Novel review

by Labingi

Volume 5

wherein I MST3K AnK
A Mess of a Review for a Mess of a Volume

Volume 5 of the official English translation of Ai no Kusabi has given me revelation: namely that Ai no Kusabi is very much like A Bit of Fry and Laurie. A prime example: Riki is relieved to find out that Guy et al. haven't been arrested (just beaten up); he reflects, "While one lucky break didn't cover the rest of the bad, knowing the other gang members hadn't ended up on the Midas blacklist was good news" (102). This prose is reminiscent of nothing so much as Fry and Laurie's: Tony and Control. Myself, I suspected that the boys' not being blacklisted didn't completely erase the unpleasantness of being beaten up and yet was better than if they had been blacklisted, but I must say, Yoshihara-sensei, it's nice to have it confirmed by you. Here's another one: "[Riki] couldn't even walk straight. His body heaved with every breath. Dragging his shoulders along the wall, thoughts of how to get home spun through his head. [It's a bitch when thoughts start dragging your shoulders around.] He had no money. The rain was coming down. He could barely walk. [That can happen when you can't walk straight.] He was in a very bad way. [Really?]" (87).

Anyway, some stuff happens in this volume. Riki gets arrested and the rest Bison get badly beaten on the mistaken assumption that they are harboring Kirie, who has apparently gotten in trouble for uncovering Guardian's deep, dark, and disgusting genetic experiments. These events bear no relation to anything that is of any relevance to the story. And you can call me a monkey's uncle if it ain't so.

I enjoyed this volume. I found it as hilarious as Midaresomenishi. On a semi-serious note, however, I don't understand this long digression into Kirie's antics. Granted, I have now read farther than the fan translation extends, so my only prior exposure is the anime, and I'm sure I'm jarred by the inevitable plot differences. Still, I can think of no way in which Kirie has not already served his purpose. As far as I can tell, he has three structurally valid uses: 1) foil for Riki, 2) catalyst for Riki's return to Iason, 3) example of how ambitious mongrels come to a bad end in this dystopia. We've already stretched number 1 to such an extent that Kirie's character and journey no longer bear much resemblance to Riki's. Number 2 has been accomplished: Iason has reclaimed Riki. I don't know why we're not cutting to number 3 with the swift blade of the anime. Instead, we get two emerging themes: evil afoot in Guardian and Kirie in love with Riki. As for the evil, it's convincingly gross, but how does it matter to the basic tragic love saga? As for Kirie being in love with Riki, Riki is already the center of obsession for Iason, Guy, and really Daryl too; Katze thinks he's amazing, and Luke wants to rape him. Enough is enough. (Making Riki a love interest for Kirie also slightly vitiates Kirie's role as foil.) There is no Iason in this volume, and I miss him. He's my least favorite of the four principals, but this is his time, the point at which the story demands he move to the fore as tragic hero. Instead, he has receded into backstory.

There is, however, a silver lining to this volume, and it's Guy. He and Riki get a lot pages, and Guy's point of view gets a lot of attention. And he's utterly, brilliantly Guy. In fact, for all my complaints about the writing of this series, I have never yet once known Yoshihara to write out of character. Write badly, redundantly, clichédly, illogically she does. But she knows her characters with the incisiveness of God. Here, we see Guy, as usual, caring, calm, mature, but mature enough to see the one aspect of himself no one else does: that his goodness derives from Riki, that his relationship with Riki defines his behavior: "Guy's reputation might have turned out quite differently [from that of Riki's good and faithful lieutenant], because he knew he wasn't such a nice person underneath. Whatever his decision criteria, Riki was at the top" (136). His dark undercurrent is subtle and ominous and all the more tragic set against Guy as this volume's paragon of moral conduct.

There's another silver lining too: Norris's love life. This too is irrelevant to the main story, but it doesn't take long to discuss and adds some pleasing depth to the relationships among Bison's members. I enjoyed Norris's struggle between his loyalty to Bison and his love for his older, more staid boyfriend who wants him to get out of the dangerous gangbanging scene. The other lads' teasing sympathy for his situation was touching and especially Guy's genuine concern and the way it took him out of his own problems with Riki for a moment. I do love the Bison boys.

Would that this were enough to obscure the writing style. But it's not, so I beg your patience while I complain some more. This is the first volume in which I've noticed glaring illogic. Consider: "In the slums, where gun control was strongly enforced, only a cop would ever brandish a firearm..." (49). In an anarchy, gun control is strongly enforced? Ah, but maybe she means that Midas police raided the slums to deprive them of guns. Next page: "Riki... [had] never once heard of Midas cops forcing their way into Ceres." Maybe not.

The illogic extends to thought processes too*: "Kirie didn't know why Riki would go so far to shun him—why he was compelled to despise him so much..." (145). A paragraph later: "He knew Riki would want to kill him and would probably carry through with the intention" (145). So he doesn't know why Riki would like dislike him enough to shun him, only why Riki would dislike him enough to kill him? Shunning must be pretty serious stuff in Ceres. It continues: on pages 151-52, Kirie, having been shocked by the gross creatures in Guardian, races out, finds a car and drives to Midas, where he gets in a car accident. On page 162, Kirie, having been shocked by the gross creatures in Guardian (the retread), collapses on the floor, crawls away, and stays out all day and night hugging the walls. Does he exist in two quantum states, each simultaneously living its own unique set of experiences?

To end where we began, here's one more bit of fun with redundancy. Riki is being dragged off to jail by the infamous Midas Darkmen: "Riki couldn't get comfortable [as surprising as that might be in the circumstances]. He was at his wit's end and couldn't relax [as is often the case when you can't get comfortable]. But the atmosphere inside the car was even worse. Committing no crime and yet suddenly being carted off by the cops, imaging what lay in store for him only fanned the flames of his anxiety [instead of helping him relax, as you might expect it would]" (54). Yes, I confess it: this volume moved me to take out my pencil and start taking marginal notes on its inadequacies. Hence all the handy quotes. Here's hoping volume 6 returns us to the story or at least provides some more fodder for amusement. I can always use a good laugh.

* I suppose one could call this "out of character" for a character who's supposed to be intelligent. This type of OOC does happen in AnK frequently, but I usually chock it up to poor plotting rather than poor character development because the ramshackle thought processes typically refer to superficial plot logic not core feelings, motivations, relationships.

Review of volume 4 << >> Review of volume 6




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