It's been almost a year to the day since I last posted something here, and I am ashamed.
I want to call myself a writer, and I do. I am a writer. I write. But a writer should also read, if for no other reason than to see what other people are writing. I don't read nearly as much as I used to as a child--somewhere between my chaotic background and high school literature, I think I lost my love of reading--but going to Denver really brought it back. I was burning through books there, surrounded by book-lovers and avid readers. I was exposed to new genres, had my views challenged, and was opened up to a whole slew of new material I had never even considered.
It was amazing.
Then I completed my program and went home. I fell into the same rut I'd always been in where life's complications and dramas kept me from reading. My struggle to keep writing kept me from reading. It's been a long hard year. A really long, really hard year.
But I've finished a book (I've finished a few, actually, but had lost the drive to review them somewhere along the line), and I'm ready to share my thoughts on it.
All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. It's not only an illustrated light sci-fi novel, but a manga, an anime, and art book FOR the manga and anime. There's also an American graphic novel, and an American movie adaptation under the title: Edge of Tomorrow (2014), which was then released to DVD/Blu-Ray as Live. Die. Repeat. All its different incarnations made it very difficult to find an original novel art to compare to the cover of the book I own and have read.
(AND NOW I WANT TO READ THE MANGA AND WATCH THE ANIME AND I HAVE FALLEN DOWN THIS RABBIT HOLE SOMEONE SEND HELP)
Note: I am a sucker for alien movies. I am a sucker for apocalyptic movies. I am a sucker for disaster movies. I love robots and aliens and battle and struggle and war. Even if the movie is arguably bad, I will watch it if it's scary, or action packed, or has awesome special effects.
That being said, I saw Edge of Tomorrow in theaters and enjoyed the heck out of it. I enjoyed it so much, in fact, that when it came to HBOGO, it became one of my fallback movies for when I was bored and couldn't find anything to watch while eating lunch. I enjoy it so very much, I wrote a fanfiction drabble set in its universe with its story line for my current fandom of choice. That's how much I enjoyed this movie's everything.
So you can imagine how excited I was to find a copy of Edge of Tomorrow on the shelf of my local used bookstore. Best way to spend $4.00 at the time.
Originally, I thought it would be similar to the Pacific Rim novelization (another robot/alien movie I adore and currently call my favorite movie), where the novel follows the events of the movie, but expands on the universe and characters and plot in a way a movie just doesn't allow. I WAS REALLY EXCITED.
I read the text on the cover only after I had gotten home:
"Previously published as ALL YOU NEED IS KILL by Hiro Sakurazaka."
"Now a major motion picture starring TOM CRUISE & EMILY BLUNT."
It was a book first. Not a movie. Huh. Okay. Published in 2004, then made into a movie in 2014--TEN YEARS LATER. I felt really late to this party. So during my move through several states and landscapes, I cracked open its hardly-worn spine (just kidding--I never crack spines; but the spine was hardly worn) and read. Between nine-hour long days of driving and adjusting to weird hotel beds, I'd curl up with my dogs and find out what spun off the adventure that was Edge of Tomorrow.
I only finished it recently.
To say I was disappointed would be an understatement, but I understand my disappointment could come from a variety of sources.
- I saw the movie first. So I'm already comparing the two in my head. Normally, I try to read the book before seeing its movie adaptation. Normally, a movie isn't nearly as good as the book. Normally. I daresay it's the other way around with All You Need Is Kill. I'll get to that in a second.
- It's a Japanese light novel. A quick search on Wikipedia says, "A light novel (ライトノベル raito noberu) is a style of Japanese novel primarily targeting middle- and high-school students (young adult demographic). "Light novel" is a wasei-eigo, or a Japanese term formed from words in the English language. Such short, light novels are often called ranobe (ラノベ) or LN in the West. They are typically not more than 40,000–50,000 words long (the shorter ones being equivalent to a novella in US publishing terms), are rarely more than a few hundred pages, often have dense publishing schedules, are usually published in bunkobon size (A6, 10.5 cm × 14.8 cm), and are often illustrated. The text is often serialized in anthology magazines before collection in book form."
- Translation. It was originally written in Japanese, and like any language, Japanese has its own idioms and vernacular that may not translate well. Sometimes it doesn't translate at all, and translators are left conveying the concept the best way they can--which can vary from translator to translator.
With this full disclosure and acknowledgement, I'll continue with my thoughts on the book.
It was a quick read. I feel this works in its favor, since the whole plot is the protagonist going round and round again in some twisted Groundhog Day scenario battling aliens. I didn't have to read the same opening several times, but the repetitiveness of Keiji's life is made clear and emphasized without dragging the reader through his misery.
The author also made some syntactical choices I found inappropriate (in that I didn't feel they fit with the rest of the story) and downright weird. While I didn't particularly enjoy it, I don't necessarily constitute this as poor writing because of 1) translation and 2) Keiji is supposed to be 18 years old and fresh out of boot camp. He claims to be someone who isn't too bright and had few prospects beyond the military, so the strange ways he expresses himself would be appropriate for his character. To be fair, some of his expressions were funny in that sarcastic, sad, bitter sort of way--because his character is at war and has an attitude that I can only describe as a "typical teenager."
