Adi Tantimedh writes,
Viz Media, one of the biggest publishers of manga and anime in the US, have had a prose imprint called Haikasoru running at full steam for a few years now, yet there have been very few write-ups about it aside from the odd review of the books here and there.
I’d been meaning to write about the imprint for a while, and when Viz offered to send me a copy of their latest novel, Otaro Majio’s Asura Girl for review, I said, yes, reckoning this was as good a time as any.
Otaro Maijo is an award-winning writer of dark crime and mystery novels in Japan, and this is his first to be translated into English. If you’re thinking about pop-eyed, cheery schoolgirls in their sailor uniforms, you’d better turn back now. This is a story about Aiko, an angry teenage girl in hell. Moving through a contemporary Japan of casual sex and violence, she becomes tangled with a serial killer who’s kidnapped the last boy she slept with and an online forum encouraging riots in the streets, and decides to step things up by posting a demand for her own murder on the forum. Things only get more insane from there.
This is a different kind of pulp thriller. It’s existential and despairing, way beyond any Young Adult novel. The underlying vibe here is that of a Japan that’s falling apart, consumed by darkness, like the underbelly of a repressed, ordered society buckling under economic stagnancy and the hopelessness that young people are feeling. There’s a lot of that about these days. And a lot of that is expressed in Japan’s pop culture, be it novels, movies, manga or anime. If you consider how much of this is there, it paints a surprisingly dark picture of what’s going on in the heads of creators and young people there. It’s the cultural equivalent of punk. Not the corporate-approved version of punk, but the real angry, despairing punk energy. Asura Girl is a prime example of dark fiction with its reference to Buddhist concepts of demon and multiple entities to give the existential heroine a quasi-symbolic and mystical layer as she navigates her journey through a landscape of hellish horror, “asura” being demigods but also a term describing people driven by ego, rage and violence. That sums up the heroine’s mental state to a T since she’s reacting to the world around her and in term creating the dangerous, violent situations she finds herself in. As with a lot of Japanese genre fiction, there’s an obsession with the apocalyptic and Armageddon here, but then everything in a teenager’s mind is intense and apocalyptic, all in a modern Japan of social media, despair and mayhem.
Asura Girl is another brick in the wall of Haikasoru, whose lineup of books include All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, recently made into the Tom Cruise movie Edge of Tomorrow, which turned the novel into the bestselling Science Fiction novel in the US for a while. They also published Sakurazaka’s other novel Slum Online, about a college student who escapes into an MMO fight game. They also publish the original novel versoin of Battle Royale and its literary spinoffs. Haikusoru publishes Science Fiction, fantasy and fiction with a particularly existential or philosophical edge, including the late Project Itoh’s Genocidal Organ and Harmony, both about to receive high-profile anime adaptations later this year. There’s also Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Million Nights, a cosmic, philosophical book considered one of the greatest Japanese science fiction novels of all time. All in all, the line offers an interesting look at Japanese fiction beyond the mainstream literary novels of Mishima or Haruki Murakami and delves more into the more challenging and experimental conceptual space of science fiction, fantasy and thriller writers. It’s why I make it a point to pay attention to every new title Haikusoru puts out.
Avoiding Asuras at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Look! It Moves! © Adisakdi Tantimedh
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