REVIEW: Vampire Hunter D #1

The last few days I had a reader’s craving for vampires but no love story. I was also hoping for something with a darker aesthetic while still being light. Despite how overly specific that want is, I was able to check all of the boxes with the Japanese classic, Vampire Hunter D by Kikuchi Hideyuki with illustrations by Final Fantasy‘s own, Amano Yoshitaka.

Originally published in the 80s, Vampire Hunter D is a sci-fi western featuring the ever classic story of humanity against the creatures of the night. Ten thousand years have passed since the human race destroyed itself in a nuclear arms race and regressed to Frontier times. But vampires and artificially created other monsters are trying to regain control so it is up to the various classifications of Hunters to wipe them out by the request of their employeers.

This first book follows the plight of Doris Lang and her brother, Dan, who hire the mysterious D to act as protector after Doris is attacked by the local Count Lee. But there’s more to the job than a simple vampire slaying as Doris is also plagued by the ruffians of her town and D has unknowingly attracted some negative attention from a gang of especially skills bandits. With a lot of strangeness on the line, both D and Doris may be in over their heads. Or are they?

I loved the ol’ fashion Western vibe of this first book and the way it combines the classic aesthetic of the traditional vampire story just made me so happy. The story is action packed but still light enough to get through without having to think too hard about what’s going on. Doris was a sweetheart and the mystery surrounding D is too intriguing to stop here. The translation was so incredibly smooth, I would have thought it was originally written in English so a major shout out to translator Kevin Leahy. I loved the combination of traditional vampire lore with new additions due to the crazy world building. The idea that the vampires are scientific geniuses who can create their own servants through genetic engineering as well as robotics, was super cool to me and I look forward to hearing more about that side of the story as the series continues.

Needless to say, it was just what I wanted right now and I’m so happy to have found something that fit my incredibly niche reading wants.

Murakami Double Feature: Piercing & Audition

Note: both of these works by Murakami Ryuu contain intense levels of violence, gore, self-harm and references of sexual trauma and child abuse.

One of the most well known Japanese horror films is Audition from the incredibly director Miike Takashi. To be perfectly blunt (so excuse my language here), that movie is one hell of a mind-fuck that is not only confusing but so incredibly nasty, I don’t ever recommend it to anyone even though it’s a move that completely captivates me. A few years ago, I found out that this classic of a film was actually based on a book by “the other Murakami”, the twisted mastermind, Murakami Ryuu.

However, Audition wasn’t the first book of his that I read. Late in 2020, I read through Piercing during a 12-hour shift at my day job, and absolutely fell in love with it. Adapted into a film more recently (but far too white and far too different to be worth watching, save your time for better movies), the only thing I knew about Piercing is that it was graphic. But wow did that book hit me in ways I was certainly not expecting. Both Piercing and Audition are incredibly intense books but I’m so pleased to have finally read them. Now to get onto the reviews!

Piercing is about a man struggling with violent urges from his childhood that are once again plaguing him as an adult and about a young sex worker unable to manage her childhood trauma. As both find themselves in a situation where they are equally trying to kill each other, the realisation of being cut from similar clothes leads to a strange ending that will not be what one expects.

The graphic violence in this book borders on extreme that may be off putting for many readers, even ones who enjoy horror. Murkami’s horror is on a different level than most to say the least.

Given how short this book is (and the same goes for Audition) I don’t want to give too much away, but when it really boils down to it, Piercing is a story about broken people. Both lead characters have been abused, the trauma of their youth bleeding into their adult lives. As the cat vs cat (because neither of these people are the mouse) game continues onward over the course of the night, the realisation hits just how much their individual trauma resonates with the other’s. To me it was a book about accepting your baggage as much as accepting that you can’t be responsible for other people’s baggage. It’s a complex narrative that I felt really hit the nail on the head when it comes to trauma and dealing with trauma in unhealthy ways. As horrible of a visual this novel gives, I felt uplifted by it. As weird as that sounds…

Audition is a very different novel when compared to Piercing. It’s quieter, softer around the edges, while still addressing the harsh violence that comes with unhealthy trauma processing. It follows a man who misses his deceased wife, who’s son suggests he settle down again. Though middle-aged, he follows his skeezy friend’s idea to hold a fake audition to find a refined young woman to settle down with.

It’s not his fault that things go sideways.

