Project Bungou Stray Dogs: Kappa, by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

111256Original Title: 河童 (Kappa)

Author: Ryūnosuke Akutagawa (芥川 龍之介, Akutagawa Ryūnosuke)

Translator: Geoffrey Bownas

Genres: Literature, Japanese Literature, Satire

Rating: ✮✮✮✮

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“I do not wish to be born. In the first place, it makes me shudder to think of all the things that I shall inherit from my father – the insanity alone is bad enough. And an additional factor is that I maintain that a Kappa’s existence is evil.”


Project BSD

I really enjoyed Kappa, but I don’t know how to describe it in an appealing way, because it’s weird – and I mean it’s really, really weird.

It’s a satire a lot like George Orwell’s Animal Farm, but instead of politics, Akutagawa uses the fictional world of Kappaland to express his disgust of human beings, in particular himself. Akutagawa wrote Kappa during the last year of his life, while his already fragile mental health was deteriorating, not half of a year before he committed suicide in July 1927. In the story, an unnamed man falls down a hole into Kappaland, a world made up of Kappas, which are aquatic beings from Japanese folklore that have a tiger’s face, a sharp beak, scales, and an indentation on top of their head that, so long as it holds water, allows the creatures to live on land. He discovers that the Kappas have their own civilization, and from that point on he begins to live among them.

The Kappas have different ethics and practices than humans do, and though they’re not right by human standards, Akutagawa manages to twist it around and shove it back in the reader’s face a certain way that gives a sense of understanding. For instance, in a particularly disturbing birth scene, the Kappa has the choice of whether it wants to be born. This, along with the breeding practices mentioned in order to eradicate “evil heredity”, are subconscious indications of Akutagawa’s fear that he had inherited his mother’s schizophrenia. (The introduction claims that it’s a possibility, and that it is what eventually led to his death, but it’s impossible to say for certain.)

My favorite part is the end. There is a twist that Akutagawa kept until the very last few pages, and it wraps the story up nicely. When looked at from a distance, and after considering Akutagawa’s condition when he wrote the story, it also makes a lot more sense.

I am fascinated by Akutagawa’s work, because his stories are always filled with the weird, the grotesque, and the horrifying. I am more convinced than ever that although his stories aren’t for everyone, to the right person, they are magnificent.

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Manga Review: Haikyuu!!, by Haruichi Furudate

Haikyuu!!, by Haruichi Furudate27406716

Genres: Shonen, Sports

Volumes: 27

Status: Ongoing

Favorite Characters: Tobio Kageyama, Shōyō Hinata, Hitoka Yachi

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

As long as I’m here, you’re invincible.

For all of the times that I’ve mentioned Haikyuu!!, I’ve never reviewed it or gone into depth on why I love it so much, even though I’ve been reading the manga. The reason behind that is because I usually like to review manga when I’ve either finished the series or am close. A manga usually shows its merit around the halfway point, but there are times when it can completely spin out of control and plummet toward the very end. Some examples include Bleach, which everyone is pissed about, and Attack on Titan. (I know everyone loves the anime, but the more I read the manga, the messier it gets.) Because I hate reading anything electronically, I have been patiently waiting while the manga for Haikyuu!! is translated into English and published in volumes.

I am almost at the halfway point, and I cannot wait any longer.

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You have to understand that getting into the Haikyuu!! fandom is a trap. It will absolutely devour you. I got into it last autumn, and the way it affected me changed my life. I have never been athletic, and I’m not good with working in teams. There is absolutely nothing about sports that interests me whatsoever – and yet, October of my senior year of high school, I remember working in the elementary library and being so consumed with the need to play volleyball that I wanted to scream.

