A Review of Kara no Kyoukai Part III
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 final part of a review of the novel from the website Libra: Constellation of Aleksey, translated by Sarah Neufeld:
Kasai Kiyoshi's basis for boosting a new author this far is, in the end, nothing more than "numbers". No matter how you reason it out, insomuch as Nasu Kinoko has "sold" far better than Kasai Kiyoshi's works, he ranks above Kasai Kiyoshi, and "Kara no Kyoukai" outranks "The Philosopher's Sealed Room". In the end, this sort of bald-faced "push" is possible simply because Kasai has been captured by what I must call "the worship of numbers".
Still, there are probably many who doubt that a writer such as Kasai Kiyoshi, who's left such a substantial track record, would prostrate himself to "numbers" now, at this late date. This is a perfectly natural doubt.
Nevertheless, as I wrote in the previously referenced "What Kasai Kiyoshi Really Wanted", if one is aware of the bitter gall that Kasai Kiyoshi, as a "non-selling writer", has tasted up until now, and the trauma stemming from it, this becomes much easier to understand.
For example, as I detailed in the above paper, because Kasai Kiyoshi was obsessed - a "sectarian ideologue" - over new legitimate mysteries, he held a set position as a writer. However, Kasai had practically no easily understandable "medals" (literary awards), and his position didn't change the fact that, as a writer, he didn't sell. For that very reason, he not only developed the "Detective Novel Research Club" [** A group established in July of 1995 by those with ties to the mystery review prize; there were 27 committee members in July of 2006] and started up the "Legitimate Mystery Club", but also began the "Legitimate Mystery Grand Prize" in the form of a literary award hosted by these groups. In doing this, he schemed to strengthen the supremacy of this "legitimate mystery" world to which he belonged in the world of literary mysteries, as well to one day take that prize for himself, gaining both "honor and sales" at one blow.
However, it's already too late. The literary awards are in disarray, and the present "Year's Best Ten Books" were inundated at year's end. When the new volume in Kasai's flagship series and the work which he'd put all his strength into, "The Oedipus Syndrome" (Koubunsha), took first place in the "2003 Genuine Mystery Best Ten" (Harashobou) (which is written and edited by the "Detective Novel Research Club" of which Kasai himself is leader), and after even that was extended beyond those limits and the book chosen for the "Genuine Mystery Grand Prize", it barely managed to get one extra printing. He failed absolutely to get the results he'd hoped for.
This harsh truth showed itself in reality in the circulation numbers of the work which took the next year's "Legitimate Mystery Grand Prize", Utano Shougo's "To Think of You in the Season of Leafing Cherry Trees" (Bungeishunjyuu). This work was received well immediately after publication, and had a terrifically high reputation among the grassroots aficionados of mystery books (such as bookstores and the like), but that had no effect on its sales. However, even that unfortunate work, thanks to its being sighted in insane places right from the start, was chosen fairly for first place in "2004 Publications - This Mystery is Awesome!" (Takarajimasha) and "2004 Genuine Mystery Best 10". It acquired both the Legitimate Mystery Grand Prize and the Japanese Mystery Writers Association Prize, and was taken up both in name and fact, far and wide, as that year's "best mystery", becoming a widely known work even in general circles.
However, even though a suitable number of editions were printed as a result, since the sales of this masterpiece are stalled at around 110,000 (Reading and Sales News, 6/18/2004 - "Results of Prize Somehow Resemble the Mystery World"), we can extrapolate the probable sales trend of Kasai Kiyoshi's much less well-known "The Oedipus Syndrome". (While the results aren't in yet, "The Oedipus Syndrome" is on its third printing. On the other hand, "Leafing Cherry Trees" is, as of 5/30/04, on its thirteenth.)
In short, from having had this experience, Kasai Kiyoshi has probably come face to face with the fact that he can no longer survive (preserve face) as a "merchant of literature" by adhering to (or standing by) legitimate mysteries. What to do, then? The answer, which has made itself clear from his previous experience, was to "switch saddles to a promising genre".
