All You Need Is Kill

All You Need Is KillAuthor: Ryosuke Takeuchi
Illustrator: Takeshi Obata
Original story: Hiroshi Sakurazaka

U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421576015
Released: November 2014
Original release: 2014

It’s been a few years since I’ve read Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel All You Need Is Kill but I distinctly remember enjoying it, perhaps even more than I initially thought that I would. And so, I was very excited to learn that Takeshi Obata would be working on the manga adaptation not only because I like the original All You Need Is Kill but because I also enjoy Obata’s illustrations. (Hikaru no Go, which he worked on, actually happens to be one of my favorite manga series.) I was even more excited when Viz Media licensed the All You Need Is Kill manga for an English-language release. In Japan, the series was published in 2014 in two volumes. Viz’s digital release was also two volumes, but its 2014 print edition was released as a single-volume omnibus under the Shonen Jump Advanced imprint complete with color pages and a larger trim size. While Obata provided the artwork for the manga adaptation of All You Need Is Kill, it was Ryosuke Takeuchi who outlined the script and storyboards.

Humankind has been at war with the Mimics for years, but it seems like it may be a losing battle. The Mimics, alien creatures that continue to evolve with each confrontation, have begun to close in on Japan, the only country remaining that has the ability to produce the high-tech battle jackets used in the war. If Japan is lost, the rest of the world will soon follow. Keiji Kiriya is a young jacket jockey about to face his first battle. He, like so many others, is killed in action, except that he then revives in his bunk, thirty hours before his death. At first Keji thinks he’s dreaming, but then it happens again. And then again. Time after time, Keiji lives and dies fighting against the Mimics. Doing all that he can to survive just a little bit longer each round, Keiji focuses part of his attention on Rita Vrataski, considered to be the best jacket solider in the world. Following her example, Keiji might actually have a chance to escape the time loop alive.

Because I haven’t recently read Sakurazaka’s original All You Need Is Kill it is difficult for me to make a detailed comparison between it and the manga adaptation. Generally though, I feel that the novel is the stronger work of the two, but the manga has quite a bit going for it as well. Most of the resigned humor and social commentary found in the novel and even Keiji’s internal development have been downplayed in the manga in favor of the story’s external spectacle, action, and battles. As manga is a visual medium it makes sense to have this slight change of focus, but as a result All You Need Is Kill does lose some of its emotional impact. As for the artwork itself, Obata does an excellent job conveying the drama of the plot. The jackets and heavy action sequences look great, too. The Mimics’ design does leave something to be desired though—they aren’t as terrifying as they should be—and some readers may find the occasional fanservice more distracting than anything else.

Although it may not have the same substantive weight of the original, All You Need Is Kill makes for an entertaining and exciting, action-packed manga that reads quickly. Though not without flaws, it succeeds well as an adaptation and as its own work. Particularly effective is how Obata emphasizes the time loop by utilizing very similar panels but with slightly different page layouts with each rewind, keeping the manga from becoming too repetitive. The way Obata draws Keiji changes as well. The young soldier becomes stronger and harder with each loop, but also more haunted and battle-weary. An explanation for the time abnormality is eventually given that at least makes sense superficially and sets up a nice plot twist, but it starts to fall apart if given too much critical thought. Still, the All You Need Is Kill is a great read for anyone interested in military science fiction and action. For the most part I was pleased with the adaptation; I’d still recommend that readers give the original novel a try, too, though.

Slum Online

Author: Hiroshi Sakurazaka
Translator: Joseph Reeder
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421534398
Released: April 2010
Original release: 2005

I picked up Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s Slum Online after reading and thoroughly enjoying his light novel All You Need Is Kill. Slum Online is the second of Sakurazaka’s works to be made available in English. Originally released in Japan in 2004, the book was published in 2010 by Viz Media’s Haikasoru imprint (which also published All You Need Is Kill). The Haikasoru edition, translated by Joseph Reeder, also contains the additional story Bonus Round that Sakurazaka wrote specifically for the English release. Bonus Round takes place immediately after the events of Slum Online and serves as a sort of epilogue. Considering how much I enjoyed All You Need Is Kill, I was looking forward to reading Slum Online a great deal. (Plus, toi8’s cover art is fantastic).

Etsuro Sakagami doesn’t have many close friends at his university and so spends most of his free time at home playing the online fighting game Versus Town. His character, the karateka Tetsuo, is quickly moving up in the ranks and has a good shot of winning the second season tournament. But a mysterious player known as Ganker Jack has been targeting the top characters and taking them down. Tetsuo joins a handful of others in trying to figure out just who this player is. In real life, Etsuro is faced with a challenge of a different kind. Fumiko, a girl he never expected to like, has roped him into searching all over Shinjuku for a blue cat rumored to grant wishes. They may just be chasing an urban legend, but Etsuro is surprised to discover how much he enjoys spending time with her and must figure out a way to balance Tokyo and Versus Town.

