A Review of Kara no Kyoukai Part II
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 second part of a review of the novel from the website Libra: Constellation of Aleksey, translated by Sarah Neufeld:
Now then, I think I've given ample proof of the "ruinously bad writing, and the shallowness of the author's powers of reasoning which shows itself in that writing" of "Kara no Kyoukai" via concrete criticisms. This novel was most certainly written in a style and with reasoning that doesn't bear reading.
However, at the very beginning of his long "commentary," which spans both volumes, Kasai Kiyoshi writes:
I shouldn't have to say this, but at the stage when Kasai Kiyoshi wrote this "commentary," the only track record "Kara no Kyoukai" had was that it sold exceptionally well for a doujinshi novel. Therefore, this "breaking open of a new horizon for the adventure genre" which Kasai mentions, must mean it possesses a content-related newness which has broken through, meaning that this has been decided on Kasai's (personal) evaluation and nothing more, so we can't really say it has "broken open a new horizon for the adventure genre." That was still, at the time this commentary was written, only a possibility which existed only in the mind of Kasai Kiyoshi. In short, it's still "lurking." While he wrote that it had "broken open a new horizon for the adventure genre" as though it was fact, it's all right to look at this bit of Kasai Kiyoshi's review as "falsified history."
Among those who have read this commentary, from this claim of Kasai Kiyoshi's, as though as a result of "Kara no Kyoukai" having "broken open a new horizon for the adventure genre," as though the next "new adventure" novels are produced as a border, he calls the notion of the "'80s adventure novels" boom into action --- I assume the number of those who saw a similar "illusion" in it are not few.
As I've already indicated, if the popularity of "Kara no Kyoukai" is being supported by readers who absolutely don't notice its poorness of style and illogicality, I must say that the possibility of such readers taking the hypothesis, interpretation and illusion sketched by Kasai Kiyoshi's commentary as pure fact is fairly high. That too might have been reasoned out and hoped for by Kasai Kiyoshi himself, as he wrote this commentary.
The commentaries written by Kasai Kiyoshi for each volume (first and last) are titled:
First volume: The Power of Imagination in the Mountain People and Falsified History
As is also stated in the previous quote, the first commentary "Discusses the premise of 'Border of Emptiness' via an inspection of the process of the rise and fall of '80s adventure novels" and the second commentary theorizes the individuality of "Kara no Kyoukai" through a Kasai Kiyoshi-style "introduction to '80s adventure novels."
In "The Power of Imagination in the Mountain People and Falsified History," the introduction to '80s adventure novels, Kasai Kiyoshi explains the boom which supported said '80s adventure novels:
I see; quite the well-made hypothesis. I mean, in storytelling terms, it's a well-drawn picture.
Under those circumstances, in striving to claim their own individuality, people became possessed by various things. Many of those are what are known as "brand-name" goods, and many people bet on the illusion that the authority of the brand somehow ensures the individuality of its wearer. The beings known as "otakus" (fans of something to the point of geekdom) may be the products of a similar psychological phenomenon. Both "objects" and "information" are consciously used to accentuate the difference between oneself and other people, since they thoroughly preserve one's status as a non-average being. ----- Of course, there's no need for me to point out to you that this "desire for difference" rests largely on one's personal safety remaining guaranteed, and that the setting apart of oneself from others operates on the assumption that one is always in the superior position.
In any case, in the commentary for "Kara no Kyoukai," Kasai Kiyoshi claims that the lure of "brand names" and other such steps towards individualism could not completely resolve this "desire towards difference." What caught the remainder of that desire (with excellent timing) was "...The adventure genre, a system of story-telling centered on escape, first by fictionally recentralizing the emperor, and second by making expert use of the power of imagination inherent to 'the mountain people' and falsified history."
Kasai Kiyoshi's argument is that the adventure genre's big boom in the '80s was a result of its safe, convenient system. First, the emperor was introduced as the absolute division, thus bringing back an undulating story-like quality to the completely monotonous hell of mediocrity and assimilation. Then, as the oppressive division inherent in the emperor would cause problems were it to stabilize, the system brought in its polar opposites, the mountain people and falsified history, and pitted them against the emperor, thus neutralizing and decentralizing the situation.
