Archive for the ‘ Light Novels ’ Category

“文学少女”と飢え渇く幽霊 // Bungaku Shoujo to Uekawaku Ghost

I’ve tried to keep this review, as always, spoiler free; most of what I quote can be found in the opening pages or opening color inserts of the book. I would have had this out yesterday, but my internet died, and my computer auto-reset; I am lucky to have saved this draft (on whim) to my hdd. I don’t think it was my latest, so I might come back and patch up one or two things a bit later.

 彼女を殺そう。
 嵐のような狂気に身を震わせながら、彼は決意した。
 そうだ、殺せ、殺すのだ。
 巻き戻した時間を元に戻さぬために。彼女を永遠に、彼の世界に繋ぎ止めるために。
 彼女の屍を抱き、血をすすり、肉を食らい、骨を枕にし、同じ棺で眠るのだ。彼女の目も、鼻も、唇も、皮膚も、肉も、血も、骨も、すべて――すべて彼のものだ。
 雪のように白く氷柱のように冷たい彼女の首に、十本の指を、ぎりぎりと食い込ませながら、彼は掠れた声で呟いた。

「――さようなら、裏切り者の夏夜乃」

 I’ll kill her.
 Shaking with an insanity fierce as a storm, he fixed his determination.
 Yes, I’ll kill her, I’ll take her life.
 So that time will never be turned back, or rewound. So that she will be eternally bound his world.
 He would embrace her corpse, drink her blood, eat her flesh, make her bones his pillow and sleep with her in the same coffin. Her eyes, her nose, her lips, her skin, her flesh, her blood, her bones, everything – everything was his.
 Around her neck, white as snow and cold as ice, he sank his ten fingers, and in a raspy voice said:
 ”– Farewell, Kayano… you traitor.”

– translated by me, from the first page of “文学少女”と飢え渇く幽霊.

“文学少女”と飢え渇く幽霊
 ”Bungaku Shoujo” to Uekawaku Ghost
 Literature Girl and the Starving Ghost (Off-Hand TL)
 Book Girl and the Famished Spirit (Official Title)
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-10: 4-7577-2915-4
ISBN-13: 978-4757729155
発売日: 2006/9/11

English Translation by Yen Press: [link]
I’d be nice if I worked up the time to read part three and review it before the English version comes out in July.. ^_^;

Introduction:
After I read “文学少女”と死にたがりの道化 (“Bungaku Shoujo” to Shinitagari no Piero) I was so impressed I ordered the next three on Amazon.co.jp right away. Unfortunately I didn’t get to reading the next one for a while; I took a break to read the first Haruhi book (the first light novel I ever purchased), which was entertaining enough but not worth a review (Kyon’s inner dialogue is the best point of the novel, and well the anime captures it pretty well, and the first volume is just basically introductions, so if you’re already familiar with the series it isn’t very much worth reading really…). After that I started classes and had the sudden urge to start reading Shangri-la (which is great by the way), but I was taking a little long to get through the first section, so I put it on “pause” and finally went back to the second book in the Literature Girl (“Book Girl”) series. However, to my great dismay (and I guess of some portent), I fell awfully sick on Valentine’s Day, and experienced physically the starving emotions I was reading. With my brain in a fever I put most of my activities on hold (but for a few feverish song translations (・ω・)) and wasn’t really in the right mood to read in another language. Three days ago I put myself up to the 3/4s of the work I had remaining and finished what I’ll go ahead and say was a great work.

First of all, forgive me for belittling the subject of suicide, but I find this volume much darker than the first. It’s like a beautiful, parched, withering flower, alone, straining within its dark cage, and clinging to its bars for support – if I might try to be poetic. The emotions I felt from this starving ghost were gripping and many times made me feel as if I too were starving; it almost makes the first feel light hearted (´・ω・`).

Prominent Characters:

天野遠子  Amano Tooko
・The Literature Girl, Head of the Literature Club
井上心葉  Inoue Konoha
・Former (Female) Author “Inoue Miu” and Tooko’s Writer
雨宮蛍   Amemiya Hotaru
・Mysterious Anemic, Sakurai Ryuuto’s Love Interest
九條夏夜乃 Kujou Kayano
・Wandering Ghost, Writes to the Literature Club in Code
国枝蒼   Kunieda Aoi
・Kayano’s Childhood Friend, Foreign “Brother”
櫻井流人  Sakurai Ryuuto
・Tooko’s “Little Brother”, Womanizer, In Love with Hotaru
姫倉麻貴  Himekura Maki
・Artist, Head of the Orchestra Club, Superintendent’s Granddaughter
琴吹ななせ Kotobuki Nanase
・Pure Tsundere
黒崎保   Kurosaki Tamotsu
・Hotaru’s Guardian, Wears Sunglasses

