Agents of the Four Seasons, Vol. 2

By Kana Akatsuki and Suoh. Released in Japan as “Shunka Shūtō Daikōsha” by Dengeki Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Sergio Avila.

This is very much the sort of series where I needed a “She does not get eaten by the sharks at this time” moment. In the book The Princess Bride (which is why it’s sharks, shut up movie fans), The father says this so as to make William Goldman less anxious about exactly how deadly this book is going to get. It’s OK, this says. This may be deadly, but it’s not THAT deadly. I needed a moment like that in this book. I did not get it. This is a book where I spent nearly the entire length of the book wondering if it was going to kill off some of the cast. Now, to be fair, I already said that the point of this arc is that the agents, who have been used and abused for their entire lives, are taking back control and saving things their way. It would undercut it quite a bit if they fail. But they don’t ALL have to succeed. Hence the worry.

The agent of Autumn has been kidnapped, and Hinagiku knows who’s done it. It’s the same organization that captured and tortured her, the terrorist group New Year, which theoretically wants the Agents to be more proactive and save the world a bit more with their cool new powers, but in reality it’s a far more personal sort of reason. Hinagiku knows exactly what the head of New Year is like, and really wants to stop Nadeshiko from sharing the same fate that the old Hinagiku did (I am trying to respect Hinagiku’s belief that the old Hinagiku died during captivity, since it’s still a big part of who she is right now). Towards that end, she rallies the forces to the headquarters of the Four Seasons. Unfortunately, there are traitors everywhere. New Year turns out to have infiltrated a lot more than everyone thought, and they have one goal: get Hinagiku back, and kill everyone else.

This is a long book, and has a lot going on. I’m actually going to skip talking about Summer’s agent here, as the next book looks like it’s going to focus on that, and I don’t want to spoil too much of what happens here. We do hear what happened to Hinagiku in the time she was in captivity, and it’s both sordidly bland (she was forced to make pot with her powers to help the terrorist organization make money) and also part of a cycle of abuse (the head of New Year had several traumatic experiences as a child and also lost her baby, so is determined to get a “replacement” daughter). The triumphant part of the book is seeing how she, Sakura, Rosei, and Itecho are all; still dealing with trauma but manage to gut past it and score a triumphant victory. The book honestly reads like one of those action movies that’s almost all climax. And that’s fine.

It’s not perfect – I was annoyed at the identity of some of the traitors, as I liked them (that’s the point, Sean), but it’s still hugely enjoyable, and I look forward to the next book, which apparently moves away from Hinagiku and Sakura for a bit. It’s fine. Let them rest.

Agents of the Four Seasons, Vol. 1

By Kana Akatsuki and Suoh. Released in Japan as “Shunka Shūtō Daikōsha” by Dengeki Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Sergio Avila.

This one took me completely by surprise. For one thing, I’ve never seen Violet Evergarden, the other series this author is noted for, which I know has a large cult fanbase. But even then, the cover art and plot description were sort of obfuscating things. I was expecting a soft little romance, with star-crossed lovers reuniting after ten long years and lots of crying and apologies. Actually, technically, I got all that except for the “soft” part, but that also does not describe the book at all. This is a dark and brutal story about recovering from severe trauma after years of torture, the devastation of those left behind, and living in an active terrorist state where at any moment you might get brutally murdered – or just kidnapped again. Fluffy this ain’t. That said, every page of this does its job to reward the reader, and if you can tolerate a lot of dark depressing angst, it’s one of the best light novels to come out this year.

This takes place in a world where the seasons are controlled by “Agents”, four people chosen to bring about the change to winter, spring, summer and fall. They are humans with powers, and when one dies, another one develops a birthmark which marks them as the next in line. In Yamato (i.e. alternate universe Japan), things have been terrible and rather wintery for the last ten years because of a disaster that took place – during an attempted assassination of the winter agent, the spring agent was kidnapped. She’s been missing all this time, and yet, because a new agent has not appeared, she isn’t dead. The book starts with her return, ready to perform the actions to bring about spring despite PTSD, what appears to be disassociative identity disorder, and a retainer who may be even worse off than she is.

We don’t get explicitly told what happened to Hinagiku when she was kidnapped, except for dialogue-only flashbacks that imply that heavy torture was done to her. But it left its mark, and it’s amazing that she’s here to bring on the spring and try to get things back to the way they were. Meanwhile, her retainer Sakura is still trying to cope with being unable to save her at the time, and being abused by nearly everyone around her in the interim. Rosei, the agent of Winter, has tremendous survivor guilt, given that Hinagiku sacrificed herself so that he could live. And Itecho, his retainer, also blames himself for not being strong enough to go up against dozens of terrorists with guns. There is, thankfully, a BIT of healing in this volume, but when the agent of Autumn is kidnapped in what looks like a repeat of the events of last decade, the Four Seasons decide enough is enough, and they’re not going to take it anymore.

I didn’t even have time to get into the Summer agent/retainer, who have twin issues, or the Autumn retainer, who is the only retainer with no real issues and therefore gets to be the one to suffer. I do know that I really, really, really want to read the next book in this series, and I am thankful that the series seems to do 2-book arcs, so things should reasonably wrap up in it. Highly recommended.