Wrong email address or username
Wrong email address or username
Incorrect verification code
back to top
Search tags: japanese-novel-in-translation
Load new posts () and activity
Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2018-03-18 17:47
Fullmetal Alchemist: The Land of Sand (book, vol. 1) by Makoto Inoue, original concept by Hiromu Arakawa, translated by Alexander O. Smith with Rich Amtower
Fullmetal Alchemist: The Land of Sand - Makoto Inoue,Alexander O. Smith,Hiromu Arakawa

This volume is composed of two stories. The primary one is "The Land of Sand." The shorter bonus story is "The Phantom of Warehouse 13." Both of these stories were adapted into episodes in the original anime series.

"The Land of Sand":

Edward and Alphonse arrive at the dying former gold mining town of Xenotime and are shocked to learn that two boys who say their names are Edward and Alphonse Elric have been living in Xenotime for a while, researching how to make a Philosopher's Stone in order to revitalize the town. Who are these imposters, and how close are they to finishing their research?

This wasn't bad, like bland but reasonably well-written fanfic. It's been a while since I watched the anime adaptation of this, but I remembered liking that more than this story. Ed and Al seemed to be pretty accurately depicted (although I've never thought of Al as being "bronze-hued" (14)), but the text did have occasional clunky moments. There were times when I could tell that the humor would probably work on-screen but was a bit awkward and weird on-page, like the time Ed and Russell transitioned from a physical battle to a verbal one.

One thing I really liked about this story was the "little brother" aspect. Both Al and Fletcher were the level-headed younger brothers, but whereas Al could talk to his brother and expect to be listened to, Fletcher was afraid to tell his brother what he was really thinking. I loved the scenes where Al and Fletcher bonded, and watching Fletcher slowly become more confident was nice.

I didn't see anything that contradicted anything I recalled from the manga (although it's been ages since I last read any of that). I agree with those who wondered why Ed didn't just pull out his State Alchemist pocket watch to prove his identity, though. I suppose you could argue that the Xenotime townsfolk were so convinced that their Edward and Alphonse were real that even that wouldn't have swayed them, but it was still a bit odd that he didn't even give it a shot.

"The Phantom of Warehouse 13":

Colonel Roy Mustang gets roped into helping his men investigate reports of nighttime ghostly activity near Warehouse 13. Several people said they heard sounds of digging and weeping. Since Warehouse 13 doesn't exist, Roy is pretty sure everything's happening near Warehouse B. He's determined to get to the bottom of it all before Eastern Command becomes both a laughing stock and a tourist attraction.

This story was goofy and ridiculous, and I enjoyed it anyway. It made no effort to even pretend that it might advance anything in the overall Fullmetal Alchemist storyline. Roy Mustang, Fuery, Havoc, Falman, and Breda were like a group of little boys taking part in a sleepover and scaring each other silly with ghost stories.

I couldn't tell whether the ending was predictable or whether I just remembered too much of the anime episode. Either way, this was a fun bit of fluff.

All in all, this volume was a quick and relatively decent read.


  • One full-page color illustration and several black-and-white illustrations created by Hiromu Arakawa.
  • A couple pages of sketches - Fletcher and Russell, plus Ed imagining how tall and suave he'll be at age 19. Also, a 4-panel comic about the planning stages for the book that's a bit horrifying if you know what happens to Maes Hughes in the series. Poor Makoto Inoue.
  • A 3-page afterword written by Makoto Inoue.


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

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2018-03-11 20:01
Dragon Sword and Wind Child by Noriko Ogiwara, translated by Cathy Hirano, illustrations by Miho Satake
Dragon Sword and Wind Child - Miho Satake,Noriko Ogiwara,Cathy Hirano

Fifteen-year-old Saya is the only survivor of an attack by the army of the God of Light on her village when she was a child. Although she occasionally dreams about the attack, she now lives with her adoptive parents in the village of Hashiba, which has accepted the God of Light and his immortal children, Princess Teruhi and Prince Tsukishiro. Saya has no memories of her birth parents and loves the Light just as much as any other person in Hashiba, so it's a shock when several strangers arrive and tell her that she's a princess of the Children of the Dark. Unlike the immortal Children of the God of Light, the Children of the Goddess of Darkness can die and then be reincarnated, and Saya is the reincarnation of the Water Maiden. Before she has a chance to truly process this, Prince Tsukishiro arrives and takes a sudden interest in her.