Story Overview:

Days go by for the two person literature club with just Tooko and Konoha, when one day they receive another submission to their Literature Club Love Consultation Postbox, but this time it appears to be a prank: there are a series of numbers, and broken phrases, “help”, “I’m afraid”, “a ghost…”, “go away!!”. So Tooko prepares a stakeout to catch the culprit (and prove there are no such things as ghosts), dragging along Konoha, when late at night a ghastly girl by the name of Kujou Kayano shows up. The next day, Tooko finds a girl at their school that is her splitting image, Amemiya Hotaru who says, “Yes, that is probably my ghost…”

While Tooko goes on a sort of ghost hunt, investigating Kayano, Konoha is pulled aside by Sakurai Ryuuto who says he wants help investigating Hotaru, whom he loves, and believes to be in trouble. Reluctant at first, Konoha soon finds himself drawn in by the mystery surrounding both Hotaru and Kayano, which casts about him chains from his own past.

“Konoha, do you know how to take back the things you’ve lost?”
“All you have to do is turn back time.”

Evaluation/Rating:

Just as Bungaku Shoujo to Shinitagari no Piero’s plot is based in Dazai Osamu’s “Ningen Shikkaku”, this second volume, Bungaku Shoujo to Uekawaku Ghost’s takes from Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights”. As you read, you are fed excerpts to a mostly hidden branch of the story, while the acting characters are still grasping at straws. However, the excerpts aren’t clarified in terms of time or order; in fact it is not really clear what they are, so you end up becoming anxious for the other characters to find out at least as much as you know, and to stumble upon, even if they don’t notice it, other clues for your own sake.

I was tricked. My attention was diverted. The hidden plot departs from “Wuthering Heights” into something deeper even as your eyes scan over the alarming text on the first page. When I had gotten about a quarter of the way through the book, I started to regret re-reading the plot summary to “Wuthering Heights” because I thought I was missing out on a large piece of the mystery. Konoha nor even Tooko recognize any connection to “Wuthering Heights” but the excerpts proclaim it clear as day. I became frustrated with the fact that Konoha and Tooko seemed to be flat out ignoring important facts, what with Tooko hunting ghosts and Konoha leaving Tooko for half of the book, but I can’t tell you how incredibly foolish that was. Just as Konoha was ignoring Kayano and Tooko, I was ignoring Konoha; I was ignoring Maki; I was ignoring Hotaru. As much as this book is a story about a vicious storm, it is as much a story about its onlookers – and like a hurricane, the center of the storm is deceptively calm. Why was Konoha being so dull to things staring right in front of him? At some level he is subconsciously aware, but chooses to keep himself from getting too involved, to keep himself from trying to understand. The climax of Konoha as a character this time around is when after a long winded explanation from Tooko, Konoha immediately realizes that Tooko is wrong, that her way of thinking is flawed and naive; in the end if anyone comes close to understanding Hotaru and Tamotsu, it is Konoha.

Though Tooko remains like some sort of mythical being, Konoha’s slow growth is refreshing and most of the other characters are interesting, but Hotaru is, in the end, the most heartbreaking, tragic, and impressive character I’ve laid eyes on in quite a while. I was caught off my guard. I assumed her role was set as a certain character in “Wuthering Heights” and instead preceded to set my sights on Heathcliff. However, Hotaru is as her name might suggest, a flickering, shining light that may yearn for the light but herself clings to the darkness where she might be seen. Pay attention to her, and pay attention to Maki as well; I’ll say no more.

Overall: 9.7
Primarily because of the inner complexities added to Hotaru, enhancing her character far beyond her paralleled role in Wuthering Heights, I would rate this over Piero. You can tell the author Nomura Mizuki put her heart into this one. In the afterword she notes that Wuthering Heights is one of her favorite books, ever since she was young, and that she loves not only the book, but also the situation surrounding it and its author. Probably in part because of that she apparently had a lot of trouble putting it together. “‘Should I change the story?’ I cried to my editor.” I think you can tell she hadn’t had a really firm structure/plan from the beginning by how the pacing and structure suffer a bit, but as I said, that doesn’t deter me from saying that this is a better book.

Concept: 9.8
Not quite a 10, but extremely almost there.

Pacing: 8.8
It takes a little while for everything to get rolling; it’s not nearly as on edge as Piero, and there are a few slightly awkward breaks

Plot: 9.8
Fairly deeper than Piero

Characters: 9.99
Stereotypical characters evolve, and Hotaru is amazingly characterized.