Fans of the film will be familiar with the gruesome torture scenes, the implied sexual violence, and of course, the piano wire. But much of what Miike put in the film doesn’t actually occur in the book, and I would probably be more likely to recommend the book to people within my circles than I would be to recommend the movie.

The flashback sequences of what Asami went through, the visits to her apartment and the restaurant where he were. Visceral scenes that are signature to Miike’s film style that were entirely made up. While the film is somewhat non-linear and full of drug induced hallucination scenes, the book is more linear and straight forward (and also far less graphic until the infamous ending). That being said, I found the film added far more to Asami’s character, making her more alluring while also more terrifying. The book, while more palatable and easier to follow, felt like it was missing some greater threat while it built up to the ending. I felt it needed more to really suck someone in.

That being said, as a huge fan of the film, I am incredibly happy I was still able to read the source material in English. It’s a must read for fans of the movie.

Murakami has a very distinct style that is visceral and gut-wrenching while somehow simultaneously being quiet and tender. He writes messy stories about messy people, most of them just wanting to live their lives as best they can manage. He reminds me of Chuck Palahniuk in some ways if I’m being honest. I really hope that as 2021 continues, I’m able to read more of his translated works (especially Coin Locker Babies since Miike was in talks to adapt that one before the project was cancelled).

ARC REVIEW: The Membranes

Thank you to NetGalley and Columbia University Press for providing me with a copy of the eARC

I’ve always had a love of Asian novels, but the translated works I’ve read over the years have been primarily (if not entirely) originally written in Japanese. I’ve wanted to expand my reading consumption to other Asian countries, and when I stumbled upon this novella on NetGalley, I figured, “What the hell.”

Note: trigger warnings for non-consensual gender reassignment and child molestation

Originally published in China back in 1995, Chi Ta-Wei’s novella The Membranes is a complicated story about what it is to be alive, to be human, and to what the freedom to live as one wants truly means. The dystopian world created almost 30 years ago touches on a lot of what is happening today and translator Ari Larissa Heinrich did an incredible job bringing this complex story to English readers.

I know very little about what the queer cultures (or lack there of in some cases) are like in the majority of Asian countries, but I know that it tends to be frowned upon at the very least and criminalised at the most. The fact that this was published in 1995 was so mind blowing to me given what little I’ve heard about censorship rules. Books have been criminalised and banned for far less than the blatantly queer content that fills the pages of this novella. Topics such as lesbian/wlw relationships and gender reassignment surprised me but it was fascinating to read them knowing it came from a Taiwanese writer.

I want to discuss the gender reassignment aspect of this novella, but as this English translation isn’t out until June, I plan on writing a deeper blog post about it closer to the official release.

While slightly triggering to me as a trans person, I really enjoyed this book and look forward to picking up a finished copy upon release.

REVIEW: The Alchemist Who Survived Now Dreams of a Quiet City Life #1

One of my 2021 goals is to read more light novels and honestly, one thing that always makes me laugh are the series with overly long titles. When it comes to The Alchemist Who Survived Now Dreams of a Quiet City Life, the long title was half of the reason why I picked it up, but the other half was the cute art for sure.

For those unfamiliar with light novels, it’s a genre of Japanese novels that are a more serialised format that also tend to feature full-page illustrations with varied frequency throughout the novels. It’s basically a genre made from anime-in-book-form without being manga. The majority of the light novels I’ve read have fallen into the action-fantasy genre but there are also slice-of-life romance novels as well. But back to reviewing this one.

The Alchemist Who… follows Mariela, an alchemist who put herself into a magical state of suspended animation in order to survive a huge monster attack on her home city only to wake up 200 years later. Realising that she is now alone in the world with no home, no friends, and no knowledge of what has happened while she was “asleep”, Mariela is in a bit of a fix. Even when she makes friends out of a group of adventurers, she learns quickly that there are hardly any alchemists in the world, and none within her old home city.

The synopsis makes it sound like a typical action-packed fantasy novel, but this series is definitely more slice-of-life, at least for the time being. The story is about Mariela’s loneliness and her fears from being asleep for so long. It’s about her kindness and generosity towards others that may stem from her naivety, but deep down all Mariela wants is to care for others. The guards she befriends look out for her, knowing that she’s just a young woman, but more than that is the man, Sieg, who she saves from a death sentence of slavery.

