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review 2017-07-22 22:36
Interesting story but the writing's not so great
Bento Box in the Heartland: My Japanese Girlhood in Whitebread America - Linda Furiya

The title and premise had me intrigued. The author, a first generation Japanese American, writes a memoir looking what it was like to grow up in Indiana where there were no other Japanese families in the near vicinity. A story of food, of growing up in a place where no one else looks like you except your family and navigating growing up as an "American" child and teenager.

 

Her story is an interesting one, from how her parents met (they had an arranged marriage) to what it was like growing up in Indiana. However, the writing is terrible. Although I could feel for her at certain points, understood some of experiences, recognized much of what happened to her is an experience many immigrants/children of immigrants share, etc. I found it to be tough to get through. The writing can be disjointed and really needed a better editor. 

 

It's a pity because a lot of what she says will likely resonate with the children of immigrants. From having to translate/speak for the parents (because of the language barrier) to wanting to be more like the other kids when it comes to something like what you have in your lunch bag/box, etc. I'd bet a lot of first generation children would recognize a lot of Furiya's experiences, even if they don't share the same background.

 

I also liked the stories surrounding the food. Once again food is very much an interesting and important vehicle for immigrants/children of immigrants and it's interesting to see how this affects Furiya growing up. From what's in her lunchbox to trying out wasabi to how some foods eventually leave a bad memory due to a really creepy man (luckily it appears nothing happened) we see the role food plays for her and her family.

 

I think a lot of people who are looking to read about her story or would like to understand what it's like to be a part of the only Japanese family for miles around might enjoy this. She does include recipes, but no pictures. I recommend the library for this, although I didn't mind paying for a used copy. Wouldn't make a huge effort to hunt this one down though.

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review 2017-07-18 03:27
The Disappearance of Hatsune Miku (book) story by Muya Agami and cosMo@BousouP, art by Yuunagi
The Disappearance of Hatsune Miku - Yunagi,cosMo@BousouP,Muya Agami

You have no idea how excited I was to learn that 1) a Vocaloid light novel existed and 2) it was available in English. I ordered a copy for myself a few weeks after finding out about it.

A few years ago I was really into Vocaloid (singing synthesizer software). I wasn’t interested in using it myself, just in listening to other people’s songs and reading about the various Vocaloid and UTAUloid avatars. I gradually found a few Vocaloid/UTAUloid tuners I particularly liked (kyaami is my top favorite) and developed a few Vocaloid/UTAUloid preferences (Kaito was probably my first favorite Vocaloid, and Ritsu continues to be my favorite UTAUloid).

I went into this book with an okay background knowledge of Vocaloid in general and Hatsune Miku in particular. Also, I was familiar with the song the book was based on (here's one version on YouTube), enough to know that the book probably wouldn’t have a happy ending.

The Disappearance of Hatsune Miku stars Shinosato Asano, an ordinary university student who spends his days going to class and doing tedious work at a robotics lab and his nights working as a bartender at a nightclub. He’s shocked when the professor in charge of his research lab singles him out to do a field test of a very special new android named Hatsune Miku. The professor wants a student like Asano, who’s responsible, can keep a secret, and doesn’t know too much about artificial intelligence, to see how well Miku can pass for human out in the real world. He’s not supposed to tell anyone, not even his family members, what Miku really is, and he has to make sure Miku goes back to the professor for regular data collection and weekly maintenance.

Miku’s speech and behavior is a little odd and stilted at first, but it rapidly improves. Asano introduces her to everyone as his very intelligent cousin from England (in order to explain why a 16-year-old girl whose Japanese is still a bit rough is suddenly attending university classes), takes her on a tour of the university, and invites her out to lunch. Lunch becomes their regular activity together, and Asano gradually incorporates activities relating to music once he realizes that Miku particularly enjoys it. He starts to realize, to his dismay, that he might be falling for her. What will happen once the field test is over?

I really wanted to love this. I’m generally drawn to android-human romances, and I was already looking forward to the Vocaloid aspects. Miku has never been my top favorite Vocaloid, but she had a lot of cute moments in the book, and I really felt for her. The way the author used Vocaloid-related details in the story was absolutely wonderful. The realization that Asano’s over-the-top love of green onions was a reference to the way Miku is often depicted holding green onions was nice, but there was one revelation further on in the book that I thought was particularly clever and unexpected.

