this pure-pure girl is going to be raped!” sequences. Most of the time they make me livid. Though perhaps not quite as bad as “women in refrigerators” (Google it), I always get the feeling they perpetuate a jealous ownership. Many times, the emotions and driving factors floating around are not that “this girl is about to possibly go through severe mental and physical trauma and have her world turned upside down”, it’s that “she’ll no longer be pure, she’ll no longer be innocent -for me-“. It’s the whole NTR thing, and while I don’t really have much of a problem with NTR for NTR’s sake, it’s just so goddamned common, everywhere, in inapproprate places. Always the pure-pure girl – why not weep for the prostitute who is raped and murdered? It’s just a trend I see and have no psychology degree to go too indepth with. If you’re going to have a hero that you know some people are identifying with, have him care about – just something different. Bakemonogatari even does an excellent job with the “nothing happened, but it’s still even then incredibly traumatic.”

Back to the story and you guessed it. I’m raving about this novel because it did it right. It did it so superbly right that it’s off with the hats and hands a’ clapping. Here’s a skeleton of plot events: Our hero discovers one of his friends is in trouble, finds out where she is and runs off to save her. This takes place in 2-3 lines. Perspective immediately switches to girl. Girl slowly realizes that she’s betrayed and you listen, you bake in her fear. The villian, has a villianous rant on precious virginity – says the word 6-8 times, says it so often it’s ringing in your head. The whole NTR sketch is full throttle, with a whole “I’ll rape you while you stare into the face of the one you love, and make you mine forever” scenario. Hero bursts in with entourage. Takes a few seconds to punch him in the face absolutely disgusted with every fiber of his being. Hero leaves girl to entourage. In a very short time frame, he then runs off alone, unhelped, to instead save the girl that isn’t pure, that isn’t a virgin, a girl that is guilty, that is hurting, that is lost and guess what? She is not any less important than the pure-pure girl, she’s even given more pages and more emotion. After all, why -should- she be any less important? The world may be on the hero’s side as he saves the pure-pure girl, but it isn’t when he barely makes it by himself in time to save the other.

Every single element of that is amazing for what it is.

Once again:

It is the “impure” girl who is lauded as the “most beautiful” and “the one I am most proud of”.

Who says a story that’s turning into a harem extravaganza can’t be feminist?

Overall: 9.7

Concept: 9.5

The more imagination utilized, the better it seems.

Pacing: 9.6

I literally could not put this book down, and stayed up till 3:30 in the morning even though I had work the next day.

Plot: 9.4

A strong plot both on the surface and underneath. It ties heavily into the main overarching/underlying plot.

Characters: 9.7

Tsuyako.

Writing Style/Flavor: 9.6

Things tended to flow a bit better, and many of the scenes were completely immersive. Just the introduction of Tsuyako took my breath away.

Illustrations: 9.7

Absolutely beautiful illustrations that fit well with the characters and only added to the mystery.

若紫 // “Wakamurasaki” ーヒカルが地球にいたころ…… “Hikaru ga Chikyuu ni Ita Koro” [3]

I wanted to have finished reading this one about a month ago, but what with getting sick, being busy with C83 stuff, being busy with having to make up all the hours I missed at work, I really took my time getting around to this one. I really have gotten to the point where I haven’t read any of the source material for this series, so at some time or another I’ll probably have to track down one of the large volumes of the English translations and read through the whole story.

Shorter than normal review this time. (I think.)

若紫 – ヒカルが地球にいたころ……③
 ”Wakamurasaki” Hikaru ga Chikyuu ni Ita Koro…… (3)
 ”Wakamurasaki” When Hikaru was on the Earth…… (Official-Off-Cover-Translation)
著:野村美月 (Author: Nomura Mizuki)
画:竹岡美穂 (Illustrator: Takeoka Miho)
ファミ通文庫 (Famitsu Bunko)
ISBN-13: 978-4047277199
発売日:2012/01/05

Introduction:

It’s never a good idea to go into an isolated place with a elementary school girl, Koremitsu. What are you going to do when she decides to pull your pants down? What then?

That’s all I have to say.

Characters:

赤城是光  Akagi Koremitsu [Protagonist / Living]

A very delinquent with a kind heart. A fitting personality for a once stray, now vicious guard-dog. || Koremitsu (Hikaru Genji’s Assistant/Friend)

帝門ヒカル Mikado Hikaru “Hikaru no Kimi” [Protagonist-II / Deceased]

The beautiful ghost of a beautiful romancing boy loved by almost all women everywhere, who has made way too many promises and likes to use flowers as metaphors. Currently possesses Koremitsu. || Hikaru Genji

若木紫織子 Wakagi Shioriko “Shi-ko” [“Heroine”]

A nine year old elementary school student who partakes in the sport of “Sparrow Hunting”. Hard pressed for money after her grandfather, being too kind, ended up having to sell his home to pay off an acquaintance’s debts. A girl whose only tears are fake tears. The first characters of her name spell Wakamurasaki, and her name can be read as “bookmark girl” || Wakamurasaki

式部帆夏  Shikibu Honoka “Nioi-Murasaki/Purple-Hime”

