Book review: 南の子供が夜いくところ (Where the Southern Children go at Night)

My 11th book of the year was supposed to be 蒲団, but I decided to drop it partway through chapter two. I would like to get into 文豪 at some point, but the difficulty was just high enough to make reading it feel like a chore. Since it was getting close to Halloween, I decided to pick up another 恒川光太郎 book, and as luck would have it, Amazon was running a sale on the kindle versions for two that I hadn’t read.

I liked this one a lot. While my opinion of 雷の季節の終わりに has improved in hindsight, I still remember having trouble with the pacing and feeling that the author’s strengths were possibly not on full display with the long-form story format vs the short-story anthology style that introduced me to his work. This one, however, is an interesting mix of the two; each chapter has its own complete story, but they all focus on the same area and feature recurring characters.

The variety is pretty remarkable, honestly — the first chapter simply introduces a couple of key characters and establishes the island group where the whole book takes place, but the next chapter is written in the style of a series of interviews and notes by a visiting journalist; another, in first-person, is the eyewitness testimony of a mysterious death; yet another is the historical account of a former pirate who settled in the islands when he retired. It’s fun to keep an eye out for the common elements as you try to figure out where and when each story is taking place in relation to the others.

Something else that all the stories have in common is the blurring of lines between reality and dream. You can usually guess when something is really happening, but you can never be totally sure, and the sudden jolt that comes when the penny drops is excellent.

As always, I can only recommend this author to people who can read Japanese, which is too bad. I feel like this book in particular would make a great anime in the right hands, but I suspect the chance of that is even lower than the chance of it getting picked up for translation eleven years after its publication. Oh well.

Japanese reading report

This week I focused pretty hard on SMT5, with just over 20 hours logged. It’s videogame hours so obviously not all of that is reading per se but it’s still been pretty dense. All the archaic speech is pretty wild; I met a Shiki Ouji who straightup used 也, an Uzume who used よしなに and some other old stuff that I can’t recall offhand, and the sparky dog who calls himself 某 (それがし). Pretty crazy stuff. The ミマンs are kind of hard to understand just because their rejection of hiragana means I’m reading every word manually but by and large I’m not having trouble with anything, which is honestly pretty unexpected.

I rewatched the first season of Fruits Basket (25 episodes) which puts me over halfway through the entire show. I’m not entirely sure how much of the show I’ve actually watched — I know I put it on hold at some point because I was graduating from english subtitles when either season 2 or 3 was coming out, and wanted to be able to tell what was going on before continuing. In any case I’ll be continuing to (re)watch it and hopefully finish the series this coming week. Aside from the obvious gender role stuff (Ritsu dressing as a woman, Akito presenting as a man) I thought it was interesting that Momiji uses very feminine speech despite being a boy (and kind of a menace honestly), like using なの at the end of his statements. It’s something I definitely wouldn’t have picked up on when watching with subs.

I’m still reading a little over the minimum pages per day of プチデビル後輩 and have just passed the halfway point. Not really a ton to say that I haven’t said already.

Japanese reading report

At the beginning of the week I put in six more hours of the Elden Ring network test and probably still didn’t manage to find everything there was to find. Still not sure if I want to count this towards my games goal for the year but I guess I have the option if SMT5 eats up all of my time.

Speaking of which, I did start SMT5; barely played anything so far besides the intro cutscene and character creation, but I’ll be focusing on that for a little while (and hopefully sticking with it! I can get totally sucked into Persona games but mainline SMT has been tough for me for some reason).

This week I finished 呪術廻戦 vol. 7 and read about half of vol. 8. Apparently my sister mainly wanted me to get caught up to read the chapter where Yuji meets his old schoolmate, which comes immediately after the anime-adapted material, so the pressure is off! but I’m still going to keep reading since it’s great.

Kept on reading プチデビル後輩 slightly faster than my before-end-of-year pace, over 1/3 through the book now. As with book 1, lots of nice narration and dialogue that didn’t make the cut for the anime.

Finally, I watched the last eight episodes of Re:Zero season 1, plus both the OVAs. Pretty much everything regarding the white whale and the witch cult had faded from my memory so it was almost like watching a whole new show and my newly-improved opinion of Subaru actually helped me appreciate his cool moments instead of being annoyed by them. The OVAs were totally new to me though and I enjoyed them quite a bit; the first one was your standard no-impact lighthearted fanservice stuff, and the second was actually a pretty neat look at Emilia’s backstory. I’ve always found her to be terribly boring so this new look at her was very welcome. I gotta say though, “talks entirely in on’yomi compounds” is definitely my least favorite character trait.

