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review 2017-05-18 08:33
Baccano!, Vol. 1: The Rolling Bootlegs (book) by Ryohgo Narita, illustrated by Katsumi Enami, translated by Taylor Engel
Baccano!, Vol. 1: The Rolling Bootlegs - Ryohgo Narita

In the year 2002, a Japanese man has won a trip to New York, and he’s having a terrible time. A bunch of teens mugged him and took his most prized possession, his camera. If he wants to get it back, he’ll have to talk to a member of the Camorra (an Italian crime syndicate). Luckily, the man he speaks to is in a good and talkative mood, and boy does he have a story to tell. It starts in 1711, when an alchemist and his comrades summoned a demon who gifted the alchemist with the knowledge of how to make the elixir of immortality, and continues to New York in 1930.

In 1930, a young man named Firo has just been promoted to executive in the Martillo Family, a Camorra group. At that very same time, two cheerful and energetic thieves named Isaac and Miria have just arrived in the city, determined to right their past wrongs by doing only good deeds. Of course, they have a rather odd notion of what constitutes a “good deed.” And at the same time as all of that, an immortal old man named Szilard is being driven to a meeting by Ennis, his artificially created human servant. Szilard has spent the centuries since he became immortal trying to determine the recipe for the elixir of immortality, and it looks like he might have finally achieved his goal. Unfortunately, a fire makes things more complicated, and the two surviving bottles of the perfected elixir go missing.

Ennis has to track the bottles down or risk getting killed by Szilard. Of course, they just happen to look like regular wine, it’s the Prohibition era, and there are two different Camorra groups, a couple idiot thieves, some thugs, and several FBI agents in the area, so her job isn’t going to be easy.


My first exposure to this series was via the anime, which was confusing, violent, high-energy, and lots of fun. One of the reasons it was so confusing was because it didn’t entirely follow a linear timeline. Viewers would be shown events from 1930, 1931, 1932, and 1711, all mixed together. I have since learned that this is because the anime adapted events from the first three novels. Although this first volume in the series jumped around between the various prominent characters and their storylines, it at least stayed rooted in 1930 (with a few brief glimpses of 2002 and 1711).

Although the more linear storytelling was nice, I’d still advise most English-language Baccano! newbies to start with the anime. The only reason I might tell someone to start with the books instead is if 1) they absolutely needed more linear storytelling and/or 2) they couldn’t stand Baccano’s on-screen gore and violence. While this novel was a lot of fun and contained several bits of information that fans of the anime will love, the writing/translation was...not very good.

The book was very heavy on dialogue, which was probably a good thing, since the issues with the writing/translation were most noticeable in the narrative parts. The phrasing often seemed stilted, and there were times when I wondered how accurate the translation was, because certain statements contradicted each other. For example:

“They couldn’t die from injuries or illness. As long as they didn’t age, they could rely on regenerating even if they fell into boiling lava.

However… The exception was that they could be killed with ease.” (50)

I think that this is referring to the way the immortals could “eat” each other - the only way an immortal (the true immortals, anyway) could die was by being absorbed by another immortal. However, the phrasing is strange. Another contradiction:

“Why? Why did this have to happen now? Why a conflagration now of all times?!

There was nothing here that was flammable!

The liquor… I must haul out the liquor…” (57)

Umm… Liquor is actually quite flammable. And then there was just plain awkward writing, like this:

“In the instant he stood, frozen, the muzzle of a gun appeared from behind the falling Seina’s.” (163)

Seina’s what? I’m pretty sure it’s referring to Seina’s falling body, but the sentence structure made it seem like it was referring to something like “the falling Seina’s gun.”

In addition to awkward writing, the book committed the crime of being a historical novel with, at best, vague and handwavy descriptions. One of the things I had been hoping the Baccano! novels would include was interesting period details. There were a few, here and there, but not nearly as many as I had expected. Instead, more of the focus was on the action and dialogue. On the plus side, that probably contributed to this being a very quick read.

As awkward as the writing/translation was, it somehow never leached the fun out of the overall story. I still enjoyed this combination of Prohibition era setting, goofballs and deadly criminals, and immortality-granting wine. I could remember the end result of the two missing bottles of wine, but I couldn’t remember how they got to where they needed to be, so it was fun trying to keep track of them. Also, it was surprisingly nice to see these characters again. I haven’t seen Baccano! in a few years, and this book made me think that a rewatch might be a good idea.

If I had to pick favorite characters from the anime, I’d probably go with Isaac, Miria, and Claire/Vino. I still found Isaac and Miria to be delightful in this book, but one thing that surprised me was how much I liked and felt sympathy for Ennis. I couldn’t recall her making much of an impression on me when I saw the anime. I think the book might have included details about her history that weren’t included in the anime, but it’s been so long I can’t be sure.