Haikyuu!! is intoxicating and all-encompassing. Its energy is insanely intense, its humor is sharp and on point, and it’s more motivational than any self-help book you can buy. The crazy thing is, though, is that the story is not that complicated at all. It follows Shōyō Hinata, who, after seeing a player known as the Little Giant play at Nationals for Karasuno High School, becomes obsessed with volleyball. He has a meager middle school career and only plays one game in one tournament against Kitagawa Daiichi, who crushes them. It is there that he meets Tobio Kageyama, Kitagawa Daiichi’s star setter and the King of the Court, and vows one day that he will beat him and stay on the court the longest. However, the following school year Hinata attends Karasuno High School and discovers that Kageyama is now his teammate.

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The two of them are always fighting, but on the court they are compatible, with Hinata’s athletic reflexes matching up with Kageyama’s skills into a freak quick-set that’s extremely hard to receive. Along with the rest of the members of the team, they set out to return to the national volleyball finals and stand at the top of Japan.

Haikyuu!! has a lot of gameplay, and a lot of commentary that could easily go over a person’s head. For someone that’s unathletic, it’s hard to understand the appeal. What is it that makes Haikyuu!! so popular? What is the secret to its insurmountable success?

It’s the characters.

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Besides the obvious sports aspect, Haikyuu!! is primarily character-driven. There are so many that it’s impossible to keep track of all of their names, but Haruichi Furudate never lets a single one become a backdrop. He creates backstories, aspirations, and vibrant personalities not only for Karasuno, but for every team that they face. He makes it so that the reader can feel every ounce of emotion, every shred of victory or defeat. Though Karasuno is the focus of the story, centering on them only would be a big mistake. A tournament is not just about one team, after all. By expanding the story outward and bringing in so many names and faces, Furudate broadens the reader’s perspective as well as their sympathy.

The reason why Haikyuu!! impacted me so much is not because it made me want to play volleyball. It’s because sometimes, it is the only shard of light in my day. It’s because there are times when it is the only thing that can make me laugh – and it’s because it reminds me every day not to give up. This is a story about overcoming obstacles and reaching for the top; about not accepting defeat, but remembering how it feels and how much you hate it, and pushing harder next time so as to never feel it again. Even if there is only a fraction of a chance, there still is a chance, and so long as you have it, you have to push yourself to your utmost limit.

Exceeding limitations, overcoming doubt – that is what Haikyuu!! is all about.

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I love Haikyuu!!. I love it with every ounce of my soul. If it weren’t for Haikyuu!!, I don’t think I would be able to believe in myself as strongly as I do now.

Because people don’t have wings, we look for ways to fly.

Project Bungou Stray Dogs: Crackling Mountain and Other Stories, by Osamu Dazai

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Original Title: かちかち山 (Kachi-kachi yama)

Author: Osamu Dazai (太宰 治, Dazai Osamu)

Translator: James O’Brien

Genres: Literature, Japanese Literature

Rating: ✮✮✮ +½

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I was a petal quivering in the slightest breeze, about to fall any moment. Even the slightest insult made me think of dying.


Project BSD

Stories in this book:

  • Memories
  • Undine
  • Monkey Island
  • Heed My Plea
  • Melos, Run!
  • On the Question of Apparel
  • A Poor Man’s Got His Pride
  • The Monkey’s Mound
  • The Sound of Hammering
  • Taking the Wen Away
  • Crackling Mountain

This is my third round with Dazai, and I’m extremely happy to say that Dazai won this time.

Crackling Mountain and Other Stories is a very eclectic collection. Dazai is more well-known for his novels, including No Longer Human and The Setting Sun, but these stories are nothing like those works at all. Half of them are are retellings, and they show something of Dazai that was absent in his novels: a sense of humor.

The stories have very little in common with each other, which means that it’s going to be harder to sell to people as a whole. However, I think they are universally enjoyable and easy to read. The longest one, Memories, was actually my favorite, though it is a piece of autobiographical fiction like No Longer Human, so that could be the reason. Then again, Melos, Run! is a retelling of a German legend, entitled The Hostage, and it’s considered to be the most widespread work of Dazai’s in Japan. It’s a very simple tale with high morals, which contrasts considerably with the pessimistic style that I had come to know.

