Saturday, April 9, 2011

Review: Brave Story

Time for a change of pace. Normally, I use this blog as a place to discuss Contemporary Japanese comics and animation. But today I will discuss something totally different. A Contemporary Japanese... BOOK! With words! Perhaps that is not all that different in reality, but in any case, let's begin breaking down Brave Story, an epic 814-page YA novel by Miyuki Miyabe.

The book centers on 5th Grader Wataru Mitani, whose parents are getting a divorce. Upset by this, Wataru wishes to change his fate, and (already 200 pages in) discovers Vision, a land "created by the imaginations of people in the real world", where he becomes a Traveler to reach the appropriately named Tower of Destiny to meet the Wonderful Wizard, er, I mean, Goddess, who will grant him one wish. Along the way, he makes new friends, such as the strong willed lizard man Kee Keema, as well as enemies, such as Mitsuru, who had been friends with our heroguy back in the real world before going to Vision. As Wataru's journey becomes more dire, he is forced to question his own beliefs, and learn to be brave. Will he reach the Tower of destiny? And if he does, what will he ask of the Goddess?

If you (like me) purchase the book because of the unique-looking cover art, just so you know, you have been duped! As you can tell from the above description, Brave Story is not titled Original Story for a reason, with obvious influences from all corners of contemporary culture, particularly ones that the YA demographic apparently like. However, lack of originality regardless, the book is very well written. Miyabe's previous novels are not YA fiction, but mostly crime and mystery novels, including the novel that served as the rough basis for Satoshi Kon's dark thriller Perfect Blue. Possibly because of this fact, the scenes in the real world are crisply realized, giving Wataru's story much more emotional resonance. In fact, a fresh take on an oft-told story is not at all unwelcome! It's a fun read for an audience that doesn't necessarily always want originality, with good emotional resonance for those who do.

However, there is one problem with the book which, unlike the whole originality thing, cannot be overlooked. You see, this book is too darn long. And when I say long, I don't refer to the page length, which at 814 pages, makes the book a genuine brick(apparently it was originally published in Japan as two volumes). By long, I mean the book MEANDERS. One could easily cut at least 100 pages from the book taking out unnecessary or even redundant descriptions and details, such as a scene early in the book, in which two whole pages are dedicated to a history of Wataru's allowance(?), and several completely pointless wrinkles to the plot, such as Vision appearing different for everyone, despite that never mattering. While I am sympathetic to the fact that the book, like everything else Kadokawa Shoten publishes, was first serialized, that is no excuse for all this excess content.

And yet, despite these flaws, Brave Story is a spectacularly involving read. I finished all 814 of those pages in just two weeks, due to the fact that I was glued to the pages at all times. It made walking around a little awkward. I would suggest it to just about anyone I know, provided they had the patience. Also, it has a moral! I like stories with morals...

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