Kasai Kiyoshi's argument is constructed by way of three hypotheses. These are:
I can, for the most part, approve of (1) and (3). As far as (1) is concerned, as one who lived through the 1980s, I know what the climate at the time felt like. As for (3), as is symbolically shown by the results of Yamaguchi Masao and others' "Study of Cultured Humankind" (also quoted in Kasai Kiyoshi's commentary) and similar works, there is a tendency for "Those who are focused on becoming prosperous (to) share a sort of fear of those who are, by contrast, poor and with those whose minds are not set on centralization. At the same time, though, they are fascinated by them."
In short, it's possible that those in the middle of the prosperity of a vigorous capitalist society, who fear the poor and the eccentrics somewhere in their minds, might simultaneously be drawn to them. On the one hand, they, who take pride in their prosperity, fear an attack by such people. On the other hand, while these others are poor, they are also free and individualistic, and in fact have no need to agonize over their own "individuality." It's possible that prosperous people may, in a way, idolize that sort of lifestyle. (In fact, a book called "Thoughts on Poverty" became a best seller.) Simply because of that, it isn't hard to imagine that the novel readers of the '80s, themselves right in the middle of the prosperity of a vigorous capitalist society, tried to psychologically assimilate with the people who would not be conquered symbolized by the mountain people and their ilk.
In the world of imagination, leaving "real life" smack in the middle of the prosperity of a vigorous capitalist society, they, as a "wild (contra-societal)" existence free of that world, could zoom around the world (across borders) at will, sometimes becoming a hero who fought and crushed the "enemies (evil)" which sought to capture and "socialize" that existence.
If one thinks about it this way, the "emperor's imaginary ascendance" mentioned by Kasai Kiyoshi lacks almost all logic as an explanation of the boom in adventure novels in the '80s.
In actuality, although I can't say I was a fan of "adventure novels" in particular, I was a minor part of the young reading demographic of the '80s and an avid reader of Aramata Hiroshi's "Tale of the Imperial City." I seem to recall that to me, back then, the emperor was someone who rarely regained consciousness, an existence who had only the barest trace of an influence on everyday life.
As it was also written in "Tale of the Imperial City," what made the existence of the emperor loom so large in the eyes of the Japanese people might have been the worsening of his illness, since every day the news reports on his worsening condition were repeated over and over. Up until then, to most of the citizens (excluding parts of the left and right wings), the emperor had been nothing more than a kind-looking old man called 'the emperor;' for good or ill, he was cut out of all war memories ("After the war was long past," etc.), and was absolutely not the type of person to awaken "demon king" natures.
In that sense, I can only see the second element of Kasai Kiyoshi's claim (the one about "the emperor's imaginary ascendance" occurring in the '80s) as being very dubious. I think he made too much of a story.
Certainly, with only its first and third elements, the argument lacks focus as a picture or hypothesis, and it gets very hard to call it an appealing hypothesis, even as flattery. What we are asking about here, though, is the contents of the present, concrete meaning of the boom of '80s adventure novels, not the appealing meaning attached to it after the fact.
However, as I've pointed out numerous times before, Kasai Kiyoshi is too much of a critic to be a novelist, and too much of a novelist to be a critic. In short, he gives too much priority to meaning and significance in novels, and they become novels too full of themselves, with no accompanying substance. Criticism is meant to dig out the immediate inner truth from the immediate object of criticism, and criticism which has expelled that duty and aims only to charm the audience (be accepted by the audience) becomes obvious. In short, it lacks the original intent to strive for loyalty to"the truth of the object of criticism, and the tendency to worry about constructing criticism (hypothesis) as entertainment becomes conspicuous.
It is also conspicuous in Kasai Kiyoshi's argument as to the superiority of "legitimate mysteries" (Note: Legitimate mysteries are those which concentrate on puzzles and the detective's solving of them; purely intellectual, with no supernatural intrusions.) set in the present day over "legitimate mysteries set in the years between the world wars," which took place between Nov. 1918 to Sept. of 1939, based on the theory of a large number of deaths (of which many have already voiced criticism). Certainly, if mysteries (relegated to a corner of subculture) were given significance by being bound up in current world history and current thought (which previously had had no connection to them), fans of mysteries, which had outwardly had no authority whatsoever, would certainly rejoice, and would probably support the movement. However, since Kasai Kiyoshi began this maneuver after the new legitimate mystery boom had been established, the implication that he was arbitrarily currying favor and committing to the boom is undeniable.
