Let's get this off our chests right away. I don't understand Japan at all. This is a bit of a problem for my street cred, and around AVCon circles I'm beginning to be vaguely known as 'the odd one who doesn't like anime'. For a guy who tries to be involved in helping to run an anime convention it's a serious black mark, so I do my best to expand my horizons. The latest opportunity came when Jimmy (of the infrequent updates) lent me the first in what is apparently regarded as quite a good series of Light Novels (a light novel is a novella, as I understand it, but not all pretentious like novellas normally are), Nagaru Tanigawa's The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiha, on a sadistic whim.
I actually enjoyed reading this a lot more than any manga or anime that I've read or watched respectively for quite some time. It's easier to understand something that's put down in words (and in a superior translation, I must add) than it is to try to get a bunch of seemingly unconnected images that would apparently transfer instant understanding to a Japanese or sufficeient advanced otaku audience, and the style is pretty fun, for what I guess would be categorised as a Young Adult novel here.
Kyon, the (ok, one of the) hapless victim(s) of the title character, is the first person narrator with a friendly, rambly tone and a very enjoyable habit of phrasing his narration as if it's part of the current conversation. Every now and then the other characters will respond to what he "thought", which is a clever little technique which adds I nice little element of brain-bending to an already complicated plot, what with the pocket universes, time-travel, and reality-editing killers and all. And I have a more-than-sneaking suspicion that things are likely to get considerably more complicated in the following books (of which I hear there are at least ten).
The story follows the formation of the SOS Brigade, a school club in the mysterious style of Japanese school clubs that I can't begin to understand, whose purpose is to serve the whims of the domineering title character and generally look for crazy people. This process is made easier by most of the crazy people being members of the club. I don't really want to go any further in case I spoil the whole thing, but there is the potential for some crazy, crazy junk later in the series, which I am interested in reading out of a sense of cat-killing curiosity if Jimmy is up for me ragging on his favourite reading matter yet again.
[Is one of a few picture pages of the book. This one features a schoolgirl in the traditional ludicrously short skirt, with a dreamy look on her face, and a knife! Oh no...]...which brings me along to the reason that I generally don't like the anime/manga genres in general, they're just creepy. This book, for example, features a character whose main purpose is to be sexually harrassed, and though the narrator is a decent enough bloke and keeps pointing out that this is perhaps not all that appropriate, it doesn't stop him from staring at and fantising about such scenes.
Now you might be tempted to say "but isn't the narrator a teenaged boy? Isn't that just good characterisation?", but to me the awkwardness about it just makes it worse. It seems to reinforce the all-too-common idea that somehow guys can't help but be pervents, and that this sort of thing is acceptable, because a human being with feelings just can't help themselves sometimes. I don't know about you guys out there on the internet, but I've never thought that sort of thing was funny, and scenes like this and the gratuitous fanservice that's so common in these forms just detracts from the experience for me.
Maybe the authors know their demographic, maybe I'm just the odd one out here (sales figures and con attendance would seem to support this view, not just for anime and manga but across young adult fiction in general), but it seems to me that it just cheapens the art-form, and cheapens those of us that read it, too. How do we expect people reading this sort of stuff to grow into functioning human beings, or more important, to graduate to reading big boy's books?
Well, that got a bit more serious than I intended. That's two days in a row I've finished writing the post and felt all preachy. Maybe I need a holiday or something.
Since I was supposed to be reviewing a book, and feel like I haven't done it justice, let me just say that the energy and enthusiasm for pure silliness that you find in Japanese media is a wonderful thing that we could do with more of in our Western literature, and this book is a pretty good example of what we're missing, despite some of my gripes.
If you were hoping for a review of the Buru Quartet's This Earth of Mankind, I'm afraid it will have to wait until I get my hands on another copy, because the one that I was reading has gone home to its owner.
Reading List Progress:
Number of Books read: 5
Australian quotient: 1.045
Fantasy quotient: 2
Science Fiction quotient: 2 (this can count as SF, because it mentions aliens)
Biography quotient: 1
Next Up: William Gibson, Neuromancer (By popular demand)