Gear Drive, Vol. 1

By Kabayakidare and Koutaro Sugi. Released in Japan by Overlap, Inc. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Matthew Warner.

Sometimes when I am reading fiction I am looking for something with deep philosophical themes, something that takes the characters on a tremendous journey and teaches the reader something about both the author and themselves. And sometimes I just want to kick back and have a rollicking good time. Gear Drive is definitely designed to be the latter, and I spent most of the book reading with a giant grin on my face. If I didn’t know better I’d swear it was a novelization of tome shonen manga from Jump or Sunday. It’s filled with ridiculous powerups, intense fight scenes, and showing off the truly important things, which is caring about the people around you and not just trying to look cool. And its heroine, Anti, is a great narrator, sounding very much her age without being too annoying to the reader. It’s actually a series I’d be quite happy to recommend to YA readers, especially as there’s only one volume out in Japan so far (the second comes next month).

Our story begins in a small fantasy village named, erm, Cardiff, where the inhabitants spend their days, erm, mining coal. Look, it really is a fantasy land and not Wales, though I know the two can be confused easily. Everyone in this world has magic, though some come to it more easily than others. Anti, our heroine, is one who needs a little help, so at the age of 15 she goes to the church to find out what her magic ability is. Turns out… it’s gears. She has no idea what this means, and nor does anyone else. Rapidly, however, it turns out to be a far more useful ability than expected, especially combined with two other items that her parents left her before they tragically died… no, wait, both her parents are still alive and active in the story! Fake shonen! At first being somewhat unhappy with her mystery gifts, Anti has to learn how to use them on the fly when a giant bear creature attacks the woods near her village and two young kids go out to stop it to prove they’re brave.

As I said, the high points of this book are many. There’s one scene in the battle between Anti and the bear creature that features one of the best uses of a standard fantasy “infinite bag of holding” I’ve ever seen. There’s Anti’s moral sense, which is present and correct throughout the book, and which she passes on to the impulsive kids she has to save. (I loved the illustration of the kids as adults later in life, looking straight out of Log Horizon.) There’s the standard “our eyes meet and we know we are destined to fall in love later in the series” scene, only it’s between Anti and a girl her own age, and I’m not sure the series is going to go there, but it still made me smile. The book is not perfect, of course. Anti’s gear powers combined with her parent’s items sometimes lead to “whatever the plot requires”. It clearly ends Vol 1 with about 1/3 of a book to go, so we get some quick short stories from other people’s perspective, and begin book 2 early, which means it ends in an awkward place. Also, the translator clearly had the ability to have someone say “Anti are you OK?” and didn’t, which made me sad. Still, I’m carping.

This came out in Japan in February 2018, and was apparently licensed immediately. I can see why. If it keeps this up, this will become one of my favorite series. Go get it now.