Saya is faced with several choices: she can become one of the prince's handmaidens and eventually his bride, knowing that he doesn't really love her; she can kill herself like the Water Maidens before her; or she can somehow find a way to escape. She chooses the third option and discovers both the Dragon Sword, a weapon so powerful it can kill gods, and Chihaya, a Child of the God of Light who is seen as a failure by his siblings because he has always been drawn to the Darkness.

I honestly didn't know where Ogiwara was going to go with this book, most of the time. Saya figured out that her love for Prince Tsukishiro was foolish surprisingly quickly, although it took a bit longer for her heart to catch up. Chihaya was...unexpected. I had caught the mention of a third Child of the God of Light, but I hadn't thought that Saya would be meeting him so soon and taking him along with her.

The immortals, Chihaya in particular, came across as somewhat alien. Chihaya had the ability to switch bodies with various animals and didn't seem to be aware, or maybe didn't care, that the animals wouldn't necessarily be okay if they got injured while he was using them. He could experience pain and certainly disliked it, but any injuries would usually disappear in a day or less. He cared about his horse and Saya, in that order, and I'm not sure he truly realized, during a good chunk of the book, that Saya could die.

The book's pacing was a bit slow for my tastes, but I liked reading about Saya's efforts to understand Chihaya. She had to struggle to convince the Children of the Goddess of Darkness to keep him free as he kept doing things that indicated he was more dangerous to have around than they'd initially thought. Watching how Chihaya changed as the story progressed was fascinating.

I wish, though, that Saya hadn't come across as more a supporting character than a main character. I went into the book expecting her to be more active. There were moments when she had choices to make and things to do, but mostly she existed to support Chihaya while he gradually came into his powers and got a better look at the Darkness he'd been drawn towards all his life. Saya supposedly had the power to pacify gods but never got to the point of being able to use them, unless her ability to connect with Chihaya counted.

I kind of wish this had been a friendship-only book, since I felt Chihaya and Saya worked best as friends, but I suppose their eventual romance fit with the "God of Light and Goddess of Darkness" theme. The way I felt about the two of them reminded me a little of how I felt about the sudden romance in Philip Pullman's The Amber Spyglass. It felt forced.

All in all, despite its problems this was pretty good. I look forward to the next book, although I wonder how it'll be related to this one. I don't recognize the character names in the description and, honestly, the way Dragon Sword and Wind Child ended makes it work just fine as a standalone.


The book includes two full-page, full-color illustrations. One is a larger version of the cover illustration.


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

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2018-03-04 00:27
The Master Key by Masako Togawa, translated by Simon Grove
The Master Key - Masako Togawa

This is set in Tokyo, at the K Apartments for Ladies. I didn't write down enough of the mentions of exact years to be 100% sure, but the book's "present" is probably the late 1950s.

The K Apartments for Ladies were originally meant to help "Japanese women emancipate themselves" (17). All of the women who live there are unmarried. Men are only allowed into the building if they check in first, after which they're escorted to whichever apartment they plan to visit. All the rents are frozen at wartime levels, so it's a cheap place to live. In the book's present, the entire building is about to be moved four meters in order to make room for a road-widening project. This can supposedly be done without disturbing any of the building's residents, who have all opted to stay inside until the project is finished.

Togawa gives readers glimpses into the particular stories and secrets of several of the building residents. In every instance, the weight of their secrets either begins to overwhelm them as the date of the move nears, or there's a strong possibility that the move will force their secrets into the light. Some of the residents mentioned include: Chikako Ueda, who once worked with a male accomplice to bury a dead child in an unused communal bathroom in the building's basement; Toyoko Munekata, who is supposedly hard at work correcting her late husband's manuscripts; Noriko Ishiyama, who has taken to living like a mouse, existing off of others' scraps; Suwa Yatabe, a violin instructor; and Yoneko Kimura, a retired teacher who spends her days writing letters to every single one of her former students.

