A Review of Kara no Kyoukai Part I
Kara no Kyoukai (Kara no Kyoukai) is a long adventure novel authored by Kinoko Nasu, the scenario writer for Type-Moon, which became famous through its games Tsukihime and Fate/stay night. In 2008, Type-Moon announced that the novel would be adapted into a 7-part featured film.
Below is the first part of a review of the novel from the website Libra: Constellation of Aleksey, translated by Sarah Neufeld:
The Demon that Dwells in the Void
- Kasai Kiyoshi and "Kara no Kyoukai" Nasu Kinoko
When I started reading the debut work of the much-talked about new author, "Kara no Kyoukai" (Nasu Kinoko, Kodansha Novels), I was suddenly dragged down by the "style." Just because it's the work of an "unknown (to readers) new author" which received "extraordinary consideration" in the form of a long commentary which spans both volumes from Kasai Kiyoshi, the veteran critic who founded his own school, that doesn't mean it received particularly severe evaluation. On the contrary, since Nasu Kinoko seemed to have received Kasai Kiyoshi's confidence (or maybe been caught up by him), I thought, "He can do no wrong." So, whether or not Nasu had ability worthy of "extraordinary consideration," I hadn't the slightest intention of hitting him hard...But, as I said, the style suddenly just got to me.
To be blunt, the writing is bad.
It looks like nothing more than your average doujinshi work; the style is rough, and, as I was reading it, I found myself resisting it very strongly. Really, I found myself worrying whether I'd be able to get through both volumes.
I'm fully aware that there are those who like the writing in Nasu Kinoko's "Kara no Kyoukai" and those who do not, so, before the fact, I am writing the following (from "Dark Ripple Effect"):
However, upon reading about the first 10 pages of the beginning of "Kara no Kyoukai," my opinion quite decisively dropped to the "Nasu Kinoko's style is bad" position.
Of course, this evaluation is limited to "style," and is neither a comprehensive evaluation of "Kara no Kyoukai," nor a commentary on "Nasu Kinoko's ability and potential," etc., etc. Even if I say the style is bad, if one compares it to the writing in Utano Shougo's debut work "The Long House Murder" (Utano's "Thinking of You in the Season of Leafing Cherry Trees" won the Japanese Mystery Writer's Association Prize the other day), you could say it's several levels higher. Just as Utano later underwent a surprisingly fast growth, while Nasu Kinoko continues to write novels, his writing will almost certainly also ripen and rapidly improve.
However, at this point in time, the indisguiseable truth is that, from an objective point of view, I could say nothing else than that "Nasu Kinoko's style is bad."
Of course, there's not much point in claiming, from my own point of view, that something is good or bad. So, next, I am going to give some examples, and add in explanations.
(1) One of the characters in the work, Kokutou Mikiya (in a first-person short piece), gives an account of his encounter with a "jumping" suicide; this is displayed before the first section of the first chapter (pg. 8). After "I" relates the circumstances surrounding his coming across it, and the state of the unnatural corpse, he notes his impression of the corpse:
To put it simply, he's saying that the corpse which had been flung to earth and smooshed flat "looked like a pressed flower, caught between the pages of an old book." However, this terribly stiff sentence is far too childish, and the only impression it gives me is that "it's just like doujinshi writing." Especially that "flattened between old pages" bit, as it's probably supposed to mean "flattened between the pages of an old book," the placement of the adjective "old" is odd. Also, he doesn't use "book" or "volume," writing only "folio," which immediately brings to mind an association with "folios, pictures and near-antiques," that in itself renders it inappropriate. In addition, using the expression the corpse "gave him the illusion" of a pressed flower, when it really just "reminded him of one," is so overblown it makes it almost funny.
(2) In the start of the first section of the first chapter (pg. 9)
First off, the expression "On a night at the very beginning of August" is probably intended to mean "On the night (of a certain day) at the very beginning of August." The abbreviated expression, while not exactly wrong, sort of gives the impression of "the night which became August (or September, etc.)," and it doesn't seem a very appropriate abbreviation. Thanks to that, the whole piece is given an air of being a bit out of tune.