The book is divided into four sections. The first is written in the first person and titled after the protagonist: Keiji Kiriya. The reader follows Keiji through his battle, his loop, all the way up until he meets a character called the Fullmetal Bitch on the battlefield. The second section is named after Keiji's sergeant, but we're still in Keiji's head. Then, suddenly, the third section starts (titled Full Metal Bitch), and it's written in a third person limited perspective focusing on Rita Vrataski, who has earned her title through her super awesome fighting skills. We not only get her whole history--from her childhood to when she crosses paths with Keiji--we also get some weird third-person omniscient information drop about the Mimics, where they come from, and why they're attacking Earth. The fourth section starts sometime after first section ends, but doesn't quite overlap with the second section, and again, we're in first person in Keiji's head. We stay with Keiji until the end of the book. (There's a--somewhat--helpful diagram on the Table of Contents page that demonstrates the relationship between the different sections: which pages run parallel to each other, and so on. It's a lot to digest, but it's there for consumption.)
The section titles were a little hard to parse, but I figured it out in the end. The change in point of view, however, was a really weird stylistic choice, and the biggest critique I have about the entire work. Between characters seems an easier shift to understand. Between points of view is even understandable. But to not only switch characters, but also switch how the reader interacts with that character? The only thing I can assume was the author wanted Rita to be as unknowable to the reader as she appears to Keiji. Or perhaps, what we, as the reader, learn about Rita through this weird third section is supposed to parallel the manner in which Keiji learns about Rita through his one-hundred-some-odd time loops. Even still, it could have been Keiji sharing Rita's story with the reader; we didn't have to necessarily leave his head for it.
There was also the random information dump in Rita's section. Up until that point, neither Keiji nor Rita has shared with the reader any such knowledge about the Mimics' motives or origins, and the reader can't assume the world at large is aware of them either. While it was an interesting tidbit, it was wholly unnecessary to the plot. Humanity is fighting for its very survival against an alien threat--that's all that's important to the development of Keiji and Rita, who we're following. It doesn't matter where they come from or why they're there--only that they are and need to be stopped. It was completely jarring, especially after the abrupt transition in character focus and point of view. Of the four sections, the third one featuring Rita was the most underdeveloped (read: poorly developed) and written. Translation aside, genre aside (the Japanese equivalent to YA, which just can't be held to certain expectations in my opinion), there were so many poor writing choices made.
The plot overall was very limited in scope, both in terms of time (because it was a fast read) and location (Keiji doesn't go very far). The bulk of the story happens at a base somewhere along the Japanese coast, and it's mostly just Keiji and Rita's interactions. There are named side characters that Keiji mentions, and there are a handful of truly brutal things Keiji witnesses out and about, but the plot revolves around he and Rita and how they relate to one another.
This was where I feel the movie was better.
The movie expands on the story and takes the characters out of the base, out of the one battle Keiji keeps looping through, and off into the world in search of a solution to the problem. Cage (the Edge of Tomorrow adaptation of Keiji) and Vrataski travel the world to try to find a way to defeat the Mimics, and it gives the viewer a much larger scope of the state of the story's universe. The viewer knows what's going on with the governments, with the scientists, with most of everything--even if the movie doesn't necessarily explain the specific motives of the Mimics.
The climax of Cage's/Keiji's relationship with Vrataski is also completely different in the movie, which I, personally, preferred. Though, through my experience with anime/manga, the end they face in the book was typical of the Japanese sci-fi genre. Maybe my scope is limited, but I honestly wasn't surprised, and have seen this sort of culmination several times before.
Other things the movie did better:
- THE MIMICS. Keiji always describes them as bloated frogs, which is fine. It's descriptive enough. But there are special Mimics--the movie calls them Alpha Mimics. In the book, Keiji talks about how he and Rita "just know this one is different," whereas in the movie, they are visually drastically different. And they're super awesome cool in design. Much more interesting than "bloated frogs."
- THE JACKETS Keiji talks about them a bit. He uses technical terms like the size round the weapons fire, the force behind the pile driver, how a certain mechanism can mean the difference between a suit operating correctly and the force of the suit ripping someone's spine in half. All of that was cool. But he didn't really describe them. The movie made them really awesome--they reminded me of the (BRACE YOURSELF FOR THE INFO DUMP) Mitsubishi MK-6 Amplified Mobility Platform Colonel Miles Quaritch in James Cameron's Avatar (2009) and the Caterpillar P-5000 Powered Work Loader Ripley uses in Aliens (1986). (Though I think the AMP is closer to a Jacket than the Work Loader.)
(I already told you, I'm a total nerd for sci-fi/horror/action/robot/alien movies.)
Overall, as I said, I preferred the movie to the book, but that doesn't necessarily mean I didn't enjoy the book. I did. And I'm looking forward to finding the graphic novels and anime to see if/how the story is interpreted and expanded upon, if at all. It just wasn't what I expected.
If you're looking for a quick read, I definitely recommend it. It's a page-burner similar to how The Blue Fox was a page burner. The voice was enjoyable, the protagonist was a sarcastic shit you can't help but feel for in a "that's rough, man" sort of way, and I really liked how gory, brutal deaths were approached with a matter-of-fact cynicism.
What I found particularly enlightening about this read was the method of storytelling from another culture. I've read authors from other cultures (hello, Sjón), but this is a genre I'm truly passionate about in terms of enjoyment and excitement. Possible translation inconsistencies aside, it was a glimpse into how a Japanese author writes the sorts of things I like to read and write, the sorts of things I can jokingly critique (breaking down bad science is the key to my heart) but thoroughly love just for the sake of it.