Reading Crackling Mountain taught me that I still haven’t seen every side of Dazai’s intellectual spectrum. There is still so much that I have yet to learn about him through his work. For instance, Heed My Plea is Biblical, which is something I know absolutely nothing about, as I am an atheist raised in a non-conforming household. It’s mentioned in the note preceeding the story that Dazai studied the Bible through the mid-1930s, especially in 1936 when he was admitted to a hospital for psychiatric observation. This, along with the themes in the stories, is what surprised me the most.

The more I read of Dazai’s work, the more peculiar he becomes to me – although for a man that committed as many suicide attempts as he did, I guess it’s only natural for him to be strange. I’ve read thirteen of his works, but I still feel like I’ve barely cracked the surface of the man that was Osamu Dazai.

Review: Please Look After Mom, by Kyung-Sook Shin

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Please Look After Mom, by Kyung-Sook Shin

Genres: Korean Literature, Contemporary

Rating: ✮✮✮ +½

Life is sometimes amazingly fragile, but some lives are frighteningly strong.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It was one of those spur-of-the-moment things where I picked it off of the shelves on a whim; to be perfectly honest, I hadn’t expected that I would actually read it – but I did, and I really enjoyed it.

Please Look After Mom is the story of a woman who goes missing at a subway station in Seoul, and her family’s desperate search to find her. As the story progresses and is told from the perspectives of a daughter, a son, a husband, and then finally the woman herself, secrets are revealed that unveil the truth behind the woman’s disappearance, what caused it and how it could’ve been prevented. The characters are consumed with regret as they reflect on the past and all of the things that she did for them, and in turn, all of the things that they didn’t do for her.

It’s also a great window into Korean history, lifestyle, and culture. I must confess that I know practically nothing about Korea. I have always had more interest in Japan, and it is because of this that I haven’t studied other cultures in as much depth. Luckily, Please Look After Mom is not so ambiguous as to make it difficult to understand. It’s a great introduction and exploration of life in South Korea, but it is also not overwhelming.

The only negative thing I would say is that sometimes it’s repetitive, and I think to the right reader it would come across as boring. This is a book that focuses primarily on the life of a single woman, and to some people that is not enough. As the saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and literary fiction is the type of genre that works with some people and doesn’t work with others.

It’s a beautiful and tragic story about familial love, guilt, and selflessness. It definitely took me by surprise.

Review: The Retribution of Mara Dyer, by Michelle Hodkin

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The Retribution of Mara Dyer, by Michelle Hodkin

Genres: Young Adult, Paranormal, Romance

Rating: ✮

The villain is the hero of her own story.

I finally have an excuse to use this image:

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Warning: Spoilers. Spoilers everywhere.

The road that I have traveled while reading the Mara Dyer trilogy has not been an easy one. Unbecoming was sexist as hell, with slut-shaming and an egotistical douche of a love interest to match, but it was so creepy and mysterious, and overall, addicting. Instead of a book that I loved to hate, it was a book that I hated to love. Evolution started out strong but eventually grew tiring, with too many questions and not enough answers to satisfy. Then came the ending, which was terrible and made me really hesitant to finish the series.

Now that I have, I’m wondering what I ever saw in it in the first place.

For starters, it’s dull as fuck. The story sequence goes like this:

  1. Mara escapes Horizons with Jamie and Stella.
  2. Mara, Jamie and Stella go on a darling little road trip that takes up about half of the book.
  3. Mara starts screaming that they need to find Noah.
  4. Mara finds Noah, who starts fighting with his dad while Jude drools in the corner.
  5. Kaboom.
  6. Mara and Noah have sex in the worst sex scene I have ever read.
  7. The end.

So, in the book’s defense, the reason why I may not be able to recollect all of the details is because I was too bored to care.

