Looks Are All You Need: Tatsuki’s Breakbeats

By Ghost Mikawa and necomi. Released in Japan as “Kao Sae Yokereba Ii Kyōshitsu” by Fujimi Fantasia Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Evie Lund.

One thing that I’m really enjoying about this series is how it’s not really any of the two types of books we see these days. Generally speaking the largest category of light novel can be categorized as “fantasy” in some way or another, be it isekai, reincarnation, military books with magic, etc. There’s some sort of supernatural thing or power involved. The other genre is “romance” in some way, shape or form, with the romance of the lead character being one of the main plots. But Looks Are All You Need isn’t either of those. Shiika’s talents are partly due (we’re told) to her synesthesia, but that is a genuine condition, not a made up cool power. Same with Erio and her huge range. Here we meet dance prodigy Tatsuki, and we learn that it’s really just hard work and a desire to change something that drive her. It may be told in an overdramatic, shonen-esque manner, but the most unrealistic part of the series is probably Gakuto’s ability to beat people up. As for the romance, there may be a few crushes here and there, but it’s not remotely the focus of the book. Fame is the focus of the book.

We’re up to the next major goal for our brother-sister team and their friends. It’s time for the final exam, which is done in groups with the points being allotted as the group sees fit. The music department has to post a video of a performance. Easy enough. But it has to combine music AND DANCE, and Shiika’s got the stamina and athletic ability of a sloth. That’s a big problem. Fortunately, one of the hottest first-years in the dance department, Tatsuki, is delighted to help them out – provided she gets a song from one of the group’s fantastic composers in return. There are just a couple of issues. First of all, is a really good song and dance going to be enough? And secondly, Tatsuki has her own issues, which are causing her to put up a facade when she really should be speaking out…

The core of the second book, and of Tatsuki’s issues, is hip-hop culture in Japan. Hip-hop as a genre tends to get defined as just “what rap was in the 70s and 80s” by some folks, but there’s a lot more to it than that, including dancing, beatboxing, graffiti, etc. It’s also, as the book notes, a scene that is not what it used to be. At its core, though, this explores a fairly familiar story from earnest school books like this – how to stop a friend from going to the bad side and becoming a delinquent. Which is hard when everyone has spent your whole life thinking YOU’RE the delinquent. I also really enjoy Gakuto, who is somewhat self-aware that he’s in a light novel but he doesn’t let it drive what he does. I love his stunned shock at the reminder that – gasp! – if you want to be successful you have to actually network and make good contacts. The solution to the fashion problem was also very clever, and reminds us that competitions in real life are about winning by working around the rules but not breaking them.

This remains really enjoyable to me, though to be fair I come from a drama background. Unfortunately, it’s a brand new series, and I think we’re caught up to Japan. Time to wait.

Looks Are All You Need: Shiika’s Crescendo

By Ghost Mikawa and necomi. Released in Japan as “Kao Sae Yokereba Ii Kyōshitsu” by Fujimi Fantasia Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Evie Lund.

There’s a lot here that reminds me of other light novels, even though the premise itself is somewhat unique. If anyone remembers the old movie/TV Series Fame they will find this a bit familiar. But the two series it reminded me of most are No Game No Life and Spy Classroom. The former is obvious: it’s about a brother and sister, both eccentric, who have skills but have dealt poorly with social interaction in the past, being forced to socially interact. The good news is that, thankfully, there is precisely zero incest subtext in Looks Are All You Need, and Gakuto and Shiika feel like actual siblings rather than a weird fetish. As for Spy Classroom, this is another book that relies heavily on it being on the page. What this series does with music is something that can’t be conveyed aurally without losing the magic. Which makes me worry that, if it ever gets an anime, it’ll be Erna under the table all over again.

Seeker is a fairly popular virtual idol, who does mostly cover versions but has quite a following. In reality, Shiika is a shut-in who cares little for her appearance or social cues, who lives in an apartment with her brother, who is much the same but doesn’t have Shiika’s singing ability. One day they’re approached by a talent company, who were able to find out her real identity. They have a suggestion: go to Ryouran Academy and learn how to become a famous star. It’s tempting – Gokuto’s goal in life is to earn a ton of money without actually doing any work. Unfortunately, Shiika is a virtual idol for a reason. That said, they agree to have Shiika enter the academy and give it a try, provided that Gokuto can enter with her, as a sort of “supernumerary”. It ends up being the best thing that happened to the school.

I enjoyed this much more than I expected. I know the author from the series My Friend’s Little Sister Has It In For Me!, which is also very good. But this hit a lot of buttons that I resonated with personally. Shiika is not only a talented singer, she’s also synesthetic, seeing sounds as colors, and that’s a huge part of how she handles people – when she sees a rival girl who has a 6-octave range, she’s not impressed but horrified, as her falsetto range is “ick” – it has bad colors. Speaking of which, I was in a high school chorus where an alto was forced to sing soprano doe to lack of good voices in the higher registers, and it did destroy her voice, so I feel for Erio, who’s all technique but no soul. I hope she and Shiika become friends. And then there’s Gokuto, who gives off that air of “I am just a clever shlub” the entire book, until the unseen climax, where we get to see his inner warrior peek out.

Basically, Shiika and Gokuto give off “I am a cliche” vibes, but are deep enough that I want to read more of them, especially Shiika. Definitely a strong start.