In addition, Kokutou Mikiya's lines at this point really should be delivered separately, but are instead all bundled together, so it feels very "explanatory." In situations such as the great detective giving the solution to the mystery (his lines at that point), "explanatory" lines aren't disadvantageous, but having lines that seem "explanatory" in an everyday conversation (small talk) such as this can safely be called a mistake, as far as dialogue in a novel is concerned.
(3) The speech (in first-person) of Ryougi Shiki, upon introducing Kokutou Mikiya (pg. 10):
Here, the object of all this description is only vaguely indicated. In short, let's take "a multitude of trends which appear one after the other in full sprint, only to rampage and go extinct" to mean "present-day youngsters." The writer probably meant to have "a multitude of trends which appear one after the other in full sprint, only to rampage and go extinct" to modify "present-day," but it really doesn't read that way. If we were to modify the section to reflect the author's intent, it would probably read something like this:
(4) The conversation about the "jumping suicide" (pg. 12):
I couldn't figure out what they were arguing about right off. However, to make a long story short, the author doesn't know the meaning of the word "accident." Since he doesn't know, he has the characters in his book conduct a pointless argument about whether a "jumping suicide" is an "accident" or not. He seems to be suggesting that the argument has some deep philosophical meaning about it.
An "accident" is "(often stated as 'having no reason') an obstacle or hindrance." In short, it's "a hindrance that's developed without reason," so "a jumping suicide" is, with no room for argument, not an "accident." There is a vagueness about whether or not suicide deaths are "deliberate," and this clearly separates them from deaths in which the deceased's will had no part, such as "accidental," "death due to negligence" or "death by sickness."
The author separates the existence or non-existence of deliberation in a "jumping suicide" from "the phenomenon of falling from a high place." The former evaluates this in terms of "non-accidental," while the latter leans towards the "accidental," which is why there's a cryptic line like: "It wasn't a murder, and it wasn't an accidental death. Vague, huh."
However, and I shouldn't even have to say this, a "jumping suicide" is not "murder," but "suicide," and is not an accidental death but a self-inflicted one. Whether someone jumps from a high place, or tries to strangle themselves, both methods are simply variations of suicide, nothing more.
Since this is so, there's nothing "vague" about, "It wasn't murder, and it wasn't accidental death." The "vague" thing here is the author's grasp of Japanese.
(5) The beginning of the second section in the first chapter (pg. 14)
The awkwardness of this bit comes from the same source as the previous ones, a vagueness of subject. If we try putting this in a normally readable form, we get:
I don't think that the appeal of the original sentence is damaged by the rewrite. I don't think the original sentence was appealing enough to warrant that kind of awkwardness to begin with.
(6) A description of the scenery during the walk (pg. 14)
That "dead town" (死骸 / shigai) is probably meant as a poetic turn, to conjure images of both "dead body" (死骸 / shigai) and "residential district" (死骸 / shigai). Still, using "looked like" on something like that, which no one's ever seen, doesn't mean much. I can only evaluate this as an almost childish "abuse of fancy."
While I'm on the subject, since this description takes place during a walk, saying "the outside air" isn't really necessary, and is practically overdoing it. In addition, "the outside air was chilly" can also be taken to mean "the outside air (itself) feels chilly." Of course, the correct way to phrase it would be "(to me) the outside air was (cold enough that I felt) chilly." In which case, it would be better to phrase it like this:
"Although it was the end of summer, the outside air carried a chill." Or, "For the end of summer, the outside air felt practically chilly." In the former, "to me" has been cut; in the latter, "cold enough." Of course, as I indicated in the beginning, a simpler "For the end of summer, it was chilly" would suffice. "For the end of summer, the outside air felt chilly" would be fine, too.
(7) Another description of the scenery during the same walk (pg. 14)
You can't say "a countless host of people" in Japanese. Here, "many" (people) is enough. The phrase "a countless host" is a phrase with mistaken emphasis, like "limitless somethings" or "uncountable somethings." "Countless" carries the same nuance as "limitless" and "uncountable," and means that there are "too many to count (or measure)," so emphasizing "host" on top of its original meaning is pointless. In short, you can try multiplying infinity, but it's not going to get any bigger than it already is. Expressions such as "ultimately infinite" and "so innumerable you can't count it" are meaninglessly excessive adjectives, and are very close to being adjectival contradictions; the aforementioned is the same.
