Japanese reading report

This week I finally finished 狼と香辛料, so that’s good news. Once I readjusted to the 10pg/day pace it was much more sustainable, though honestly I wish I had shelved it and spent that time doing something else. Overall I just really didn’t enjoy it, and after thinking about it I can only chalk that up to the author’s writing style — the economics bits are clearly written for someone who already enjoys the topic, and that’s just not me.

The majority of my input came from 13 Sentinels, which just keeps getting better. I’m at 27 hours now and have probably just passed the 50% mark. Some sections are more difficult due to long strings of technical kanji compounds, but for the most part things are still going pretty smoothly and I’m able to pick up new words easily.

Rapid-fire minor contributions: I read a bit more of 本好きの下剋上 but ended up falling pretty far behind the bookclub, so I’ll have to catch up this coming week. Just one chapter this time. Three more episodes of 魔法使いの嫁; almost done with the anime at this point. I feel like it’s not quite as good now as it was in the beginning but I’m still enjoying myself. Also played some more Persona Q2 (my sister suddenly overtook me so I’ve got to catch up); about halfway through the third dungeon now.

Book review: 狼と香辛料 (Spice and Wolf)

Emboldened by the success of my first fast-paced reading challenge, I reached for my stack of unread Japanese books and picked one that I’d been thinking about for a while; Spice and Wolf, which I had randomly inherited from a friend long before my reading was remotely up to scratch.

My original plan was to read 15 pages per day (a one-page increase over my average pace from last time) and finish it in three weeks, but after the first week it was apparent that this was going to be completely unsustainable and re-targeted to a four-week pace, bringing me to an even 10 pages per day. Even this would prove to be a challenge, though I did manage to finish it one day early.

To briefly summarize the broad concept: whereas some fantasy authors set out to create a world in which to play out their unique ideas for a magic system or to explore a web of political intrigue, Isuna Hasekura has decided to spin a story all about the dirty details of being a merchant. Rather than an encroaching dragon, the driving tension comes from the possibility of taking advantage of a currency speculation scheme that turns out to have some very powerful actors working behind the scenes. I really do have to give him credit; “fantasy economics” isn’t a genre I would have ever thought of, but there’s no reason it shouldn’t work. The political tension between neighboring kingdoms, the risk of dealing with multiple merchant guilds, the potential for worldbuilding with regards to supply and demand across different regions; there’s potential here to tell an endless number of deep, interconnected stories (and considering that there are now 20 books in the novel series alone, it seems that’s exactly what he’s done).

Where it all falls apart is…I just have no interest in what is very clearly the entire point of the book.

The two main characters, Laurence (a traveling merchant) and Holo (an ancient goddess of harvest known as the Wise Wolf) are well written and have good chemistry. Holo in particular is delightful with her old-timey speech style and penchant for mischief. Their scenes together are highly enjoyable, but they’re interspersed with what I can only describe as excerpts from a fictitious textbook on medieval trade theory. It’s quite possible that I wouldn’t have been bothered by this if my Japanese reading ability was higher, but as I am right now, it just felt like a series of speedbumps that got in the way of my enjoyment of the story.

Spice and Wolf is…not a book for me. I can understand what makes it tick, and I can even appreciate what the author has managed to do, but quite frankly there were not a few moments where reading this book made me want to die. What I can say for certain is that I now understand why some of my favorite series — the ones that describe the process of cooking in great detail and go into depth about the nuances between certain ingredients — fall so flat for other people. If you’re not interested in cooking, you probably won’t enjoy a book written by someone who loves it — and I have absolutely no interest in economics.

Japanese reading report

Another pretty busy week…boy am I looking forward to finishing up 狼と香辛料. I was out all day yesterday and barely had any chance to read at all, so even after the work I had done to catch up (reading 12 pages per day instead of 10), I still ended up behind at the end of the week. Oh well. Honestly, the last few days’ worth of reading has been a huge drag. There’s a lot of scheming about how to get Holo out of a scrape, but it’s all politicking and economics talk which I am having a lot of trouble following. I basically just have to remind myself that I learned a lot by reading at low comprehension way back when, so theoretically this is all still beneficial.

I also managed to keep up with 本好きの下剋上, which is fortunately much easier and more enjoyable to read. I’m a little under halfway through the book now. The descriptions of the antiquated customs and technology continue to impress…some standout moments this week were a hog slaughtering party, hand-dipped candles, and an attempt to make papyrus (one of what will likely be many failed attempts at creating something like paper).