Also, in reality, when the decline of this new full-dress mystery boom began to show, Kasai Kiyoshi suggestively noted the new arrival of a boom in adventure novels with the appearance of "Kara no Kyoukai." In that essay, without a second thought, he coolly declares the significance of full-dress mystery novels that he'd previously heaped so much praise upon, to be this:
Mutually contradicting desires, such as diversification and assimilation, centralization and decentralization, continued to capture the masses of a high-level consumer society in the 1990s. After the stalling of adventure novels which centered on the might of the capital and the 'People who would not be conquered,' it was detective novels, with their structure of 'mystery/solution,' which drew the desires of the reading public. In this system of storytelling, centralization is provided by the criminal (who brings 'mystery'), and decentralization by the detective with his 'solution,' and in the ten years since its inception at Emperor Showa's death, it has acquired a following which surpasses that of the adventure novels of the '80s."
As he tells it here, the significance of the "full-dress mystery" is merely this: "When adventure novels became ineffective due to the extinction of Emperor Showa, what appeared to fill the gap were mystery novels: more "complete," or in other words, self-contained, onanistic devices."
What on earth made Kasai Kiyoshi turn so cool when he spoke about legitimate mystery novels? ---That would be because, in order to really proclaim the coming of "the ruler of a new era," one must dispose of the "aged king." In short, if new legitimate mysteries were what stepped up to take the place of the naturally declining '80s adventure novels, then the appearance of the next king (the new adventure novels) rests solidly on the supposition that new legitimate mysteries are a thing of the past, and that supposition must be made clear.
Of course, in the commentary for "Kara no Kyoukai," Kasai Kiyoshi does not talk directly about the death of the new legitimate mystery boom. However, if these new mystery novels are being presented as possessing a more complete form of the capacity for dissolution of "mutually contradicting desires, such as diversification and assimilation, centralization and decentralization," which the '80s adventure novels had, then:
If we take this to be Kasai Kiyoshi's current point of view, it means that new full-dress mysteries must be considered a thing of the past as soon as possible.
However, even this hypothesis, which seems plausible at first glance, really has its roots in the makeshift purpose of "self-preservation," and has put the cart before the horse. The fact that it is only "after-the-fact sophistry" and has reversed cause and effect should be quite clear to those who have watched Kasai Kiyoshi's movements up until now.
What I mean is this: the end of the road for the new legitimate mystery boom did not wait for the appearance of "Kara no Kyoukai," but had been felt and spoken of as established fact among many involved in the business for the past few years. On this topic, in "What Kasai Kiyoshi really wanted," I write:
Holland/Midorigawa Ran's (Note: Two different screen names for the same person; the latter has been used by them as a pen name in writing doujinshi books.) explanation here means approximately the same thing:
Parenthetically, my current perceptions differ from what they were when I wrote the above "What Kasai Kiyoshi Really Wanted," and are now closer to the previously quoted Midorigawa Ran's.
In short, Kasai Kiyoshi did not approach the young authors of the post-"Seiryouin Ryuusei" generation with the intent of prolonging the life of legitimate mystery novels, but was already scheming to prolong his own life, and attempting to do just that. ---By which I mean that the probability that Kasai Kiyoshi had already, in his own mind, discarded "new genuine mysteries" is high.
It may be for that very reason that Kasai Kiyoshi stopped limiting his sphere of approach to young mystery writers, expanding it to include all young writers of "Genre X." And what subsequently appeared as a natural result of that action was this practically excessive support of Nasu Kinoko (held up as a new adventure writer) and his debut work:
In short, to return to the original topic, Kasai's argument – that '80s adventure novels were a device for canceling "mutually contradicting desires, such as diversification and assimilation, centralization and decentralization," that the new mystery novels were a more complete form of the same device and that "Kara no Kyoukai" has fundamentally surpassed both of them – is, in practice, "reasoning after the fact." It's nothing more than accepting the truth of the decline of new legitimate mysteries, fiddling with it from behind and making a fiction out of it, while attempting to reap a crop which is not yet ripe.
