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review 2019-09-29 06:38
Ao Oni: Vengeance by Kenji Kuroda, illustrated by Karin Suzuragi, translated by Alexander Keller-Nelson
Ao Oni: Vengeance - Kenji Kuroda,Karin Suzuragi,Alexander Keller-Nelson

This review assumes you've read the first book, Ao Oni. If you haven't, be aware that I include major spoilers for that book.

Ao Oni: Vengeance takes place only a week after the events of the first book. Shun is the only one who remembers what happened. He has completely stopped going to school, instead choosing to focus on the next version of his game while keeping an eye out for any signs that someone else has been snared by the Jailhouse. He asks Hiroshi to make sure no one else enters the house, but it's already too late: two of their classmates have gone inside and met horrible fates. Takuro, with Takeshi and Mika in tow, goes as well. Hiroshi finds the building's European architecture too interesting to resist (yes, really) and ends up trapped inside the building with all the others.

As in the various versions of the game, the overall setup feels familiar, but there are enough differences to keep it from feeling like a rehash of the first book. Shun and Anna are safe at Shun's home, desperately trying to help the group trapped in the Jailhouse using the knowledge Shun gained from his time there. Meanwhile, the situation in the Jailhouse initially plays out similar to the way it did in the first book, but quickly goes a different route.

Parts of this book were almost more gory than I could take. The very beginning was particularly awful, and I wasn't sure my stomach was going to be up to the task if the whole book turned out to be like that. It seemed like the Oni was more inclined to savor its kills this time around, although thankfully the gory bits weren't all as lovingly detailed as the book's first scene.

It may sound like I hated this, but I actually thought it was better than the first book, even if I wasn't fond of the increase in the level of gore. I had worried that this book would basically be the first book with slightly different deaths. Up to a certain point, I suppose it was: Takeshi was still a scared kid hiding in a closet, Mika was still too desperate to be loved and needed to see Takuro for who he really was, and Takuro still sucked. The overall level of tension was better than in the first book, however, and the parts of the house and story that no longer matched up with the first book's Jailhouse had me on the edge of my seat, wondering whether any of the characters would manage to make it out this time around.

I found that I liked Hiroshi a little more this time around. The bits from his POV helped, as did the fact that, this time around, he didn't spend a good chunk of the story staring at a fellow classmate's severed head like it was no big deal. I wasn't as thrilled about Kuroda's attempts to humanize Takuro, however. I don't care what Takuro's father was like, or what Takuro told himself about how he needed to approach life, or how he felt after he realized he'd betrayed maybe the only person in the world who actually cared about him. The fact of the matter was that he bullied a classmate to the point where the kid committed suicide and then, instead of feeling any sort of guilt or horror, proceeded to bully another classmate the same way. Takuro's sudden change of heart and ability to empathize with his victims was unconvincing.

The

"time travel + reality manipulation + ghostly vengeance"

(spoiler show)

explanation for the series' events was weird and messy, and I still don't understand why Shun, who knew his game was connected to the horrors at the Jailhouse and possibly even causing it all, created an updated version of his game. Hiroshi would have had a much easier time if Shun hadn't gone and changed things around. Even so, I enjoyed this entry in the series and plan on reading the next book. From the sounds of things, Takeshi might be its focus. Here's hoping at least one of the remaining books features Mika successfully cutting herself free from the emotional hold that Takuro has over her.

Extras:

An afterword written by the author, a character guide, textless color illustrations, one scene from the book included at the very beginning in manga form, and several illustrations throughout.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2019-09-13 06:33
Ao Oni by Kenji Kuroda, illustrated by Karin Suzuragi, translated by Alexander Keller-Nelson
Ao Oni - Kenji Kuroda,Karin Suzuragi,Alexander Keller-Nelson

Content warning for the book: suicidal ideation, gory descriptions of severed body parts, on-page bullying.

Shun, Hiroshi, Takuro, Mika, Anna, and Takeshi are all students at the same middle school. Takuro is one of the most popular kids at school. He's also a bully who may have been involved in a past student death and who is currently tormenting Shun. The few bright spots in Shun's life are the computer game he's creating in his spare time, his friend Hiroshi, who's smart and doesn't seem to care what anyone thinks of him, and Anna, the class president and one of the few people who's friendly towards him and encourages him. Mika and Takeshi are Takuro's friends (or, more accurately, his lackeys), although they're not usually involved in the worst of the bullying. Takeshi is a coward, and Mika secretly wishes her emotionally distant parents would spend more time with her.