Retribution is a gigantic mess. I mean that. Michelle Hodkin opened up too many doors, and now it feels like a race to close all of them before the book ends. There are theories being thrown around everywhere to try and connect things, to tie loose ends, and it is a headache to read. In the end, it’s all just garbled, scientific bullshit that sounds ridiculous and makes absolutely no sense. The root of Mara and Noah’s powers – the biggest question in the series, the one that I’d been dying to know – is absolutely pathetic. Supposedly there is a gene that all of these kids have that give them supernatural powers. That’s it. That’s the giant secret. This gene is also what leads to self-harm, depression, anorexia, bipolar disorder, etc. and etc., and I think that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. It’s never really explained. Hodkin tries, just a tiny bit, but because everything is coming so fast, it’s jumbled and confusing.

There are also a lot of holes in the plot of this book in particular. There is one scene that really pisses me off. It’s near the beginning, when Mara, Jamie, and Stella are on the run, and they hitch a ride with this psychopathic cowboy. They stop to use the bathroom and the guy attacks Stella, who finally decides to say, “He’s done this before. He’s going to kill us.” Do you know why this pisses me off? It’s because Stella can read minds. She can read minds, and yet she didn’t say anything when they were at the bar, didn’t say anything before they got into the truck, not even something moderately helpful like, “Run.” That means that the entire situation could’ve been avoided, but it wasn’t, and rape was used as a plot device in order to make Mara look like a tragic hero when she saved Stella and murdered the attacker.

I could go on – flimsy characters, bland writing, the absolute worst explanation for the connection between Mara’s grandmother and Noah’s mother, one that still makes absolutely no sense to me – but I won’t, because I’m boring myself to death.

Retribution doesn’t feel like a satisfying conclusion at all – although with a spin-off series in the works, it begs the question of whether it was purposeful, meant to drag the story out even further. I read this book for the sole purpose of the spin-off, but after this, I think I’ll pass.

The Mara Dyer trilogy is an absolute waste of time.

Review: A Conjuring of Light, by V.E. Schwab

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A Conjuring of Light, by V.E. Schwab

Genres: Adult, Fantasy

Rating: ✮✮✮✮

“Scars are not shameful, not unless you let them be. If you do not wear them, they will wear you.”

(^This song reminds me so much of this book.)

I have no idea how to review this book. I really, really don’t. I feel like I’ve said everything already in my reviews for A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows. The character development, the world-building, the writing – all of it is magnificent. The entire series is a masterpiece.

Was A Conjuring of Light a bit slow? Yes. It’s a 600+ page book, and there was a lot of traveling involved. Was the ending a bit underwhelming? Yes. Definitely yes. Do I think the previous books were better? Absolutely – but this book still had the thing that I love the most, the thing that really made me fall in love with it. When it comes to books, there is one quality that I admire the most. I love crafted writing and I love a lot of action, but there’s something that a book can have that a writer can’t really learn. It’s an attribute to the book that develops all on its own.

Potency. Semblance. Realism. When a book opens itself up and completely swallows you, when it doesn’t leave a trace of doubt that any part of it wasn’t meant to be. A writer can learn how to build a world and shape it to their will, but it takes an extra push to make it truly come to life, and that’s not something that is done easily. When a book is real enough to make me forget that I’m reading – when I forget that it’s a story, not something that actually happened – that is my favorite thing. That is what Shades of Magic has.

A Conjuring of Light is the last book in the series. It is over 600 pages, and it is still not enough. It left me aching for more. Finishing it is like coming out of warm water into the shivering cold. I am tempted to beg for a spin-off series, except that I know how those things usually go, and I am restraining myself (almost).

I could disect this book the way that I usually do, but the truth is that I just want to enjoy the pleasure that it brought me while reading it. Sometimes it’s impossible to express why we love something, and I’m having a hard time finding the words for the magic of this series.

Review: Rebel of the Sands, by Alwyn Hamilton

25776221Rebel of the Sands, by Alwyn Hamilton

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy

Rating: ✮

The world makes things for each place. Fish for the sea, Rocs for the mountain skies, and girls with sun in their skin and perfect aim for a desert that doesn’t let weakness live.