Writing Style/Flavor: 9.3
Deep as a complex and very bitter tea, especially where it counts, (it made feel physically ill at points) but attention is distracted too often at crucial moments to what expression Tooko has at that moment, and it got repetitive so I had to mark it down

Illustrations: 9.6
Both Hotaru and Tamotsu were drawn beyond perfectly, unfortunately they appear sparsely; the picture in the illustrator’s afterword contains the essence of the novel

^She really didn’t smile much this time around.

“文学少女”と死にたがりの道化 // Bungaku Shoujo to Shinitagari no Pierrot


^The text there actually sort of an excerpt from this book ^^

Maybe Nanase’s hair just grew like crazy between volume 4 and 5, but she looks completely different in the movie than in the books.

Note: in my offhand translation, I normally would write “fool”, because “clown” makes me think of the circus, and “fool” makes me think more of a jester that only acts as a comic or fool, but is really much more knowing – but that is the name of the next volume. “Pierrot” is a French word for an actor in the comedic arts, one of which is pantomiming, so “Mime” works well in the official title. However, Mime makes me think of the blank neutral expression of the “mime artist”, rather than the colorful pantomime, so it feels off to me. Think of it as somewhere between Mime and Clown and Fool. I will use Piero and/or Pierrot to refer to the work (and specific character) in later postings, because that works best.

“文学少女”と死にたがりの道化
 ”Bungaku Shoujo” to Shinitagari no Pierrot
 Literature Girl and the Clown that Wished to Die (Off-Hand TL)
 Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime (Official Title)

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-10: 4757728069
ISBN-13: 978-4757728066
発売日: 2006/4/28

English Translation by Yen Press: [link]

Introduction:

I don’t actually remember when I bought this, but it was a while back. Either amazon.co.jp recommended it to me, or I had heard reviews from other things, or I had heard the announcement of the movie, or something. Or I might have seen the picture at the top from Simadoriru and investigated. In any case, I finally got around to reading it while I was off back home for Christmas. It felt a bit like I was reading it out of season because the first volume takes place in the summer, and unfortunately I spoiled a bit of the hidden plot (though not immensely important) by watching the OVA Memoir 2, though you get a lot more spoiled by watching the movie about Konoha and Miu. But it really don’t matter that much – after all, “Bungaku Shoujo” to Shinitagari no Pierrot is all about Takeda Chia and Kataoka Shuuji.

Main Characters (in order of Prominence):

天野遠子  Amano Tooko
・The Literature Girl, Head of the Literature Club
井上心葉  Inoue Konoha
・Former (Female) Author “Inoue Miu” and Tooko’s Writer
竹田千愛  Takeda Chia
・Little Girl that looks like a Puppy, acts like a Duck
片岡愁二  Kataoka Shuuji
・Member of the Archery Club, Guy Chia is Interested in
琴吹ななせ Kotobuki Nanase
・Pure Tsundere
芥川一詩  Akutagawa Kazushi
・Member of the Archery Club, Acquaintance of Konoha
姫倉麻貴  Himekura Maki
・Artist, Head of the Orchestra Club, Superintendent’s Granddaughter

Story:

Bungaku Shoujo to Shinitagari no Pierrot is a story wrapped around Dazai Osamu’s 人間失格 Ningen Shikkaku or “Failure as a Human Being”. It slowly feeds you parts of the story (you don’t have to have read it, the book almost assumes that you’ve read it long ago but forgotten all about it) but doesn’t clarify its connection to the characters. Suddenly you have a situation where you have a story that can parallel with almost any pair of characters and part of the mystery is “who represents who”, and it isn’t only the story that is important, but the author and his life as well.

Shinitagari no Pierrot starts with narrator Inoue Konoha introducing himself and this strange girl he becomes familiar with, Amano Tooko, who literally eats paper and ink literature instead of food and drink; she actually cannot digest food. He briefly describes how he has been pulled into the literature club after learning her secret and forced to write “snacks” everyday, but that is only the prologue.

It has been a year since then and Tooko is sort of on a quest to find the most delicious story in the world, and on the same note to improve Konoha’s writing. She develops an (elaborate?) scheme, calling for all those who need help in love to request help from to the literature club – and so Takeda Chia comes to call. In exchange for Tooko making Konoha write love letters to someone named “Kataoka Shuuji” for Chia, Chia agrees to keep a diary of her love experience as a source of writing material so Konoha can write a delicious love story for Tooko. (What an action web!) Things seem to be going well (other than excerpts of Ningen Shikkaku scrolling every now and then from page to page), but something’s wrong. Konoha finds Chia crying and running one rainy day and calling him “Shuuji”, but Konoha can’t seem to find the real Shuuji anywhere: he asks around, he visits the archery club, but to no avail. Chia gives Konoha letters that she says are from Shuuji but they read just like Dazai Osamu’s Ningen Shikkaku! The mystery thickens. Who is Kataoka Shuuji? Who is S? Who murdered who? and who committed suicide? Just who or what is Konoha so afraid of?

