Boogiepop Returns: VS Imaginator, Part 1

Boogiepop Returns: VS Imaginator, Part 1Author: Kouhei Kadono
Illustrator: Kouji Ogata

Translator: Andrew Cunningham
U.S. publisher: Seven Seas
ISBN: 9781933164205
Released: June 2006
Original release: 1998

After reading Boogiepop and Others, I knew that I needed to read the rest of Kouhei Kadono’s Boogiepop light novel series, or at least all of the volumes that had been released in English. Sadly, out of the more than a dozen volumes, only four of the novels were ever translated and it is unlikely that any others will be. Boogiepop Returns: VS Imaginator, Part 1 is the second Boogiepop novel and the first volume in a two-part story arc. The novel was originally published in Japan in 1998, the same year that the award-winning Boogiepop and Others was released. The English translation of the first part of Boogiepop Returns by Andrew Cunningham was published by Seven Seas in 2006. Seven Seas was also the publisher that released the other three Boogiepop novels available in English as well as some of the Boogiepop manga adaptations (which I have yet to read). Technically, all of those Boogiepop books have gone out of print, but fortunately most of the volumes are still fairly easy to find.

When she was only seventeen, Minahoshi Suiko plummeted from the rooftop of Shinyo Academy. Initially it was believed to have been a suicide, but rumors start circulating among the students that it may have been murder or perhaps something even more sinister, something that is compelling others to follow in Minahoshi’s footsteps. It wouldn’t be the only time that Shinyo Academy has faced inhuman and supernatural influences resulting in tragedy and death. Asukai Jin is a counselor at a local cram school which is attended by several Shinyo Academy students. He seems to be able to look into the hearts of those seeking his aid, offering advice that is uncannily appropriate for each student and their specific situations. The odd ability which allows Asukai to see the flaws of others while being blind to his own has drawn the attention of the same forces a work at Shinyo Academy. The only thing that stands in the way of those forces is the fabled spirit of death Boogiepop, but there are those who are hunting Boogiepop down in order to prevent any sort of interference.

One of the things that I particularly enjoyed about Boogiepop and Others was its narrative structure, and so I was happy to see the first part of Boogiepop Returns use a similar one. Specifically, the story continues to be seen from the perspective of multiple characters, although in this volume the chronology is slightly less disjointed overall. The events in Boogiepop Returns take place both before and after those in Boogiepop and Others. (A handy timeline included in the back of the volume helps to make this all clear.) Although the plots of each novel aren’t directly related, the events of the first are alluded to in the second and both volumes do share some of the same characters. However, the importance of the characters’ individual roles has shifted somewhat. Taniguchi Masaki, for example, was a side character in the first Boogiepop novel; he wasn’t much more than a stepbrother to another important character. But in Boogiepop Returns he is one of the leads in the volume’s ill-fated love story.

The Boogiepop series has a fascinating mix of genres—science fiction, horror, mystery, and even a bit of romance all make an appearance in the novels. There are strong psychological elements and strange and bizarre occurrences, too. I didn’t find the second Boogiepop novel to be quite as dark as the first, but it could still be thoroughly disconcerting and it was consistently engaging. Because Boogiepop Returns is a two-part arc, most of the first volume is spent setting the stage and introducing the major players. At this point the significance of some of the events is still unclear and far more questions have been raised than have been answered. It’s difficult to say just exactly what is going on and perhaps even more challenging to anticipate what will happen next. This will probably either frustrate readers immensely or intrigue them. (As for me, I was intensely intrigued.) Much like Boogiepop and Others, the first part of Boogiepop Returns is peculiar and unsettling. I’m very curious to see how the story will continue to develop in the second volume.

Attack on Titan: Before the Fall

Attack on Titan: Before the FallAuthor: Ryo Suzukaze
Illustrator: Thores Shibamoto

Translator: Ko Ransom
U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781939130860
Released: September 2014
Original release: 2011

Hajime Isayama’s manga series Attack on Titan has become extraordinarily successful not only in Japan but worldwide as well. The series has inspired numerous manga spinoffs, anime, games, and more. Attack on Titan: Before the Fall is the first of three light novels written by Ryo Suzukaze and illustrated by Thores Shibamoto which serve as a prequel to Isayama’s original series. The second and third novels have been adapted as the manga series Attack on Titan: Before the Fall, illustrated by Satoshi Shiki, which is being released in English by Kodansha Comics. The first Before the Fall novel, however, was licensed and released by Vertical in 2014 with an English translation by Ko Ransom. Currently the novel, which was originally published in Japan in 2011, is chronologically the earliest story set in the Attack on Titan universe. I’m fascinated by the Attack on Titan phenomena and the large fanbase that it has developed, not to mention the series itself, so I was very interested in reading the Before the Fall prequel.