My favorite bit of reading this week was definitely 十三機兵防衛圏. I’m about 10 hours in and enjoying myself immensely. Pretty much every line is voiced, which makes it really easy to look up unknown words, but I’m having very little trouble following along (which was definitely not the case when I first started seeing trailers last year). It’s not a very long game so I expect to finish it pretty quickly if I can put the time in.

Played a bit of Persona Q2 with my sister, just cruising through the third dungeon. As usual, not much to report.

Watched the first 17 episodes of 魔法使いの嫁, which I’m enjoying quite a lot.

Last up, since I wanted to keep on track with at least one manga volume per week, I read ギャルと恐竜 vol. 1, which was just good fun. Super easy, not a lot of text, but the art and pacing are both hilarious. I could easily see myself recommending it as a first manga.

Translation work – Persona 5 twitter comic

Earlier today I happened to see this tweet from an artist I follow:

To summarize, it’s a post looking for someone to do some (volunteer) translation for an upcoming comic. Naturally I jumped at the opportunity and sent off a message offering to help. One thing led to another (the fact that I had done a translation let’s-play of Persona 5: Scramble probably didn’t hurt), and they accepted my offer. My translation of the original Japanese text can be seen in the English version of the comic in the tweet below:

Even though it’s just four short lines, this is technically my first proper translation gig and it’s pretty exciting that I was able to be in the right place at the right time!

Iridescence Walkthrough by To Ta

I somehow missed this when it first came in, but the itch.io page for Iridescence received a comment that linked to this walkthrough video. During development, I put a lot of effort into the visual design of each component so as to not require any text on the screen, which apparently paid off seeing as the title of this and other videos on the same channel are in Japanese.

While I never expected Iridescence to be a great critical or commercial success, it’s always nice when somebody stumbles across it and seems to enjoy it.

Japanese reading report

This week I kept on track with my 10 pages of 狼と香辛料 per day (except for today, whoops!), bringing me up to 180. We’ve been introduced to what I suspect is kind of the driving force behind the story; a kind of speculation/price-fixing racket having to do with money devaluation. My enjoyment of this book continues to fluctuate…just wish there were more scenes with the two characters and a bit less economics stuff.

Also kept up with 本好きの下剋上, which is still a delight. I’ve been timing myself during my reading sessions and was surprised to find out that I’m reading both novels at about the same speed, but this one feels a lot smoother and faster. As someone who was a huge book nerd with all kinds of random knowledge as a kid, I find myself relating a lot to the heroine in certain ways.

I watched a TON of anime sort of by accident, starting by finishing ハイキュー!. The final act of the tournament was great and I’m looking forward to the next season. Next up I finished 響け!ユーフォニアム S1 (a rewatch) and then all of S2 (totally new); compared to when I was watching it originally six months ago, I barely missed anything even without subtitles. Tangible progress is great. Next, all of かぐや様は告らせたい S1, which I passed on ages ago after being unimpressed by the first episode, but I really liked it this time around. Comparatively low comprehension, but certainly enough to enjoy it. Finally, three episodes of たまこまーけっと, which seems to have been designed to irritate me. I was understanding everything effortlessly so I don’t feel bad about dropping it.

Played some more of Persona Q2 with my sister, finishing the second dungeon and starting on the third (along with knocking out a bunch of sidequests). Nothing much to report here.

Today I read すいとーと vol. 2, which (since it’s been a while) is basically an advertisement to get people to come eat in Fukuoka. I was actually somewhat surprised to see this get another volume — I originally bought the first one on a whim because it had just come out the same day, but it struck me as something that might be too niche to continue for very long. It’s fun learning little bits of 福岡弁 along with all the food vocab and stuff.

Japanese reading report

Despite falling short of some (very optimistic) goals, I did a ton of reading this week.

First and foremost, I launched right into 狼と香辛料 on Sunday, with the idea of reading 15 pages per day and finishing the whole book in three weeks. A few days in and I realized this was technically doable, but it was going to suck up a lot more time than I wanted to spend. I slowed my pace to 10 pages per day, which is a lot more sustainable, totaling 120 pages for this week. As for the content itself, I’m enjoying it quite a bit. The two main characters have good chemistry and ホロ’s speech is quite eclectic and charming, which makes it fun to read no matter what’s going on. Between this novel and my last, I’ve noticed a lot of んばかりで, which I’d previously never seen in the wild. Lots of unfamiliar vocab to look up here, mostly in relation to all the economics stuff.

Throughout the week I watched 12 more episodes of ハイキュー!, bringing me up to S3E2. I believe we’re up to the final match of the championship, so everything’s been getting steadily more exciting. I’m still not sure that I understand all the rules of volleyball yet but I’m deliberately not looking anything up so I can learn it organically. Honto has the first 10 volumes for free right now so I grabbed them; might read some once I’m out of episodes.