I am very glad that Bonus Round was included in the book. Although Slum Online has an established ending, Bonus Round rounds out the story in a very satisfying way and allows the reader to see things from another character’s perspective. Which isn’t to say being inside of Etsuro’s head isn’t interesting—I actually quite liked the guy. He tends to describe his real life experiences in terms of video games but he isn’t so far gone that he’s completely incompetent socially, though he does have his moments. One thing that I found rather clever were the in-game fight sequences, of which there are plenty. They are described in such a way that combines both the controls needed to execute the moves and the action occurring on the screen. The result is quite effective.

Although I wasn’t quite as taken with Slum Online as I was with All You Need Is Kill, I was still highly entertained by the book. The story is most likely going to appeal to readers who are already interested in video games to some extent, but Sakurazaka does have some interesting things to say about friendship and the differing and sometimes overlapping realities of online and offline personas. Slum Online is a very straightforward story with little actual plot beyond Etsuro working to become the best player in Versus Town while trying to maintain some semblance of a relationship with the people in his real life; it may not be particularly deep, but it is fun. I have no complaints with Reeder’s translations—it’s smooth and unobtrusive while bringing out Sakurazaka’s wonderful, not quite snarky, resigned sense of humor. Although not for everyone, I found Slum Online to be a fast and enjoyable light read. Personally, I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up another of Sakurazaka’s works, so here’s hoping more become available in English.

All You Need Is Kill

Author: Hiroshi Sakurazaka
Translator: Alexander O. Smith
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421527611
Released: July 2009
Original release: 2004

I really don’t remember exactly when and where I first heard about Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s All You Need Is Kill but after I did it seemed to keep popping up everywhere I looked. It was even picked up by Warner Brothers to make into a live-action film. All You Need Is Kill was originally published in Japan as a light novel in 2004. The English edition, translated by Alexander O. Smith, was one of the very first books to be released by Viz Media’s Haikasoru imprint in 2009. I haven’ read much military science fiction but All You Need Is Kill certainly is that, complete with alien intelligence and battle suits. What particularly caught my interest in the novel was that the main character, Keiji Kiriya, dies during his first battle only to wake up in his bunk thirty hours before over and over again.

The battle on Kotoiushi Island would be pivotal in humanity’s war with the Mimics. If lost, the rest of Japan would follow, along with the technology that made it possible to fight against the constantly evolving invading force. Keiji is a Jacket jockey in the United Defense Force’s 301st Armored Infantry Division which was sent to reinforce the island. He doesn’t even make it through his first battle. Or his second. Or his third. Somehow stuck in a time-loop he is forced to live and die in the same battle again and again. The only thing he can do is learn to fight a little better and hope to survive a little longer each time. Rita Vrataski, member of the U.S. Army Special Forces, has killed more Mimics than any other person in the world. Known as the Full Metal Bitch, not that anyone would call her that to her face, she is formidable, efficient, and scary as hell on the battlefield. She is also one of the last hopes remaining to end the war and may be the only person who can help Keiji escape his fate.

Although All You Need Is Kill is primarily entertainment and not overly serious, Sakurazaka still works in some environmental, technological, and social commentary. At least for me, the story also had a convincing emotional impact. Repeatedly living through the horrors of war, your own death, and the death of your friends and those around you changes a person and Sakurazaka captures this quite well. I like Keiji a lot and was most interested in his story, told in the first person. The third quarter of the book, written in the third person, focuses on Rita and the background of the war with the Mimics. While interesting and certainly important, especially in understanding Rita and her history, I still looked forward to getting back to Keiji. Which is not to say that I didn’t like Rita, because I did. I liked most of the secondary characters as well; Keiji’s bunk-mate and veteran Yonabaru in particular amused me as much as he tended to annoy others in his platoon. I also appreciated the fact that not everyone was assumed to be straight (although pretty much all of them were.)

The translation Smith has done for All You Need Is Kill is great—it’s straightforward with a good flow that hits hard and fast. There is also a nice use of repeated phrases to emphasize the time-loop that Keiji’s stuck in. The original light novel was illustrated by Yoshitoshi ABe and it’s a pity that none of his art was included in the Haikasoru edition beyond the cover—I really would have liked to have seen more of his work. I enjoyed All You Need Is Kill even more than I was expecting to and was impressed by how much action and story Sakurazaka was able to fit into such a relatively short work (it comes in at just under 200 pages.) I’m really looking forward to picking up his only other work currently available in English, also released through Haikasoru, Slum Online.