One evening, Takuro, Takeshi, and Mika cart some boxes over to an old mansion that Takuro's father supposedly bought. The mansion, now nicknamed the Jailhouse, was supposedly last inhabited 20 years ago by a young couple and their daughter, who used a wheelchair. Shun, Hiroshi, and Anna all end up going inside with Takuro, Takeshi, and Mika, and the six kids suddenly find themselves trapped in what appears to be a haunted house. If they can't figure out how to escape, they may all end up as food for the giant blue monster that roams the halls.

I haven't played any of the Ao Oni game versions, although I did watch parts of a few "let's play" videos. I didn't really expect all that much from this, but it actually wasn't bad. I'm curious as to the intended audience, though - it read like a Middle Grade book, and yet included gory scenes that would have been a better fit for older readers.

As seems to be the case with pretty much every J-Novel Club title I've tried so far, the writing was occasionally awkward and clunky. One example:

"Shun noticed that the bags under her eyes - something he ordinarily found charming about her - were darker than normal." (34)

This sentence is structured in a way that makes it seem like Shun found the bags under Anna's eyes to be charming, when in fact it was probably her eyes that he found charming.

The overall story might have been scarier had the writing been better, but there were still parts that I thought worked extremely well and were genuinely creepy. My top two favorite moments were the "this is why you can't hide in a closet forever" scene, which featured a really effective use of illustrations, and one of the last deaths, when the few survivors tried to figure out whether the person was still alive (even though they almost certainly were not, and it was foolish to check).

Takuro was 100% horrible - of all the characters, he was the one I was most hoping would end up dying. Takeshi didn't really make much of an impression on me, Hiroshi struck me as being fairly creepy (although it turned out that there was more going on than I realized), and Anna was annoyingly underutilized. I cared most about Shun, who'd been ground down by Takuro to a depressing degree, and Mika. Yes, Mika had opted to side with a sadistic bully, but she'd done so because she'd convinced herself that he could provide her with the love her family didn't give her. I felt bad for her, even though her willingness to forgive Takuro just about anything made me grit my teeth a few times.

The ending was...weird. Most of the book was slight creepiness, gore, and occasional appearances from a ridiculous "blueberry-colored" monster. Then it all took a sudden "very special message" turn at the end, morphing into a suicide prevention story. This would have been fine, although heavy-handed, but the steps the story took to get there felt like a cop-out. I had been wondering how the series was going to continue, despite everything that had happened, and I wasn't pleased with the answer.

Still, I liked this well enough to want to continue on. I also tried to hunt down some "let's play" videos of Ao Oni version 3.0, the one this book was based on. Unfortunately, I have yet to find one done by someone whose voice/sense of humor I'm able to stand.

Extras:

  • Prior to the start of the book, there are a few manga pages depicting a later scene.
  • Several black-and-white illustrations.
  • An afterword written by the author.
  • A brief note written by the illustrator.
  • Two pages of the illustrator's initial character designs.
  • A couple color illustrations.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2018-11-03 15:24
My Neighbor Totoro (book) art and story by Hayao Miyazaki, text by Tsugiko Kubo, translated by Jim Hubbert
My Neighbor Totoro: A Novel - Tsugiko Kubo,Hayao Miyazaki

Mei, Satsuki, and their father, Tatsuo, move into a crumbling old house in the country in order to be closer to the sanatorium where their mother, Yasuko, is recovering from tuberculosis. The girls adapt to their new rural life pretty quickly, although four-year-old Mei doesn't respond well to being left with their neighbor while Tatsuo is at work and Satsuki is at school.

Both girls realize there's something a little strange about their house when they first arrive. They briefly spot little beings called soot sprites, and Kanta, the boy who lives near them, tells them that their house is haunted. Then Mei starts talking about having met a being she calls Totoro and who Tatsuo believes is a forest spirit. Satsuki longs to see Totoro too.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I read this. Would it be a stiff and soulless adaptation of the movie, or would it be able to hold its own in the face of the movie's sweetness? I'm happy to say that it fell into the latter category. Although I still prefer the movie, the book was a breeze to read, added things to the overall story that the movie couldn't, and had much of the same charm as the original movie.