Evaluation / Rating:

“Is that the sound of children not reading I hear? I must be off!” *dash*
^This has become my final impression of Tooko :P

The fact that the pure unadulterated power of literature seems to save the day more than once is ridiculous and I love it. I actually think the mystery in the book is handled pretty well. The narrator isn’t exactly brilliant, but the story probably wouldn’t hold together as well if he were. There was a lot I was genuinely puzzled with, but there’s a balance of “mysteries” that really are pretty clear, with others that aren’t at all. Most of the characters are well developed (or hint that there is much more to find, but not in this volume), and Dazai Osamu almost feels like a sort of character in the mix as you learn more and more about his life.

On another note, this novel deals with the concept of “infecting literature”, a topic I had a seminar on a few semesters ago. Reading about the life of someone else in a story, you compare it to your own and eventually mimic – very dangerous if this involves death and suicide. An author writing about his own death can encourage it. It doesn’t go into societal consequences as much, but it’s an interesting discussion to consider.

The writing style or flavor (takes a new meaning when you’re talking about Tooko) is a lot more pretty and flowing and dramatic than other books I’ve read so far. (Ok, Mouryou no Hako wins far and wide on “dramatic”). I’m tempted to think that it has something to do with the fact that this the first full book I’ve read in Japanese written by a female author, but it may just be Nomura Mizuki’s style. The art by Takeoka Miho is a perfect match for the text flavor, very light, flowing and beautiful.

I highly recommend this. Just be prepared to be hit with a wave of “Literature is awesome!” in blue and light green with serif and non-serif fonts washing over you and knocking you down a grassy slope with a bright blue sky, sparkling with the light and dark of the stars above bursting in through the atmosphere.

At least that’s how I felt.

(I feel the need to put a cute picture of Chia face-planting, but I could find no such picture)

Overall: 9.6

Concept: 9.8
(Not quite a 10, but extremely almost there)
Pacing: 9.3
(Most of the time it was hard to put down)
Plot: 9.5
(It wasn’t just the concept that was spectacular)
Characters: 9.3
(A little stereotypical-ness here and there made up for with originality and other angles)
Writing Style/Flavor: 9.6
(Sweet but tart, light and flowing, like meringue)
Illustrations: 9.5
(A perfect match for the author’s flavor)

キャットフード // Cat-Food

キャットフード
 名探偵三途川理と注文の多い館の殺人
Cat Food
 or Famous Detective Sanzu no Kawa Kotowari and Murder at the Villa of Many Orders
著:森川智喜 (Author: Morikawa Tomoki)
絵:平沢下戸 (Illustrator: Hirasawa Geko)

ISBN 978-4-06-283752-1

While I was in Japan, the 6th volume in the Bakemonogatari series came out, and even though I wasn’t ready to read it yet, I wanted to save money on shipping by picking it up while I was already there. So for about 3 days straight I went to the local Kinokuniya, but they were always sold out… Anyway, the 6th book is all about Hanekawa Tsubasa, so Kinokuniya had had a sort of cat book section set up around it. “Sorry we’re sold out, but in the meantime, have a look at all these other cat books!” What I found was a closed island mystery that involved transforming cats and humans mixed together, and a plot to make cat food made out of humans. There was a sticker on the front cover warning the reader to keep the book out of reach of cats, because it could inspire them to commit murder. (X╹_​_​_​_​_╹) Obviously there I wasn’t going to let that just pass me by, so I went ahead and picked it up. Now I’ve finally got back around to read it.

Cast:

Humans:
柏恭一     Kashiwa Kyouichi (Normal Name)
金田清作    Kaneda Kiyosaku (Normal Name)
狼森ユキ    Oimori Yuki “Forest of Wolves – Snowing”
緋山燃     Hiyama Moyuru “Scarlet Mountain – Burning”
三途川理    Sanzu no Kawa Kotowari “Sanzu River(=Styx) – Reasoning” (Detective)

Cats: (All of the transforming variety)
プルート    Pluto
グリン     Green
ペンタメローネ Pentamerone (A collection of folk/fairy tales compiled in 1634)
トラ      Tora “Tiger”
ブチ      Buchi “Spot”
ウィリー    Willy (The Narrator)

*The work Pentamerone contains a cat figure somewhat similar in character to puss-in-boots, a story published around the same time.

Plot:

The story is split into two acts, with a short intermission chapter and a short conclusion chapter. The first act sets up the story and runs the plot forward a little; and the second act races it on at a much faster pace.

The upstart “Pluto Meat Company” is investing in a get rich quick scheme centered on marketing fresh human meat to cat society as a delicacy. The factory, cleverly disguised as a retreat cottage on a little island off the coast, has been completed and is ready for its test run. If everything goes well they’ll be able to pay off their start up costs and quickly rise to the top.

