Japanese reading report

This week I just read one volume of manga, おいしいコーヒーのいれ方 vol. 1. I picked it up based on the idea that I would be learning good coffee making tips, but it seems to have been a bamboozle. So far it seems to be a romantic drama where coffee is only barely involved. I enjoyed it well enough but won’t be rushing out to continue it.

The rest of the week I spent on 大図書館の羊飼い. I’ve been pretty busy the last few days so I feel like I’m slacking a little, but I did manage to fit in at least half an hour per day. They introduced a couple of new characters and set up a means by which we can theoretically figure out who’s been sending the 羊飼い emails. Nothing major in terms of plot development but some of the scenarios have been hilarious. I’ve finally come around to 高峰 (he didn’t impress me at first) and everyone feels like they have good chemistry at this point.

Japanese reading report

This week I read actually kind of a lot of manga without meaning to, though not because of any quota; there was just a bunch of stuff I wanted to read. First up was Spy Family vol. 6, which I bought and read on the day it came out. This one was a ton of fun and ended with a pretty good cliffhanger so I’ll be looking forward to the next volume.

I also picked up 僕の心のヤバイやつ vol. 1, which I’ve had my eye on for a while after discovering the artist on Twitter. I gotta say it’s…not at all what I had expected? I guess it gets kind of wholesome as it goes along but at least here at the beginning it’s pretty messed up. The main boy has wild mood swings where he’s literally on the brink of whipping out a box cutter on his classmates, and the main girl is pretty unpleasant. I enjoyed pieces of it and I’m curious to see how it develops but I doubt I’ll be jumping back into it.

Next up was むとうとさとう vol. 2, which I read through pretty quickly. Not a lot to say here, basically more of the same awkward romantic comedy stuff as before. It’s a fairly young series so I might try to catch up pretty soon.

Last one this week was すいとーと vol. 3, which is actually suddenly the last one in the series. I’ve been reading it since day 1 so it’s kind of neat to reach the end. Just like before it’s got me desirous of a trip to 福岡, and this time felt like it had a lot more dialect than the previous ones. It was kind of weirdly paced and I think the restaurant-per-chapter format kind of worked against it at the very end, but not a huge deal.

Throughout the week I read a decent amount of 大図書館の羊飼い. I’m only at 3% of the total completion but it seems I’m on a decent pace through the first route? Kana is still a real treasure but the other characters are getting some good development as well. Surprisingly not needing to look up too many words lately, which is nice.

The polite/casual matrix

“The formal version of this would use します instead of する”
“Since you’re speaking casually, you don’t have to use です”

I see statements like this all the time, and it always makes me twitch a little bit. It’s a bit of an “all squares are rectangles” problem; certainly much casual speech is informal, and certainly much polite speech is also formal, but there’s more to the story than just these two cases. In fact, there are two pairs of opposite modes, which together produce four noteworthy combinations:

  • Polite vs Non-polite
  • Formal vs Colloquial

Let’s define each one of these modes before we move on to mixing them together.

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Japanese reading report

At the beginning of the week, I read two more volumes of manga (かたなかける vol. 4 and 5) to finish out my (doubled) goal for the year at 104. This also means I’m caught up with what I have of this series; I got some for free ages ago and have just been slowly picking through it one book at a time. I went ahead and grabbed the next volume so I’ll probably be moving on to it pretty soon.

Until the end of the year, I wanted to spend time on something else so as to not go over my goal number, so I went back to 真3 for a little bit and just…I don’t think I’m going to keep playing it. I don’t have a clear idea of where to go or what to do, and the friction introduced by the random battles makes it frustrating to try and figure it out. I might go back to it in a while but for now it’s going on the shelf.

After this I tried out a couple of demos on the Switch eShop (Daemon X Machina and Bravely Default 2) until I remembered that I had a stalled playthrough of 大図書館の羊飼い, so I went back to that. I was doing alright last time I tried it, but it feels like it’s going even more smoothly this time. I’m going to stick with it for a while, hopefully until I finish one route at least. Visual novels are part of my reading goal for this year, so I figured it would be good to start early since it’s still largely uncharted territory.

2020 in Japanese

2019 was a year of rapid visible growth in my Japanese ability, mostly thanks to my realization (in late 2018) that I needed to dramatically up-prioritize my grammar studies and introduce a steady diet of native reading material. 2020 would be more of the same, though with a much more gradual slope.

I set two reasonable goals for myself at the beginning of the year:

  • Read 52 volumes of manga (1/week)
  • Read 1 novel

I wasn’t too concerned about manga — I had read about that same number the previous year, and (assuming my reading speed continued to improve) one per week seemed very achievable. Novels, however, were something I had tried multiple times to get into without any luck. My goal was to change that this year, though to be honest I was still unsure if I would be able to manage it.