Calibre “read next” query

I read a lot, and a common problem I have is keeping track of the series I’m currently reading. For a while I’ve toyed with the idea of writing a Calibre plugin that would allow me to see books that belong to a series which I’ve started but haven’t caught up with (I rate books as I finish them, but parsing my library at a glance to see what comes next is difficult). Today I found the Multi-Column Search plugin and it turns out to have exactly what I need to solve this problem: a freeform SQLite field.

select id from (
  select *,
    row_number() over(
      partition by series order by series_index asc
    ) row_num
  from (
    select
      b.id, bsl.series, b.series_index, r.rating
    from books b
    inner join books_series_link bsl on b.id = bsl.book
    left join books_ratings_link brl on b.id = brl.book
    left join ratings r on brl.rating = r.id
  ) where rating is null
)
where row_num = 1 and series_index > 1

This script will filter the library to include the next unread (unrated) book in your library from each series that has at least one book that has been rated. It’s a little uglier than I would have liked, since I had to use one long query instead of CTEs, and I would have liked to be able to return them in order (maybe by overall average score), but due to limitations in the plugin this is as good as it’s going to get. Even so, I can tell it’s going to be super useful.

Book review: 京都寺町三条のホームズ vol. 4 (Holmes of Kyoto)

Whoops, I finished this one kind of a long time ago. I’ve already finished another whole book and I’m partway into the next. I guess I have to say my overall opinion of this one was not that great, and maybe that has something to do with why it’s taken me so long to write about it. Aside from the super difficult fourth chapter of volume 1, the first two chapters here were probably the hardest to date. This volume also introduces Rikyuu (who was incorporated much earlier into the anime) and he’s honestly pretty unlikable…he’s intentionally cruel from the moment he appears, and it doesn’t even seem to be a cover for some deeper character flaw, which would at least make him somewhat relatable. Holmes often admits to being 腹黒い but as far as we’ve ever seen, it’s in response to bad behavior rather than just a constant state. By the end of the book, Rikyuu has come to accept Aoi to a certain extent but he needs to be taken down a peg if he’s going to become a regular character.

Aoi’s development in this volume is nice though. There’s a great scene where she’s challenged (pretty rudely) to prove herself as an appraiser and ends up passing with flying colors. I wish there was a bit more relationship development but I guess they do call this a “slow romance” so I suppose I’ll hold out for something else in vol. 5.

I do think I’ll be putting this series on hold for a little while though. It’s a bit of a bummer to stop now that I’m finally all caught up (the anime’s last episode is also this book’s last chapter) but I do enjoy reading it and I would like to continue enjoying it rather than getting burned out.

Japanese reading report

This week I watched eight more episodes of re:zero, so I’m up to 19 now and will hopefully be finishing season one next week. I had two realizations while watching it: one, I somehow understood Rem’s confession scene worse when I first watched it in English than this past time in Japanese, and as a result my poor opinion of Subaru is somewhat improved. The other was a lightbulb moment when I realized that けい, a mysterious word that クルシュ kept using, was actually a second-person pronoun (卿) and suddenly a bunch of her past sentences made sense. I had to look it up after the fact of course, I don’t have stuff like that sitting in my passive memory, but it was pretty neat how the pieces suddenly clicked.

I read 呪術廻戦 vol. 6 and most of vol. 7. Both great, still trying to hurry up and get past the end of the anime.

I started reading プチデビル後輩 as my last novel of the year, and I’m already well ahead of schedule, 18% through. Having prior knowledge about Laplace’s Demon got me through the pseudoscience part with relative ease and I’m into the meat of the story now.

Finally, I signed up for the JP region network test for Elden Ring and was lucky enough to get picked, so I’ve spent nine hours so far this week playing it. There’s not a ton of text and the spoken dialogue is all in English (though it does have Japanese subtitles), but I’ve been reading item descriptions and stuff so there’s been a decent amount of immersion happening. Super excited to get the full game next year.

YMD Revisited

In Year, Month, Day, I explained an annoying problem with Javascript dates, and outlined the solution I took to avoid it in Moyase (which only needs to deal with dates in local time, and shouldn’t care if you move your device across timezones). Well, as it turns out, even this solution was not foolproof, and I totally should have seen it coming.

See, Date.toISOString() does indeed return a pretty nicely-formatted string that I can carve up and use for date components…the (obvious, in retrospect) problem is that it gives it to you in UTC time with a timezone offset, which can very well be a totally different calendar day than in local time. I probably would have never noticed this until I found myself on the other side of the world at some point in the future, or happened to be working in the app very early in the morning, so I’m very lucky to have a friend in Australia as an early adopter; she noticed that at certain times in the day, her work would be counted towards the previous day and her calendar wouldn’t display the right dates.