To say this book is dull is a bit of an understatement.

I love Arabian mythology. A while back, I did some research for a story I was working on. I only wanted some information about ghouls, but then I got caught up in the legends of the First Beings. I spent hours scrolling through websites, soaking up information. That’s why I was so excited by Rebel of the Sands – but its problems start at the very beginning. The author tries to mesh the Middle East with the Western genre, but it succeeds more in the later than the former. It doesn’t blend. The parts where the author delves into the myths are overshadowed by shootouts, politics, and a revolution that is shoved into the last part of the book.

See, that’s the other thing. I understand the importance of Ahmed’s revolution, but because it isn’t an important part of the book up until the end, I can’t be made to care about it. Most of the book is made up of Amani and Jin traveling around the country together (and staring lustfully at each other, of course), and by the time I got to the meat of the book, it was too late. I was bored out of my god damned mind.

The relationship between Amani and Jin is extremely unbalanced. They meet at a pistol pit, escape a burning building together, and the next morning they are fleeing for their lives, putting their necks out for a person they barely know. Amani throws all of her dreams of traveling to Izman, the capitol of Miraji, out the window, ones that she’s had for years, all for a boy that she’s known for two months. They start swooning over each other instantly, but the attraction between them isn’t there. They feel like two characters from different stories shoved together and forced to play a part.

Then there’s the writing. For one thing, it’s melodramatic. Everything is trying to be so intense and tragic, but it’s not working. It’s a little cheap, like those SyFy movies my dad likes to watch, just to laugh at the shitty graphics. Compared to An Ember In The Ashes – which has a lot of similar themes, if you look closely – it fails, miserably. And then there’s this:

The head that rose to look at me was the color of sun at high noon over a sand dune…I was on to the next stall already, to a Buraqi the color of cool dawn light over dusty mountains. The next one was the endless dark of the desert at night.

Those are all in the same paragraph, and those kinds of sentences are repeated over and over again all throughout the book. Like, I get that you need to be creative, but is there really anything wrong with saying that something is black? How about ebony? Stygian? On second thought, now that I think about it, does it really matter what color the Buraqi are at all? She’s only using them as a distraction; it’s not like they’re significant.

I’m rambling.

My point is that sometimes, there’s nothing wrong with being simplistic. Going overboard and trying to sound artistic and clever can backfire, and make the story difficult to read. It can also disrupt the moment. Particularly in fight scenes, it’s better to be sharp and to the point, because it amplifies the viewer’s perspective. Rebel of the Sands doesn’t do that, and so its punches aren’t thrown as hard as they could be.

Rebel of the Sands had a lot of promise and a cool concept, but a horrible execution. It picks up at the end, but by the time you get to the action, you’re practically dragging yourself through it. What it needed was less traveling, more buildup, and a lot more focus on Arabian mythology.

Project Bungou Stray Dogs: Poems of the Goat, by Chūya Nakahara

2550921Original Title: 山羊の歌 (Yagi no Uta)

Author: Chūya Nakahara (中原 中也, Nakahara Chūya)

Translator: Ry Beville

Genres: Literature, Poetry

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

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The gateway to the shrine is draped in sunlight

The leaves of the elm are fluttering gently

The cobalt shade of summer beneath the trees at noon

Is working to ease my lingering regrets


Project BSD

Note: Due to length, the quotes used in this review are excerpts, not the entire poem.

Since I have started this project, I’ve learned so much about these authors and how they inspired their characters in Bungou Stray Dogs. There is something satisfying about putting a piece together, about figuring out a characteristic and connecting it with something that happened in the author’s life or one of their stories or poems. Because of this sense of familiarity, there are some authors that I have sought after explicitly in order to attain it.

Chūya Nakahara was such an author (well, poet). Because Chūya is my second-favorite character in Bungou Stray Dogs after Akutagawa, I wanted to read his work more so than others. Chūya Nakahara has been argued as modern Japan’s finest poet, and when someone slaps a title like that on a person, it makes their work irresistible. The problem is that Chūya’s work in English is extremely hard to get a hold of. I usually order books that I can’t find through Mel-Cat, but the only ones that are listed under his name are in Japanese, and I’m far from fluent enough to be able to read them.