That said, the romance was utterly terrible. It wasn’t so much Asano’s blandness - as much as I disliked how boring he was, it wasn’t unexpected. I did find myself wishing that Asano had more ideas about what to do with Miku than constantly taking her out to eat. I mean, right from the start he was told that she couldn’t eat much, and yet almost all of their outings involved food. It didn’t have to be anything special or expensive - they could have gone for a walk in a park, or gone out grocery shopping, or watched a movie. Pretty much anything they might have done would have been a new experience for Miku and would have provided the professor with more data.

I had two main problems with the romance. First, the way Miku based so many of the things she liked on things that Asano liked. For example, I don’t think she was able to taste food, and yet she’d tell Asano that a particular food tasted good because he liked it and therefore it must taste good. Asano just accepted these statements and was happy about them, but they bothered me - it was one of the reasons why I liked Miku’s budding love of music, because it seemed more purely hers than anything else she’d said she liked.

Second, it gradually became clear that Asano wasn’t so much a nice guy as he was a “nice” guy. His reactions and feelings were more important than hers. Later on in the book, for example, there were strong indications that something was wrong with Miku, to the point that it affected her physically. Rather than noticing this and worrying about her, Asano instead focused on how he felt when he held her and her statement that she wanted the two of them to be together forever. When something drastic either happened to Miku or was done to her, all Asano could think about was how much it hurt him that Miku no longer behaved as warmly towards him as she used to. His first instinct was to abandon the field test rather than investigate what had happened to her and why.

It did eventually dawn on the idiot that he was being a selfish jerk, but it took much, much longer than it should have. I was left feeling like Miku would have been better off leaving Asano in her dust and going on to become a massively popular superstar. Considering what was done to her during the course of the story, maybe leaving all of humanity behind wouldn’t have been a bad idea.

Asano continued to be useless as the sci-fi suspense storyline became more prominent, and pretty much the only reason he was able to get anywhere was because his two friends, Aika and Juuhachi, weren’t as utterly useless as he was. The various sci-fi developments near the end of the book were pretty bonkers, and the big climactic scene was way too over-the-top and ended up feeling silly rather than dramatic or tragically romantic. Although the Vocaloid fan in me did love the bit with the mysterious file.

One last thing: although the writing/translation wasn't terrible, it wasn't great either. I noticed that the author tended to be a bit repetitive. A character would do or say something and then Asano would tell readers what that character had done or said, even though the text had just described it. Once I started noticing this, I realized it happened a lot.

If you’re a huge Vocaloid fan, this might be worth giving a shot. Like I said, the way Vocaloid details were incorporated was wonderful. Everyone else would probably be better off trying something like CLAMP's Chobits or maybe even William Gibson’s Idoru (not romance, and I don’t recall the AI having much of a speaking role, but Rei Toei is practically another incarnation of Hatsune Miku).

 

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

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review 2017-06-26 12:50
#Audiobook Review: Owl and the Japanese Circus
Owl and the Japanese Circus - Audible Studios,Kristi Charish,Christy Carlson Romano

Owl (former archeology student Alix), is a well-paid antiquities thief. A year ago, she stumbled into the hidden world of supernatural creatures, accidentally killing a vampire in the process. Now she’s on the run, and it looks like her only way out of the mess is to make a bargain with a powerful dragon. Trusting only her best friend, Nadya, and a man who could break her heart, Ryan, she sets off on a dangerous journey, one that most likely will leave her dead.

 

Follow review teammate, Una, raves about this unique and interesting urban fantasy series, so I decided to give it a try on audio. Overall, I enjoy the mythology and storyline behind The Adventures of Owl series. I appreciate that Owl is a flawed human and makes mistakes. She is intelligent, but not always smart, which makes her a more realistic heroine. 

