Story: Keith Yatsuhashi
What They Say:
EVERY CIVILIZATION HAS ITS MYTHS. ONLY ONE IS TRUE.
When eighteen year-old Keiko Yamada’s father dies unexpectedly, he leaves only a one-way ticket to Japan, an unintelligible death-poem about powerful Japanese spirits and their gigantic, beast-like Guardians…and the cryptic words: “Go to Japan in my place. Find the Gate. My camera will show you the way.”
Alone and afraid, Keiko travels to Tokyo, determined to fulfill her father’s dying wish. There, beneath glittering neon signs, her father’s death-poem comes to life. Ancient spirits spring from the shadows and chaos envelops the city. As Keiko fleas its burning streets, her guide, the beautiful Yui Akiko, makes a stunning confession—that she, Yui, is one of a handful of spirits left behind to defend the world against the most powerful among them: a once noble spirit, now insane. Keiko must decide if she will honour her father’s heritage…and claim her rightful place among the gods.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
As many of you know, I teach creative writing. I’ve been doing this for nearly five years now, and, as one might expect, I’ve seen several story types repeated over and over again. I’ve read vampire stories, zombie stories, kidnapping stories, stories about the mob and gangsters. For a time, I had a slew of stories about mermaids, and I almost always get a post-apocalyptic story every month. I also see stories based on anime and manga.
It’s not surprising. My students grew up on a steady diet of Naruto, Bleach, Dragonball Z, and Avatar: The Last Airbender (not an actual anime, but certainly done in that style). Sometimes the students turn in scripts for their own anime-influenced show, but other times they try to write it in prose. Unfortunately, through no fault of their own, it typically doesn’t turn out well.
I used to think that the style just wasn’t transferable to prose. Anime and manga are, after all, visual media—perhaps even more so than film or even Western comics. Anime and manga are also cultural products that utilize a different point of view than Western media. Depending on the series, the characters and situations become exaggerated in very specific, very visual, and very genre-specific ways that are difficult—perhaps even impossible—to replicate in prose. So, I just wrote it off and gently discouraged students from writing prose in that style.
Now, however, I know that it can be done. Keith Yatsuhashi proved it.
His debut novel, Kojiki (which takes its name from an eighth century collection of myths about Japan’s formation and the kami), does what I thought impossible: he utilizes themes, character types, and—for lack of a better word—the attitude of anime. He tells a fun and engaging story about myths and legends, gods and monsters, and the destructive and redemptive qualities of love.
As the back cover states, Keiko Yamada comes home one day to find her father missing. All he leaves behind are his camera and a jisei, a traditional Japanese death poem urging her to travel to Tokyo and “find the gate.” Driven by grief, Keiko does as her father bids and travels with a tour group around Tokyo, looking for a torii gate and the meaning behind her father’s strange last request.
Her journey almost ends in death and fire. If not for the last-minute save by her tour guide, Yui Akiko, Keiko would have been destroyed by a deranged kami and his dragon guardian. Yui saves the girl with magic, and Keiko enters a larger world than she ever dreamed possible and becomes embroiled in a tragedy that predates human civilization.
One of the more impressive aspects of Kojiki is the way Yatsuhashi manages so many moving parts. The cast of characters is rather long, but the book whips from chapter to chapter with a confidence and deftness one doesn’t see in too many first novels. The point of view revolves around several characters, allowing the reader to see the situation from different perspectives. Yatsuhashi uses this to keep the narrative rolling at a brisk pace, and to reveal information in an organic and engaging way.
That said, the multiple viewpoints hurt the story a little bit. Ostensively, Keiko is the novel’s protagonist. The summary sets that up, and narratively it makes sense, because she’s the audience surrogate. That doesn’t really pan out in the reading, though, as the novel jumps from character-to-character so quickly that none of them get a chance to be developed beyond the surface. At times, Kojiki reads like an ensemble piece, but at other times, it reads like a story without a true center.
This might be due to the medium itself, or, rather, the media Yatsuhashi is adapting into prose. Anime and manga, as much as I love them, can be very surface-level. The characters live and strive and grow, but it’s all on the skin, so to speak. Sometimes it seems like real, genuine character development get sacrificed for speed and larger-than-life concepts.
Although I would have liked a stronger center, I did enjoy Kojiki quite a bit. This might sound odd, but in some ways, it made me feel like a kid again. It reminded me of the adventure books and the anime I enjoyed when I was younger, and if this had been around in those bygone days, I would have eaten this up even more than I did. This is a great beach book, and if you’re a fan of anime and manga, you’ll be delighted to see the elements you love in it transported to a different media. Right now, the sequel, Kotoko, sits beside my chair in the living room, and I’m looking forward to diving back into this world. Dr. J gives this a…
Released By: Angry Robot
Release Date: August 2nd, 2016