Angel Aaltonen may be young, but his ingenuity is impressive. A master craftsman, he and the others at the workshop he is a part of strive to design, create, and improve the weapons used in humanity’s fight for survival against the Titans. Except that Angel has never actually seen a Titan. Neither has most of the human population which seeks safety within a series of enormous walls. But while for a time they may be safe, they are also trapped by their own defenses. Only the members of the Survey Corps and Garrison forces have directly confronted the Titans, gigantic monstrosities that devour humans and bring destruction and terror. Even more dire is the fact no one knows how to stop or defeat the Titans. Angel and many others fear that one day the unthinkable will happen and the walls will fail. They are determined to discover the Titan’s weaknesses before that can happen, but the existing political and religious situation will make that prospect even more difficult than it already is to accomplish.

Most of the stories in Attack on Titan as a whole follow those characters who serve in the military—the people who are on the front lines directly fighting the Titans. Before the Fall, however, focuses on those who work behind the scenes to make those battles possible—the scientists, craftsmen, and engineers. (Granted, by the end of Before the Fall, Angel has become fairly hands-on himself.) It’s an interesting approach, giving a slight spin to an already familiar story, and one that I particularly liked and appreciated. Among other things, Before the Fall shows the development of some of the most iconic technology in Attack on Titan, the three-dimensional maneuvering gear. But as intriguing as the story is in Before the Fall, sadly the writing itself isn’t particularly engaging and the novel ends up being fairly slow going despite several intense action sequences. There were also a few frustratingly obvious oversights made by the characters; I found it difficult to believe that their logic would have been so flawed. Ultimately, I liked the premise of Before the Fall much more than its execution.

Although the writing might not be the best, where Before the Fall excels is in providing Attack on Titan with more thoroughly grounded worldbuilding, backstory, and lore. Suzukaze not only explores the development and creation of the equipment and weapons that will be used to fight the Titans, he also shows the beginning of the unrest between the general population, the military and government, and the religious cults and factions. There is enough of a basic introduction to the world that even readers who aren’t familiar with Attack on Titan should be able to easily follow Before the Fall, but the novel will appeal most to those who already know and enjoy the franchise. Before the Fall doesn’t tend to have the overwhelmingly bleak atmosphere of the original manga series, but it is still definitely a part of Attack on Titan, meaning that there are many casualties and several gruesome and horrifying turns of events. The air of dark mystery generally found in Attack on Titan remains in Before the Fall, as do the desperate punctuations of human hope and determination in the face of annihilation.

Boogiepop and Others

Boogiepop and OthersAuthor: Kouhei Kadono
Illustrator: Kouji Ogata

Translator: Andrew Cunningham
U.S. publisher: Seven Seas
ISBN: 9781933164168
Released: January 2006
Original release: 1998
Awards: Dengeki Novel Prize

Boogiepop and Others is the first volume in a series of light novels written by Kouhei Kadono and illustrated by Kouji Ogata. The novel was originally released in Japan in 1998 after winning the Dengeki Game Novel Prize (now known simply as the Dengeki Novel Prize). Boogiepop and Others has been credited with igniting the light novel trend in Japan. Whether that is true or not, the novel has inspired more than a dozen other volumes in the Boogiepop novel series as well as other books, short stories, manga, music, a live-action film adaptation, an anime, and more. Out of the fairly large franchise, four of the light novels—including Boogiepop and Others—two short manga series, the anime, and the film have been released in English. The English-language edition of Boogiepop and Others, translated by Andrew Cunningham, was published by Seven Seas in 2006. Although I had been aware of the Boogiepop Phantom anime series for quite some time, Boogiepop and Others was actually my introduction to the franchise and is set before the events of the anime.

No one is entirely sure who or what Boogiepop is, but there are several rumors and theories among the students of Shinyo Academy. Stories are told about a spirit of death, an assassin who can kill instantly and painlessly. When a number of female students at Shinyo Academy go missing, many naturally assume that Boogiepop must have had something to do with their disappearances. Others believe Boogiepop to be nothing more than a myth or urban legend, but they can’t deny that something very strange and very wrong is going on at their school. Most of the missing girls are written off as runaways by the police and their cases are quickly dropped. And so a few of their classmates take it upon themselves to investigate since they can’t rely on the adults to pursue the matter. But it’s already too late. Some of the girls who have disappeared have lost their lives and there will be even more deaths before those who are responsible can be stopped. If they can be stopped. Any survivors will be left struggling to comprehend everything that occurred at Shinyo Academy.

