Project Bungou Stray Dogs: Tangled Hair: Selected Tanka from Midaregami, by Akiko Yosano

1142106Original Title: みだれ髪 (Midaregami)

Author: Akiko Yosano (與謝野 晶子, Yosano Akiko)

Translator: Sanford Goldstein and Seishi Shinoda

Genres: Poetry, Tanka

Rating: ✮✮✮ +½

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Without returning…

O my feelings

In this gathering darkness of spring

And against my koto

My tangled, tangled hair.


Project BSD

I cannot verify how good I am at reviewing poetry. I can’t critique poetry the same way that I can books; I can only generate my personal opinion, not the quality of it. There were some that I didn’t like or understand, but Tangled Hair was a beautiful collection over all.

Tanka is syllabic, and it follows a structure of 5-7-5-7-7. Similar to the haiku, it also contains themes of nature. There’s a lengthy introduction that delves into the history of the tanka and also its evolution, leading up to where Akiko Yosano plays a roll in it. It rambles on and quite a bit of it is unnecessary – there’s a lot about Tekkan, Akiko’s husband, and all of his past lovers that was pretty boring – and in the end, it entails what can be easily understood by reading the poetry itself: it’s feminine, it’s erotic, and it’s sensual, just like Akiko herself.

Morning wisteria,

Soft murmurs of love,

His hand on the back of my neck,

O powerless to detain him,

My lover of one night!

What makes Akiko’s poetry so shocking is not just the eroticism, but what it symbolized. The traditional tanka relates strictly to nature’s beauty; Akiko crushed the “Old School” style and turned the tanka, which had been dying across the nation as an art form, into something completely her own. There’s a lot of themes in her poetry that become repetitive – the color red, pink blossoms, a koto, priests and temples – but sometimes she still twisted it and wrote something new. This one is my personal favorite:

The clear spring inside me

Overflowed,

Became muddy –

A child of sin you are

And so am I.

The best part about Tangled Hair is that it’s bilingual. Because it’s so difficult to translate Japanese exactly into English, trying to replicate it to the letter is an impossible job, especially since tanka is based on syllables. To give you an idea, hanashimasu means “speaks/will speak” in Japanese – four syllables versus one or two, depending on the context. It’s unbalanced. Instead of trying to cram the English translation into the same structure, the translators let the poems run free, and included the poems in the original Japanese – both in kanji and romaji – to keep its authenticity. There’s also notes that explain the poems’ meanings, though personally, I think trying to dissect poetry ruins its beauty.

Tangled Hair is feminist poetry. Though there were some that I didn’t get, I love the themes that are depicted in this collection: sexuality, beauty, desire, and throughout, that undertone of naturalness that the original tanka prescribes.

Reviw: Wax, by Gina Damico

23454794Wax, by Gina Damico

Genres: Young Adult, Paranormal, Mystery-Thriller

Rating: ✮✮✮ +½

Yes, the town of Paraffin was a happy place. The grass was green; the streets were clean. The residents were good, wholesome cheese-loving people. They worked hard, they loved their kids, and they greeted every day with a smile. They said hello to one another in passing, and they watered their neighbors’ plants while they were away. They had no reason to distrust their fellow citizens or suspect that they were up to anything heinous, no reason at all.

Until, one day, they did.

Whenever I see that Gina Damico has a new book coming out, I get ridiculously excited. She carved her way into my heart with Croak and has been living in there ever since. I love her sense of humor and her cunning, and how she isn’t afraid to step outside of the box – way, way out of the box.

Seriously, I can name off a dozen books about a fantasy kingdom or a dystopian government, but I can think of only one book about living wax figures, and only one mind that could possibly hold the audacity to create it. Her books are peculiar in a way that almost reaches, “What fresh hell did this spring from,” and to top it off, she makes me laugh almost without trying.

Poppy tried to ignore the costumed musical atrocity that was befalling the food court, but it was not designed to be ignored. A dancing pig dressed in overalls swung his bucket oh so merrily across a raised stage while a trio of cows sang and wiggled their udders. There was also a terrifying anthropomorphic representation of the state of Vermont ambling and cavorting about, his ceaseless, dead stare no doubt sucking the souls from the slack-jawed children who had the misfortune to fall under his tyranny.

THAT IS THE SECOND TIME I’VE READ THAT AND I STILL CAN’T STOP LAUGHING.