 

However, the very things I like about Owl also caused problems for me. She can be reckless and juvenile at times. Her character is inconsistent: at times smart and others not as much. She doesn’t seem to learn from her missteps. For example, the fact that she doesn’t walk away and hide from an online “friend” makes NO SENSE. She’s super careful, private, and protective, yet keeps going back to him, even though he is stalking her. Also, knowing how concerned she is with privacy, how can she NOT have any security lock on her phone? Again, an inconsistency of character.

 

The narration by Christy Romano was a mixed bag for me. I enjoyed her narrator voice, which is fitting for the first person heroine. I started listening at 1.25x speed, but upped it to 1.5x after about five chapters. Ms. Romano does well with accents, however, at times they seems to drop. So when the dialogue is quick and clipped, both Nadya and Ryan’s voices sound very much the same. Also, Ryan loses his masculine sound at times, and it sounds like Owl is talking to herself. Overall, I like most voices, but the only voice I'm not fond of is the Red Dragon. It's described as perfect Western with no hints of Japanese. But it's too feminine. It doesn't suit a bad ass dragon.

 

Overall, I liked Owl and the Japanese Circus and the premise behind the series enough that I want to listen to the second book. I’m hoping Owl will begin to mature and develop into a more solid character, which seemed to be lacking in this first title.

 

My Rating: C+

Narration: B-

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review 2017-06-10 18:44
No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai, translated by Donald Keene
No Longer Human - Osamu Dazai,Donald Keene

I’ll start this off with some content warnings. This book includes several suicide attempts (one successful), a main (POV) character who becomes an alcoholic and a drug addict and who is probably depressed, and several mentions of rape and child molestation. Most of these things aren’t described in much detail, but they’re there.

Almost all of this book is written as though it was the notebook of a man named Oba Yozo (I’m pretty sure that’s the original name order, with family name first, although I could be wrong). Yozo writes about his life from his early childhood days to what I’m assuming is near the end of his life. The book ends and begins with a chapter written from the perspective of someone who did not personally know Yozo but read his notebooks and met someone who did know him.

When Yozo was a very young child, he became convinced that he did not qualify as human. The thought that someone else might realize he wasn’t human so terrified him that he began to behave like a clown. If others were laughing at his antics and jokes, then they weren’t looking at him too closely. Unfortunately for him, he occasionally met individuals who seemed able to see beneath his clownish mask. Beginning in his college years, he was also taken aback by how attractive women seemed to find him.

Yozo seemed incapable of empathizing with others and could only view their words and actions in terms of how they directly related to him. This was especially driven home by the last few pages of the book, written from the perspective of a man who didn’t know Yozo. For the first time since the book began, a POV character was writing about people who weren’t Yozo as though they had thoughts and feelings of their own, and about the wider world and what was going on in it. It was like a breath of fresh air and really emphasized how isolated Yozo had been, even though he spoke to and interacted with more people in his portion of the book than the man at the end.

The beginning of the book worked best for me. Yozo was essentially trapped by his fears, worried about how others perceived him and what they might have been able to see in him. Because he couldn’t understand the thoughts and behaviors of those around him, he doubted the correctness of his own opinions and feelings - after all, if everyone else was human and he was not, who was he to contradict what others said or did? This was especially tragic when it led to him not telling anyone that one of the servants (or several) had molested him. Or at least I think that’s what happened - the author/translator was very vague, saying that he had been “corrupted” and that “to perpetrate such a thing on a small child is the ugliest, vilest, cruelest crime a human being can commit” (35).

Things started to fall apart during Yozo’s college years. Yozo’s father wanted him to become a civil servant, while Yozo wanted to study art. This devolved into Yozo skipping classes, drinking, hiring prostitutes, hanging out with Marxists, and occasionally working on his art. My patience with Yozo pretty much ran out, and it didn’t help that the book developed a very clear misogynistic thread. An example of one of this section's more off-putting quotes: at one point, Yozo said “I never could think of prostitutes as human or even as women” (63). Women, in particular, seemed drawn to his self-destructive orbit, and the result was misery for everyone involved.

Yozo continued his habit of believing others’ assessment of him. Sometimes this had a positive effect on Yozo, such as his brief period of contentment with his wife, a girl (really a girl - she was only 17 when he married her) who genuinely believed that he was a good person and that he would never lie to her. However, since Yozo seemed to gravitate towards people who looked down on him, his habit of accepting and believing whatever people said about him usually drew him further into his downward spiral. I’d say it was depressing, except Yozo was generally so detached from everything that the word seems too strong to be appropriate.