Eh, I should probably wrap this up. Overall, I enjoyed this a lot more than I expected I would, although I’d hesitate to recommend it to Baccano! newbies - try the anime first. If you’ve seen and enjoyed the anime, it’s definitely worth giving this book a shot, if only for the extra character information.

Extras:

There's a 3-page afterword written by the author. Also, these aren't exactly extras, but the book includes several black-and-white illustrations and 8 pages of color illustrations (or 6, depending on how you're counting). Unfortunately, the color illustrations have text on them that needs to be read, and it's a bit hard on the eyes.

The illustrations were nice enough - often a better way to get an idea of what a particular character was supposed to look like than any of the descriptions in the text, if there were any. However, I did note one possible historical inaccuracy. One of the illustrations showed a 1930 New York cop. I googled their uniforms, and I think Enami might have gone with a more modern uniform design than was appropriate.

 

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

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review 2016-06-26 02:05
Horimiya (manga, vol. 3) by HERO and Daisuke Hagiwara, translated by Taylor Engel
Horimiya, Vol. 3 - Hero

Things are a little awkward between Miyamura and Hori, as they both try to process that they told each other “I like you” at the end of the previous volume. Because they're enormously frustrating characters, they manage to convince themselves that the other person didn't really mean it, so the awkwardness doesn't last long. Then Miyamura buys something for Hori while purchasing a magazine with an article about his family's bakery in it, and Hori decides to pay him back. After that, the whole gang gets together with the student council (free AC!), and there is embarrassment and relationship angst galore. This only increases when Miyamura reconnects with his best friend from middle school, who thinks Hori is Miyamura's girlfriend.

This volume was lots of fun: wonderfully sweet moments between Hori and Miyamura (#1: the hug!), lots of things that made me laugh, several intriguing new characters, and a possible future romance between Ishikawa and another character.

As much as I love Hori and Miyamura, their romance is incredibly frustrating. The fact that they like each other could not be more obvious. They've told each other as much at least one or two times, and they get along so well. I want them to finally believe in their feelings for each other...and, at the same time, I'm a little nervous about what will happen when they finally do. At this point in the series, they're still comfortable with each other. When they're not at school, they're often at Hori's home, acting happily domestic. I can absolutely imagine them being married. They'd be such a solid couple. However, I have a feeling that their first few dates are going to be incredibly awkward. Here's hoping the author keeps the awkwardness to a minimum. I don't want them to stop talking to each other!

Seeing Miyamura with his friend from middle school was a bit of a shock. I had gotten the impression, in the previous volume, that he hadn't had any friends until high school. Anyway, this bit helped me add more detail to my mental image of Miyamura. He needed someone willing to break the ice or introduce themselves to him first, someone who'd be willing to keep talking to him until he'd learned to relax around them. Shindou was willing to do that, as was Hori. That said, I wasn't comfortable with how Miyamura behaved with Shindou. He was rougher than I expected, even violent. Shindou didn't seem to have much of a problem with it, and maybe it was just a sign of how comfortable they were with each other, but it definitely reduced my enjoyment of those scenes.

I'll wrap this up with the magazine article about Miyamura's family's bakery. The instant Miyamura mentioned it, I knew there was going to be a picture of pierced and tattooed Miyamura in the magazine, and I was right. As usual, all the girls thought he looked hot but didn't connect him with the Miyamura they knew at school, and Miyamura pulled a new lie out of thin air, saying that the person was his family's partner. I was a little surprised that the author didn't use this as an opportunity to have Yoshikawa bring up Hori's lie from volume 1, that pierced Miyamura was her cousin. Instead, all the focus was on Hori, who accidentally destroyed a ruler and a mechanical pencil while stewing in her own jealousy.

This continues to be a solidly enjoyable series, even though several aspects of it are a little too frustrating and obvious and the author is already reusing the “relationship developments occurring while a character is delirious from illness” cliche. This is one of those series that has a high possibility of eventually growing stale, but for now I still love Hori and Miyamura and I like the artwork. I'm definitely planning on picking up the next volume.

Extras:

  • One full-color image of Remi, Sengoku, and Kouno. The inside front cover also has a cute little related picture of Remi acting goofy with the other two student council members.
  • One page of translation notes.
  • A 3-page bonus manga. It's a continuation of Ishikawa's weird dream in which Miyamura is an adorable little cat person. This time around, he's joined by Sengoku in adorable little cat person form.
  • The inside back cover includes a funny one-page bonus manga in which Hori complains about Miyamura's perfect hair (and Sengoku notices her casual mention of having brushed it before - yeah, Hori and Miyamura are fooling no one but themselves).

