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.

良いお年を!

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.

Japanese reading report

This week I had kind of a slump in the middle. There were two days where I was super busy and barely managed to check off my 30m bare minimum reading goal. I somehow still managed to read four new volumes of manga though, so I’m now ahead of my new schedule to read 104 volumes before the end of the year.

First up was 古見さん vol. 18 (I stocked up and bought the rest of the currently-released volumes). The chapter where they got stuck in Otori’s house was probably my favorite even though I utterly failed to figure out any of the puzzles.

Next I read 鬼滅の刃・外伝, which was really great, definitely my highlight of the week. It’s a lot darker than the main series and the art style is markedly different but it does a great job of capturing the tone. It didn’t seem like it was numbered but I hope they make more.

A few weeks ago I read chapter 1 of おとなりに銀河 at the end of another manga volume by the same author, so I grabbed the full version this time and finished it up. It’s basically a cute awkward romance story about writing manga (the main character is an alien who left her people after learning about what love could really be like from shoujo manga). Will definitely be reading along as it releases.

This week’s two chapters of 本好きの下剋上 took me 2:31:30 to finish, which (just like last week) gives me an average of ~4 minutes per page (best time 2:23). Like usual, it went pretty smoothly. I’ve decided to start reading at my own pace once this book is finished so I’m looking forward to that.

Finally, I read 古見さん vol. 19. Time to anxiously await the next volume I guess (being caught up is suffering).

Japanese reading report

Like usual, the first thing I did this week was stay up to date with 本好きの下剋上. These two chapters were just 31 pages so it went pretty quickly. I kept track of my timing this week as well: 2:16.50, giving me an average of ~4 minutes per page with a best time of 2:49. Didn’t really learn any new grammar or vocab from this section but I enjoyed it.

My manga for the week were 女神異聞録ペルソナ vol. 8, Persona 5 Mementos Mission vol. 1, the 十三騎兵防衛圏 anthology, and 鬼滅の刃 vol. 23.

Mementos Mission has been on my backlist for a while, so I jumped on it when vol. 1 became free for a little while. The P5 manga adaptation is pretty good, but Mementos Mission is really excellent so far. It’s a totally new story but it captures the characters really well and the art is great. I grabbed the remaining two volumes so I’ll definitely be continuing it.

It’s been a while since I read 女神異聞録ペルソナ but I’m finally finished with it now. I didn’t love this final arc honestly, but it’s good to be finished with it.

The 十三騎兵防衛圏 anthology was a mixed bag but good overall. My sister has been playing the game in English (which is what reminded me to actually read this) and I’ve been watching her. It’s nicely validating to see that I did actually understand everything that was going on when I played in Japanese.

I’ve been anxiously looking forward to the 鬼滅の刃 finale for months now and it paid off. This last volume was great. I’m really happy with the way everything wrapped up.