Book review: 青春ブタ野郎はバニーガール先輩の夢を見ない (Rascal does not dream of Bunny Girl Senpai)

This is one of those titles that’s enough to make me rule out the series at first blush, which is almost exactly what happened a couple of years ago when the anime first launched. I don’t remember what changed my mind about it, but it ended up being one of my favorite shows and I’ve been wanting to continue with the novels for some time now. Since Kate recently watched it (for the first time) I took the opportunity to rewatch it (without subtitles this time), and once I finished the anime I decided this was as good a time as any to pick vol. 1 as my next book this year.

As good as the anime is, honestly the old adage “the book is always better” still holds very true here. All the key scenes and plot beats are present in both, but the writing feels sharper and the dialogues always have a few extra lines which, while it makes sense to cut them in order to fit an episode’s runtime, are often delightful and hilarious and I frequently found myself grateful that I decided to read the books from the beginning rather than starting at vol. 6 (which picks up immediately after the end of the show). The anime does a great job of conveying the two leads’ chemistry, but it feels extra charming here for some reason, and the side characters feel even more well-developed. Specifically, I felt that the (still ridiculous) “Schrodinger’s cat” explanation was a bit better justified in the book, and that the stakes of the final arc felt higher and the payoff more satisfying.

I’ll definitely be continuing the series pretty soon and would highly recommend it (the first five books have been translated into English as well).

Book review: 京都寺町三条のホームズ 3 (Holmes of Kyoto)

Three books in, and I’m starting to feel like writing individual reviews for each entry in a long series might not be all that sustainable, especially considering 1) the consistent quality of each entry and 2) the fact that as my reading speed continues to improve, the number of books I can read in a short amount of time will also continue to increase. Perhaps the main factor is that I’m still in review mode, and even though I thought I would be in uncharted waters with the end of this book, apparently I actually need to finish the first four books in order to completely catch up with the anime. (It seems I did know this at one point but must have forgotten).

For now, I’ll at least say that this volume was as good as ever; the parts that were adapted for the anime were even better in the source material, and of course the parts that didn’t make the cut were were a welcome surprise whenever they appeared.

Book review: 京都寺町三条のホームズ vol. 2 (Holmes of Kyoto)

What can I say that I didn’t say in my review of the previous book? It’s all just as true, if not more so, of this one. The extra scenes (that didn’t make it into the anime) are great, the pacing is comfortable and engaging, and the character development is more intimate. I really like this series and I’ve already started reading volume 3, which, once I finish it, will put me into uncharted territory.

One interesting thing about this one compared to the anime, and something that actually surprised me, is that it’s Akihito, not Aoi, who accompanies Holmes to the temple where they have their first run-in with the master forget Enshou (aka Moria[rty]). While I understand why the change would be made, focusing on Akihito for this chapter gave us an opportunity to peek inside his head and also to see some one-on-one with Holmes, which is always entertaining.

Considering how long it took me to read 335 pages of 異世界食堂, I was blown away to find that the 153 pages my ereader reported for this book actually translate to 301 pages in the print version, which means my pace of 10 “pages” per day was actually more like 20. I’m not sure if this is my fastest pace to date (the latest volume of 本好きの下剋上 was also a pretty hefty daily quota) but learning that I finished a 300-page book in just over two weeks was a big surprise. I’m planning to read the next book in a similar amount of time so I can finally get caught up with my novel goal by the end of the month (but also because I’m genuinely excited to continue).

Book review: 異世界食堂 vol. 1 (Restaurant to Another World)

Back in 2020, when I first planned to read 氷菓 as my first-ever Japanese novel, I decided to add one more book to the order so I could justify the shipping cost from Japan (this being before I had figured out how to buy ebooks), and so ended up with a new copy of 異世界食堂. I’d seen the anime quite some time ago and been interested in reading the source material for quite some time, so I was excited to get my hands on it.

One year and six months later, I’ve finally gotten around to reading it!

Part of the reason I put it off for so long was the fact that the page count was pretty high. Aside from 雷の季節の終わりに, this was definitely the longest book I’ve read so far, and the language used is complex enough that I can imagine it giving me a lot of trouble when I originally started reading novels. At this point it was pretty approachable though; I rarely had trouble and even did a bit of speedreading practice where I tried to avoid subvocalizing as much as possible.

In any case, finishing this book feels like somewhat of a milestone. It’s good to have it on my “completed” shelf.

The basic premise of the series is that there’s this one restaurant whose front door becomes mysteriously connected to another world every Saturday. The owner closes to his regular Tokyo clientele and serves western food to the various fantasy creatures who find their way in. Each chapter focuses on a different dish and (so far) a different guest to order it, which provides ample opportunity to describe each meal in excruciating detail. It’s a bit of a running gag for a character to use their “native word” for onions, but besides this it’s also interesting to see how the author goes about describing certain modern delicacies, like ice cream or fresh unsalted fish, from the perspective of someone from a comparatively primitive fantasy world. Every chapter made me hungry and I was always smacking myself for reading it before bed.