I know the inclusion of slavery is very off-putting for many readers even in “English” fantasy novels. What I will say is that I think it is more of a translation thing here. In this world, those with massive debts have the option of being a debt-labourer, given the option to sell their labour to nobles or other wealthy folk in order to pay off those debts. However, if the person in question commits a major crime or violates the terms of their contract, they are condemned to being a penal labourer until the end of their days. Sieg falls under this category, but is saved from his fate as a penal labourer when Mariela sees how unwell he is and how abused he is at the hands of the other guards.

Her kindness towards this man who feels he is unworthy of such generosity is so heartwarming and as we learn more and both of them, I found myself adoring Sieg and Mariela with my entire being. The book on the whole is so sweet and stress-free with how soft it is and how tender the characters are. The only issue I really took with it was that at almost 400 pages long, it could have been shortened significantly had all of the repetition been cut out. The herbs and plants Mariela requires for her secret alchemy get a little complicated, but the constantly repetition of three of the plants’ effects does get tiresome.

What I have found interesting though about reading as many light novels lately as I have been, is how the fantasy genre specifically still tends to be very video game or TTRPG (table-top roleplaying game – think D&D). By that I mean in three separate light novel series that I have stuck my nose into, there is a levelling system and a magical power system that feels very much like it would in a game. It’s curious to see in novels that are not game based (such as Sword Art Online) and I’d love to do more readings into why this might be such a common trope with light novels. I also wonder if that kind of system is common in other Japanese fantasy novels that don’t necessarily fall under the light novel categorisation.

All in all I really loved this book and look forward to getting deeper into the series. As of right now, there are five volumes of 350+ pages each translated into English by YenPress, and I’m looking forward to reading them. I definitely had to fight the urge to immediately jump into the second book once I finished this first one. Mariela and Sieg are just so perfect I need to read more about their relationship as I hope it moves from a budding friendship into something more.

REVIEW: No Longer Human

#MangaMonday has been shifted to Wednesday, because the title for this week is actually an adaptation of the amazing, semi-autobiographical novel No Longer Human by Dazai Osamu.

I also would like to mention trigger warnings for this novel include suicide and sexual assault (both implied and actual).


No Longer Human is the story of the narrator finding lost journals from a man named Oda Yozo, and following him through his struggles at simply existing around human beings. Yozo has never felt he fit in with the world, let alone just the space he occupied. He was easily taken advantage of and quickly found himself in barely escapable failures.

The novel is a complicated one, at first reading like little more than a depressing tragedy of a time where mental health care didn’t exist at all, resulting in the sad existence of Yozo. I actually had to read this a few times for the words to sink in, and upon re-reading, feel that the true meaning of the story is to be more aware of the people around us. It’s a story about loneliness and how that feeling is exacerbated when you can’t understand the social cues that berate you every waking moment. The lines about depression, about what it means to long for non-existence as opposed to outright death (which is the way I personally read it – suicidal ideation over suicidal intention). Yet our protagonist is so overwhelmed and sad that his ideations actually become failed truths again and again and again.

In a weird way, I find this novel surprisingly comforting in that it gives voice to some very real feelings that I’ve had to deal with myself. While I was reading a translation, I feel that Donald Keene did an incredible job of capturing Dazai’s essence and his emotion in the words and one day I really do hope that my Japanese reaches the point where I can read the original.

While I wouldn’t recommend this book to a single person I know, it is just so touching and important to me.

REVIEW: Mirai

Thank you NetGalley and YenPress for providing me with a digital ARC in exchange for my honest review.


I love Japanese stories. I find there’s just something that’s always different about Japanese lit that tugs at my heartstrings no matter the book. Having loved all the recently translated light novels I’ve been reading, I was so excited to have been approved for Mirai by Mamoru Hasoda, especially given that I’m such a huge fan of his films.

Mirari is the story of a little boy, Kun, who is livid to find he isn’t receiving as much attention or affection from his parents now that he has a baby sister. However, Kun is then visited by a future version of his sister as well as other versions of all of the people around him in an adventure of love, family, and learning.

Now, this story was presented as an anime film first and then later adapted into the light novel as presented with this book. Much like your name. or even manga adaptations such as Wolf Children (also a film by Hasoda) or the Boruto series, it’s not uncommon to have the books come after the film/series is released. It doesn’t always work, and despite enjoying the story, I do feel like Mirai is an example of one better seen rather than read.

It felt a little jumbled in places and I am honestly not sure if that is due to parts of the story being lost in translation between the original Japanese and this English edition, or if it just is simply how the story is paced. It was still very cute and an interesting look into modern family living in Japan, but I think it would have had more emotional value in the form of a manga rather than a novel.