Thursday, July 29, 2010

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.

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