Posts filed under ‘Reviews’

Hideyuki Kikuchi Anthology: A Wind Named Amnesia and Invader Summer Review

A Wind Named Amnesia and Invader Summer book cover

Well this is interesting: instead of deciding to sell two Hideyuki Kikuichi novels separately, Dark Horse decided to put A Wind Named Amnesia and Invader Summer in one volume. This is decent value for money especially in Australian dollars (where I live books are expensive: expect to pay twenty dollars or more for a paperback). The first novel on my first inspection seems to be a post-apocalyptic tale which avoids the lack of finesse more Western apocalyptic literature and film has to the influence of the (again) Australian film Mad Max and its respective sequels. I’ve never read Vampire Hunter D (written by the same author as this anthology) but Kikuichi seems to have a real grasp on how narrative flows with full exposure to the atmosphere of a novel set in a dark yet graceful future.

A Wind Named Amnesia is about a youth named Wataru who wanders the landscape of America with an alien girl named Sophia. They must discover the cause of a mysterious amnesia which has caused humanity to descend into a primitive state. The roads are perilous, and the people they meet could be friend or foe alike. And yet there is still hope. Sophia never lets Wataru give up hope in humanity, as they struggle to survive in a world where humans have forgotten basic skills and even advanced technology. Once humans were capable of reaching the stars, now they are glued to the ground. Overall A Wind Named Amnesia is a quick but raw read which plays out like a sort of On the Road only instead of Jack Kerouac a Japanese science fiction writer is documenting the graceful decay of civilization, for all its rawness in the description of brutality, it’s never gratuitous or over the top. Kikuichi as a writer chooses to depict America as a sprawling wilderness where all order has been lost due to a lack of remembering what they once had, only some people remember more than others. I highly recommend this as light reading because while it’s fun to read it’s not as intellectually demanding as Brave Story. Well written, good effort, but not much depth. Philosophical statements are made, but they sound cheesy. And isn’t that what a Kikuichi novel should be? It was written in the 1980s, and believe me, after seeing Hot Rod, the 80s inspired film about a stuntman biker, I totally “get” what Kikuichi was going for with this one. It’s rock and roll, not Mozart.

The second novel in this anthology is Invader Summer, which is an entirely different mood to A Wind Named Amnesia but sticks with the premise of alien mystery. It’s about a kendo black belt teenager or something who’s in trouble with some gangsters who want to knock him off because they’re working for a competing school who want their kendo pupils to win the national championships. There’s also a strange girl who captivates all the male members of the school, causing a lot of problems for the girls.

Invader Summer can get dark but it’s in a lot lighter tone than the first novel presented here. As I don’t know much about the context of Invader Summer – but I can tell you it’s a hell of a lot easier to read than A Wind Named Amnesia which gets pretty brutal. Mainly because the gangsters are so inept that they’re hardly threatening at all, whereas A Wind Named Amnesia has a really dark apocalyptic atmosphere. My recommendation is to buy this book because you get two stand alone light novels which can be enjoyed as reading on the bus or just individually. You can’t lose with this deal, since Hideyuki Kikuichi delivers strong stories with reasonably deep musings on humanity.

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Text Copyright © Jacob Martin 2010 and The Ranobe Cafe. All Rights Reserved.


April 30, 2010 at 12:22 am Leave a comment

A Brave Man Takes On Brave Story: A Light Novel Book Review With Heft!


Brave Story is not for the faint of heart. By that I mean if you have been prescribed heart medication by a doctor and have been advised against heavy lifting, this book may not be for you at a whopping 818 pages. The good news is it’s a children’s book with heft, and for kids who want to demonstrate Herculean feats of reading, this book is for them. I’ve heard several reviews on that have mixed reviews of this mammoth tome, you either love it or lump it, and I mean LITERALLY lump it, because this book is huge. It has been said that this book has a niche audience because of its sheer size, but fans of Final Fantasy games and other J-RPGs will appreciate a love letter to the epic quests of J-RPGs in book format.


December 6, 2009 at 2:42 am 1 comment

FLCL 2 Light Novel Review

Marquis de Carabas - Communist Irony
^Maybe I should put more effort into finding actual pictures in the novels, but I figure pictures of the characters from the corresponding chapters works.