(Re)played a bit more Persona Q2, but I’m taking care not to overtake my sister and she was pretty busy so we didn’t make a ton of progress. I mostly did sidequests, which have been fun. There are some things that I’m certain I didn’t pick up on in my first playthrough but which are now plain as day.

Just like last week I ended up neglecting my manga until the last minute, so I spent the afternoon reading SPY x FAMILY vol. 2. I love this series and I don’t know why I didn’t immediately start reading it again when I bought the rest of the volumes a little while ago.

Finally, I read three more chapters of 本好きの下剋上. The Wanikani bookclub is synchronized to Fridays now, which throws a wrench in my plan to keep in sync with my typical Sunday reports. It’s looking like I’ll need to read six chapters this week in order to get to where I want to be, but it shouldn’t be a problem because I really like this book. The main character is maybe a little too obsessed about books but I would be lying if I said she wasn’t relatable. She’s started tackling the problems around her with the knowledge she’s picked up from books, which I imagine is an isekai staple (haven’t read one before) — but the narration style is so engaging and I’m just flying through. I have a paper copy on the way and I’m pretty sure I’ll be following this series beyond the end of the club.

Japanese reading report

This week I finished しあわせの花, which suddenly brings my best time for reading a Japanese novel down to exactly two weeks. I averaged 13 pages per day throughout the whole book and it was quite manageable even with the other reading I wanted to do. I’m planning to keep up the momentum and jump right into one of the other books I’ve accumulated. Overall this book was pretty smooth; I learned some new grammar just through context, and came across some other N1 grammar that I don’t see too often. For more on the actual contents, I wrote a detailed review here.

At the beginning of the week I read another chapter of 本好きの下剋上, so now my normal reports are in sync with the wanikani club. From this week onward the pace will be a good deal higher. Nothing really to report for this chapter; it’s definitely a pretty easy book.

Watched twelve more episodes of ハイキュー!, bringing me up to S2E15. For all of season 2 I’ve been watching without subtitles and not looking anything up, so there’s definitely a decent amount I’m missing, I’m still following along well enough though, and I think it’s interesting how I’ve managed to mostly learn the rules of volleyball despite hardly know anything about it before I started the series.

Since I wanted to have read at least one volume of manga this week, I went back to 古見さん again and read vol. 12 over the last few evenings. I think I originally paused this series because the 単行本 were coming out really slowly but it seems there are three more that I don’t even own yet, so maybe I’ll pick up the pace again. I always forget how much I enjoy it until I’m in the middle of reading.

Finally, since my little sister has started playing Persona Q2 (in English), I’ve decided to do a parallel playthrough with her. Hopefully this time I’ll actually be able to keep up! We’re both on the second floor of the second dungeon now, making very good time. I keep finding things that I know I didn’t understand when I originally played it but which are totally obvious now. Some of the translations in the English version are quite horrendous though…

Book review: しあわせの花 (Flower of Happiness)

My third Japanese novel this year comes to a close in much shorter order than my other two. Upon finishing Night Market, it suddenly occurred to me: “I’ve been reading each week’s quota of ten-or-so pages in one sitting — why not keep up that pace for the whole week instead of just for a single day?”

And so, I cracked open Flower of Happiness, which is a light-novel spinoff of the manga series 鬼滅の刃 (aka Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba). My original goal was to read 8 pages per day and finish it by the end of the month, but I ended up getting swept along and ended up reading about 14 pages per day, which allowed me to finish it in just two weeks. This is obviously the fastest I’ve read a Japanese novel and I’m excited by the prospect of keeping on this track.

To be honest, I didn’t know anything about this book at all when I bought it — I essentially bought it on a whim after I caught up to the KNY manga and was itching for more content in the same universe (though it would be some time until I actually got around to it). As it turns out, it’s not one full story at all, but rather five short vignettes depicting various characters from the main series.

The first chapter, which shares its name with the book, is set during the time that Tanjiro, Inosuke, and Zenitsu are recovering from their battle in the tsuzumi manor. Upon being invited to attend a wedding in the local town, Tanjiro finds himself wondering whether Nezuko will ever be able to become a bride herself — just in time to hear two girls talking about a rare flower that is said to bring happiness to any woman who carries it…

The second chapter, For Whom, follows Zenitsu on one of his ill-fated attempts to escape from his slayer training. Unfortunately, on his way down the mountain he runs into his greatest weakness — a lady in distress; promised to a demon in order to save her cowardly stepfather’s skin. Zenitsu can be pretty insufferable when it comes to women (and this is definitely the case later in the book), but this story shows him at his best. He seems genuinely concerned about this girl, and considering how terrified he is of demons (not to mention how eager he is to continue with his escape), you can tell it takes a lot of courage for him to help her out.