If I have one major complaint about the book, it’s that there was a severe lack of Aletta, the homeless demon-blood girl who ends up working at the restaurant as a waitress. Her presence in the anime is a delight so I was looking forward to her in the book, but whereas the show introduces her in episode one, she only appears in the second-to-last chapter (a very good chapter to be sure, but I was hoping for more of her). I guess I’ll have to wait until vol. 2 to get my fix.

I do plan to read more of the series, but will probably hold off until I make a bit of a dent in my existing novel backlog (and have a bit more breathing room in my yearly pace). There are five volumes out right now and all of them have been translated to English, so (if you like reading about food) I would definitely recommend picking them up!

Book review: わたしの幸せな結婚 (My Happy Marriage)

Well this explains that nagging feeling that I had forgotten something important. Despite finishing up わたしの幸せな結婚 as my fifth book of the year almost two months ago, I never ended up writing up my thoughts on it.

I picked this book up on a whim based on little more than the beautiful cover art and the fact that it rose suddenly to #1 on Bookmeter without me ever having heard of it beforehand. I’m very glad I took the chance; this is definitely my favorite novel of the year so far.

If I were to describe the story in one line, I might go with “Meiji-era Cinderella”, but that would definitely be selling it short. The main story beats are similar enough — our heroine is raised as little more than a servant by her abusive stepmother and ends up escaping her fate by marrying a handsome nobleman — but the details make all the difference. For one, whereas Cinderella often comes across as somewhat well-adjusted despite her ill treatment, Miyo is a profoundly damaged girl. Her years of mistreatment have led to her believing herself unworthy of being basic dignity, let alone love.

On the other hand is Kiyoka, a man who has no interest in living in the luxury that someone of his station would typically enjoy, which is a direct clash with the expectations of the high-class families who have tried to court him as a husband for their daughters. A string of bad experiences has left him cold and distant, convinced that there’s no such thing as love.

Both characters are ultimately wrong, of course, and it’s very heartwarming seeing them open up to each other as they grow over the course of the story.

I wish I had written this sooner because I might have been able to articulate just what it was about the writing style that clicked with me so well. I found it easy to sit down and get totally engrossed in the story, and the prose had a nice rhythm or flow to it that I just really enjoyed. While they aren’t really that similar, I was somehow reminded of ねねね, one of my favorite manga. Something about it gave me the same happy contented feeling I’ve been chasing since finishing ねねね over a year ago.

Between finishing the book and writing this post, an English translation has actually been announced. It’ll be available in December this year, so I highly recommend checking it out.

Book review: 雷の季節の終わりに (When the Thunder Season ends)

This one was weird. After enjoying 夜市 and 秋の牢獄 as much as I did, I was super excited to read a full-length novel in the same style. The title had me intrigued from the moment I saw it, and I’ve had it on my shelf for almost a year now, and now that I’ve finally gotten around to reading it, I was surprised to find that I didn’t like it as much as I expected to. That’s not to say it’s a bad book, by any means, just that perhaps I had set the bar a bit too high.

The titular “thunder season” is a phenomenon unique to the town that the book focuses on, a remote Japanese village called 穏 (meaning something like “quiet” or “peaceful”). Of course that name is a complete lie: during the Thunder Season, demons roam the streets as the locals lock themselves in their homes; people go missing and that’s “just the way it is”. The book largely follows one character who has two people close to him go missing in this way, and as he starts to look into what actually happened to them, he stumbles into one mystery after the other.

The story is told from three perspectives (comprising about 50%, 40%, and 10% each) and they tie together in a satisfying and engaging way. I somewhat frequently see criticism about 恒川光太郎’s reliance on flashbacks to resolve twists, and I think the approach of weaving together multiple different stories (each one setting up or paying off for one of the others) is a great way to accomplish the same goal without bringing the whole thing to a screeching halt.

Ironically, I think the thing I was most looking forward to — the format switch — is actually the thing that weakened the whole experience. The momentum felt wildly inconsistent, with interesting story developments being punctuated with sections that just dragged on and sort of killed my motivation to keep reading. Thinking back, the parts that stuck in my memory were all enjoyable and well-written, so my overall opinion of the book is still good. I do feel like it could have done with a bit of fat-trimming, but perhaps if my reading speed was better I wouldn’t have gotten bogged down so much.

In any case, I would still recommend this book and will definitely be continuing to follow the author’s work in the future.