These are all strange phrases I found in the first ten pages or less of the book (and they're only the ones that really stuck out). If it's like this so far, having expectations for the rest of the book is probably out of the question, and telling someone not to worry about whether they'll make it through this huge work (totaling two volumes and 850 pages) is also stretching the possible.
As I've said before, since the author is still young, let's just put up with the style being bad. As for the rest of the work, if it has appeal as a novel, I feel no reluctance with valuing it by that. However, since it's safe to say that I discovered it while still reading the first ten pages of the book, I think it's necessary for me to state the factual evaluation that "(Nasu Kinoko's) style is bad." This was, contrary to my predictions, not on the level of "a matter of taste."
I have already given examples and testified to the fact that the writing in "Kara no Kyoukai" is ruinously bad. However, at that point, I had read only the first ten pages of "Kara no Kyoukai."
Not sure whether I should say, "for that reason" or "in spite of it," but at any rate, at that point, as this is a debut novel from a new author and was an instant bestseller, I thought I'd better try to read all the way through to the end and then evaluate it properly. (After all, the promotional copy on the book bands of volumes one and two reads respectively: "This it is! A masterpiece among masterpieces, announcing the advent of a new movement in fiction!" and "This is it! The appearance of the origin of a new movement in fiction!")
However, that will lasted until I'd read to page 30 of the book, then failed completely. The ruinously bad writing, combined with the shallowness of the author's thinking abilities that were displayed in the writing power, made it impossible for me to take any more reading.
While I hate Kasai Kiyoshi's snobbishness, I have not the slightest reason to hate Nasu Kinoko. I hope I'm not petty enough or sectarian enough to take things out on Nasu Kinoko just because he's an author who debuted after gaining Kasai Kiyoshi's backing. However, I can only evaluate bad things as bad and lost causes as lost causes. This is a previous discussion of Kasai Kiyoshi, etcetera.
Why is Kasai Kiyoshi flattering a work of this level? Granted, it's true that this work is an exceptional success for a doujinshi novel and, in that sense, it has appealed in some way to a certain set of people. However, for anyone (Kasai Kiyoshi included) who has regularly read books of a certain caliber, isn't the writing in "Kara no Kyoukai" too bad to handle? Or isn't discussing this work without mentioning the awfulness of its writing biased criticism? Since it is a "commentary," some hold the opinion that it isn't necessary to bring up the work's failings (or, possibly, that one can't do so), but even if that's so, how much meaning can there be in the existence of a commentary so painfully forced?
In any case, I would like to explore the the negative criticism that was never mentioned in Kasai Kiyoshi's commentary on "Kara no Kyoukai" a little bit more here, as well as its meaning.
Previously, excluding the table of contents and the title pages, I examined the section beginning on page 9 (the start of the actual story) and ending at the break in the chapter on page 17, and discussed the "strange places" which caught my eye. Taking up where I left off, I will go to the end of section two of chapter one, on page 33. That's as far as I read before I gave the whole thing up.
(8) Scenic description. (pg. 17)
"Well-mannered buildings of the same height stood in a line in the road. The fronts of the buildings were all window glass, and now reflected only the moonlight."
There is no way the buildings are lined up in the road. They are lined up "along" the road. Also, since this is a scene about walking down a street of buildings in the dead of night, you probably don't need "the road" in the first place. Nobody is going to automatically imagine that the buildings are lined up in the forest or rice paddies. In short, "Well-mannered buildings of the same height stood in a line" is more than enough.
"The fronts of the buildings were all window glass" ......I can tell what he's trying to say, but it's not real Japanese. What the author is aiming for is "the building's walls were made entirely of glass," and, since "the wall" is made of glass, the installations known as "windows" don't exist in it. This means that describing the glass in a glass wall as "window glass" is the mistake.
(9) Unclear description (pg. 17)
What on earth is a "boring shadow?" Of course there are, as an exception to the rule, "interesting shadows," but shadows aren't usually funny or interesting, so there's almost nobody who would write such meaningless Japanese as a "boring shadow." As far as novelists are concerned, it's probably safe to say there isn't one who would.
(10) Description of a doll (pg. 20)
This author loves "antinomies" (** "antinomy" = "conflict of laws" in Philosophy). However, what he calls "antinomies" are generally not "antinomies," only "muddled logic." The author's illogicality has already been pointed out, in the "suicide-accidental death-murder" argument.