FLCL 3’ll be coming up eventually. Hope you enjoy the review. Discuss if you want ^_^

Title: フルクリ / FLCL; “Marquis de Carabas” and “Full Swing”
Volume: 2 (of 3)
Author: Enokido Yoji
Original Concept and Plot: Tsurumaki Kazuya
Illustrator: Tsurumaki Kazuya
Group: Gainax
Licensed by: TokyoPop
Translated by: Gemma Collinge / Laura Wyrick (Adapter)

Review by: Kafkafuura

“Plunge deeper into the demented dreamscape of a high school nothing turned mutant warrior in this volume of FLCL” (From the back of the book) ← First, I’d like to point out that other than Mamimi, the entire child cast is in 6th grade, ie. elementary school.

“A Lolita complex is merely an adult admiring a child – a grown-up metamorphosis.” “I like Diet Coke. This is grown up.” – FLCL Director/Producer/Creator Tsurumaki Kazuya ; this is what makes the afterword worth reading.

“…it felt good. It was the same feeling he got when he’d ridden on the speeding Vespa – the time when his brain had been empty. Maybe this is how Haruko always feels.”

“Marquis de Carabas”

Up until this point, FLCL really centers around Naota (even if Fire Starter’s about Mamimi), but “Marquis de Carabas” starts off with Ninamori Eri: class president, special girl – or not. She’s in conflict over being special due to “other people” and not by herself. Added into the mix, her father becomes the subject of a scandal, bringing her more unwanted attention and tying her more to the adults in her life she wants to be independent from. She gets caught up with Naota (via vehicular accident, as usual) and an interesting relationship is formed. To end it all, Ninamori gets through her social, self-contained plight via giant robot warfare and moves on with the play “Marquis de Carabas”. Naota is left confused; Haruko has a glint in her eye.

“Full Swing”

“If you don’t swing, nothing with happen. Takkun, you think you’re special, don’t you? That’s why you don’t swing. If you swing, people will know you’re not special.”

This chapter is about Naota. Even though most of the other chapters follow Naota around, “Fooly Cooly” is an introduction, “Fire Starter” is about Mamimi, “Marquis de Carabas” is about Ninamori, and now “Full Swing” is about Naota. In “Full Swing” Naota’s feelings sort of come to an uncomfortable peak. His resentment for following in the shadow of his brother Tasuku, his relationship with Haruko strained, his relationship with Mamimi strained, his relationship with his father strained, all connected in one place about to explode. We’re also introduced to Commander Amarao and the military/government. Naota explodes, in more ways than one, and is forced to “take action” – swing – if you will.


A great number two of three. A second in any series usually suffers for being in the middle, with the introductions over and no incredible climax to carry it, but I think FLCL handles this fairly well. I liked “Marquis de Carabas” because it moved a little farther away from Naota and focuses more on another character: Ninamori Eri. It sort of strengthens the child v. adult dynamic by making it more generalized; Naota’s not the only one at odds with his irresponsible parents. Ninamori’s also a great “politician”. “Full Swing” takes up the slack as the end of a middle by throwing a bunch of new questions into the mix – the government, and someone who knows Haruhara Haruko – a man with incredible eyebrows. You can’t not love Amarao at first sight…

Of course like FLCL 1, FLCL 2 suffers from the same “short book, but normal price” syndrome, but again I don’t think the price is too high for the value of the book. The added internal dialogue that the light novel offers over is refreshing to those who have already seen the anime, and so it’s generally easier to follow; even though it still keeps its confusing charm well enough.

I recommend reading the afterword. May your heads stay empty my friends – good day.

December 6, 2009 at 2:39 am Leave a comment

FLCL 1 Light Novel Review

Fire Starter
^This image isn’t in the actual light novel, but it depicts a scene from it, of which there is a picture in the LN.

I’ll be posting on a much more often than once a month basis from now on, at least until I run out of books to review.

Title: フルクリ / FLCL; “Fooly Cooly” and “Fire Starter”
Volume: 1 (of 3)
Author: Enokido Yoji
Original Concept and Plot: Tsurumaki Kazuya
Illustrator: Tsurumaki Kazuya
Group: Gainax
Licensed by: TokyoPop
Translated by: Gemma Collinge / Laura Wyrick (Adapter)

Review By: Kafkafuura

The Akihabara district populace demanded, “Please, make it all GAINAX-weird so that the old men who follow subcultures, all the Shibuya teenagers, and the girls who read cute comics won’t get it.” I kept my end of the deal – but just this once. -Sato Hiroki (FLCL Producer)

Now, if you are of my generation, I’m apt to make the perhaps haphazard assumption that if you are into Japanese anime/manga sub-culture you’ve seen, or at the very least heard of FLCL, also known as “FooLy CooLy”. It’s known for being ridiculously confusing and nonsensical, with explosions, robots and great indy music – all part of the charm. It’s a cult classic, in other words.