(I should briefly explain that I'm most familiar with the English dub of the movie. I'm not sure if I've even watched it in Japanese with English subtitles yet. Some of the information "missing" from the movie could possibly have been translation decisions when creating the dub, editing the script to better match mouth flaps. I won't know until I watch the movie with subtitles, and even then translator decisions are in play.)

The book was more direct about explaining exactly why Tatsuo, Satsuki, and Mei moved out into the country, explicitly naming Yasuko's illness. There were more mentions about what Satsuki and Mei's life used to be like, back in the city, and even one portion of the book where they briefly went back to the city. Yasuko was slightly more in the foreground - the book included letters she wrote to her children while at the sanatorium. I got a stronger picture of her personality here than I did in the movie. She seemed like a dreamer.

In general, I'd say that the bones of this book were about the same as the movie. A few scenes were added, and there were more details about the history of the house the family moved into, and Satsuki's efforts to learn how to cook different foods over an actual fire without burning them. I really enjoyed these additions.

One thing that disappointed me a little, however, was that the fantasy aspects were scaled back. In the movie, viewers' first exposure to Totoro happened when Mei chased after a little Totoro and ended up finding Totoro's napping spot. All of this happened on-screen. These same things happened in this book as well, but for some reason the author chose to focus on Satsuki instead of Mei. Mei told Satsuki and her father what she'd experienced, but there was no evidence that any of it was real, rather than the dreams or imaginings of a child. The first on-page appearance of Totoro didn't happen until the bus scene. The ending was also altered slightly - the scene where Mei and Satsuki watched their mother and father from a tree didn't happen. I was at least glad that all the Catbus scenes were included.

The focus of this book seemed to be slightly more on the relationship between the two sisters and their barely-spoken-of fear that their mother might die and never come home, as well as the girls' growing independence as they adapted to rural life. It was lovely, but, as I said, I did miss some of the Totoro stuff. All in all, this was an excellent novelization that I'd definitely recommend to fans of the movie.

Extras:

Several illustrations (black and white sketches with maybe a watercolor wash?), including a color map of Matsugo, the place where the Kusakabe family moved. The map also gives the exact year this story took place, 1955, so I suppose this could be considered historical fiction.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2018-01-07 22:26
Sea of Wind finished! First book of 2018
The Twelve Kingdoms: Sea of Wind - Fuyumi Ono,小野 不由美,Akihiro Yamada,山田 章博,Elye J. Alexander,Alexander O. Smith

I'm not going to write a full review for this, since I've already done that a couple times and don't have much new to say. Instead, here's this quick thing:

 

Just finished my most recent reread of this book. It's both one of my top favorite books in this series and one of my favorite books period. I consider it a comfort read, even though the "comfort" is a little muffled by the knowledge that the book's happy ending turns sour really quickly in the series' timeline. During this reread, I realized that I really connect with Taiki's feelings of self-doubt. I also found myself more angry at Gyoso than I was during past readings of this book.

Not long after admitting to the oracles that he was worried about Taiki's future since Taiki was so riddled with self-doubt and couldn't consciously access his tremendous power, he decided he'd give up his sagehood, leave Tai, and become a mercenary. He was too ashamed of the fact that he hadn't been declared the new king to stick around, even though he'd have been a great help to Taiki and his future king.

(spoiler show)

  Taiki had some serious weaknesses, but I'd argue that Gyoso did too, even though they weren't as obvious.

 

What my reading dates look like for this book so far:

 

 

Lol. I haven't checked, but I suspect that 2015 might have been the year I reread my hardcover copy rather than this one, my paperback copy, so it's pretty much been a reread a year for a while. (As usual with these Tokyopop editions, I highly recommend reading the paperback versions if you can, because there are fewer errors. If I remember right, this is the book where they accidentally used the wrong pronouns for one of the kirin.)

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review 2017-04-15 04:49
Finished!
The Twelve Kingdoms: Sea of Wind - Fuyumi Ono,小野 不由美,Akihiro Yamada,山田 章博,Elye J. Alexander,Alexander O. Smith

The Twelve Kingdoms series is kind of an odd one for me - I consider it a beloved series even though most of my ratings for the individual books are 3 to 3.5 stars. I think it's the world and general setup that I like the most.

 

That said, I genuinely love Sea of Wind. I was a little worried that the events of The Shore in Twilight, the Sky at Daybreak had ruined this book for me as a comfort read, but it still works, for the most part. There's just an extra helping of bittersweetness to it now.

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