Willy is a simple, happy going stray that likes to transform into humans and play with them; especially with people that have been nice to him in the past as a cat. So Willy finds himself mixing into a group of four, with Oimori Yuki, your average cat-lover, off on an island vacation they won on a raffle.

At the cottage/i.e. meat factory Willy eventually figures out what’s going on and tries to persuade Pluto to give up on these particular four (three) humans, but it doesn’t work out. Willy leaves before Pluto realizes her mistake. They don’t know who Willy was taking the place of! According to cat law, they can’t just kill Willy – that would be murder – and besides they have a guest from another company for the test run that wouldn’t keep quiet even if they discarded their morals.

It becomes a battle of wits: Willy faced with defense (against Pluto’s plans and against arousing suspicious among the humans) and offense (trying to find a way to get the humans off the island), and Pluto with four other cats is faced with offense (trying to smoke Willy out somehow under the confines of the law) and time (after three days the “trip” will be over). Transforming cats can transform into almost anything; Pluto’s subordinates could be hiding anywhere.

Plans are set, but after a terrible accident (with both sides failing), a detective is brought in… on Pluto’s side. In the second act Willy is bombarded and the situation grows ever, ever more dire. Will he be at least able to save Oimori Yuki, the one he cares about as if she were his master? What about the human left behind, the one Willy switched with?!

Thoughts:

First of all, I think the idea is interesting. The cat society and transformation stuff was put into great detail (though I think Pentamerone made the best uses out of it), and I still can’t get the idea of a cat jumping and becoming an LCD screen out of my head.. Still, I’d say the first act suffers a bit from a little too much detail about the transformation capabilities and limitations and a little too much justification of everything that goes through Willy’s head. The tension isn’t high enough to allow for such detail in my opinion, so it starts to feel a little slow. But while it’s a bit morbid, when deaths start actually occurring, the level jumps back up. After Sanzu no Kawa (a fast talker) joins the mix, the tension rises and everything seems to accelerate. I first picked this up thinking “closed island murder mystery” but it’s not really what you should be expecting – if you are you’re going to be a little disappointed. Still the “battle of wits” element is there sound and strong, so even though I started to get a little bored at the mid-point, when the battle of wits changed gears, went into overdrive so to speak, it brought back my attention full swing, to where I was guessing this and that along with the narrator, which is exactly what you should be doing.

Another thing I’d like to point out is that the illustrations interestingly are very careful about avoiding something, and about making a few things unclear – which coincidentally, becomes a clue.

Rating:

Overall Rating: 7.8
“I liked it; it was worth the time and money; I don’t have much of a reason to re-read it though.”
^(Not mathematically dependent on the below)

Pacing: 6→9.5
Concept: 8.2
Characters: 7.8
Writing Style/Flavor: 7.5
Illustrations: 8
^(The map was actually one of the coolest illustrations)

^Remember this is very arbitrary; I haven’t developed a really good scale for anything yet. I might go back and re-grade all the stuff I’ve read after I’ve read ~10-15 of these.

Strike Witches: Suomus Misfits Squadron (507th JFW “Silent Witches”)

^↑↓/←→: Anabuki Tomoko, Katherine O’Hare, Elma Leivonen, Elizabeth Beurling
    Sakomizu Haruka, Ursula Hartmann, Giuseppina Cenni

Spoilers will be blackened like so “this is a spoiler!” in the traditional format, so highlight to see the contents. I didn’t put many in anyway.

I don’t think I’m much of a reviewer, and this is a bit full with TL;DR portions, so only read what you’d like. I’m assuming a familiarity with the Strike Witches “franchise”.

If you’re going to read this, I recommend listening to:
“Good Morning!!”
“Egao no Mahou (Orchestral Version)”
“Egao no Mahou (Fast Instrumental Version)”
“Jet Striker”
“Mamoritai”
“Witch no Tatakai (Electric Guitar Version)”
“Sweet Duet”
^Depending on the context. “Mamoritai” is best for fighting scenes in general, “Egao no Mahou (Fast Instrumental Version)” integral for a turn in battle, “Jet Striker” and “Witch no Tatakai (Electric Guitar Version)” are perfect for tense moments.