In the debate centered on this doll, a similar confusion of logic due to a confusion of words can be seen. However, this is shamelessly left right in front of readers as a "suggestive" debate. This error is clearly visible in the almost unintelligible sentences, written in embarrassing Japanese: "It was a doll of amazingly elaborate workmanship such as to hound morality to its limits" and "A thing inanimate, yet in a place a human could never reach."
"It was a doll of amazingly elaborate workmanship such as to hound morality to its limits." Correct this to Japanese which makes sense normally (logically), and it might read:
(A) It was a doll of amazingly elaborate workmanship, which hounded morality to its limits.
The expression "such as to hound" was, like the former "countless host," brought about by a contradiction in logic.
By the way, we can dispose of the question of why "making a doll exactly like a human being" might have anything to do with "morality" by saying that making dolls is presuming to copy "the work of the gods."
However, I must say I find it very doubtful whether the author was consciously aware of that when he wrote: "It was a doll of amazingly elaborate workmanship such as to hound morality to its limits." On the contrary, I feel that he might have been unconsciously tracing the worn-out phrase "doll-making is an immoral, sensuous act brimming with seduction."
Reasoning from this writer's level of logic, "suggestive" expressions like this may be of value, simply because of the vagueness stemming from their "suggestiveness" lacking in substance. In short, being "meaningless (lacking substance)" may result in the mistake (delusion) of their being "overestimated" from an illogical reader's point of view.
(11) Kokutou Mikiya's opinion on the actions of the police with regard to the series of jumping suicides. (pg. 23)
I don't think this confused logic is due to Kokutou Mikiya's being written as a particularly dim bulb. The problem lies with the writer.
When someone commits suicide and leaves a note, the police almost never make the contents of that note public. This has nothing to do with the number of incidents. It is because it would be a pointless invasion of the individual's privacy.
As this is so, in cases where the deaths are clearly suicides, the police would never make the suicide's note public. Even if the deceased's family did, in response to requests from the media, the police could not do so on their own initiative. Since this is not a problem of numbers, "Six people--or is it eight? With that many people, you'd think at least one could've released a note" would not be the question.
Of course, "not making something public" and "keeping things under wraps" are not the same thing in the same way that "not publicizing" and "cover-up" mean different things. An obvious comment, but the writer isn't making this distinction. For that reason, Kokutou Mikiya, who, as a main character and the story's narrator, should hold the reader's sympathies and not say things which make him look like an idiot.
Also, in the sentence "Six people -- or is it eight? With that many people, you'd think at least one could've released a note," the subject is vague. Whether the "one" who should be doing the releasing is among the police or the suicides. Of course, since the suicides, being deceased, will not be publicizing anything, either the police or the surviving family members will have to do the releasing. Taken in context, it's clear that he's talking about the police. However, in the sentence:
...no matter how you read it, it says that the "suicides" will be the ones making things public. So the sentence really should read:
However, since even the existence of the notes hasn't been made public, this debate couldn't exist from the beginning. In short, the author mixed up the problems of the notes' existence and the notes' release, and is only making the conversation "suggestive". This is even clearer later, when Kokutou Mikiya delivers the line:
At this point, as we realize that Kokutou Mikiya hadn't realized it himself, this scene is supposed to emphasize Aozaki Touko's sharpness of wit. However, Touko's explanation is also impressively illogical, almost enough to bring associations to a scene from "Dogura-Magura." (**An insanely confusing surrealist novel by Yumeno Kyusaku written in 1935. While it has never been translated into English, there's a good review of the movie version here: http://www.thegline.com/dvd-of-the-week/2004/04-02-2004.htm, and a capsule synopsis of the book in the English "Yumeno Kyusaku" article on Wikipedia.) As she says:
"I'm saying there's a connection there. Or maybe 'similarity' is the better term. In most of the eight cases, there were several people on the scene who witnessed that the deceased jumped on her own accord, and no problems have been uncovered in any of the girls' lives. None of them were doing drugs, or under the influence of some weird cult. There is no doubt that they were extremely individualistic, impulsive suicides provoked by some insecurity in themselves. So you see, there aren't any words they wanted to leave, and the police don't consider that similarity important."