In that case, which destination should be chosen for this "switch"? This was a tough problem, with survival hanging in the balance. At that point, what caught Kasai Kiyoshi's eye right away were novels related to "Genre X (next-generation otaku-style culture, such as anime, manga, light novels, figures, etc.)", which he'd noticed in his dealings with legitimate mysteries.
However, no matter how popular things in that neighborhood were lately, it was obvious that Kasai Kiyoshi would never manage to commit to "World-type" novels [** A genre where the protagonist (individual or a small group) has the power to change the world in his or her hands. "Tsukihime", "RahXephon" and "Haruhi" are given as examples.] or "romance" novels, as his personality was incompatible with both. So, when he looked for something close to his conventional "sphere of action" to switch over to, "mystery" was out, "spy/conspiracy" novels were also out, and what remained by default was "adventure novels".
In short, Kasai Kiyoshi writes a long commentary for it, has this new author Nasu Kinoko, whom he'd given his highest blessing, write a recommendation essay for the pocket edition of his own older adventure novel "Vampire War", and has the same illustrator who did "Kara no Kyoukai" draw the cover for "Vampire War". As we can see from this, he doesn't plan merely to be seen as someone who well understands and is an ideologue for new adventure novels, but to piggyback on the popularity of game writers like Nasu Kinoko and TYPE-MOON, and to soon be an "active adventure novelist" who supports the boom.
Therefore, the idea that there is a component of epochal inevitability in new adventure novels is a lie. Certainly there may be some epochal inevitability in the popularity of "Genre X" as a whole, but even in Genre X, the reason "adventure novels" are specifically being focused on this time is not because "the era demanded it in particular" but because of "Kasai Kiyoshi's personal convenience".
In real life, if someone took one single work (the debut work of a new author, at that), and claimed "From this point, a second boom in adventure novels will arise", if no other omens preceded that statement, most people wouldn't quite have "felt" it. That is as it should be, since the assertion "From this point, a second boom in adventure novels will arise" really meant nothing more than "From this point, we will raise a second boom in adventure novels. We had sure better, because we'll be in trouble if we don't".
In order to make it quite clear that my interpretation of all this has not been "groundless suspicion", let me give one more example. It has to do with the doubt I expressed when I was analyzing the style in "Kara no Kyoukai":
(* Note: The top is "Kodansha Pocket Edition", by TYPE-MOON's Take. The bottom is the "Kadokawa Novels Edition" first edition, by Ourai Noriyoshi)
Certainly, Kasai Kiyoshi is a critic who is picky about "meaning" and "significance". However, that outlook is not synonymous with disregarding the actual style. Kasai himself, being a novelist in his own right, must know full well that a novel begins with its writing, and he himself has said so.
Specifically, take Kasai's "Okajima Futari" argument. This "Okajima Futari" argument, "For what reason did I become a mystery writer?" (included in "Divergence in Imitation") in analyzing the collaborative writing team known as "Okajima Futari", also takes on the universal "secret of how novelists are created". However, in this review, what is presented as the most important factor of the "secret of how novelists are created" is this problem: "The substance of a novel is made clear in its actual transformation into text. The things called "plot", "idea" and "subject" are nothing more than the triggers for the novel, and can hold only secondary meaning."
The "author" in this paragraph is the author of the autobiographical long essay "A Strange Couple: A Chronicle of the Ups and Downs of Okajima Futari" as well as being one half of the Okajima Futari duo, Inoue Yumehito. Parenthetically, Inoue is of the same generation as Kasai, is very close friends with Kasai, and is his business partner in their "e-NOVELS" enterprise. [* In Japanese, "a strange couple" is "Okashi na Futari", so it's a bit of a pun on their name, "Okajima Futari"]
That may be hard for mystery maniacs to understand - since taking out only the "trick", and discussing its "peculiar appeal" is possible (at least for those mystery maniacs who have that unique custom) – but the view of novels which Kasai Kiyoshi has given here is incredibly common sense, and right on the money.
