Novel review

by Labingi

Volume 3

The worst of the bunch so far. This is a shame because the excellent core story is in full swing in this volume. The plot covers Riki's first three humiliating years as Iason's pet, the events of the Dark Erogenous CD drama, which I highly recommend. A flash-forward subplot involves Kirie's machinations. Here we reach many of the quintessential scenes AnK is justly famous for; sadly, poor writing robs most of them of impact.

Line-by-line use of language is much improved in this volume. The truly embarrassing lines are almost completely gone. This prose is dull but functional, and several dialogues read very well. The translation is smoother and the typos much fewer. The structuring of the story, however, borders on incoherent. Everyone familiar with AnK knows it's non-chronological, and this flashback structure works well to illustrate the cause-and-effect of Riki's psychological devastation. However, there's "non-chronological" and then there's bopping from scene to scene, timeline to timeline, point of view to point of view every few sentences. This radically fragmented narration results in needless repetition (how many times do we need to hear about Mimea?) and temporal confusion (Is Riki dreaming of his past or is this actually happening?). But most importantly, it undermines dramatic effect by depriving the narration of sustained rising tension and progressive character movement. Example 1: We get one, isolated throwaway line stating that Daryl is going slightly mad. This illustrates nothing about Daryl, explains nothing, and serves no purpose but to break the flow of the narrative.

Example 2: How to take a great character moment and ruin it. (Minor spoilers follow.) One of the memorable scenes of AnK is when Iason catches Riki masturbating to a porno-hologram and beats him senseless out of sheer, unreasoning jealousy. Psychologically, this scene is highly reminiscent of a scene in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World in which Linda beats John up for calling her "mother" because, like Iason, she lacks the emotional tools to process her feelings for him in a more mature way. Here's the end of that bit from BNW:

He saw that she was going to hit him again, and lifted his arm to guard his face. "Oh, don't Linda, please don't."

"Little beast!" She pulled down his arm; his face was uncovered.

"Don't, Linda." He shut his eyes, expecting the blow.

But she didn't hit him. After a little time, he opened his eyes again and saw that she was looking at him. He tried to smile at her. Suddenly she put her arms round him and kissed him again and again. (p 127)*

Here's the end of the scene from AnK:

Aroused by his own naked anger, he [Iason] struck Riki in a blind, reflexive spasm.

All Riki had been doing was pleasuring himself to a naked picture of a bitch [female pet]. It drove a spike through the heart of his pride as a Blondy, a spike of burning sexual desire.

The rumors about Riki and Mimea only confirmed the reality of those emotions. [Onward to more on Mimea.] (p. 41-42)

Leave aside that Huxley's "showing" is more compelling than Yoshihara's "telling." Leave aside the "spike-through-heart-of-pride" melodrama. What's missing? Iason's counter-motivation, the part of him that knows his actions are stupid. The power of scene where a person loses control is the fallout from the clash between his/her conflicting impulses. Huxley wrenches our gut by juxtaposing Linda's immature, Brave-New-Worlder lashing out with her instinctive maternal love and need for John. For Iason, the conflict lies between his icy self-control and his violent rage, his distanced superiority and his desperate obsession with Riki. But Yoshihara gives only one half of the conflict: a lackluster account of his fury, followed no engagement with how either he or Riki processes this attack in the light of his usual, implacable veneer of self-control.

Riki and Iason's story is the great casualty of this ramshackle narration. The movement of their relationship—Iason's mounting emotional involvement and Riki's gradual descent into hopelessness—is almost impossible to track, in part because their story keeps getting interrupted by more minor characters.

The great beneficiary of these interruptions is Iason's furniture, Daryl, who, to my knowledge, has never been so fully developed in any version of AnK before. This volume offers welcome insight into the details of both pets and furniture, and Daryl, in particular, is richly drawn. In fact, he steals the limelight from Iason as the chief source of Riki's misery! Riki's dislike for him contrasts effectively with Daryl's genuine affection and admiration for Riki. As furniture tales go, Daryl trumps Katze in this volume. Indeed, Katze's famous discussion with Riki in which he describes his past as furniture, is literally sliced in two by a long digression into Riki's attitude toward Daryl. Apart from the way it detracts from other story elements, the fleshing out Daryl's character is powerful and welcome. Other pleasant surprises include a fun scene furthering the old rivalry/mutual understanding between Riki and informant, Robby, and some nice plot development for Guy. This volume also contains Riki and Luke's game of "giggolo," a good character-building event, though this edition seems to underplay Riki's discomfort with the game, which is the main allure of the scene.

Katsumi Michihara's illustrations are beginning to disturb me: no character looks older than twelve, including Iason, which is just weird and wrong. For hardcore BL fans, the illustrations are getting racier.

BL content: it's graphic, sadistic, and disturbing—yet strangely unmoving, owing mostly to the failure in narrative follow through that I've described in the Brave New World comparison.

On the whole, this volume is a mess. It contains many of the series' most memorable scenes, but it conveys most of them with a sloppiness that denies them their rightful emotional impact. Good points include several of the extended dialogues, which showcase nicely the individual voices of Iason, Riki, Katze, Guy, and Daryl, among others. I'm giving this book a B– for stylistically butchering a brilliant story.

* Huxley, Aldous. [1932] Brave New World. New York: Perennial Classics-HarperCollins, 1998.

Review of volume 2 << >> Review of volume 4




Close the window to go back, click here to skip to the Start