I was a bit disappointed with her previous book, Hellhole. It still cracked me up, but there were a lot of loose ends that weren’t tied properly, which left it feeling unfinished. Wax feels complete, with the plot flowing smoothly and all of its ducks in a row. Its structure is different than her previous books, though: not so many highs and lows, twists and turns. Despite the obvious panic that clouds Poppy’s narration throughout, the book as a whole feels mellow in comparison…something that I’m not used to from Gina Damico. It’s almost like she traded in some of her signature spark for a more balanced book.

Overall, I enjoyed Wax more than I did Hellhole – marginally. I’m still waiting for that feeling I had in Croak to come back, when I was bursting with so much emotion – both joy and sheer terror – that trying to stay composed while reading in public was impossible. I hope that her next book – which is about a reality show in space – will bring that back to me, because it’s a force to be reckoned with.

Review: Crooked Kingdom, by Leigh Bardugo

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Crooked Kingdom, by Leigh Bardugo

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy

Rating: ✮✮✮ +½

“We can endure all kinds of pain. It’s shame that eats men whole.”

I found out only after I had started reading Crooked Kingdom that this series was only a duology. This makes me unbelievably sad. Honestly, I would find it hard to stretch the epic world of Six of Crows into three books, but this series was such a rare of a gem that I have a hard time accepting that it’s over already.

You hear me, Leigh Bardugo? Write another spin-off. Now.

I enjoyed Crooked Kingdom as much as Six of Crows—with one exception, but I’m getting to that. The scheme wasn’t as insane as breaking into the Ice Court, but it’s just as daring, and as it all unfolded before me, I loved the rush. I loved watching the chaos unfold just like a true member of the Dregs. These two books held such a delicate complexity that I feel like tampering with one thing would blow everything over.

A lot of things have changed since I read Six of Crows. The biggest thing is how I feel about the characters. I still love them all, but in the first book, I had this pull towards Kaz. How couldn’t I? How could you possibly resist a dark, ruthless anti-hero with the mind of a madman?

I did not love him as much in Crooked Kingdom. I don’t know if this was faltering in his characterization or if I’ve just changed. But do you know who I do love? Jesper.

“It’s a weevil?” Inej asked, examining it.

“A chemical weevil,” said Jesper. “But Wylan still hasn’t named it. My vote is for the Wyvil.”

“That’s terrible,” said Wylan.

“It’s brilliant.” Jesper winked. “Just like you.”

I just realized why it’s called canon. It’s because you ship it. SHIP. Oh my god, what have I been doing with my life.

Not only do I love Jesper, but I found a soft spot in my heart for Nina as well. In the first book I was more found of Inej, but in Crooked Kingdom I realized Nina and I are both kindred spirits.

They passed a cheese shop, and Nina sighed. “How can I walk by a window full of wheels of cheese and feel nothing? I don’t even know myself anymore.”

I am in love with this dark, intricate world, but there is one thing that I can’t get over—the thing that almost killed this book for me.

I am never going to forgive Leigh Bardugo for that ending. Never. I’m sorry, but that ending deducted a whole star, simply because it was anticlimatic, out of the blue, and totally unnecessary.

(Warning: THIS IS THE SPOILER) : Matthias’s death was not only unexpected, it wasn’t developed enough. I get it, a main character dying is horrible and tragic and adds a twist to the story, but without enough to keep it afloat, it feels like an awful attempt at drama. There was not enough time to mourn Matthias, and not only that, the characters—the rest of Kaz’s crew—did not properly mourn as well, not even Nina. And what was the point? Why did Matthias have to die? Is there going to be another spin-off focusing on Fjerda, with Matthias used as some sort of martyr? Why did Matthias have to die? Why was he expendable and no one else?

Crooked Kingdom was not as good as Six of Crows, and it could all be because of that terrible ending. (Though I am glad that all of my ships have sailed.) Still, if Leigh Bardugo keeps up this sort of style—rich, dark, and devilishly compelling—I will read every book she writes.

Manga Review: Black Butler, by Yana Toboso

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Black Butler, by Yana Toboso

Genres: Shonen, Dark Fantasy, Horror, Black Comedy

Volumes: 23

Status: Ongoing

Favorite Characters: Elizabeth Midford, Prince Soma, Snake.

Rating: ✮ +½

            “Love is a magnificent thing but, incidentally, it can also give birth to dreadful tragedy.”

I love Black Butler. I really, really do. I love the elegant drawing style, the gags, the violence, the cynicism, the Gothic touches sprinkled everywhere….It’s a beautiful manga.

What’s so special about Black Butler is that it is both a comedy and a tragedy. Set in the late 1880’s during Queen Victoria’s reign, Lord Earl Ciel Phantomhive works as her ‘watchdog’, handling her dirty work along with his butler, Sebastian—who is literally a devil of a butler. Three years before, his parents were savagely murdered and his mansion set afire, and Ciel was kidnapped and placed as a sacrifice for devil worshippers. In desperation, he summoned a demon and made a covenant with him: stay loyally by his side until he has his revenge.

