Book Girl And The Famished Spirit

By Mizuki Nomura. Released in Japan by Enterbrain. Released in North America by Yen Press.

When I was reviewing the first Book Girl, I noted that its main plot drew on the novel No Longer Human. This second book also draws on a novel, but actually knowing what it is might give away spoilers, so I will avoid mentioning it.

The first Book Girl novel had its dark and creepy moments, but overall was a light, fun read. This second book was also an excellent read, but was not remotely what I’d call light and fun. We’re dealing with some horrible themes here, including a mental, physical and emotional torture that surprised me by its ferocity. Usually when someone talks about someone being ‘tortured’ in a manga or novel these days, they don’t mean it literally. Not here – this is torture of a young girl, plain and simple, and we see its effects play out before us.

As for our regular cast, they go through a bit as well. Konoha, our hero, is still attempting to get over the tragic events of his past, and despite Tohko’s calming presence, he’s still prone to constant self-doubt and panic attacks. As the novel goes on and he discovers more of Hotaru’s backstory, he starts to realize certain similarities between his own thoughts and the plotting of the main villain. Konoha is haunted not only by his friend Miu, but also by Miu his alter ego author, whose book seems so idealistic and innocent to him… and disgusts him now. As with the first book in the series, we don’t get a sense that he’s resolved much of his inner turmoil, but at least here he sees a mirror to himself that shows what not to do.

Nanase has another small role in this book, and continues to be such a stereotypical tsundere that I am wondering if it’s a false front. Either that or she’s the one character written in to get the typical anime fan reading. Maki, however, has a much bigger and more vital role in this novel, and even manages to go beyond being the ‘information broker’ type that she usually embodies. Indeed, the epilogue to this story is written by her, and unlike the first book, Tohko does not get to read and eat it – this epilogue is private, and meant for only one other person. Oh yes, and speaking of the typical anime fan, I have no doubt that Maki (offscreen) getting Tohko to dress up as a cat waitress and going meow led to 87 billion fanart pictures in Japan.

Tohko, meanwhile, is the detective, though she’s far less successful here than she was in the first book, and leaps to a lot of misunderstandings. Tohko seems far more like a normal teenager here than she did in Suicidal Mime, and it’s too her benefit. Her fight with Konoha is filled with easily cleared-up misunderstandings that aren’t cleared up as neither party talks with each other. I’m still not sure if there’s going to be a romance here – she displays some jealousy towards Konoha supposedly seeing other girls, but I’m not sure how much of that is fueled by Nanase and how much is her own feelings. Also the addition of Ryuto to the cast (and I’m not sure what to think of him at all – I hope he shows up in future books) allows us to see some of her thoughts and actions from a POV other than that of Konoha, and reveals how much she depends on him.

And then there are the stars of this book, Hotaru and Kayano. Really, it’s hard to go into their characters without giving too much away, but they are the highlight of the book, and give the climax a stunning power even though if you analyze it it’s just a bunch of people shouting at each other. You want Hotaru to be saved – indeed, the lengths that Maki goes to trying to do just that are impressive – and yet at the same time you see the yawning chasm that separates this book from the happy, fluffy ending that Konoha’s alter ego would once have written about.

It’s always hard to recommend a book when there’s so much you don’t want to give away. Still, this is a great book. The characters have an excellent depth (mostly, Nanase is still a bit of a caricature), the plotting is nerve-wracking, and Yen’s translation is excellent. Definitely recommended, though I’d avoid reading it on a cold and rainy evening.

Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime

By Mizuki Nomura. Released in Japan by Enterbrain. Released in North America by Yen Press.

I must admit, when I first saw that this series was coming out, I thought that it would be a lot more ‘moe’ than it turned out to be. Light novels in Japan have trended towards this in the last several years, with variations on ‘Normal guy meets girl with (insert plot point here). Will they get together with the help of their wacky classmates?’. Luckily, at least in the first volume, Book Girl is nothing like this.

I think I’m going to have to face up to the fact that I need to get a copy of Osamu Dazai’s No Longer Human. Between this book and Zetsubou-sensei, I feel like I’m just missing out on a lot of references when I read about it. Of course, I’m probably learning the wrong lesson here, as one of the main points that Book Girl makes (in order to emphasize a greater one) is that Dazai wrote tons of stuff, and that perhaps too much attention is paid to No Longer Human by depressed and emotional readers. Still, you get the sense throughout the book of the power of Dazai’s earlier novel, and much of the plot riffs around it.

The titular Book Girl herself is not the main character here, and functions more as a Poirot, popping up whenever it’s time to move the plot along or explain things. Touko can be slightly demanding, but I never got a sense of her being a total brat the way that I did with Haruhi Suzumiya in her earlier novels. You can see why Konoha is sometimes annoyed by her, but you can also see why he sticks around. Besides being an excuse to continue his writing, she’s also fun to be around, and surprisingly philosophical. Plus her namedropping of both Eastern and Western literature is fun, though I question some of her taste (Barbara Cartland?).

The main plot involves a cute little girl of the bubbly pixie type, who has asked the Book Club to write letters for her to give to a guy she likes, as she thinks they will do a better job than she would herself. The entire plot as ‘disaster’ written all over it from the moment you see it, of course, but you keep being tricked about just how big a disaster it is. At the start of the book you think we’re going to be in for a lot of wacky misunderstandings and crossed wires. Then you wonder if the author is going for a Cyrano plot.

However, the book is not called ‘Suicidal Mime’ because it’s trying to be cute. And I’m impressed that it actually emphasizes both words equally (mime in this case being akin to ‘wearing a mask and acting out a role’), as thoughts of suicide as well as pretending to be a normal person when you’re secretly thinking differently are both given equally strong emphasis, both on people we expect such as the flashback characters, as well as surprises – such as the narrator.

The themes in this book resonate perfectly with your typical teenager, which is I think why it makes a perfect license for Yen. The entire thread of ‘I am different than everyone else and NO ONE MUST EVER KNOW’ is something everyone who’s ever been a teen can identify with, and the book handles it well. (Yes, there is a mystery here too, but the mystery is, in my opinion, only a plot device to move the characterization along.) That and the YA-friendly cover design make me hope that this takes off in the way that LNs designed for otaku over here have not. There’s several plot points that are dropped here but left for future books, as it’s clear that the author was commissioned for a series from the start. I look forward to reading the next one immensely.