I know – I had way, way too much fun imagining the twists and turns and such of the fighting scenes, which I’d say really make the series…

Introduction:

Strike Witches Suomus takes place five years before the events of the Strike Witches anime, and begins right after the Neuroi invasion of Ostmark in 1939 (which mirrors Hitler’s invasion of Poland). As it is much earlier in the war, technology on both sides is a lot more “realistic”, and different from the anime: Neuroi don’t have lasers or cores, but have specific engine locations, shoot bullets, and carry limited ammunition; a witch’s shield usually can’t take more than a machine gun burst at 100 meters; even a witch can’t fly stationary except with special conditions; striker units have very specific limitations based on their real counterparts. Witch units are much more varied as well. While the “Misfits Squadron” (officially known as the “Suomus Independent Volunteer Air Squadron”) specializes in air control and defense like the 501st, they also participate in bombing missions, air strikes, and ground troop suppression. In the Suomus series, you also come into contact with other specialized divisions, like the Rudel’s dive bombing Stuka squadron, and witch ground-mechanized troops. Because Suomus faces land invasion, the Neuroi’s mysterious “miasma” is much more of a problem, severely limiting non-witch interaction (as opposed to Navy interaction in the anime). Though dealt with a little inconsistently, the Suomus series witches have familiars, and striker units generally look a lot different from each other; in the first volume, Haruka has a navy striker that you straddle, rather than attach to each leg (apparently useful for water-landing). You can really feel the military-otaku a lot more from the light novel series, because specific strikers and magic engines and gun types and explosives are handled in a lot more detail, where small equipment changes literally make or break aerial combat situations. Specialized magical powers in witches are either muted or nondescript.

Plot Synopsis:

Suomus, facing the threat of a Neuroi invasion, requests reinforcement witches to help bolster its defense. Each of the current world powers agrees to send witches, but compared to their own country’s affairs and the Karlsland-Ostmark front line, Suomus is the least of their worries. So as follows, the reinforcements are used an excuse to get rid of unwanted misfits: one witch that clings to outdated fighting styles, one that can’t hit the broad side of the barn, one infamous for her number of her court marshals and detentions, another infamous for her destruction of military property, and finally a tiny witch overshadowed by her older sister, who hardly lifts her head from a book, all of whom are headed by timid and cowardly witch of Suomus, and apparently the only straight one in the entire country. The series is broken into three volumes: “Suomus Misfits Squadron Moving Up”, “Suomus Misfits Squadron in Love”, “Clash in the Suomus Misfits Squadron”. The first volume involves Tomoko learning how to adapt her war strategy to include team-based combat (code word for the value of friendship) and resorting her priorities in the face of a new Neuroi specialized bomber type. Haruka’s feelings for Tomoko turn from adoration to blazing passion. Beurling gradually opens up to Tomoko in a strong “friend in war” way, and softens her pessimism; Katherine learns how to fly properly; Elma becomes a little more cool headed; and Ursula evolves into her patent engineering/inventor role. In the second volume Suomus faces a land invasion and the group has to retreat from preoccupied territory. Tomoko has to adapt yet again to new Neuroi units and new tactics and deals with her sexual orientation, Haruka leaves the team for Ahonen’s squad, Hannah Rudel comes from Karlsland to assist, love blossoms and the rest of the team subtly develops. The third volume has more of Tomoko dealing with her sexuality (and final awakening to lesbianism) and Haruka’s now wildly aggressive advances; a new recruit from Romagna comes who seems to have lost her memory, and a brand new type of Neuroi threat (Neuroi Witches). Another novel was slated after that, but at this point it’s safe to say the project’s stalled, and I consider the series a trilogy.

Characters:

Cast as of February 1940
507th Joint Fighter Wing
穴吹智子中尉           Anabuki Tomoko [Flying Officer] (17)
                 Fusou Army *507th JFW Commanding Officer*
迫水ハルカ一飛曹         Sakomizu Haruka [Flight Sergeant, 1st Class] (15)
                 Fusou Navy
エルマ・レイヴォネン中尉     Elma Leivonen [Flying Officer] (16)
                 Suomus Air Force
エリザベス・F・ビューリング少尉 Elizabeth F. Beurling [Pilot Officer] (19)
                 Britannia Air Force
キャサリン・オヘア少尉      Katherine O’ Hare [Pilot Officer] (17)
                 Liberion Navy
ウルスラ・ハルトマン曹長     Ursula Hartmann [Master Flight Sergeant] (10)
                 Karlsland Air Force
ジュゼッピーナ・チュインニ准尉  Giuseppina Cenni [Warrant Officer] (17)
                 Romagna Air Force *Recruited 1940*

Minor Characters
ミカ・アホネン大尉        Mika Ahonen [Flight Lieutenant]
                 Suomus Air Force 1st Squadron
ハッキネン少佐          Häkkinen [Squadron Leader]
                 Suomus Air Force
ハンナ・ルーデル大尉       Hannah Rudel [Flight Lieutenant]
                 Karlsland Air Force
加藤武子少尉           Katou Takeko [Pilot Officer]
                 Fusou Army
糸河衛              Itokawa Mamoru (Fusou Engineer)

Thoughts on characters:

First of all, the characters really are built a lot different from the characters in the anime, and I was glad, because it helped keep them fresh. Tomoko is built really well for a main character, because you definitely don’t love her. She can be really annoying and slow to realize the obvious, extremely frivolous and overly concerned about her perceived sexual orientation, but she also has several moments when she is like Sakamoto Mio (very briefly mentioned in the novels): proud, strong, and always going on about training. As time progresses and she becomes properly more leader-like she becomes a much more likable character. For voicing, I imagined a back and forth between high-pitched Perrine and slightly higher than Mio-ish voice when she was serious.

