Story: Keith Yatsuhashi
What They Say:
THERE ARE MANY WORLDS BEYOND OUR OWN.
On the planet Higo, without the guidance of the all-wise Great Spirits, its people are descending into religious civil war. Just when his people need him, Baiyran Tallaenaq, Prince of Higo, is exiled after causing the death of his own mother.
Freed from his responsibilities and the looming war, the prince steals their greatest weapon—a giant, sentient, armored suit—and uses it to open a Portal to a world he never knew existed. A world called “Earth”…the home of a magical young woman called Keiko Yamada.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
One of the cool things about reading an author’s work in order of publication is that you get to see how they grow. Not too long ago, I reviewed Keith Yatsuhashi’s debut novel Kojiki, and while it was quite enjoyable and did a very good job of taking Japanese anime tropes, characters, and themes and transposing them into prose, it was a bit messy and decentered. Kokoro, I’m happy to say, is even more enjoyable and much-more tightly focused.
The story takes place within the universe already established in Kojiki. It’s a multiverse full of different planets and planes of existence, populated by humans and watched over by kami. The kami originated on Earth, but all but one left due to the events in the first novel. One of the kami, Roarke Zar Ranok, retreated into isolation, mourning the death of his wife. The kami of spirit, Takeshi, created the world Higo specifically for Roarke (whose domain is rock and mineral) in the hopes that giving him responsibilities would provide him with a way to deal with his pain. Unfortunately, Roarke simply retreated deep into Higo and left the world and its inhabitants without guidance.
Higo’s power structure resided with the clergy and the monarchy, and by the time of this novel, the sparks of a civil war have ignited a brushfire. At the heart of this stand two men—brothers: Baiyren and Kaidan. Although older, Kaidan possesses no hold on the throne because his mother was a commoner chosen to be the King’s consort when his wife appeared unable to bear children. This was obviously not the case as Baiyren came a few years later. Kaidan, full of anger and confusion over his mother and looking for some sort of guidance, turned to the clergy, where he fell under the influence of the high priestess Miko, a woman bearing her own pain and unsure of how to deal with it.
The soldiers in this nascent civil war fight not with guns or steel or tanks and or jets, they fight in huge mecha, each personalized to their pilot’s personality, and Baiyren pilots the most powerful one in existence. When he’s accidentally forced to kill his mother, Baiyren opens a portal and flees to Earth, where he becomes a professor of archaeology. He leads digs to bizarre and amazing places on the planet, uncovering remains of creatures thought to be the stuff of legend. At his side stands his student, Juno, the daughter of an American senator. Juno and Baiyren fall in love, but the truth of Baiyren’s origins and the wars he fought could drive a wedge between him and the peace-loving, anti-war Juno.
Enter Keiko Yamada, the protagonist of the previous novel. No longer an unsure girl thrust into a world she knows nothing about, Keiko now stands as a Guardian—a protector of the kami, in this case, Lord Takeshi. Keiko functions as Takeshi’s monkey wrench, arresting plans here, forming new ones there, and in general nudging events along so that they go the way that Takeshi wants them to. Outside of the story, Keiko also functions as the strongest connection between this book and Kojiki. She stands as the heart of this sprawling shared universe, and it’s great to see her go from unsure girl to confident, crafty, and mischievous woman.
As I said before, this is a much better focused novel than the last one. Although it certainly has to do a goodly amount of world-building, it helps that Kojiki already did some of the heavy lifting. Higo is a fascinating world, complex and full of history, and the characters that populate it are no less so. One of Yatsuhashi’s real talents comes in juggling multiple characters, plotlines, and even worlds in a way that never gets confusing or bogs down the story.
The story itself moves along at a great clip. Yatsuhashi wastes no time getting to the good stuff, and that’s always appreciated. He hooks you in the first ten pages, engaging you in the world and the characters. He also possesses a knack for knowing just when to enter a scene and when to leave it. The book never lingers, and that combined with the short chapters creates a real momentum that draws you in.
This is a book written by an anime fan for anime fans, yet it’s also accessible to people unfamiliar with the genre, which is no mean feat. Kokoro isn’t great literature by any shakes, but it never sets out to be. It does exactly what it wants: to entertain us with a story of giant mechs, kamis, war, and love. If that’s not entertaining, then I don’t know what is. Dr. J gives this a….
Age Rating: N/A
Released By: Angry Robot
Release Date:4 April 2017