In short, since a simple "An alluring woman" will not a novel make, you can say, "A beauty who's an expert in karate". In that case, though, as long as the information, "What fighting style does she use?" "How is she beautiful?", "What's her personality type?", "How does she talk?", "What does she wear?", does not become concrete novel writing, it all stays stuck as "data", never becoming a novel. Again, at a certain time, is the heroine wearing "red clothes", or are they "crimson clothes"? Or are the people who happen to be standing in a place through which she passes a "pair of lovers" or "two students"? In most cases, there is no "objective reason" for these choices, and they are referred to the author's "subjectivity" (subjective choice).
However, in a very good novel, in many cases elements chosen subjectively by the author carry "an (objective) effect of seeming to have been exhaustively calculated". For that reason, the readers see "the author's calculations" and "an inevitable (logical) choice", but often, the writer says they hadn't thought it through that far. This seems to suggest the fact that this discrepancy between the author and the reader lies in the author's intuition towards "choice in writing", and that itself is where "ability as a writer" rests.
Even if 'the same trick' or 'the same plot' is used, if different writers write them, different works will be produced. In those works, a difference between being well written and badly written will come about naturally. Even if the same character premise is used, the character will become completely different according to each author's writing strength. ---That's just how novels are.
In short, even if the author tries to tell something of "extremely important significance", as long as it is not "incarnated" via expression in writing appropriately chosen via the author's intuition, that novel is a poor work and a failure.
To take the discussion back to "Kara no Kyoukai", Kasai Kiyoshi cites the following as the point on which the significance of "Kara no Kyoukai" (its value of existence) rests:
He then explains, in the following paragraph, exactly where in this work that value lies:
According to Kasai Kiyoshi, the "newness" in "Kara no Kyoukai" is "in its suspension of the schema of opposing 'ordinary and extraordinary'." Kasai Kiyoshi is saying that novel called "Kara no Kyoukai" paints a picture of "the fringe centralized, the center made fringe. The border is made empty, in addition to which, in a world which continues to exist as the 'border of emptiness'..."
However, it isn't as though "center" and "fringe" were taken as set entities in the theory of "center versus fringe" which Yamaguchi Masao and his peers advocated. They were used only as the image of two extremes, each stimulating and supplementing the other, and the "center" was in no way stable.
Take, for example, that concept cherished by Yamaguchi Masao, the "trickster". The trickster was a "border-like" entity who switched back and forth between "ordinary/extraordinary" and "center/fringe", stirring both sides up, and in doing so freshened and renewed the matrices of "ordinary/extraordinary" and "center/fringe", which had been fated to stabilize, then collapse.
In short, there is absolutely nothing new about Ryougi Shiki, the protagonist of "Kara no Kyoukai".
Yamaguchi Masao, taking the reader's point of view, spoke of such things as "Due to the invasion of the extraordinary, the ordinary is activated" and "Due to the invasion of fringe-related elements, centralized elements are activated and renewed". However, I would say that those statements reversed – by which I mean, "Due to contact with the ordinary, the extraordinary is activated" and "Due to contact with centralized elements, fringe elements are activated and renewed" – aren't something to deny. What made it possible to realize that the lives of demons and fairies "up until then" were on the side of "extraordinary/fringe" was their being exposed to and cheapened by the ordinariness known as "commercial consumption", then taken in by the side of "ordinary/center". This is probably a common-sense observation. In that case, instead of "the extraordinary/fringe" side being the antiestablishment symbols of "demons and fairies", they most likely discover the "new fringe": things such as "stalkers", "incomprehensible tweens", and "North Korea", and transform themselves to fit. Things of this level were already common knowledge in Yamaguchi Masao's time.
However, Kasai Kiyoshi deliberately transforms his predecessor's achievement into a schema, speaking of it as though it is "a rigid way of looking at things", and on top of that, he skillfully exercises his 'style (rhetoric)' as a novelist and raves about the "newness" of something not particularly new at all.