When I first met Haruka, I thought she was going to be a Miyafuji Yoshika clone, but – no. Perhaps if you took out every grain of innocence and flicked on an erotic switch in her brain, maybe, but she’s crazy. She’s one of the few whose skills stay relatively consistant (ly bad) over the course of the series (until near the end of the third volume), only her lesbianism seems to level up. Thus, she is the instigator of most of the fan-service in the novels. It felt a little “overwhelming and unnecessary” at times, but also added a lot of humor where it was due. I imagined a voice that mixed Francesca Lucchini and Yoshika when indignant. Apparently in another work Eila mentions that Haruka is “dangerous”, by which time she would be about twenty and by her uniform looks like she’s high ranking.

Katherine O’Hare gradually became one of my favorite characters, along with Elma, Rudel, and Beurling. She hails from a ranch in Texas, so … as a Texan, the stereotyping was extremely painful from the get go. But her way of speaking really grew on me over time, and as her personality slowly evolved, she started waxing insightful. She sort of became like Goofy (from Disney); she was silly and generally ignorant, but strangely insightful, knowledgeable, or observant at times. I’d put the tone of her voice with Yeager’s, but even less serious and even more happy-go-lucky. The fact that she’d say things like “youuuu guys” and end all her sentences with “ne-” really made her character stand out. Also, if I were to say any of the witches had a specialized power, it would be Katherine, who has a really strong shield and a miraculous ability to survive a crash unscathed.

I won’t bore you with an indepth look at everyone else, but Beurling needs to be mentioned, with her logical cool-headed-ness and disregard for the rules. There’s no one to really compare her too, but she and Rudel both have a very “veteran” aura to them that I’m not even sure Mio or even Barkhorn could hold a candle to. Elma is perhaps the opposite, with a very inexperienced air, but that and her general cowardly nature makes her the cutest character in the series. Disappointingly Ursula is almost too true to her stock character, with a very thin presence, she hardly ever speaks or is even present, but pops up a lot of plot purposes. Giuseppina is too much of a “plot device” for me to form a real impression on her.

Final Impressions:

I first looked to the series because in a sort of apologetic manner, people told me that “the anime isn’t really that great but the novels are awesome!” No. They had it entirely wrong. If you couldn’t handle the humorous fan-service in the anime, you probably wouldn’t be able to handle Haruka’s antics. Since visual fan-service is harder to do in writing I guess, most visual fan-service is just cut out of the novels. I think they spend a sentence or two explaining that and why the witches have no pants, and that’s it. Instead they add in sexual relationships. In the anime, love is implied, but not really forcefully. For example, Eila and Sanya definitely have a love relationship, and they sleep together in the same bed from time to time etc. It’s really up to the viewer to decide how far you want to think they go, because the anime’s just not going to go that far, furthermore it’s much more of a deep relationship. Most of the other’s inter-personnel love doesn’t go further than Perrine’s sexual-tension type adoration for Mio, Yoshika’s largely friendship-based love of Lynette, and the vague feelings of love between Minna and Mio. The novels aren’t explicit, but they are blatant. The Suomus First Squadron is a literal harem of Ahonen’s, and Tomoko’s slept with several characters and we know she’s a loud one. o.o; However, there are limits. Elma is just about as straight as one can get and practically homophobic (makes sense, she’s generally-phobic), Beurling finds the whole thing amusing, and the others just don’t care really.

Now that I’ve got that out of the way, the dogfighting portions of the novel are, for the most part, fantastic. They’re really intricate with the air maneuvering techniques, so much that I feel that I’ve learned something. The second volume is one of my favorites, because the fighting/bombing scenes are very animated and have a lot of cool moments. I really liked learning about the planes, prototypes, fighting styles, different types of witches and so forth. It really went back to “concept” and the awesome concept behind Strike Witches was what drew me in in the first place. If they do another season of strike witches, I’d like to see them go back earlier in the war and cover something like this. It doesn’t have to be Suomus but witches and Neuroi, fighting but bound by lower technology would be great. Maybe some campaigns in Africa with tank-witches as well?