 

(Original review, including read-alikes and watch-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2016-06-25 23:09
Horimiya (manga, vol. 2) by HERO and Daisuke Hagiwara, translated by Taylor Engel
Horimiya, Vol. 2 - Hero

Hori agrees to help out the student council, even though she's already overworked. She also starts to worry about the future – she can't even begin to imagine what she might do after high school, and it dawns on her that Miyamura might leave her life forever after graduation. Readers get a brief flashback to Miyamura's past, as he worries about whether he truly fits in with this new group of friends he's found himself. Near the end of the volume, Ishikawa hears something shocking and confronts Miyamura about it.

I needed to read something sweet and this fit the bill, although it wasn't quite as good as the first volume in the series. Hori and Miyamura were, as usual, completely adorable together. There were lots of hilarious moments – my favorite was the one involving poor Ishikawa's birthday present for Hori. For everyone's sake, I hope he gets over Hori soon.

The flashback to Miyamura's elementary school (and middle school?) years was one of the more interesting moments in the volume. I had been wondering about his reasons for getting piercings and tattoos that he rarely allowed anyone to see, and this part seemed to indicate that it possibly started off as a form of self-harm. Considering that he did his first piercing with a safety pin, some tissues, and nothing else, he's lucky he didn't die of an infection. In the series' present day, though, I think he just genuinely enjoys the tattoos and piercings, based off of his reaction when Hori's little brother suggested a new tattoo for him to get (it totally looks like something out of Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle, by the way).

This volume introduced a few new characters. I'm really not a fan of Remi, the student council president's girlfriend. She tries a little too hard to be cute, referring to herself in the third person (“Remi's in a hurryyy!”), and the bit later in the volume, when she needled Hori, was kind of odd. It would have made more sense for her to apologize for what she'd done to Hori earlier in the volume, and it felt like a clunky attempt, on the author's part, to move Hori and Miyamura's romance forward. That feeling was intensified when Ishikawa confronted Miyamura a short while later.

Like I said, I didn't think this volume was as good as the first one. However, I enjoyed it enough that I started reading (and finished!) the third volume before reviewing this one. I usually try to avoid doing that, because it becomes difficult to keep everything straight, but Hori and Miyamura were too sweet for me to want to stop.

That said, one last gripe: if I remember correctly, Hori's best friend saw Miyamura in his full pierced and tattooed glory in volume 1, and Hori lied and said he was her cousin. It seemed like this would be an important moment (and an important lie) in the near future, but it didn't come up again in this volume nor in volume 3 (and it really should have in volume 3, but more on that when I review that volume). Here's hoping that the author eventually does something with that detail.

Extras:

  • One full-color illustration of Ishikawa and Yoshikawa (Hori's closest female friend). 
  • A 4-page manga-style announcement of the Hori-san and Miyamura-kun OVA (based on the work on which Horimiya is based), which I would now badly like to see. 
  • A 3-page bonus short in which Sengoku, the student council president, is revealed to be a little less cool than everybody but Hori thought.
  • A 1-page manga-style afterword.
  • One page of translation notes.

 

(Original review, including read-alikes and watch-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2016-05-29 03:45
The Book of Ivy Finale - 3.5 stars
The Revolution of Ivy - Amy Engel,Taylor Meskimen,Listening Library

This book wraps up the Book of Ivy duology and continues with Ivy trying to survive on the other side of the fence. She faces everyday challenges like finding food, water, shelter and she crosses paths with other Westfall rejects and people living on the outside, some good, some bad.

 

I would have enjoyed this story more if Ivy wasn't so irritating. She is a pathological liar and will literally lie about what she ate for breakfast. She would just compound one lie after another and honestly, some of the things she lied about were just so incredibly minor and stupid that it made the plot feel completely forced and unnatural. I think if the author wanted the story to go in a certain direction she definitely could have found a better way to do it.

 

Why can't the female protagonists be more like Saba from the Dustlands Trilogy or even Kelsea Raleigh Glynn from the Tearling Trilogy?? I'm so tired of reading about these whiny, lying, insecure, annoying females that lack self-confidence and make the worst decisions ever! Do I just know how to pick them or are strong female leads really the minority here??

 

If anyone knows of a series with a strong heroine (from beginning to end), I would love to know! Preferably within the sci-fi, space-opera, dystopian/post-apocalyptic, horror, steampunk or fantasy genres.  Thx! 

 

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text 2016-05-24 13:18
Reading progress update: I've read 100%.
The Revolution of Ivy - Amy Engel,Taylor Meskimen,Listening Library

Finished the audio over a week ago : ) Just slightly behind on my reviews lol...

Review to come

 

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