The Book of Heroes

Author: Miyuki Miyabe
Translator: Alexander O. Smith
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421540832
Released: November 2011
Original release: 2009

The Book of Heroes is the second novel by Miyuki Miyabe that I have read. My introduction to her work was through her novel Brave Story and its various adaptations. The two novels share many similarities with each other: both were initially serialized in newspapers, both are fantasy stories featuring a young protagonist, and both were translated into English by Alexander O. Smith, just to name a few examples. But The Book of Heroes and Brave Story are each very much their own work. After its serialization, The Book of Heroes was released as a completed novel in 2009. Haikasoru, Viz Media’s Japanese speculative fiction imprint, first published Smith’s English translation of The Book of Heroes in 2010 in a hardcover edition. The novel was subsequently released as a paperback in 2011, which is the edition I picked up. Because I enjoyed Brave Story I was looking forward to reading The Book of Heroes.

Yuriko Morisaki, a fairly average girl in the fifth grade, was dozing off in science class when she receives terrible news: her older brother, who she adores, has gone missing after stabbing two of his classmates. Her family can hardly believe that Hiroki could be capable of such an act. They are desperate to find him and to understand what happened. Soon after Hiroki’s disappearance, Yuriko stumbles across a magical book in his room, one that may be able to help her find her brother. Suddenly, Yuriko is no longer an ordinary girl as she is swept into a world of story and magic. It is revealed to Yuriko that her brother and her very reality are in danger. The responsibility of rescuing them has fallen to her. She’s not without help and over time she gains some valuable allies, but Yuriko’s journey will be a very challenging one.

For me, The Book of Heroes worked better as a sort of philosophical exercise rather than as a novel. I absolutely loved the world building. I found the universes that Miyabe created to be fascinating and intellectually stimulating. I enjoyed thinking about the worlds in The Book of Heroes and loved the importance placed on books and stories—stories that hold tremendous amounts of power and that can quite literally change the world and reality; a reality that in turn can alter and affect those stories; and the grave repercussions that this system creates as a result. The ideas and concepts that Miyabe was exploring in The Book of Heroes were thrilling. But I found actually reading The Book of Heroes to be somewhat of a slog. Yuriko’s story felt terribly unfocused for much of the novel.

As often as The Book of Heroes frustrated me as a narrative (which was actually quite often), Miyabe pulls everything together beautifully in the end. In the beginning something just didn’t quite feel right about how things were progressing in The Book of Heroes. Yuriko, too, seemed to be frustrated and aware of this. Eventually, all is revealed to both Yuriko and the novel’s readers in the final chapter, appropriately titled “The Truth.” It was this chapter and the epilogue that follows it that made all of my frustration with The Book of Heroes worth it. The ending is fairly open-ended, but I thought it was very appropriate and very satisfying. The Book of Heroes is more complex and layered than it might first appear; Miyabe mixes reality and fantasy, light and darkness, in a very compelling way.

Brave Story

Author: Miyuki Miyabe
Translator: Alexander O. Smith
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421527734
Released: November 2009
Original run: 1999-2001 (various regional newspapers)
Awards: Batchelder Award

Miyuki Miyabe’s novel Brave Story was originally published in two volumes in Japan in 2003. The English edition, released by Viz Media’s Haikasoru imprint in 2007, is complete in one volume and received the Batchelder Award from the American Library Association for best English translation of a children’s book originally published in a foreign country. The translator in this case being Alexander O. Smith (who also did a great job with his translation of All You Need Is Kill). The story has undergone several adaptions, including a series of light novels for younger readers, a manga series, an anime, and appropriately enough even a few video games. I first encountered Brave Story through the manga, also written by Miyabe and illustrated by Yoichiro Ono. After reading the first volume I knew that I needed to read the source material. And so it was that Miyabe’s hefty novel, over eight hundred pages, made its way to the top of my reading list.

Wataru Mitani is a typical fifth grader—he’s an average student, enjoys playing video games (the Eldritch Stone Saga is his favorite fantasy series), and gets along well with most of his schoolmates, especially his best friend Katchan (even though his mother doesn’t approve). At least that is until the aloof Mitsuru Ashikawa arrives as a transfer student. Wataru would be more than happy to be friends, but Mitsuru doesn’t seem to care about anyone. Suddenly, everything starts to fall apart in Wataru’s life when his father unexpectedly decides to leave him and his mother. But then he stumbles upon the world of Vision which seems like something out of one of his video games. Mitsuru, whose family situation is even more tragic than Wataru’s, has also found Vision. The two of them become rival Travelers in the fantasy world, given the opportunity to complete a dangerous quest and by doing so change their and their family’s destinies in the real world.

Brave Story is surprisingly dark and deals with some heavy issues such as divorce, death, and suicide. As if problems in the real world weren’t enough, Vision faces religious war and genocide. But even so, Brave Story has a very positive message even if it is hard to accept—realizing that hate and anger are very important parts of being human and shouldn’t be pushed away and hidden but embraced. Yes, things are bad but you have to learn to accept all of who you are in order to change anything. Reality hurts, and Miyabe doesn’t pull her punches. Wataru’s experiences are authentically heartbreaking and he has to deal with circumstances that no one should have to. It would have been nice to have seen a bit more of Mitsuru’s story, but ultimately Brave Story is Wataru’s tale.

The book almost seems to have a split personality—the real world is emotionally wrenching while the fantasy world is almost comforting in comparison. But, it works. Wataru’s reality slowly starts to intrude upon his fantasy until it can’t be ignored. Personally, I found the real world elements more compelling than the fantasy elements, but everything is pulled together nicely by the end. The majority of Brave Story takes place in Vision and while important the section felt a bit long to me and lacking in urgency until close to the end. But overall, Brave Story is quite good and is a story that adults and mature younger readers can both enjoy alike. I, for one, am very glad that it’s available in English.