Therefore, "content (meaning and significance)" as Kasai Kiyoshi tells it, does not exist in the work "Kara no Kyoukai". It is nothing more than an illusion which was planted in the hearts of readers at the point in time when Kasai Kiyoshi said it "existed". And, as proof to back up this fact, we have nothing less than the "freakishly bad writing" in "Kara no Kyoukai".
As Kasai Kiyoshi said in his Okajima Futari argument, "information" does not equal "novel". In short, no matter what sort of "meaning" or "significance" is packed into it (or made to be discovered), unless that "significance" and that "meaning" are adequately "transformed into writing" and expressed, that novel can only be " 'a poor work which dealt with weighty subjects' and 'a failure with delusions of grandeur'." In short, even if we make a huge concession and say that Kasai Kiyoshi's discovery was not simply "arbitrarily giving something meaning", but something which had basis (something which had even slightly more than absolutely no basis whatsoever), then arguments like this:
And it's about an author who can't even transform arguments like these, which I can call nothing less than "wrong-headed", into solid writing, who lacks "the instinctive ability to choose appropriate wording", that Kasai writes:
"'Border of Emptiness' will most certainly give a jolt to a number of readers of adventure fiction, including the readers of the neighboring mystery and sci-fi genres. You see, in this work lurks a power which will shatter the stagnation of the adventure genre. 'Border of Emptiness' has broken open a new horizon for the adventure novel."
It is eminently obvious that this work does not have the "substance" equivalent to the "fanning" (of flames) Kasai Kiyoshi is giving it. "Novels" are nothing so naïve. It's just as Kasai Kiyoshi himself said:
Why, then, would even a very few people feel somehow that these babblings of Kasai Kiyoshi were accurate? ---- That is due to the "vagueness of having no content" of "Kara no Kyoukai", which I've proved through my examination of its writing.
Where things they don't understand well are concerned, humans will always be prone to embrace "excessive illusions". The more honest the person, the more likely they are to think "I don't really understand it, but I'm sure he's talking about something very profound". People also tend to think their own powers of understanding are shallow, and so overestimate those of the other person. This is because we can console ourselves by thinking that, if the other person is some sort of astronomical person, our not being able to understand him is "natural" and "normal".
It's precisely because they know such "psychological weak points" in humans so well that swindlers aim for them. If you're selling a dubious health food, by trotting out a title such as "Professor Emeritus of XX University", then lining up numbers the average person can't understand, you can palm off an absolutely worthless product on them. People who have an inferiority complex over their upbringing or their academic background fall for this sort of method with startling ease. Just by putting out the name of "Professor Emeritus of XX University", and the name of a real university, they think "He can't possibly be a fake," and "If this data was found by a professor that important, it has to be trustworthy". Then, calculating from the data, they begin to think things like, "You know, actually, that's a very cheap price".
Certainly, it's not in the least safe for a "bluff" or "fraud" to be obvious as absolutely groundless nonsense. However, if you just prepare a likely-looking shape in advance, a "castle in the air" is more than enough. In short, impersonating "Professor Hasumi Shigehiko of Tokyo University" is risky because the odds of your being found out are high, but you won't likely be found out if you impersonate "Professor Emeritus of XX University. Essentially, the normal method of the swindler is to get by without putting forth clear-cut data which will be immediately obvious as true or false, then show people an illusion in the vagueness (indistinctness) which can be taken any way one likes.
In that sense, (the writing of) "Kara no Kyoukai" was the perfect tool for a swindle. In short, Nasu Kinoko and "Kara no Kyoukai" are simply a mediocre author and work who are "lacking in clarity", and the one who used them to set up a swindle is, to the very end, Kasai Kiyoshi.