The girl who sits one seat across from Koremitsu. She feels an inherent duty to help Koremitsu with what he’s trying to do, and lately has found herself worrying and thinking about him so much that she doesn’t really know what to do with herself. Under the pen name “Purple-Hime/Princess Purple” she writes cellphone romance novels and manages a love consulting forum. || Murasaki Shikibu (Author of the Tale of Genji)

齋賀朝衣  Saiga Asai “Asa no Miya”

Head of the student council and full of disdain and doubt, she keeps watch over Koremitsu’s actions. || Asagao

左乙女葵  Saotome Aoi “Aoi no Ue”

Part of the elite class and Hikaru’s (former) fiancee, has complicated feelings towards Koremitsu, her “brother” is afraid she’ll strip in front of him. (ww) || Aoi

近江 ひいな  Oumi Hiina

A member of the newspaper club, she while working directly with other possibly blood-related characters in the background, does everything she can to stimulate a response and grab information from Koremitsu. Appears to be trying to find out who killed Hikaru. || ?

Plot:

Koremitsu’s in a pinch. Honoka kind of just confessed her love, but then half retracts it. Not a few days ago Koremitsu said goodbye to his first love, and he’s a bit mixed up inside. He sort of ends with “If Honoka’s ok with proclaiming that ‘I-it’s only like, not love!’, then I’ll just leave things be for now.” Just his luck though, and the whole school starts to think he’s gay. So to distract himself from all the headache he decides to go clear up Hikaru’s next love regret.

In front of a nearby elementary school, Koremitsu asks Hikaru again, “Are you sure this is the right place? And why am I wearing a dog collar anyway?” At first he thinks he’s going to have to deal with an elementary school -teacher- before a young girl half his height asks him, “Are you Hikaru’s friend?”

“Are you here to take my virginity?”

“I didn’t want to make Shi-ko into a girl who couldn’t cry when she wanted to.”

“I’m not a child!”

“From this day forth, you’re going to be my dog.”

“We’re going hunting for sparrows.”

“What are you doing!?!? You chased him away!!”

“My mother, on her way to becoming an idol, died giving birth to me at fifteen.”

“Good people are only deceived until they lose everything! I’ll never be a good person, I’m going to be on the deceiving side!”

Evaluation / Rating:

Part of it may be due to the fact that I mostly read this episode in a more fragmented fashion, but so far – I liked this volume the least of the series. Don’t get me wrong – I liked and appreciated a lot of the themes, about family and potential and the differences in being kind and cutthroat… though the word Hikaru uses for Shioriko-chan is “my joy”, I think “my hope” would have been more appropriate. I doubt the series is going to span five to ten years, but Shioriko’s duality of light and dark (even in her blood) would make her a more interesting character than she is now. I guess my complaints have more to do with Honoka getting pushed aside and made a bit more into a flat, Nanase-like character. Though I had a kick out of the “gravure” scene, I would have actually rather her shown up less than having her popped up the way she did. It’s not like she’s not in a complicated situation, it just feels like it’s being glossed over a bit – again, not that I would mind her role in this volume cut back – it’s not really her time yet, but still… I found myself much more interested in the Hikaru’s “relative” who we meet again for the first time in a long while, other than her part in writing the parts at the beginning and ending of each volume.

I know Asai’s still three volumes away, but I’m also looking forward to seeing more of her character; we only get a complicated flash of anger in this one, but it’s enough to draw you in. Another thing I liked about this volume was the fact that we actually got to see some of the character come out of Koremitsu’s grandfather and aunt. Characterization of a protagonist’s family is extremely rare in this sort of medium; parental figures are usually treated like ghosts.

For whatever reason, I also appreciated Shioriko’s attitude toward the “idol” profession. “I’d rather engage in dangerous blackmailing operations than step one foot inside a studio.”

Remember, these points are kind of like points are in QI – they don’t really mean much.

Overall: 8.6

Not bad, it felt more like a transition volume, mostly because I found myself more interested in the backdrop of the story than the actual story.

Concept: 9.0

Great as always. Unfortunately I know very little about the original to make proper comparisons.

Pacing: 8.8

You’re either learning something about characters, chasing worried after Shioriko, or watching a comedy scene. It flows – the only problem is tied with the plot.

Plot: 8.2

If I sit and think about the plot, and the plot alone, it feels like an “interesting glimpse” of a war of elites from the perspective of a collateral casualty. I liked and felt the themes that were floating around, but one problem was that I always felt like I was being jerked in and out of the plot, so it was harder to pay attention to it. Worst of all, when I encountered the scenes that were part of the “overarching plot” I was so much more interested that I almost forgot what was going on in the foreground.

Characters: 9.2

Shioriko is about as deep and complicated as is realistic for someone her age, if she were any “deeper” I think it would be hard to get into the story, but I rank “characters” high more for the glimpses that we get of everyone else… except Honoka, Honoka was flattened for this volume, and I’m still a little upset about it.

Writing Style/Flavor: 9.0

Rather average, but “average for Nomura Mizuki” which means it’s still a 9.

Illustrations: 9.5

A lot of Shioriko/Shiiko. I still think Honoka’s cuter.