The fix ended up being pretty simple; instead of this:

return date.toISOString().substr(10);

I went with this instead:

return [
    String(date.getFullYear()).padStart(4, '0'),
    String(date.getMonth() + 1).padStart(2, '0'),
    String(date.getDate()).padStart(2, '0'),
].join('-');

With this, the app works correctly no matter the timezone or time of day. Hopefully this is the last time I have to think about this problem.

Japanese reading report

This week I finished 南の子供が夜いくところ, my 11th novel this year. It’s another book by 恒川光太郎, the author of 夜市 etc. This one had a pretty interesting structure where all of the stories (around six of them I think) were focused on the same location and characters, but there was no real relation between them in terms of events. I was waiting up until the very last page for some sort of reveal that would tie everything together but it was much more open-ended. Pretty weird ultimately but I liked it better than 雷の季節の終わりに. The short-story format is definitely one of the author’s strengths and telling a longer story through a collection of them is a cool idea.

I found out that I’ve been watching the director’s cut re-release of re:zero, so I’m actually up to episode 11 now going by the normal anime numbering. Not much to say except that I’m still enjoying it and finding it pretty smooth despite having forgotten most of it.

While I was perusing the cmoa front page my sister pointed out this one manga purely based on the cover and I decided to grab it. 賭けからはじまるサヨナラの恋 is about this girl who works in an office and is always in hyper serious mode, and some of her senpai decide to prank her and her (モテモテ) coworker by betting him that he can’t get her to go out with him. Well of course nobody knows that she’s had a crush on him since forever and she decides to go along with it, knowing full well what’s going on since she overheard the bet taking place. It’s pretty cute but the first volume is super short so there haven’t been a lot of developments yet. Gonna grab vol. 2 when it comes out in a few days.

Japanese reading report

The first thing I read this week (in one sitting after I posted my last report) was 古見さん vol. 23. Especially after all the teasing last time, this one was so so good.

Next up was 呪術廻戦 vol. 4 and 5. Getting closer and closer to being caught up. Vol. 4 had some of my favorite panels to date and vol. 5 was pretty nonstop.

(Re)watched two more episodes of re:zero and I gotta say I do not remember them being this long. I really like how snappy the dialogue is and my memory is honestly hazy enough that it might as well not be a rewatch at all, so the continued feeling of being able to keep up is nice. I don’t think I even remember ロズワール existing at all (though right now the way he delivers his lines won’t leave my mind).

I’m behind schedule on 南の子供が行くところ, but not by too much. I finished the second chapter, which went to a very scary half-dream/half-reality place as I was reading in bed one night and implied some weird magic/folklore stuff moving behind the scenes. I also started and finished chapter 3, which I’m not quite sure how to place — it was about a guy from a primitive island people taking a months-long journey across the ocean to get help from a mythical creature of some kind, but then he ends up on the shores of the island with the main characters and at the end it almost seemed like there might have been some time travel involved. I started chapter four tonight, which so far is from the perspective of yet another new character who’s testifying about a body he found while exploring an abandoned building. I’m a little under two thirds through the book now and I have no idea how all these threads will tie together.

Google’s deliberate dishonesty about Translate

So, Google’s Fall lineup for their Pixel phones just dropped.

I use a Pixel 3 myself and I quite like it. I’m not in the market for a new phone right now but I will probably stick with the brand in the future. But for some reason every new update comes with a segment on how Google Translate will improve your phone experience, and it’s always quite frustrating. Google translate is bad, and it’s difficult to explain just how bad it is to someone who only speaks one language, or who only has experience with one language of a source/target pair — for example, if I see an English or Japanese sentence that was produced with Translate, I can identify it immediately, but I’d have no clue whatsoever when looking at a Thai or French sentence.

Sometimes I hear people say “Google Translate is a bad fit for Japanese, but it’s great at other languages”. I can’t personally refute this, so fortunately at times like this I can refer to this excellent article that shows how Translate isn’t necessarily better at dealing with other languages, it’s just that the problems it has are different problems.

The thing that constantly baffles me is that surely Google themselves would know that Translate isn’t a product that deserves first billing, right? They’re a global company that offers support in many many languages, and I can tell you for a fact that they don’t use Translate themselves when localizing their services for their target regions. It’s inconceivable that none of the higher-ups at Google have ever bothered to check to make sure that it actually works before pushing it so hard.

Well, today (thanks to the video above), it became abundantly obvious that they do know it’s broken, and it’s all thanks to Marie Kondo.

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