My first major achievement of the year was Persona 5: Scramble – The Phantom Strikers. My copy arrived just a few days after the Japanese release date of 2/20/2020 and I finished it in under a month, with 75 hours on the clock. This was super encouraging; it took me around 250 hours to finish Persona Q2 despite both of them being pretty lightweight compared to the mainline games, and my pace all throughout was very smooth. As I write this, P5S has only recently been announced for an English release, and won’t be available until a full year after the Japanese edition came out. One of my original goals with Japanese was to be able to play a Dark Souls game early, so even though I missed that boat it’s nice to be able to fulfill the same goal with a new series.

In April I achieved one of my goals for the year by finishing up 氷菓 with the wanikani book club. I had enjoyed the anime a great deal, but the book was just…not fun. I found the main character to be rather unlikable, which just led to the whole experience being tinged with annoyance. It was also quite difficult to read, especially as a first novel. I came out of it feeling somewhat jaded, and came pretty close to calling it quits right there. Fortunately I decided to give the next book club a chance — a decision I’m very glad I made, as it introduced me to one of my favorite Japanese authors and also demonstrated that difficulty was very much a spectrum.

Around this time I was spending some time at my childhood home in the woods of New Hampshire, which gave me the perfect opportunity to record a new bilingual let’s-play of the first act of P5S. The difference in quality when compared with my PQ2 playthrough is very apparent and quite encouraging.

I also dug my PS4 out of storage and finished up P5: Royal, which I had begun playing at the end of 2019 before being forced to put it on hold when I packed up my apartment. It took me quite a long time to beat it (a 100% clear including the brand new content) and I enjoyed every moment. Even though I had missed the opportunity to play it before the English release, I was still gratified to be able to follow along with the new story content despite having had no prior experience.

Around the middle of the year, I realized that I was a mere seven volumes of manga away from meeting my goal, so I decided to set a new record and read one volume per day for the entire week. This ended up being more of a scheduling challenge than anything else, since it was the same week my brother was getting married, but I managed.

しあわせの花 was the next novel I tackled, and then 狼と香辛料 immediately afterwards. At this point I was getting pretty comfortable with the idiosyncrasies of prose and it felt like a whole new world had opened up. I also started reading 本好きの下剋上 vol. 1 with the wanikani book club around this time, but due to the slow pace I wouldn’t finish it for a few months more.

With the English release of 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim announced, I suddenly remembered that I had been interested in playing but had passed on it due to insecurity in my ability to follow along. With my new experience under my belt, I decided to grab a Japanese copy and try to finish it before the English release date of 9/22/2020. I ultimately overshot this goal by a few days, but the whole experience was very smooth — nearly every line of dialogue is voiced, and I was able to follow along with the vast majority of it at full speed. I’m very glad I decided to prioritize this; it’s easily my game of the year, even above P5: Royal, which came as a big surprise.

秋の牢獄 was my next novel completed, squeezed into the week before we moved on to 本好きの下剋上 vol. 2. At the last minute, on track to end the year with seven novels under my belt, I decided to throw one more in for good measure, finishing 片羽の蝶 in a record six days. Over the last few weeks I had also been maintaining a carefully-determined pace to finish out the year with 104 volumes of manga (exactly double my original goal, for an average pace of two per week).

Manga has been solidly in my comfort zone for some time now, but there were a few accomplishments that I feel are noteworthy in one way or another. I finished 五等分の花嫁 and 鬼滅の刃, both of which I started reading fairly early on. I like when a series can end on its own terms, and both of these wrapped up nicely. 五等分の花嫁 in particular was the first manga that I tried my liberal skipping method on, so it’s been with me from the very beginning. I also read both volumes of 虎子、あんまり壊しちゃだめだよ, which, while it’s not particularly remarkable, was the first manga I ever tried to read (and failed spectacularly), so being able to revisit it early this year and get through it with no trouble at all was a good marker of how far I’ve come.

One milestone I’m rather proud of is that throughout the entire year, I barely did any actual “study” at all. In March I broke my streak of 648 days studied on wanikani, and I haven’t done a single review ever since. I also deleted my personal Anki deck around the same time, and stopped reviewing my subs2srs deck not too long afterwards. 2020 was the year I quit SRS (for good? who can say), and despite buying 新完全マスター N1 books, I barely touched them except to idly look up new grammar as I discovered it in my reading. The vast majority of Japanese I learned throughout the year came naturally through my daily reading, not from textbooks. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve reached the (long long) endgame.