He used this trick of "lending a hand after all the work's been done" quite skillfully in switching from '80s adventure novels to the new legitimate mysteries. This time, he made use of his past experience and tried using that trick a tad bit early. This is the real meaning behind his backing Nasu Kinoko's "Border of Eternity" to excess.
In short, to put it another way, "Kara no Kyoukai" has only been used as a device to prolong Kasai Kiyoshi's life.
At the time of this marvelous intersection of Kasai Kiyoshi's hidden agenda and Kodansha Novels' business strategy, what they conveniently found was none other than "Kara no Kyoukai," in the form of Nasu Kinoko. In short, it was vital that Nasu Kinoko become "the new star of the era," heavily fictionalized or not. Just then, something like a new talent audition, "Find the Ishihara Yuujiro for the 21st Century!" had been carried out with much fanfare.
It didn't matter how much or how little ability a newbie picked up in such a search actually possessed. They needed, first and foremost, to set up the absolute maximum ruckus in the surroundings, give him excessive advertisement and production and preferential treatment, and make the world realize (or be deceived into thinking) that he was a "star (talent)." In direct opposition to the attitude, "He's got talent, so he'll make waves even if we leave him alone," they tried to make people think "even a black crow is white." This "sales push," which almost leaves the actual writer behind, is the true meaning of these "curious movements" surrounding Nasu Kinoko's debut. (For example, "Printing the debut work of a new, unknown author in a deluxe limited edition, before the printing of the normal edition" and "Having Kasai Kiyoshi, a critic known as a giant of the mystery world, pen an exceptionally long commentary covering both volumes".)
Kodansha's novel sales had been showing a tendency to accompany the new legitimate mystery trend in its decline. They calculated that, should this go well, Kodansha would probably be able to make a recovery with this "New Adventure" brand, and that Kasai Kiyoshi would be seen as a brilliant, farseeing critic (not to mention one who well understands the new generation). He might even manage to shoulder the same position - that of a "sectarian critic" - for "New Adventure" which he'd taken when shouldering the new legitimate mystery boom.
Of course, Kasai Kiyoshi would probably deny this reading of mine as "groundless suspicion," as he did at the time when the hidden political tendencies which we can sense from his commitment to Satou Yuuya were keenly pointed out by Azuma Hiroki (Assembled Correspondence, "In A World Turning Animalistic").
Kasai Kiyoshi, as his grounds for calling Azuma Hiroki's theory "Kasai Kiyoshi = Hard-to-cross Partisan," uses this:
In this way, he tried to deny Azuma Hiroki's opinion on the grounds of the small scale of the "small world of current thought" with which Azuma was affiliated.
However, if it's "world scales" we're talking about, in my previous "What Kasai Kiyoshi Really Wanted," I said:
And, as I ridiculed him above, he was physically in no place to talk about someone else that way.
Currently, Kasai Kiyoshi is boosting the debut work of a new author whose only track record is having sold exceptionally well as a "doujinshi" novel. He begins the commentary to the first volume of "Kara no Kyoukai" by thoroughly raving about it:
The eloquent touches "event", "huge sensation" and "unprecedentedly large following" may, indeed - when taken in the context of the fast-paced and sloppily made world of beautiful-girl games (doujin games included) - actually be true. However, whether that is enough to ensure that it has the substance to cross genre boundaries is another question entirely, and that is where one wants the prudent statements of a critic. For example, these things he calls "event", "huge sensation" and "unprecedentedly large following", even if limited to the publishing world, exist in spades, every single year (in bestsellers like "Shouting Love at the Center of the World"). However, Kasai Kiyoshi has never praised any of those works on their popularity as unconditionally as he praises this one. -----That is to say, this is the sort of arbitrariness one would expect from a swindler, "the ability to toss out your old opinion (stance) with a casual face".
Original article and images from Libra