Amagi Brilliant Park, Vol. 4

By Shouji Gatou and Yuka Nakajima. Released in Japan by Enterbrain. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Elizabeth Ellis.

I’m still trying to figure out why I find Amagi Brilliant Park so hard to like but difficult to drop. Part of it may simply be an issue that I have with several light novel series, notably Index: the author is trying to be funny but I’m not laughing. As with the third volume, this book consists of one long story and several shorter ones. The long story gives us a deeper look at Bando Biino, one of the part-time staffers we’ve met before, whose gag was that she always wound up bloody due to accidents. The story behind this could actually be very depressing and chilling if the author wanted to (and the afterword hints that he was talked out of doing so), as it turns out that she’s under a very nasty curse that influences all of those around her. The trouble is that the resolution to this is a) a sexually harassing doctor who isn’t as funny as the author imagines, and b) a ritual that is really a parody of TV quiz shows, which is DIRE.

The problem is that when the author isn’t trying to be funny, this is actually rather good. Biino’s situation is horrible, and seeing her perky optimism slowly break down is devastating. We even get some depth added to Tiramii, the lecherous dog mascot thing, who takes a non-lecherous (mostly) shine to Biino and resolves to help her. There’s also some intriguing stuff with Seiya, who spends much of the story irritated at Biino but not to the extent that he actually does anything about it, which is hinted to be due to his strong resolve – the curse can’t make him abuse her. And then we see Biino’s brother, who has now been released from an institution he was put into after trying to kill her, now out, recovered, and ready to love his sister – they’re not really related! – and you just have to facepalm. It feels like I’m reading something where the dials are set in precisely the wrong positions to be fun.

The rest of the short stories run along the same lines. The best shows a curious (and possibly jealous) Isuzu tailing Seiya as he goes to a meeting with what turns out to be his stepsister, who is trying (unsuccessfully) to patch things up between him and his father. Seiya is normally default obnoxious, and it’s nice to see that this comes from a very real difficult childhood, which is not simply easily resolved by a cute little sister type. The one story played entirely for comedy involves one of the park’s staff (a dinosaur mascot thing) trying to make a promotional video of the park, and being told to make it less dull. This is done for pure comedy, which sometimes does actually work (Isuzu’s ongoing reactions) and sometimes doesn’t (everything else).

It’s possible that I’m just a grumpy cuss, and certainly those who watched the anime and enjoyed it should like this. But I really think the author’s strengths lie in more dramatic writing, and all Amagi Brilliant Park does is make me miss Full Metal Panic.

Amagi Brilliant Park, Vol. 3

By Shouji Gatou and Yuka Nakajima. Released in Japan by Enterbrain. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Elizabeth Ellis.

Half of this was fantastic, the other half I hated. Welcome to another review of Amagi Brilliant Park, a series I’m still very ambiguous about. The third book in the series is made of of short stories, two short and two long. The short stories were all right. The first one was based around the gag that if we ever saw the fairy mascots as humans, they’d all be sexy bishonen, which did not, for once, wear out its welcome so was quite funny. The other short story has Seiya, curious about the magical world, trying to go to it with Moffle. He doesn’t make it (train issues), but does learn more about Moffle’s past and bonds with him a bit. It’s also the only part of the book where you don’t want to punch him in the face. Let’s face it, Seiya is a protagonist who’s very hard to like, and the two “large” stories in this book show us why; he’s an arrogant jerk who barely cares how others think of him.

Let’s start with the story I disliked, because I will admit part of it is me. Stories where there’s bodyswapping and a character has to pretend to be another make me feel deeply uncomfortable, and that’s the entire premise. Seiya has too many absences at school because he’s working on the park, but the park can’t afford for him to actually go to school regularly. Fortunately (?), the fairy team has a solution of what is essentially a lifelike Seiya costume that they can wear. Over the course of four days, Isuzu and the three main mascots go to school pretending to be Seiya, and get involved in a tortured plot involving love letter shenanigans. A lot of it was very predictable, and I sadly did not find it as funny as the author did. Still, as I said, if you DO like bodyswap-like comedy, you should have no issue with it. (It also has Seiya at his absolute worst, especially near the resolution.)

