Here’s where the going gets (slightly) grimmer. The second book in the Guin Saga series doesn’t quite have the same propulsive energy as the first, if only because it’s essentially a transitional story: it deals with what happens immediately after the leopard-headed hero Guin escapes from the chaos of Stafolos Keep with the royal twins Rinda and Remus in his care. The first book ended with a literal leap into the unknown, with the three of them plunging headfirst into the dangerous River Kes as hordes of the monkeylike Sem barbarians snap close at their heels.
That first book delivered the kind of rush I hadn’t gotten from a fantasy book in ages, partly because it was completely unabashed in its willingness to entertain. Here there were no attempts at socio-political analysis, no analogies or allegories to “current events”, just flat-out meat-and-potatoes adventure fantasy for the eleven-year-old soul, no matter what his biological age. Small wonder the second book felt like a step back and a retrenching, but now that I think about it, Warrior in the Wilderness really isn’t all that bad: it’s just that once you start with that kind of breathless burst of energy you sometimes need something else to leaven it. Read more
Now this is a bit more like it, although I’m starting to see how even a series that runs to maybe fifty thousand words a book could withstand a bit of editing. The third book in the ongoing Guin Saga, over a hundred books strong in Japan and still going but only a pitiful four or five in English, kicks the series a little closer to the kind of action we saw and savored in the first book. To use a quote I’ve employed before, it may not be Bach but it is sure Offenbach — and it is exactly the kind of straightforward adventure fantasy that we have come not to know much of lately.
When we last left the leopard-headed Guin and his comrades — the royal twins Rinda and Remis, the mercenary Istavan and various allies from the ranks of the monkeylike Sem — they were trying to stay one step ahead of their pursuers, the armies of the Mongaul, pushing ever deeper into the wastes of the Nospherus that the Sem call home. They find themselves stuck in a valley populated by one of the weirder monsters found in the desert, the yidoh — giant amoebalike monsters that will probably make any Dungeons and Dragons player mutter “Gelatinous cube!” under their breaths. One of these walking stomachs is bad enough, but a whole gorge filled with them, and with no way around? Read more
Terms like genius and renaissance man get thrown around so casually these days, it’s a bit of a shock to run into the real thing. I’m hard-pressed to think of a better example offhand than Takeshi Kitano, the Japanese multi-hyphenate — writer, director, author, TV personality, social commentator and stand-up funnyman — introduced most broadly to the West through his quirky remake of the Zatōichi movie franchise. But he’s been around a lot longer than that, and for a long time I lamented the only things we were getting to see of his creative prowess were his films, and sometimes not even that. (Many of his movies are not even in print on DVD in the USA anymore, and many that are exist only in wholly uncomplimentary editions.)
Leave it to Vertical Inc., magnates of Japanese pop culture in translation, to bring one of Kitano’s books to English-speaking audiences. Which book to give us was, I imagine, the subject of at least some deliberation: he’s written dozens, both fiction and non-, some of which have also been filmed by other parties. I half-expected to see a translation of Many Happy Returns, the story of an unassuming man who becomes indoctrinated into one of Japan’s “new religions” (read: cults). What they chose instead was Boy, which seems to amount to a sort of Kitano taster — a slim book of three short stories. Despite their length, they radiate a lovely combination of affection and nostalgia, the sort of thing Kitano has mined for the best of his own movies time and again, and they both complement and extend on his other work. They show up his genius for what it is. Read more