In October I was promoted to “Assistant” on the 日本語と英語 discord server, a community which was invaluable to me during my first year of actual progress learning Japanese. Joining the server and realizing how much I didn’t know (not to mention the stuff I thought I knew but was wrong about) was a wake-up call that helped me reevaluate my study methods and get myself out of a deep rut, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to give back now that I more or less know what I’m talking about.

Finally, there’s one goal that I never really sat down to formulate a plan of attack for: “get my act in gear with regard to speaking”. I must admit I’m ending the year with exactly as much ability, not to mention confidence, as when it began. On the bright side, the more I’ve read, the more comfortable I’ve become with natural, idiomatic phrasing rather than the beginner trap of formulating thoughts in English and trying to fit Japanese words to the same structure. Perhaps next year will be better.


Book review: 本好きの下剋上 vol. 2 (Ascendance of a Bookworm)

My last review of the year is also naturally for my last book of the year. After finishing 本好き vol. 1 with the WaniKani book club, we immediately moved on to vol. 2 with the idea of finishing before the end of the year, which I achieved a day or two after Christmas.

The end of the first book left Mayne and Lutz in a good position to get started making “non-parchment paper”, and book two wastes no time getting right into the dirty details. One early chapter contains a very comprehensive overview of the process of making 和紙 (Japanese paper), which was a bit of a slog due to all the new domain-specific vocabulary but I found it totally fascinating.

Much of the rest of the book deals with introducing us to the economics of this world, which further reinforced my belief that the reason 狼と香辛料 didn’t capture me was entirely to do with the writing style. The political dance with the powers that be is very evident here and I can imagine some good drama coming out of it.

The bookclub is continuing at least until the end of this arc (one more book), but from here on out I’ll be reading the series on my own pace — good timing too, since vol. 2 ended on a pretty big cliffhanger. I already have vol. 3 on my shelf and vol. 4 was free on Kindle a little while ago, so I’m looking forward to diving in.

Japanese reading report

This week I mainly focused on catching up with 本好きの下剋上 vol. 2, which (moments ago) I’ve just completed. I read about a hundred pages over the last four days, which worked out to quite a lot of reading since the pages are big and don’t have many line breaks. The Wanikani book club is continuing the series, but I’m planning to start the next volume on my own schedule so we’ll see how my pace fares from here on out. It’s gotten to the point where I can read this series very smoothly, which is hugely gratifying.

I also read two more volumes of manga; Persona 5 Mementos Mission 2 and 3, which finishes up the series (it was a pretty small, focused arc). I really really enjoyed this and think I might actually get the physical set at some point just to have it on my shelf. It does a great job of weaving together a few unrelated sidequests from the actual game, adding in a completely new storyline, and expanding on the characters in a way that feels totally seamless with the way they were originally portrayed. I like short runs but I do actually wish there was more of this; will definitely have to check out some of the mangaka’s other work.

Book review: 片羽の蝶 (One-winged butterfly)

With the end of the year approaching and my manga goal close to doubled, I decided on a whim to throw myself into the next 鬼滅の刃 spinoff novel and finish it up over the next few weeks. My initial plan was to read a certain number of pages per day and finish just in time, but I happened to notice that there were only six chapters, the goal suddenly became “one chapter per day”. It seemed like an insane pace at first but I actually managed it, bringing my new record to six days; a big improvement over my previous record (11 days) and more than twice as fast as the previous book in this series (14).

Unfortunately, I didn’t really find that 片羽の蝶 lived up to my expectations based on しあわせの花. It had its moments — the chapter about Mitsuri did a good job of capturing her character and relationship with Iguro — but most of the stories were basically just fluff. Even the first (titular) chapter, which features Shinobu and Kanae as children immediately after the events which lead them to join the slayer corps, does practically nothing in terms of fleshing out characters or events, which is terribly disappointing since I would love to hear more about Kanae (and since she obviously won’t show up in the main series, there’s no chance of stepping on the main author’s toes).

I enjoyed this book but probably wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend it. With the main manga series now fully complete, hopefully any further spinoff material will be a little less restrictive.

Japanese reading report

This week I didn’t read any manga or stay caught up on 本好きの下剋上. Instead, I got totally consumed in an accidental challenge to read a whole novel in one week.

I originally planned to read 片羽の蝶 (the second 鬼滅の刃 spinoff light-novel) over the course of the rest of the year, at a pace of about 12 pages per day, in balance with my other goals. The first day I read through my quota really quickly and decided to finish the chapter — and then I realized there were only six chapters and couldn’t help keeping up the pace. Finding enough time every day was tough and I ended up staying up way too late on Friday to finish the last chapter, but in the end I succeeded! This absolutely smashes my previous record of 11 days and I doubt I’ll be doing better in the near future.