Boogiepop and Others isn’t told from a single point of view, within a single time frame, or even through a single narrative. Instead, each chapter is seen from the perspective of a different student. Some of the characters are directly involved with the events unfolding at Shinyo Academy while others are only tangentially related. However, none of them know everything about what is going on, though they may have their suspicions. There’s Takeda Keiji, who becomes one of the people closest to Boogiepop, Suema Kazuko, who once was almost the victim of a serial killer herself, Saotome Masami, a deceptively unassuming underclassman, Kimura Akio, one of several boyfriends of one of the missing students, and Niitoki Kei, the president of the discipline committee. They each have their own story to tell, and each version of the events is accurate, but the complete truth can only be understood when all of the individual accounts have been completely disclosed and are then considered and taken together as a whole.

The narrative structure of Boogiepop and Others is actually quite effective in creating and sustaining the mystery and mood of the novel. It’s a slow build as little by little information is revealed and connections are made between characters and their stories. Piecing together everything is an incredibly engaging part of the novel. At times, Boogiepop and Others can be legitimately creepy and disconcerting. The elements of horror in the novel are just as strong as those of science fiction and mystery. Several of the characters are dealing with extreme mental and psychological disturbances and unfortunate family circumstances in addition to the apparent supernatural occurrences. Personally, I preferred Kadono’s exploration of the more reality-based issues over the more outrageous ideas, but in combination even those could be oddly compelling in their strangeness. I thoroughly enjoyed Boogiepop and Others, perhaps even more than I initially anticipated. I definitely plan on reading more of the series.

The Twelve Kingdoms, Volume 4: Skies of Dawn

The Twelve Kingdoms, Volume 4: Skies of DawnAuthor: Fuyumi Ono
Illustrator: Akihiro Yamada

Translator: Alexander O. Smith
U.S. Publisher: Tokyopop
ISBN: 9781427802606
Released: November 2010
Original release: 1994

Skies of Dawn is the fourth and sadly final volume of Fuyumi Ono’s eight-volume fantasy novel series The Twelve Kingdoms, illustrated by Akihiro Yamada, to have been released in English. Published in Japan in two volumes in 1994, the novel was released in its entirety in 2010 by Tokyopop under its Pop Fiction imprint, first as a hardcover and then later in a paperback edition. As with the previous volumes of The Twelve Kingdoms, Skies of Dawn was translated by Alexander O. Smith. Interestingly enough, Elye J. Alexander, who frequently collaborates with Smith on translations and who worked with him on the first three volumes of The Twelve Kingdoms, does not appear to have been involved with Skies of Dawn. Though I discovered the series relatively late, I have been thoroughly enjoying The Twelve Kingdoms and Ono’s exceptionally well-developed world and characters. Skies of Dawn is easily the longest of the translated volumes, but that didn’t at all diminish my enthusiasm.

Yoko has become the king of Kei after being chosen by Keiki, the kingdom’s kirin. It’s still early in Yoko’s reign, but it hasn’t been easy for her. Many of the ministers of her court are corrupt and the others have very little trust in Yoko—Kei has had a bad history with lady-kings. Yoko lacks confidence in her rule as well. Having grown up in Japan before being suddenly swept away to the Twelve Kingdoms, her understanding of the world in which she now finds herself is limited and her knowledge of what it means to be king is even more so. Yoko isn’t the only young woman who is struggling with great changes in her life. Like Kei, the kingdom of Hou has also recently lost its ruler and those circumstances have forced its princess Shoukei into exile. Suzu, another girl who was originally from Japan, is unhappy with her lot in life in the Twelve Kingdoms. Though they don’t know each other, the destinies of these three young women will become closely intertwined, changing the direction and fate of Kei, a kingdom still struggling to restore itself after years of turmoil and calamity.

Although Skies of Dawn is technically the fourth volume in The Twelve Kingdoms, chronologically its story follows immediately after the events of the first volume, Sea of Shadow. The two intervening novels—Sea of Wind and The Vast Spread of the Seas—serve as prequels to the series, providing more context as well as back stories for The Twelve Kingdoms as a whole and for its major characters. As with the other volumes in The Twelve Kingdoms, Skies of Dawn actually stands very well on its own as a novel. Though they provide more background, it’s not absolutely necessary to have read the previous volumes in the series to understand what’s happening in Skies of Dawn. Actually, Skies of Dawn is almost like reading three novels contained in one, especially towards its beginning. It takes quite some time for Yoko, Shoukei, and Suzu’s individual stories to come together into a single narrative, but it is very satisfying when they do, especially because it happens in a way that is somewhat unexpected.