In short, Nasu Kinoko and "Kara no Kyoukai" are an "empty vessel", no more than "a box full of nothing". However, in order to "eat out a nest" for himself inside that box, the "demon" known as Kasai Kiyoshi set up Nasu Kinoko and "Kara no Kyoukai" as a new "Adventure Novel" boom, which would bring him prolonged life, saying:
By filling in a place that's absolutely empty with "illusion", you can deceive (swindle) people into thinking that, to begin with, that "empty vessel" held some great meaning. This is, certainly, something which stemmed from Kasai Kiyoshi's peculiar overemphasis (cognitive leanings) on "meaning" and "significance"; however, the reason something like that has a regular power of persuasion is that there is probably a desire to imbue it with "meaning" on the reader's side as well.
In practice, the attitude isn't so much "Does something have value or not?" as "If something is thought to have value, it doesn't really matter whether it actually does or not". This is similar to the timeless romantic psychology, "If you were going to deceive me anyway, I'd rather you'd deceived me until death". One way of thinking about it goes that, ultimately, as reality is no more than "collected realizations", then if someone is deceived until death, then that was "reality", at least for the person who was deceived. However, I wonder: might not this sort of person, in being dragged along by that "desire to be deceived", have to spend their whole life begging "deceive me, betray me"?
I'm not a believer in "religion", as such, but I don't deny the fact that there is a very large number of people who feel that they have had a real, personal contact with religion. And, even if that "sense of real experience" is false, I think that most of the people who have felt it can't help believing in the "illusion" completely. However, before things go that far, people should probably examine their own desires. "Is what I believe in worth believing in? Or am I only thinking that just having something I can believe in is enough?"
This can, of course, be fitted to the case of evaluating a novel as well. "Do I want to adequately evaluate a superb work as a superb work and enjoy it? Or am I taking the attitude that, although from an objective point of view it's a terrible book, as long as I think it's interesting, I have no qualms about judging it a masterpiece?"
Of course, I take the former position. Even if I personally enjoy something, if from an objective viewpoint some parts are poorly done, I will evaluate them as poorly done, and if, as the result of a full evaluation encompassing those parts, that work is "poorly done" or "a failed work" from an objective point of view, I feel no reluctance about admitting it to be such. However, even if it's "poorly done" or "a failed work", it doesn't change the fact that I like what I like. In short, I distinguish between "objective" and "subjective". Taking as a natural premise the fact that I can't run away from my own subjectivity (simply because I can't), I think "I want to cherish objectivity", and "it's there that the real value lies".
If I were to say this in other words, it might go something like this:
In short, the sort of understanding I am asking for might, to "the average person", (in short, to the ones Enokizu Reijirou calls "stable hands") be difficult. For "average people", being pulled around by their "inner impulses", and continuing to be fixated on "illusions" might be just about all they're wired to do. In short, "the average person" might be a sort of deviant who finds joy in being victimized by a swindler.
-------However, after having seen (or being made to see) the "real image"— that "portrait of oneself" which comes from "outside" – one can no longer innocently "behave like ordinary people: normally and simply". Well, no, behaving that way is possible, but one can't go back to being an "obliviously happy" average person. For that reason, there is nothing for a person like that to do but stall at the border between "inside" and "outside", existing aimlessly, half-finished and without substance. He himself is a hollow "Border of Emptiness", and thus either adds to the damage done by the swindler, or is used by it himself: he has no other choices.
November 8th, 2004
The manuscript above is a collection of three separate articles which were posted on internet bulletin boards. Their breakdown and appearances are as follows:
(1) "Nasu Kinoko's Writing Ability (1 ~ 4)" (BBS "Black Cat Notice Board": 7/18/04
The previous essays have already been recorded in "Debate: About Kasai Kiyoshi", so for the originals, please follow the above links.
Also, on August 24th of the same year that the original manuscripts of the above three essays were released, there was a contribution from Shigure-shi to "Aleksey's Flower Garden" concerning Azuma Hiroki's words, which supported my reasoning in the manuscript. It is titled "Tree-Leaves and Door Keys", and it is recorded below.