Book review: 京都寺町三条のホームズ vol. 1 (Holmes of Kyoto)

About halfway through my watchthrough of Holmes of Kyoto’s anime adaptation a few weeks ago, I found myself checking Amazon Japan on a regular basis to see if the first book in the series would happen to be listed for free (as occasionally happens for promotional purposes). It got to the point where I literally decided to buy it instead of waiting just because I was getting tired of checking. And so, once I finished 風の道しるべ, I jumped right into this series and finished book 1 in just over two weeks, finally catching up to my novel goal with three books down.

As much as I enjoyed the Holmes of Kyoto anime, the main thing running through my mind as I read the book was “the show did not do this justice”. Between the mysteries and character moments that make up the majority of the screentime, we also get tidbits of local history, descriptions of various locations visited throughout the story, and small vignettes with characters who, despite having no major importance, help deepen the overall experience. The author mentions in the afterword that she started writing this series out of a desire to share the beauty of Kyoto, and it shows.

The anime covers material from the first three books, so naturally there was a lot of review here, but there were also a fair few scenes which I don’t remember from the anime at all; my favorite involved a confession of love, and then a rejection of that confession, both performed through the medium of tanka from the One Hundred Poets where both parties relied on the subtext of each poem, rather than the literal words, to send the desired message.

Before I had finished reading the last chapter, I’d already gone back and bought the next five books, so it goes without saying that I’ll certainly be continuing with this series. There’s also an official English release, which I’m sure is also good; if I’m not mistaken, the translator was chosen during the Manga Translation Battle contest, and the samples I saw looked quite well-done. Heartily recommended.

Book review: 風の道しるべ (Signpost of the Wind)

The third (and final?) 鬼滅の刃 spinoff novel comes to a close as my second book of the year. For the first week I read at a pretty leisurely pace as I was also reading 本好きの下剋上 at the same time, then sped up in order to finish before the end of the month — ultimately taking 13 days to read the whole thing with three days left before the end of the month.

I keep typing (and then erasing) “I enjoyed this book”, and I’m not sure why. It’s true! I just can’t help but feel like I’d be damning it with faint praise. The fact of the matter is, these stories were never going to hit the same emotional beats as the original manga series considering the framework they had to work in. I liked it quite a lot more than the disappointing 片羽の蝶, but I feel like しあわせの花 was stronger overall.

The titular first story, while it struggled with pacing a bit, got nearly half of the total page count all to itself and did a great job of connecting some dots that I totally missed from the main series. It isn’t until fairly late in the game that we learn that Sanemi and Genya both have 稀血, the rare, powerful blood that demons are constantly on the hunt for. In 風の道しるべ, we see him putting that blood to work by purposely cutting himself over and over again (to the chagrin of Shinobu and Kanae) as the scent drives demons wild and allows him to get the upper hand. Not only does this explain why Sanemi has so many scars despite being ostensibly an excellent fighter, but also lends weight to the scene where he tries to goad Nezuko into attacking him by holding his bleeding arm in front of her. This is exactly the type of development I was hoping for

There were moments that expanded nicely on certain characters, and the one chapter which focused on Inosuke was hilarious, much like The Trouble with Fortunetelling from the first book. One chapter follows Tokitou in the wake of the attack on the swordsmithing village, and while ultimately nothing of importance happens plot-wise, it’s a good opportunity to showcase his dramatic character growth. As usual, the Kimetsu Academy chapter felt like a waste of time, but you can’t win ’em all.

片羽の蝶 left me quite cold and if I hadn’t already had this one on my shelf I don’t think I would have bought it, so I’m glad it worked out this way. I doubt there will be another KNY novel coming out now that the series is over (though the same author did work on the Mugen Train novelization, so who can say), but I think I’d probably keep going if given the opportunity.

Book review: 本好きの下剋上 vol. 3 (Ascendance of a Bookworm)

This review comes late, not because I forgot to write it, but because I totally failed to prioritize my novel reading goal and have only just finished my first one of this year. In hindsight it might have been a better idea to read something more lightweight in order to catch up, rather than the ~460 oversized pages of very dense text that comprises this book, but oh well. At least I’m way ahead of the wanikani book club now!

Following up from the cliffhanger at the end of the previous volume, this one wastes no time in raising the stakes regarding Mayne’s terminal illness. While some of the tension is alleviated due to the fact that there are currently 23 more books in the series, it does add a sense of urgency to the entire book. The final act had me reading two extra chapters beyond my daily goal just because it go so exciting.

As with the rest of the series so far, I really enjoyed this installment. With the exception of the epilogue chapters, which are always a bit of a drag, the storytelling and characterization are as good as ever. There’s less of a focus on production of new inventions and more focus on the politicking involved with disrupting the status quo, all of which is handled in an engaging way despite the potentially dry subject matter. I won’t be moving on to vol. 4 immediately since I’d like to get a bit ahead of schedule before reading another huge book, but I’ll definitely be looking forward to it.

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.