I heard about this via a list on Goodreads. Although it's been tagged as a mystery, it's not really a traditional mystery, and readers who approach it as one are likely to be disappointed. There are certainly plenty of crimes mentioned - kidnapping, murder, arson, theft - but it's only in the last half of the book or so that anything like sleuthing happens, as Yoneko investigates one of her fellow residents on behalf of a former student.

Even then (I'm trying to avoid spoilers), there is the issue of appearances and reality. Some readers may love the twists at the end, while others may feel like the author cheated. I fall somewhere in between. I admired the way Togawa set things up so that readers would expect that they were dealing with one set of rules when they were actually dealing with a completely different set. She managed this without, as far as I could tell, ever really lying to readers, although I suppose that could depend upon your definition of "lie."

That said, the revelation concerning one particular character really bugged me. It required the character to be completely and utterly bound up in the building, the residents, and all their stories, to the point that that was their personal story. My suspension of disbelief was severely strained. I also had trouble believing that this person could do everything they would have had to have done without anyone ever being the wiser.

I thought that Togawa was going to end the book with a few "realistically" loose threads, and I was fully prepared to be mad at her for that. Instead, she included a short epilogue that answered that last question and left me feeling absolutely furious at one of the characters, the only one who'd escaped the story completely unscathed. I'm actually angrier at that character than I am at the one who literally murdered another character.

I'm not really sure how I feel about this book. The structure was a bit strange, the timeline and characters weren't always easy to keep track of, I disliked a lot of the revelations in the chapter just before the epilogue, and there were parts that were ridiculous enough to make me wonder whether this could be considered a black comedy. Still, it was fascinating seeing characters' stories get tangled up together. I'd probably be willing to try another one of the author's works.

Additional Comments:

This translation seemed decent enough, although potentially a bit over-localized. I wonder, was the spirit medium really named "Thumbelina" in the original, or was that just the closest approximation the translator could come up with? Thumbelina was repeatedly described as being dressed in "a white robe with loose red trousers" (15) or something similar. I figured that she probably looked very much like a miko, not that there were translator's notes mentioning this (and the word miko was never used - the translator's choice, I'm guessing, because I doubt the original Japanese text would have gone out of its way to avoid using the word).

Names were almost always in Western order, given name first and then family name. I noticed one or two instances of the translator messing up and using the Japanese order, which unfortunately contributed a bit to my difficulty with keeping track of all the characters' names.


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

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
text 2017-10-09 18:33
Haruki Murakami, everywhere

One thing I've noticed after looking at a lot of blurbs, descriptions, and reviews of Japanese novels in translation is that so many of them include some mention of Haruki Murakami. The basic formula looks like this: [New-to-reviewer Japanese author] is a blend of Haruki Murakami and [first big-name author the reviewer can think of whose primary genre is the same as the Japanese book being reviewed].


I've never read any of Murakami's books or stories, so for all I know some of those other Japanese authors' works do have something in common with his works...but probably not all of them. The most amusing blurb I've come across so far was the one that said Koji Suzuki's Ring was a blend of Haruki Murakami and Stephen King. It's been a while since I've read any of King's works, but Ring didn't remind me of them in terms of content or style, so I doubt the comparison to Murakami was any better. It was basically just "this author is like the first Japanese author I can think of and the first horror author I can think of."

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
text 2017-10-09 16:01
Future Japanese mystery reads
The Moai Island Puzzle - Ho-Ling Wong,Alice Arisugawa
The Devil's Disciple - Shiro Hamao,J. Keith Vincent,Hamao Shiro
The Ginza Ghost: and other stories - Ho-Ling Wong,Keikichi Ōsaka
The Tattoo Murder Case (Soho crime) - Akimitsu Takagi
All She Was Worth - Miyuki Miyabe
The Devotion of Suspect X: A Detective Galileo Novel - Keigo Higashino,Alexander O. Smith

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders makes me want more Japanese mysteries. Sadly, that appears to be the only book by Shimada translated into English, and I've already read everything available in English by Yukito Ayatsuji, the first similar author that comes to mind.


It looks like The Moai Island Puzzle and The Ginza Ghost are my best bets for mysteries similar in style to Shimada's book. The others in my list also seem like good possibilities, although not necessarily similar to The Tokyo Zodiac Murders in style.

More posts
Your Dashboard view:
Need help?