There’s a manga adaptation of this that I might read, just to get a different interpretation of the story. That said, I suspect the manga won’t work for me much more than this did. No Longer Human was well-written, but not my sort of book at all.

 

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

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review 2017-06-06 19:29
A groundbreaking history of the Imperial Japanese Navy
Kaigun: Strategy, Tactics, and Technology in the Imperial Japanese Navy, 1887-1941 - David C. Evans,Mark R. Peattie

When it comes to history books, there are good ones and there are great ones. And then there are a few that are truly groundbreaking in their ability to take a subject that has been studied before and address it with such insight that it changes fundamentally the way we think about it. This is one of those books. For in describing the development of the Imperial Japanese Navy from the late 19th century to the attack on Pearl Harbor David Evans and Mark Peattie offers readers a revolutionary look at the thinking and planning that defined the shape of the Pacific War (as the war against the United States and the European imperial powers is called in Japan) before its first shot was ever fired.

 

Perhaps one of the most surprising things about the Imperial Japanese Navy is how relatively late it was established, for in spite of being an island nation Japan had no naval arm. This changed after the Meiji Restoration, as Japan began to look outward for the first time in centuries. Quickly appreciating the importance of naval arms to national power, the Japanese created a naval force tasked with protecting its shores. Turning to the British the Japanese not only brought over advisers from there to train their officers  but purchased many of its first vessels from its shipbuilders -- a necessary step given the undeveloped state of Japanese industry at that time.

 

By the 1890s the Japanese possessed a small but respectable force, yet the navy still was junior to the army in both status and planning. This changed with Japan's wars of expansion, first with China in 1894-5, then with Russia ten years later. It was then that the Imperial Japanese Navy shifted from a coastal-defense role to one designed to project Japanese power in accordance with the dominant Western strategic thinking of that time. Japan's navy impressed observers with their performance in these two wars, especially with their defeat of the Russians. Here Evans and Peattie stress the importance of the battle of Tsushima both in establishing the navy's reputation and in defining its subsequent thinking. The clash was decisive in ending Russia's hopes for victory in the Russo-Japanese War, and -- even more significantly -- cemented the idea of the kantai kessen, or decisive battle, in Japanese naval thinking, which would define both the development of the IJN for the remainder of its existence and its conduct of the war against the United States forty years later.

 

This path was set virtually from the start. For the first decades of its existence Japanese naval strategists regarded regional powers -- first China, then Russia -- as their most likely opponents. Having defeated both countries, and with an alliance with Great Britain securely in place the United States now became the most likely opponent in a future war. Japan's response to international trends, from the arms races of the 1910s to the arms control treaties of the 1920s were shaped by this, as were ideas about warship design. This did not necessarily have to lead to war, but as Japan contemplated further expansion of its empire it always did so with an eye towards a possible challenge from the Americans, and prepared accordingly.

 

The result was a fleet designed to defeat the United States Navy in accordance with kantai kessen. Accepting that the United States would possess an unavoidable numerical advantage, the Japanese emphasized quality in naval design and the development of weapons such as the "Long Lance" torpedo and tactics such as night-time fighting that would offset the Americans' superior numbers. These were tested in maneuvers that sometimes cost lives, but resulted in a force which was ready to implement doctrine in practice when war came. The opportunity arose first in China in 1937; here Evans and Peattie stress the often underappreciated advantage four years of combat experience gave the IJN at the start of their conflict with the United States -- experience which the United States would offset only after months of bloody lessons in the South Pacific in 1942 and 1943.

 

Evans and Peattie conclude their book with a short chapter summarizing the impact of this development on Japan's conduct of the Pacific War. Yet the relative brevity of this section understates the value of this book for readers interested in the Japanese Navy's performance in the Second World War. This is by far the single best book in English on the history of the Imperial Japanese Navy, one that is likely to remain the definitive text on the subject and necessary reading for anyone who wants to learn about Japanese military history or the development of naval combat in the Pacific during the war.

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