That said, the first story in the book is probably my favorite of the entire series to date. It takes place from the POV of Shiina, one of the three new part-time hires we briefly saw in the last book. She’s introverted, bad at being social, flubs her words when she speaks, and really only comes alive when she sings karaoke to herself in the evenings. Naturally, she’s put with Moffle for her part-time job, which has her dreaming of quitting after about half an hour. But it’s actually great, as while Moffle is a drill sergeant of a teacher he’s not unkind, and Shiina gradually acclimates to life at the park – and in school, as she realizes (well, OK, has to be told) that she’s no longer as shy and wallflowerish there, which stuns everyone. What’s more, the three mascots find her at the karaoke booth and learn her terrible secret: she’s a brilliant singer. But can she get over her introversion (still an issue despite everything) to save the Park? This was terrific. Shiin’a POV is great, there’s minimal Seiya, and the character growth all around made me smile.

That said, I wish it had been later in the book. As it is, the book feels very top-heavy. Still, it’s enough to keep me wanting to read more, if only to see if Seiya ever learns humility. (Joking about his being a tsundere is not quite enough, no.)

Amagi Brilliant Park, Vol. 2

By Shouji Gatou and Yuka Nakajima. Released in Japan by Enterbrain. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Elizabeth Ellis.

This volume of Amagi Brilliant Park is not as shockingly cynical as the last volume (I suspect the author realized it might become an anime and needed to walk things back… indeed, the anime cut the surprising part of the ending to Book One entirely). That said, I also think that the story settles in a bit better for the long haul here, and while our two leads still feel a bit cliched (indeed, the prose occasionally shows self-awareness that it is a cliched light novel series), they don’t feel like they’re only made of cliches. The premise is much the same as last time – the deadline was kicked down the road, but the “get visitors and make money or get shut down” threat is still there. The money is more important than the visitors right now, as without a staff the park can’t function. And so Seiya thinks hard about how to get a) more money, and b) more staff. He has the help of Isuzu… sometimes, when she’s not under the influence of truth serum.

Princess Latifah (who hopefully will never become Queen, because boy would that be awkward) is on the cover, looking a lot more happy than she is in the book. She’s lost her memories from the first book (another thing the anime changed), and as such is both a) judging her past self harshly for being unable to come up with good solutions, and b) judging her current self harshly for being unable to live up to her past. Seiya tries to help, but I get the feeling that this is a plotline that’s going to be playing out over the course of the series. He’s also still harboring some feelings for her… though he also has some feelings for Isuzu, who he thinks might reciprocate them (the truth serum helped), but isn’t quite willing to actually ask when she could tell him, and afterwards of course she’s back to her normal curt self.

We do meet some new characters. One seems to exist only for the sake of a dumb gag, though she does seem sweet – I’m hoping the gag is not a running one. The other one seems to be a gung-ho high school girl who is determined to work at the park, and is not going to let foolish things like getting stabbed and needing immediate medical attention stop her. This sequence succeeded mainly due to its complete ridiculousness. As for Seiya, he’s still a somewhat morally questionable hero – the magic ability I mentioned he barely used in the first book is used here with a vengeance – but it’s all offscreen, and it’s used in order to help him gain blackmail material so that he can make a financial agreement with this world’s equivalent of Walmart. It’s not as jaw-dropping as the first book, but there’s still the sense that he’ll do anything to win, and Isuzu will simply stand next to him and ask if there’s anyone he needs shot.

The market for this is definitely teenage boys (Isuzu waking from a nightmare by having her gun emerge from between her legs and fire into the ceiling is possibly the most unsubtle joke I’ve seen in any light novel to date), but Amagi Brilliant Park is fun, easy to read, and still has a bit of a cynical, bitter taste to it.