I really have no idea what "so you see" is supposed to mean. There is absolutely nothing demonstrated here.
According to Aozaki Touko, the victims' deaths equaling nothing other than suicides because of the fact that "No problems have been uncovered in any of the girls' lives. None of them were doing drugs, or under the influence of some weird cult." Additionally, she asserts that "There is no doubt that they were extremely individualistic, impulsive suicides provoked by some insecurity in themselves."
Just because the reason for suicide hasn't been discovered doesn't mean it might not be something clear-cut, like having embezzled money from their company, or losing a lover or being betrayed by a friend. How can she airily assert that "there's no doubt that they were impulsive suicides provoked by some insecurity in themselves"?
The answer is that the author thought that would make it easier for the incidents to be played up as "suggestive," and that the decisive tone would give readers the mistaken impression that Aozaki Touko is smart. In short, we could say that the intelligence level of the readers envisioned by the author is very low. From my point of view, Aozaki Touko is stupidity itself.
(12) Kokutou Mikiya's inner thoughts concerning Aozaki Touko's words (pg. 24)
"I wonder why there were no suicide notes." ------He's taking Aozaki Touko's groundless conclusion as fact. Moron.
"People won't kill themselves without a note." ------ It's practically the opposite. People don't commit suicide because there's a suicide note. This is a question of whether people who killed themselves wrote or did not write notes. It isn't simply that Kokutou Mikiya is dim. He has no concept of the law of cause and effect. As a result, there's no way to expect him to think logically.
I physically can't make myself feel like writing a point-by-point analysis of the nonsense Kokutou Mikiya thinks to himself here. The people who can understand will do so whether I explain it or not, and the people who don't understand wouldn't understand the explanation either.
However, if I explain in rough terms, Kokutou Mikiya's thoughts have switched the "extreme argument" for the "standard;" his individual impressions and hypothesis have somehow turned into concrete definitions, and in the end he's deluded into holding mere ideas as convictions and drawing his conclusions from them. The very definition of "benighted."
I wonder if maybe Kasai Kiyoshi didn't really read this book. That would be fortunate, if true, but as it appears that wasn't the case, things become even more frightening. Has something gone wrong with Kasai's head?
(13) Ryougi Shiki's view on "flight" (pg. 25)
"In the past, there has never been anyone who attempted to fly by human power alone and succeeded."---- Meaning unclear.
"To fly by human power alone"... Does "by human power alone" mean "with no other propulsion used," or does it mean "flight with absolutely no tools other than the human body"?
You don't need me to tell you this, but humans can fly without "propulsion." Flight by hang glider is an excellent example of unpropelled flight. Or is Ryougi Shiki saying that, as hang gliders have been used, it can't be said that people have flown "by human power alone?" If so, I'm very aware that that's impossible. It wasn't possible in the past, and won't be in the future. You can't even get a discussion out of it.
"The word 'flight' and the word 'fall' are linked" --- This is not Japanese and it makes me sick. This statement snapped a forceful paragraph right in two.
"The word 'flight' and the word 'fall' are linked" ----This is going to give me a headache. I could even say it's going to make me nauseated.
If he's writing this, then he was probably trying to say:
* The word 'flight' and the word 'fall' are inextricably paired.
"However, the more a person is charmed by the sky, the more lacking they are in that truth." ----- Again, shouldn't have to say, but what is more lacking the more one is charmed by the sky is, not the "fact," but the "consciousness" that "flight and falling are inextricably paired." That is why they do, in fact, "fall".
(14) Aozaki Touko's explanation concerning the ground (pg. 32)
"The ground" is in no way an angle, either certain or uncertain. If he's saying that, then, shouldn't it read: "However, even the ground you think of as level has, strictly speaking, some angles to it."
With this, I think I've given more than enough proof of "the ruinously bad writing, and the shallowness of the author's powers of reasoning which shows itself in the writing." What do you think?
In any case, as there are this many things which catch you up in only the first 30 pages, I think you probably understand why I've given up reading both volumes (about 850 pages) all the way through, and why I don't think we can expect much from an author like this.
As you can see, I'm not prejudiced against him because he's a new author recommended by Kasai Kiyoshi. This story goes back much farther than that.
Original article and images from Libra