First off, the FLCL light novels are a novelization of the 6 episode anime series, started a few months after its completion in 2000, not “source material”, but it was planned at the same time. This lends itself to a different sort of atmosphere: the FLCL light novels can be best described as: an explanation to “what the hell did I just see?”. But this doesn’t mean that it’s unsuitable if you haven’t seen the series, they’re perfectly enjoyable on their own; it also means that if you’ve seen the FLCL anime already the light novels give you the benefit of “knowing what you actually just saw.” (People who have seen will understand).

Now for the specific source material. What you actually want to know. FLCL Vol. 1 comprises of the first two arcs of FLCL: “Fooly Cooly” and “Fire Starter”. (Basic plot summary follows.)

“Fooly Cooly”:
Enter Nandaba Naota “cool sixth-grade junior high hero”, Samejima Mamimi “high school student and girlfriend to Naota’s brother”, and Haruhara Haruko “dangerous alien who rides a Vespa”. Can’t you already see the makings of a story? “Fooly Cooly” sets up the introduction, and has the scene that really defines FLCL in general, Naota – in an very awkward situation with his brother (who left for America)’s girlfriend is alerted to the sound of a raging enging whereupon this crazy woman attempts and eventually succeeds in whacking him on the head with a bass guitar that seems to have an engine in it. Naota eventually grows a horn, and at a critical moment, a robot and another robot’s arm come out of his head (emptied of its brains) and fight. The battle concludes and life returns to what Naota tells himself is normal.

“Fire Starter”:
“I can’t hardly tell anymore where the truth ends and the lies begin.”
The robot, Canti, becomes part of the family, Haruhara Haruko too. More horns start growing out of Naota’s head. Fires are sprouting up all over the place. Mamimi thinks Canti’s a god, and you’re introduced to a few of Naota’s classmates on the side, including the generic “class president” character (she’ll show up later). What is medical mechanica really all about? Naota finds the fire-starter, and robot warfare sprouts from his head again. Wha~T? Naota’s relationship with Mamimi develops. Confused? Good. Read!

Personal Opinion/Review:
I’m a fan of it. It targets a sort of niche, but light novels are a niche – it’s something to appreciate. It makes much more sense than the wild ride the anime throws at you, but it certainly doesn’t leave behind the craziness. So the story is great; the added internal dialogue and exposition helps explain a lot about the series and the world it’s set in in general. The translation is very good; the illustrations are done by the creator so they can’t be any more accurate; the length is good, great for bus-ride reading. The one thing I hear complaints about the most is the price tag. It’s short, 122 pages, but $9.99. There are three of them, so you’re going to be spending ~$30 if you want all of them. You might say it has a high price tag because they think they can hook fans regardless, but if you compare the book itself to other books, it’s really not that expensive. I see where the complaints are coming from, but I personally don’t see it as a problem. As a side note, if you like this kinda stuff – go find Cencoroll, it has a similar feel.

This is a part 1/3
I’ll review the other books soon enough.

Comments? I’m not going to attempt an indepth discussion of possible meanings and stuff, that’s not a review; but feel free to discuss what you think.

November 11, 2009 at 2:43 am Leave a comment

Under the Leopard’s Mask

Guin Saga v1 cover

Reviewed by nolwenn961

From prolific writer Kaoru Kurimoto comes her most notable work, “The Guin Saga,” a work that is said to be the mother of light novels. As a forerunner to a kind of fiction that quickly gained popularity in Japan, I was excited about picking up this book and seeing what it had to offer.

“The Guin Saga Book One: The Leopard Mask” isn’t just a fantasy story. There’s another dimension to it, a sort of underlying mystery about who Guin is and how he came to have a leopard mask on him. This is something that’s addressed only occasionally in the first book, but I expect the themes of memory and identity to be dealt with in later volumes. The main focus is the twins of Parros and Guin’s encounter with them. The way that Guin looks out for the children is heroic as it’s supposed to be, and sometimes it borders on the fatherly.