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Many arcs arise, from Jack the Ripper to a murder mystery reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, then a zombie apocalypse followed by a witching village in the forests of Germany. Each case hides a shocking secret which explodes into thousands more.

Ciel is described as “the aristocrat of evil.” He is not an average 13-year-old boy. Blighted by the horrors of his past, he has become cold, meticulous, and cunning. The only time he ever shows any heart is towards his fiancé, Elizabeth—who looks extremely cute but is actually a badass with swords—which is probably why I love her so much. I love that inside of his dark, foreboding heart, he has that one ray of light.

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Sebastian, the protagonist of sorts, is perfect to the point of absurdity. That has always been why I don’t like him very much. He’s a devil, so obviously he has superhuman capabilities, but it’s like there’s nothing he can’t do, and even though that’s the point, it annoys me a lot.

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Instead, I’m attached to almost everyone else: Elizabeth, Prince Soma, the Phantomhive servants, even Grell Sutcliff, though at first I couldn’t stand him.

The other thing is there are some serious historical inaccuracies. Some are acknowledged, but some are not. For example, Prince Soma at one point is excited about a television, even though this story is set mostly in 1889 and the first fully functioning television wasn’t invented until 1927. Next, Baldroy calls Sebastian Superman—more than once, I believe—when the character of Superman wasn’t created until 1933, and first appeared in 1938.

Despite that, it’s very enjoyable—however, it is not a very happy story. Black Butler brings out humanity’s ugliness, our flaws, our weaknesses. From the vantage point of a demon, it is easy to see how trivial we really are.

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This is the sort of story that shows how cruel humanity can be.

“Humans cannot reject temptation.

When they are plunged into the depths of despair, likened to hell, they will hold on to anything that may help them escape from the situation they are in, even if it’s merely a spider’s thread, no matter what sort of humans they are.”

Review: Forbidden, by Tabitha Suzuma

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Forbidden, by Tabitha Suzuma

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary

Rating: ✮✮✮ + ½

I wipe my cheeks and turn my head to look up at him. “We haven’t done anything wrong! How can love like this be called terrible when we’re not hurting anyone?”

He gazes down at me, his eyes glistening in the weak light. “I don’t know,” he whispers. “How can something so wrong feel so right?”

3.5 stars.

This is a hard book to review. It’s definitely the dark, emotional book I expected, yet at the same time I feel a little…disappointed.

This is not a book that promotes incest. Lochan and Maya’s narrations are unreliable; trusting them would be like trusting that of a serial killer. What this is, is the story of two siblings who were neglected by their mother and forced to raise their younger siblings by themselves, or otherwise have their family broken apart, and because they are so detached from everyone outside of their home, they can really only rely on each other for support. This pushes them together, and their emotional relationship turns physical. Though their story is heartbreaking and you feel sympathetic towards them, that does not justify incest in the least.

I especially felt sympathetic towards Lochan, who is so socially crippled that he can’t even participate in class. He doesn’t have any friends besides his family. He’s juggling school, social anxiety, and is forced to become a father at the age of seventeen to three siblings that, though he loves, annoy him and put him at wits end. His struggles hit me hard.

Even though I’m surrounded by pupils, there is this invisible screen between us, and behind the glass wall I am screaming—screaming in my own silence, screaming to be noticed, to be befriended, to be liked.

I was also found of Kit, Lochan and Maya’s thirteen-year-old brother. He’s this nasty kid at the start, always picking fights, using coarse words in front of a five-year-old, smoking weed, and deliberately disobeying his older brother just to make him mad—but towards the end he becomes the brother that everyone had been missing, and his relationship with Lochan grows and starts to mend. It’s understandable where he’s coming from; he’s stuck between being a kid and an adult, trapped in a confusing world where he understands all of the shit that is in his life and yet can do nothing to change it.

What kind of disappointed me was that I had high expectations, and this book didn’t quite reach them. Basically, I expected to cry, and I didn’t. I was ready to burst into tears at any possible moment—at the library, at my favorite restaurant, on the bus—but it never happened. Oh, it’ll make you want to curl up and die at some points, and my heart definitely broke a couple of times, but I wanted it to make me cry. The ending is absolutely horrifying, but I didn’t shed a single tear. I don’t know whether to be disappointed in myself for being a heartless wrench, or just blame it on the book. I’ll say the former.