A Caring Man

A Caring ManAuthor: Akira Arai
Translator: Marc Adler
U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781935654179
Released: 2011
Awards: Golden Elephant Award

A Caring Man is Akira Arai’s debut novel and his first book to be translated into English. The novel was brought to my attention primarily because it, along with Fumi Nakamura’s Enma the Immortal (which I absolutely loved), shared the inaugural Golden Elephant Award’s grand prize. A Caring Man and Enma the Immortal are two very different novels, but they are both engaging. Both novels were also released in English by Vertical. The purpose of the Golden Elephant Award was to “produce and publish promising entertainment stories in multiple languages in the global arena.” With that in mind, the jurors from the first award committee were from Japan, the United States, China, and Korea. It was this emphasis on global appeal that inspired Arai, who had previously worked in the music and film industries, to submit A Caring Man. After winning the award, the novel was simultaneously released in 2011 in Japanese and in English with a translation by Marc Adler.

On August 26, 2011, Japan fell victim to an unprecedented tragedy. Without any sort of warning, bombs strategically placed within Tokyo Tower were detonated, bringing the massive structure toppling down, killing and injuring a huge number of people. The special investigation team, a joint operation between the police force’s Criminal Investigation Department and the Public Security Bureau, is treating the incident as a terrorist attack. However, no group has emerged to claim responsibility for the bombing and the team quickly runs out of leads. There seems to be no concrete motive for the attack beyond a perverse desire to destroy for the sake of destroying. Mariko Amo is a freelance photographer working for scandal and gossip magazines who captured the fall of the tower on film, nearly losing her life in the process. Soon after she is given the opportunity to write a feature article on Yoshio Iizuka, a seemingly upstanding young man who recently established the Society of Victims of Abuse for the Prevention of Abuse. Little does she know that he is the very mastermind behind the Tokyo Tower attack.

A Caring Man deals with some very heavy subject matter. In addition to the attacks of terrorism and mass murder, personal killings and more intimate violence, such as child abuse, are also present in the novel. Yoshio himself was a victim of such abuse. Mutilated and abandoned as a newborn infant, he still carries scars on his body. He uses these and his story to gain empathy from others, employing his striking intelligence to manipulate them even further. Yoshio has an odd sort of intensity and charisma; he knows just what to say and how to act to exploit and control other people. A Caring Man, which takes its title from the characters used in Yoshio’s name, in part explores the mind and nature of a psychologically dark, twisted, and damaged young man. Yoshio’s plans are terrifying, and even more frightening is the fact that he has the abilities and influence needed to actually carry them out. The bombing of Tokyo Tower is only intended to be a dramatic prelude to even greater tragedies to come.

The story of A Caring Man is largely seen from three distinct perspectives, although they do intersect at various points in the novel when major players come into contact or become more deeply involved with one another. Those perspectives also reflect the prominent viewpoints of many modern-day crises. Yoshio and the cohort of young men aiding and in some cases nearly worshipping him form one faction as the perpetrators. The detectives, police, and other law enforcement officers are the investigators and protectors, while the third group consists of Mariko and other members of the media and press. They are the observers, chroniclers, and witnesses with the power to influence the opinions of the general public. Overall, A Caring Man is a well-written and engaging novel, particularly impressive as it is Arai’s debut. A few of the plot twists towards the end weren’t as believable or as effective as the rest of the novel, but otherwise A Caring Man is a solid crime thriller with an intense psychological component.

Enma the Immortal

Author: Fumi Nakamura
Translator: Neil Nadelman
U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781932234909
Released: April 2012
Original release: 2011
Awards: Golden Elephant Award

Enma the Immortal is Fumi Nakamura’s debut work as a novelist. A housewife who wrote in her spare time, she submitted Enma the Immortal to the inaugural Golden Elephant Award in 2010. It, along with Akira Arai’s novel A Caring Man (also available in translation from Vertical), shared the grand prize. Enma the Immortal was subsequently published in English with a translation by Neil Nadelman, first as an ebook in 2011 and then in print in 2012 by Vertical. The novel has already inspired an adaptation in Western comics—The Immortal: Demon in the Blood, available from Dark Horse. (I haven’t read the comics yet, but I do plan on it.) Nakamura has also written a sequel to Enma the Immortal but unfortunately it hasn’t been licensed in English yet. Enma the Immortal initially appealed to me for several reasons: the light novel is a historical fantasy primarily set in Japan’s Meiji era, I’m intrigued by humans’ fascination with immortality and its consequences, and I enjoy tattoos being incorporated into stories.

As the Tokugawa shogunate nears its final days, so does Amane Ichinose. A failure of an assassin and a spy, he finds himself being chased and hunted only to end up injured and dying on the doorstep of Baikou Houshou, a well-known tattooist. The chance encounter changes Amane forever. Baikou saves the younger man’s life, but in the process Amane is cursed with immortality; a demon has been bound to him through a tattoo known as an oni-gome. It will do everything it can to keep Amane from dying, whether he wants it to or not. Only one other man knows and completely understands the secrets behind the oni-gome, its curse, and how to destroy it—Yasha, Baikou’s disowned and estranged apprentice. Faced with living an eternity alone, Amane is determined to find the missing Yasha. Little does he know that Yasha will develop an intense interest in him as well. The two men possessed by demons, both struggling with and against their own desires for death, are destined to confront each other again and again as the century passes them by.

Each chapter of Enma the Immortal is almost its own self-contained story focusing on a pivotal time in Amane’s life, but they also build upon one another. What holds the whole novel together, though, is its characters: Amane himself, the men he betrayed before becoming immortal, the likeable yet cranky old bastard Baikou, Nobumasa Muta who, much to Amane’s frustration, repeatedly comes to the immortal’s aid, and most importantly Natsu, the daughter of a friend and one of the few people who knows about Amane’s peculiar condition. And then there’s Yasha, whose own immortality is slowly driving him insane as he tries and fails to maintain his humanity. He is a marvelous antagonist, not inherently evil, but deluded in his attempts to justify his actions. His relationship with Amane is a complex and volatile one, providing a major driving force behind the developments in Enma the Immortal, even before the two of them meet.

In addition to great characters, Nakamura also makes excellent use of historical events and people in Enma the Immortal, everything from the Shinsengumi to Jack the Ripper to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They are all incorporated expertly into Amane’s story. Even Amane’s encounters with Yasha, which could have easily come across as coincidences, seem more like fate than convenient plot devices. In general, I found the novel to be well-plotted with great pacing. The writing style and dialogue in Enma the Immortal do occasionally come across as anachronistic for the time periods in which the narrative is set, but it is highly engaging nonetheless. I absolutely loved Enma the Immortal and am particularly impressed that it is Nakamura’s debut work. Even though I know there is a sequel, and I would certainly like to read it, I was completely satisfied with Enma the Immortal. It’s both an entertaining and engaging novel that stands perfectly well on its own while still allowing plenty of opportunities for further development. Enma the Immortal is a fantastic read.