Overall the series is good, but not amazing, because while it has some amazing portions, it has some consistency problems and the fan-service relationships feel like they go a little far sometimes. There are a few other relatively slow sections, and especially in the first novel I was easily fed up by Tomoko’s behavior. Here are some arbitrary 10 point ratings: (1=awful, 10=amazing)

“Suomus Misfits Squadron Moving Up” 6.8
“Suomus Misfits Squadron in Love” 9.2
“Clash in the Suomus Misfits Squadron” 8.3

The first volume truly suffers from “undeveloped character syndrome” where you haven’t learned enough about the characters to love them yet, but it is no means bad, and you have to start somewhere. I’ll explain the second rating simply as, there were Stukas, and Stukas are cool. The third was interesting with its mystery aspect, and some of the fighting scenes in it were the best in the series, but it didn’t really have the tension that championed the second volume, and Haruka went a little out of control, so I knocked the points down a little.

That’s all! I think I’m going to go watch S2-Ep6 now, because it is a Sanya x Eila masterpiece, and I’m a Sanya-Eila fan.


^And there are many many more.

FLCL 2 Light Novel Review

Marquis de Carabas - Communist Irony
^Maybe I should put more effort into finding actual pictures in the novels, but I figure pictures of the characters from the corresponding chapters works.

FLCL 3′ll be coming up eventually. Hope you enjoy the review. Discuss if you want ^_^

Title: フルクリ / FLCL; “Marquis de Carabas” and “Full Swing”
Volume: 2 (of 3)
Author: Enokido Yoji
Original Concept and Plot: Tsurumaki Kazuya
Illustrator: Tsurumaki Kazuya
Group: Gainax
Licensed by: TokyoPop
Translated by: Gemma Collinge / Laura Wyrick (Adapter)

“Plunge deeper into the demented dreamscape of a high school nothing turned mutant warrior in this volume of FLCL” (From the back of the book) ← First, I’d like to point out that other than Mamimi, the entire child cast is in 6th grade, ie. elementary school.

“A Lolita complex is merely an adult admiring a child – a grown-up metamorphosis.” “I like Diet Coke. This is grown up.” – FLCL Director/Producer/Creator Tsurumaki Kazuya ; this is what makes the afterword worth reading.

“…it felt good. It was the same feeling he got when he’d ridden on the speeding Vespa – the time when his brain had been empty. Maybe this is how Haruko always feels.”

“Marquis de Carabas”

Up until this point, FLCL really centers around Naota (even if Fire Starter’s about Mamimi), but “Marquis de Carabas” starts off with Ninamori Eri: class president, special girl – or not. She’s in conflict over being special due to “other people” and not by herself. Added into the mix, her father becomes the subject of a scandal, bringing her more unwanted attention and tying her more to the adults in her life she wants to be independent from. She gets caught up with Naota (via vehicular accident, as usual) and an interesting relationship is formed. To end it all, Ninamori gets through her social, self-contained plight via giant robot warfare and moves on with the play “Marquis de Carabas”. Naota is left confused; Haruko has a glint in her eye.

“Full Swing”

“If you don’t swing, nothing with happen. Takkun, you think you’re special, don’t you? That’s why you don’t swing. If you swing, people will know you’re not special.”

This chapter is about Naota. Even though most of the other chapters follow Naota around, “Fooly Cooly” is an introduction, “Fire Starter” is about Mamimi, “Marquis de Carabas” is about Ninamori, and now “Full Swing” is about Naota. In “Full Swing” Naota’s feelings sort of come to an uncomfortable peak. His resentment for following in the shadow of his brother Tasuku, his relationship with Haruko strained, his relationship with Mamimi strained, his relationship with his father strained, all connected in one place about to explode. We’re also introduced to Commander Amarao and the military/government. Naota explodes, in more ways than one, and is forced to “take action” – swing – if you will.

Overall:

A great number two of three. A second in any series usually suffers for being in the middle, with the introductions over and no incredible climax to carry it, but I think FLCL handles this fairly well. I liked “Marquis de Carabas” because it moved a little farther away from Naota and focuses more on another character: Ninamori Eri. It sort of strengthens the child v. adult dynamic by making it more generalized; Naota’s not the only one at odds with his irresponsible parents. Ninamori’s also a great “politician”. “Full Swing” takes up the slack as the end of a middle by throwing a bunch of new questions into the mix – the government, and someone who knows Haruhara Haruko – a man with incredible eyebrows. You can’t not love Amarao at first sight…

Of course like FLCL 1, FLCL 2 suffers from the same “short book, but normal price” syndrome, but again I don’t think the price is too high for the value of the book. The added internal dialogue that the light novel offers over is refreshing to those who have already seen the anime, and so it’s generally easier to follow; even though it still keeps its confusing charm well enough.

I recommend reading the afterword. May your heads stay empty my friends – good day.

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