"The Key to the Door of Leaves (1) ~ (3)" Contributor: Shigure Date of Contribution: 8/24 (Tues) 00:37:36 ~ 01:15:19
Hello, and it's been a while. Today I finally got a copy of Azuma Hiroki's doujinshi magazine, which I'd referenced in passing before.
(In response to Azuma's remark that a severe directional choice is hanging over "Faust")
However, if it's just Kasai Kiyoshi's "Kara no Kyoukai" argument, spoiled things will turn up no matter what. So it seems like, unless they reference some sort of counter somewhere, it's going to get risky pretty soon.
Azuma: I agree with you there. Kasai-san's movements lately have been strange, and, since he's bought into it, I've got doubts about (Faust's) Chief Editor Oota's movements as well. The issue will probably have come out by the time this round-table discussion goes into print (the discussion was on 7/4), but in the third issue of "Faust", the second feature is "New Adventure", and as build-up for that, Maijou-san, Satou-san and Takimoto-san's names won't be on the cover. Plus, it isn't like Motonaga-san and Harada-san's works are adventure stories; the name "new adventure" was something coined for Nasu-san alone. Even Oota-san says so. In short, for the sake of Nasu-san, Maijou and Satou have been chased off the front cover, when just one year ago, Oota-san said "This magazine belongs to Maijou and Satou and Nishio". To me, having known that, this directional switch is really hard to imagine.
Certainly, I think that the capital held by TYPE-MOON is big. However, neither Oota-san nor Kasai-san are users of beautiful-girl games. I can tell you this now, but the ones who told them about "Tsukihime" and Nasu's name were myself and Satou-kun (note 2). Not to mention that Kasai-san, in a correspondence with me called "In A World Turning Animalistic", clearly wrote that his own adventure novel from the eighties was a "loss". Rather, I was the one who wrote that I wanted it reevaluated. And now, a mere two years later, we have this. I'm sure everyone's got various thoughts on the matter, but having him as a correspondence partner was not fun. Kasai-san and Oota-san may be planning to go all-out promoting "new adventure" and doubling "Faust"s circulation numbers from now on, but I can't see that they believe in the context.
I do have hopes for "Faust" itself, but if even one of Maijou-san or Satou-san or Nishio-san gets dropped from the magazine, then I'll probably stop writing for it as well. If whether there are only a few or a lot of this sort of speech made works as a counter, that's good, but well, faced with numbers in the 200,000 department (the official sales of "Kara no Kyoukai"), this might be no more than "the mantis's ax"** (laughs) [** "The mantis's ax" is what it's called when a very weak enemy takes on a very strong one, without thinking of the difference in strength beforehand.] It's just as you say, Sarashina-san. (The rest is abbreviated.)
Note 1: Editor and writer Sarashina Shuuichiro-shi. For details, see http://d.hatena.ne.jp/cute plus/000000
Note 2: This is not the novelist Satou Yuuya, but the writer (and additional participant in this round-table discussion) Satou Shin. For details, see: ttp://d.hatena.ne.jp/keyword/%ba%b4%c6%a3%bf%b4
The above was from pg. 134 of "Speech-Waves Special Supplement - The Critical Point of Beautiful Girl Games"
.. .. . .. ..As you can see, should Enshu-sama happen to read this, he is very likely to say, "Did you see that?!" As far as one can tell from reading this, apparently Enshu-sama's speculation on Nasu Kinoko's debut work (which I had previously said that I could not approve of) was quite close to the truth.
I wonder where "Faust" is heading... As a reader of Genre ?, might I watch over their progress closely?
At present, I have finished my examination of "new adventure", and its sequel, an examination of Kasai Kiyoshi's relationship with "new adventure" (including an examination of his commentary to "Kara no Kyoukai" (It feels like this is all I've been saying, somehow...Enshu-sama, Harapyon-sama, I'm sorry for being such a slow writer!), and I hope that its contents will spread and thrive.
And with that, have a good night.
[List of links]
Original article and images from Libra