Overall, not a lot happens in this first novel, but that’s as expected because this is just the first volume of a series that spans over a hundred volumes. Most of the action takes places in two scenes when the trio is in the Roodwood and when they are captured and taken to Stafolos Keep. So much of this novel is spent on exposition, resulting in lavish, sometimes tiring descriptions about the twins of Parros and their beauty. You might forget that Guin exists, remembering him occasionally only because the story is named after him. On the other hand, the descriptions are very vivid, making the scenes easy to picture to even the most unimaginative reader.

To my surprise, there are illustrations included in this novel, but you shouldn’t expect anything that looks like manga by today’s standards; this novel was originally published in 1979. Even the cover is atypical. The cover is a painting that looks realistic, serving as a further reminder that this novel is slightly different from the light novels that were later published. It would fit in more on a bookshelf among mainstream fantasy in America. There’s even a map.

“The Guin Saga” got me very excited and revived my interest in mainstream fantasy which had been previously squelched almost immediately after partially reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit.” I couldn’t help but root for Guin and everything he did which I found rather surprising considering that Guin himself is a hero, and I fancy myself as an aficionado of anti-heroes. The bottom line is, if you like Guin, then you’ll like this story. If you don’t like Guin, then maybe you’ll enjoy his antagonists more, but you probably won’t get much enjoyment out of this book. This is a heroic fantasy, and the good guys seem to always prevail at the end of the day.

One thing that I would very much have liked to see in this book is an afterword or a postscript, something that will place me the author’s mind. The last page of the novel succeeds in wrapping up the volume while at the same time sets us up to expect much more adventures for the characters in the coming volumes. However, like many light novels, a lot of the books will never reach English speaking audiences. With only five out of one hundred twenty-six volumes translated into English, “The Guin Saga” will probably remain as hidden as Guin’s face under the leopard mask.

November 10, 2009 at 4:25 pm Leave a comment

The Video Blog Review by Brent – Boogiepop 2

So it’s that special time again. Brent (from Otaku no Video) is back with a second review for us, and this time, it’s a review of the light novel “Boogiepop Returns: VS Imaginator Part 1”.

October 9, 2009 at 8:26 pm 1 comment

Review: Train Man: The Novel


Reviewed By: Jacob Martin

Train Man, as a novel, changed my life. I didn’t even use blogs or forums before I read this book. My parents, they generally think the internet is a minefield of pedophiles and nasty folk. In some ways they still do. But Train Man… it presents things a little differently.

What if you were so hopeless at talking to the opposite sex, that one day, when opportunity arises, you need help to even see that the opportunity is there? When you are so used to being lonely, you’ve never known anything else and the possibility you might have a chance at love scares you because you don’t want to screw it up?

This is the dilemma Train Man, or as he is known in his native country, Densha Otoko, faces. So bewildered by the sharp shock that catapults him into the path of a young woman who he saved on a train from a drunken old guy… he’s at his wits end. But where does he turn? The most unlikely of places. The internet, 2Channel to be precise. What resulted from that thread which records the history of this particularly strange event was edited down by an anonymous forum user from the raw logs, and turned into the novel which I purchased one day after having heard about it, from, of all places, the internet. I don’t know precisely how it happened, nor can I remember it very well. All I know is that the story in this book, changed my life.

I started interacting with people on the other side of the world I’d never met in person. I went to see the recent Star Trek movie with Australian bloggers I had never met in real life, even though my parents were horrified by the idea, their fears for my safety were most telling about the nature of their generation, and my own. Their generation was taught to fear strangers, whereas my generation seemed to embrace strange company.

Train Man is therefore having the potential as a literary work to be just as subversive as Welcome to the NHK by Tatsuhiko Takimoto, but in a different way. The trouble lies in getting people to read it, so their lives are changed too. It’s written in internet forum posts – a literary technique not seen since The E Before Christmas by Matt Beaumont. In that novel, it’s told in emails, but in the Train Man novel, an entirely new and strange technology is equally part of the story as Train Man‘s leaps into love: the internet forum.