Next up, The Trouble with Fortunetelling was definitely the most entertaining story of them all, but unfortunately also the most annoying. Set after the events of the Infinity Train arc, Zenitsu is accosted by a fortune teller at a crossroads and told “stay away from women for the rest of the day, if you value your life”. He then spends the rest of the chapter in hysterics, which is somewhat disappointing considering how well he had been written immediately prior. There are some great moments here though — Inosuke picking up a menu at a cafe and immediately exclaiming “I can’t read!” (followed by Tanjiro’s futile attempts at teaching him some letters) had me laughing out loud.

Aoi and Kanao is a great little expansion on the two titular characters, and it’s too bad that more people won’t read it. While Kanao sees significant character growth throughout the manga due to Tanjiro’s positive influence, Aoi feels somewhat neglected despite being set up as an interesting character at the end of the rehabilitation arc. This story gives her a little extra time in the spotlight and serves to flesh her out between manga chapters.

Finally, Kimetsu Academy Stories is a goofy re-imagining of the setting as a typical middle/high school. If you’ve seen the anime, you may recognize this concept from the shorts at the end of some episodes. As might be expected, nothing of importance happens here at all, it’s just a chance to have some fun with the characters. It got a few laughs (my favorite bit was Yujiro pretending to be sick every day so he could see Nurse Tamayo), but this was definitely the weakest one for me.

Overall, despite the fact that it doesn’t add a lot to the story of KNY at large, I liked this book quite a bit. The writer’s style is enjoyable and she did a great job of capturing the characters. I rarely read afterwords but I decided to read this one and it seems like she really likes KNY and was super excited to write a novelization, which was cute and heartwarming. I already have one of the other books (片羽の蝶, One Winged Butterfly) and I’ll be looking forward to reading that as well.

Book review: 夜市 (Night Market)

I’ve recently finished reading Night Market as part of the WaniKani book club and wanted to write up some thoughts. This was my second-ever completed Japanese novel (the first being Hyouka, which I didn’t care for too much despite having very much enjoyed the anime adaptation) and we read through it at a pretty leisurely pace; just about exactly three months for a short 200-page book.

In retrospect, Night Market would have been the perfect introduction to the world of Japanese prose. Compared to Hyouka, which seemed to revel in its vagueness and non-committal narration style, the writing here is snappy and straightforward. Some of the sentences feel even a bit too easy, like they were plucked from the pages of a textbook. While I think it’s still broadly true that novels are more difficult to read than manga, comparing Night Market to Hyouka is enough to show that the difficulty is still a spectrum.

There are two short stories in this book, of which only one actually focuses on the titular market — a setting which, counter to my expectations, has nothing to do with bright lights and street food vendors. When the Night Market opens, those who visit will find themselves unable to leave without making a purchase — and anything, from weapons, to talents, to years of life, can be bought and sold here.

The second story, “The Old Wind Road”, was where the book really took off for me. It follows a nameless boy who is separated from his parents in the park and ends up stumbling into another world for an afternoon. This “old road” has entrances and exits here and there across our own world, but they open and close according to their own rules — and when the boy decides to revisit it years later, he discovers that the exit he had planned to use is only open while the cherry blossoms are in bloom.

The worldbuilding in this second story is fantastic. The Old Road is home to all kinds of strange creatures and spirits, and most of it is unmapped and shrouded in mystery. Even so, there are other humans here too; some simply passing through, others eking out a living by providing services to those brave or foolish enough to venture in. You get a real feeling of the scope of this world, its denizens, and the possibilities for what else might be out there, but the details are left intriguingly vague.

The conflict in both stories is simple yet compelling — you’ve found yourself in a dangerous world that plays by rules you don’t understand, and you can’t leave. In each case, there’s a great tension between wanting to leave as quickly as possible, and the knowledge that the only way to get out is to push deeper and learn more about what you’ve gotten yourself into. It works really well and kept me engaged throughout the entire book.

When I realized that Night Market was published by Kadokawa’s horror imprint, I was expecting something…a bit more grotesque than what I actually got. I’m actually happy about the reversal though. It reminded me of the kind of lingering existential dread you get by watching the Twilight Zone…rather than trying to shock or horrify, it aims for a sense of unease that sticks with you after you finish the story.

Night Market has no English translation, and considering it was published in 2005, I wouldn’t hold my breath. As I always say, the best time to start learning Japanese is three years ago — the second best time is right now.