Book review: 愚者のエンドロール (Fools’ Staff Roll)

I guess I never wrote a review for 氷菓. It’s been so long at this point that I can’t imagine what I would say if I tried to write about it in retrospect, but I’ve always felt disappointed about how it turned out. The anime is one of my all time favorites, and a big part of my motivation for reading it in the first place (as my first-ever Japanese novel) was the idea that I would catch up with the end of the show and be able to see the rest of the story, but I didn’t enjoy myself at all and pretty much gave up on the idea.

That was two years ago (almost to the day, come to think of it), and I’ve often wondered if the reason I had a bad time was just because I was new to reading and everything was a struggle back then. While this always felt somewhat unlikely (after all, I thoroughly enjoyed my second-ever novel, 夜市 despite surely being at nearly the same skill level), it’s something that I would think about from time to time and feel kind of insecure about.

Well, having now finished the second book in the series, I feel pretty vindicated. While I did warm up to it around the second half, it was only barely enough to bump it up from a two- to a three-star rating, and all of my gripes with the writing style and characterization are unchanged. If nothing else, it’s nice to know that the reason I bounced off 氷菓 is because I didn’t like it, not because I wasn’t good enough to read it.

In terms of the actual story, what is there to say? The actual mystery is not really very interesting. This is the volume where える gets drunk on whiskey chocolates, which is a scene I liked in the anime, and it was just as funny here. There were some entertaining sections presented as chatroom logs, which featured some neat wordplay (I was tickled that える’s chat name was just “L”) and 変換ミス jokes.

I also listened to the audiobook throughout the whole process as part of my readalong experiment, and the narrator (土師 亜文) was quite good. She made several small tweaks to the dialogue to convey nuances in the text that would be lost with a straight read, and her delivery and characterization was great. It seems she’s the narrator for the whole series, so if I do decide to continue in the future it’ll be nice to have the consistency.

I’ll probably give the next volume a try at some point in the near future to see if the upwards trajectory continues. My ideal outcome is that book 4 (the last one covered by the anime) is good enough that I’ll be excited to keep going. We’ll see if that happens.

Book review: 青春ブタ野郎はロジカルウィッチの夢を見ない (Rascal does not dream of logical witch)

The 青春ブタ野郎 series really is my sweet spot, I feel. I was looking for something easy to try out a new experiment with, and I probably couldn’t have picked a better book.

As the anime covers the first four books in the series and this is only number three, this was still review to a certain extent. As usual though, there were some things the show skipped over, such as expanding on the reasons why Futaba (or anyone) might be compelled to post risque photos on social media. I find the social commentary in this series to be handled very well, and I always like the moments where Sakuta suddenly shifts out of his normal jokester persona when it’s obvious that the time has come for him to be serious and supportive. The other thing I was struck by is how the book makes it very obvious that Kunimi is aware of Futaba’s feelings for him. It seemed kind of ambiguous in the anime and I wonder why they made that choice. While it’s possible that they felt it was too difficult to convey in action as opposed to narration, the anime demonstrates on multiple occasions that it’s capable of portraying subtle character acting.

The aforementioned “experiment” that I tried with this book was to listen to an audiobook while reading along. My Japanese reading speed has been slowly improving lately (as evidenced by the fact that I’m ahead of pace to read one volume of manga per day), but I still have a ways to go if I want to even get close to my English reading speed. The plan here was to force myself to read more quickly by introducing a pace-making element (the narrator of the book) which I would have to stay on track with or risk getting left behind. This worked amazingly well and I’ll have to write a dedicated post about it once I’ve tried it on a few more books. The actress (藤野 彩水) did an excellent job and I was shocked and disappointed to see that she hasn’t done any other audiobook work.

Still very much enjoying this series and will be reading more (especially considering how much fun the readalong method is) in the near future.

Book review: 青春ブタ野郎はプチデビル後輩の夢を見ない (Rascal does not dream of Petite Devil Kouhai)

Finishing off the year on a high note. I really liked this one; just like with the previous volume, the book is only an improvement coming from the (excellent) anime. Granted, when I recently rewatched the series, I was watching without subtitles and my comprehension is still not perfect by any means, but there were some things which I’m pretty sure were simply not included (it seemed like any non-dialogue exposition stood a high chance of not making the cut).

Anyway, I was excited to read this one in particular because Tomoe is my favorite of the girls so far and I was excited to see her again. While the show does a good job of demonstrating her struggles and motivations, I do feel like it did a poor job of explaining why Sakuta would go along with her goofy pretend-boyfriend scheme, but just the simple explanation that she reminded him of the days when his sister was having trouble at school did the trick.

The rest of the book was nice. Sakuta doesn’t have the same chemistry with Tomoe as he does with Mai (okay, he really doesn’t have any chemistry with her and I get that that’s the whole point) but their dynamic is fun and I like the way he gently bullies her into esteeming herself the way she deserves. I also like that Sakuta involves Mai in the whole affair from the beginning as opposed to trying to pull it off without involving her. Another nice bonus in the book that I think they skipped in the anime: making it obvious that Yuuma is aware of Rio’s feelings for him, but pretends to not notice due to the fact that he already has a girlfriend. It makes his character a bit more interesting coming into the next arc.

I’m not sure when I’ll pick up the next book but I definitely will be continuing the series. I read this one pretty slowly so my memory of the whole thing is not super strong but I enjoyed myself all throughout it and I’m still looking forward to reading beyond the end of the adapted material.

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.

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.

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.