Literature is perhaps not quite ready to accept internet literary techniques in Western literature, but Japanese literature has long been a form which embraces innovation years or even centuries before the West even begins to come to terms with it. The multiple viewpoint technique in Japanese literature is an example, but I hope we don’t have to wait half a century before the internet is accepted as a growing part of the human experience. The choice to publish Train Man: The Novel as an edited version of its raw forum post form is a startling decision, instead of “Based on a True Story” type prose fiction, it goes all the way and accepts what it’s got to work with.

The ASCII art presented in the novel is intact: and it truly replicates the experience of the 2Channel forums in hypertext. The book is best read in either novel format or in the Project Densha translation, but if you don’t like sitting at your computer for hours, the book version is the best way to go. The fact there is a public domain translation is fascinating, because it reveals the nature of the story itself: the story of Train Man wasn’t composed by some writer who lives in a country-side cottage, it was built out of the internet posts of the common people. Nobody really owns Train Man/Densha Otoko’s story: it belongs to the common people because they helped Train Man/Densha achieve the courage he needed at the moment where he felt so lonely and helpless that he turned to the solace of strangers.

Train Man’s story is not weird because it’s unrealistic, it’s just very unlikely. To give you an idea of this, imagine a world where Terry Pratchett’s maxim of “Million to one chances happen nine times out of ten” happened to a lonely otaku with not a clue how to talk to women, or how to interact with people outside of the internet. What develops is a fascinating parable of netiquette: people stop trolling Train/Densha because his courage which was there all along completely undermines any bitterness that the people who initially trolled him in the story had against him. It’s a powerful fable about 21st Century cynicism, one that isn’t just applicable to a Japanese context, but the world.

Cynicism is born from doubt, but sometimes doubt undermines any positive change we can act out in our lives. When everything is hopeless, sometimes you just need to believe in yourself, that maybe, that girl you met on the train that you kind of like will feel the same way as you do about her? Maybe she won’t, and she’ll reject you, and you’ll go back to fantasising about anime girls like every other jaded otaku. Or maybe, you’re better than this. Maybe you want to see what happens if you take a chance even though your hopes and dreams might be shot to oblivion. And that’s part of the narrative my generation, Generation Y, born and raised on the internet, is living out RIGHT NOW.

The translation of the Robinson published edition (which is the version available in the UK) is interesting because usually translations of novels Americanise things, whereas this Britishises it. I feel a British approach to the translation rather than an Americanised translation is a fascinating look at how language is preserved by the British (except in instances where things are lost in translation). Instead of “Mom”, the abbreviation of mother in this version is “Mum”, which is what people in Australia like me use (They did start Australia as we now understand it as a British penal colony after all). In that sense I was drawn right into this translation – I felt that I was hearing the voices of real people rather than an American anime dub voice. Maybe you feel differently about translation, but as an Australian I find that maybe, complete Americanisation of all Japanese translation is not the answer for a more accessible text.

The story itself is a powerful one, nerdy guy makes good sounds like a cheesy romance novel plot – but how many romance novels can you say both appeal to men and women at the same time? The gender divide is really balanced here, you can enjoy it no matter if you’re a boy or a girl. Love is universal that way. I am serious. Even if you never buy the novel, read the Project Densha translation just to try it out. I give you a money-back guarantee you will like it, because you will have paid nothing but your time which is well worth it.

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Jacob Martin is a blogger, writer and photographer with Asperger’s Syndrome who lives in Sydney. He also thinks like Train Man, he needs to get out more.

Added Note by Ranobe Cafe: While although it is believed by many that these posts from 2ch were in fact real. It should be noted that the novel when released was marketed as such, a NOVEL, a work of FICTION. The English edition makes no mention of it being based on actual real life internet posts or any true story. So while many believe in both Japan and America that these posts within the book were taken directly from the 2ch boards, it is also believed by many that this was a complete work of fiction. Please keep this in mind. Thank you.

October 5, 2009 at 12:00 am 2 comments

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Welcome To Ranobe Cafe!

This marks the english speaking world's first dedicated light novel blog, bringing you news and views from the english perspective on light novels. We are more than just a blog about light novels though, we also stand in awe of the many other literary works crossing over to the West from Japan. So expect to also see articles that dabble from time to time in Cell Phone Novels and Japanese Sci-Fi works, to mention a few.

So come all you light novel enthusiasts! Come one and all! We may be a niche, and may represent one of the smallest markets in these economically troubled times, but we are also one of the most dedicated! So let us come together and support the industry we love and hold so dearly!