Worldbuilding has always been a major component of The Twelve Kingdoms and that hasn’t changed with Skies of Dawn. I do appreciate all of the thought and detail that Ono has put into every aspect of the series. Granted, while it is all very interesting, the worldbuilding does slow down the pacing of the plot a great deal. Much of the first half of Skies of Dawn is devoted to things like rules of governance, taxes, and marriage laws as Yoko learns more about her kingdom and the kingdoms surrounding it. It’s not until the second half of Skies of Dawn when Yoko, Shoukei, and Suzu’s stories begin to converge that events start to quickly escalate as the people of Kei come closer and closer to rebellion. The Twelve Kingdoms is an epic tale of fantasy in which the characters are required to grow and evolve, taking responsibility for themselves and for the changes in the world in which they live. Although it is unlikely that the rest of the series will be translated, Skies of Dawn and the previous volumes are still well worth seeking out.

Tokyo Demons, Book 2: Add a Little Chaos

Tokyo Demons, Book 2: Add a Little ChaosAuthor: Lianne Sentar
Illustrator: Rem

Publisher: Chromatic Press
ISBN: 9780993861109
Released: December 2014

For some very silly reasons, most of which are now unclear to me, initially I was hesitant to read Tokyo Demons, a trilogy of novels written by Lianne Sentar and illustrated by Rem. But after finishing the first volume, You’re Never Alone, I was hooked. I immediately went out and devoured all of the bonus content and side stories that I could find. Honestly, I hadn’t been so excited and captivated by a series in a very long time. Soon after, Tokyo Demons became one of the flagship titles for Chromatic Press. Tokyo Demons, Book 2: Add a Little Chaos was originally serialized online between 2012 and 2014. Later in 2014 it underwent final revisions and was collected into a single volume along with two additional side stories which delve further into the pasts of some of the characters. Despite my obsession with the series, for the most part I was able to restrain myself from reading Add a Little Chaos until the novel was completed. It was a difficult wait, and so I was thrilled when the second book was finished so that I could read it.

Kiyoshi has been rescued and Core’s attack on the Byakko gang at Kiseki was able to be fended off, albeit not without casualties. The survivors who have taken refuge with the Church and sided against Core are still in danger though. Under the influence of Pitch, a powerful and highly addictive drug that he was forced to take, and due to the trauma of his kidnapping, Kiyoshi is no longer the person he once was physically, mentally, or emotionally. In fact, after being caught up in something with even graver implications than the simple drug war it initially seemed to be, everyone has changed. Ayase, Jo, Sachi, and all of their friends and allies are fighting for their lives and none of them are unaffected by the violence surrounding them. They are doing all that they can with the limited information that they have to fight against Core and save the others of their group who are still caught within its grasp. Working with the Church’s resources, members of Byakko, and contacts within the police force, as well as with some unexpected aid from within Core itself, they may have a chance. But everyone has their own agendas and it’s becoming more and more difficult to know who and what can be trusted.

As with many second volumes in a trilogy, the situation the characters find themselves in quickly escalates from bad to worse in Add a Little Chaos. Tokyo Demons has always been fairly hard-hitting, dealing with heavy themes like psychological and physical abuse and violence, but Add a Little Chaos goes to some very dark places. I have come to care about all of the characters in Tokyo Demons immensely, many of whom are broken and damaged people with tragic pasts, horrible presents, and grim futures. They are all so incredibly desperate to be strong and to protect themselves and the ones that they care about the most. It’s absolutely heartbreaking to see them go about it in the wrong ways, even when they’re doing the best that they can and what they believe to be right. Some of them are able to find a few brief moments of comfort with one another that they cling to only to have them ripped away by the chaos enveloping them. With layers upon layers of loyalty and betrayal, each revelation in Tokyo Demons is shocking and gut-wrenching, not only for the characters who have to deal with the immediate consequences, but also for the readers who can do nothing but witness it all happen.

Tokyo Demons is a complex and multilayered series; many of the seemingly independent storylines which were introduced in the first volume are now beginning to crash together in Add a Little Chaos and additional plot developments have been set into motion. Tokyo Demons also features a large and diverse cast of extremely complicated characters. Their even more complicated connections to one another are critical to the story as well. How they deal with their own personal struggles impacts the people around them as well as the larger conflict in which they find themselves. Even considering all of the superhuman elements and psychic abilities involved in Tokyo Demons, what make the series so compelling and engaging are its believably flawed, exceptionally nuanced, and constantly evolving characters and the constantly shifting dynamics of their relationships. From the beginning of the series alone I could tell that the scope of Tokyo Demons was going to be huge. If anything the story only continues to expand with Add a Little Chaos and increase in its intensity. I am still absolutely loving Tokyo Demons and am both looking forward to and dreading its conclusion.