So, of course, that meant that if I wanted to read the English translations, I had to buy them – and I finally got around to purchasing Poems of the Goat.

And it’s beautiful.

This longing that consumed me in my youth of quiet sadness

Is on its way to disappearing into the darkened night.

Even with the sentiment that there is something lost in translations, even without the visual effects of the Japanese language, even without the tone that is offered through different Japanese pronouns, these poems are so beautiful. They’re full of love and loneliness and insecurity, themes that reveal Chūya Nakahara as a person, and themes that I am drawn to on instinct. I was swept away by the haunting visuals, the elegant language, and the flowing, musical style that he was acclaimed for.

I love poetry because it feels personal. I love that the poet is free to either be vague or blunt, whimsical or dark, emotional or detached. It opens a window into their soul, into who they really are. By reading Poems of the Goat, I have glanced into the soul of Chūya Nakahara, and I love it so much.

Review: The Upside of Unrequited, by Becky Albertalli

30653853The Upside of Unrequited, by Becky Albertalli

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, LGBTQIA

Rating: ✮✮ +½

I don’t entirely understand how anyone gets a boyfriend. Or a girlfriend. It just seems like the most impossible odds. You have to have a crush on the exact right person at the exact right moment. And they have to like you back. A perfect alignment of feelings and circumstances.

This book was a little meh for me. There were pieces of it that I liked, but I didn’t enjoy it so much as a whole.

The Upside of Unrequited has a lot going for it. It’s hilarious, quirky, and cute, and it’s full of so many wonderful things that I like to see advocated in books: Molly and Cassie have two moms, they’re part of a biracial family, and they’re Jewish. Cassie is a lesbian and her girlfriend, Mina, is pansexual. Molly is overweight, which is something that does not happen enough in books, especially where YA is concerned. There are also some topics discussed concerning sex and body image, and although Molly’s thoughts are painful and discouraging and to be honest, pretty insulting, I can’t say I haven’t had the same ones. It’s not that they’re true, it’s just that they’re manifestations of insecurity. They speak to every person who has ever felt sensitive about how they look.

One of the problems is the story. Much of it is focused on Molly’s crush on Reid, as well as her relationship with Will, and the endgame of getting a boyfriend. It’s really uncompelling. Another problem is the underlying current of the relationship with her and her twin sister, Cassie. After Cassie gets a girlfriend, they start to grow apart and fight a lot, and Cassie says some extremely rude things to her sister that, if I were in Molly’s shoes, I would not take. Such as:

“Do you want to help us paint mason jars?” I ask, after a moment.

Cassie laughs harshly. “Um, no.”

“Wow,” I say.

“Jesus Christ. Molly, stop.”

“I’m not doing anything.”

“Ugh—you’re looking at me like…no. I mean, no offense, but do I want to paint fucking mason jars with you and Grandma? Or do I want to hang out with my girlfriend?”

And the thing is, she never apologizes for that – or for anything else she’s done, which includes getting drunk at a party and then assuming that Molly will drive herself home, even when she knows that she’s had a drink. When they start to talk toward the end, she spins it around, and Molly ends up apologizing instead. Then they move on to the wedding, and it feels like so many threads in their relationship are left untied.

Another thing that’s nagging me is that everything – the story and the characters – kind of run together. Nothing felt very distinct, and a lot of the characters felt the same as another character, or multiple characters. None of them connected very well, either. It felt two-dimensional. The writing started to get repetitive after a while, too; I lost count of how many times Molly mentioned something going on in her stomach or her heart. I liked Reid, but Molly around him was an annoying hamster wheel.

It was not a bad book, but it didn’t impress me as much as I was hoping it would. If I were to recommend it for anything, I would say for a good laugh.