Novel review

by Labingi

Volume 6

Volume 6, Metamorphose, may be the best yet. It features all four of our leads and features them well. The plot progresses, and Kirie is not a huge part of the story. All of this is most welcome. While the usual shortcomings in the writing remain, the translation and editing seem smoother. I only counted a couple of dangling modifiers, and I didn't spot any typos at all!

Spoilers below...

In fact, volume 6 surpasses even the anime (the 1992 one) in one important respect: it gives Guy a good reason for hitting Riki. In the anime, Guy's beating Riki up is one of the few scenes that does not ring true to character. Yes, we can talk about how Guy snaps under sudden shock after years of stress, but that still feels like explaining away an outburst that should have been much less extreme. In volume 6, we reach the equivalent scene: Guy and Riki fighting just before Riki returns to Iason. But now it makes sense! In this scenario, Guy is angry because Riki has just betrayed Kirie to the authorities. In so doing, Riki violates the cardinal tenant of gangbanger ethics: you never turn in one of your own (even if you kind of hate them). Not only that, but Riki refuses to acknowledge that he's even done anything untoward: "I let them carry out the trash.... What did I do wrong?" (46). That this betrayal comes from Riki shakes Guy's foundations: Riki has always been his role model of courage and virtue. Riki's behavior is so beyond the pale that it transcends verbal criticism. Having been raised in a violent world, Guy reacts violently, slugging Riki—only once: the perfect illustration of Guy's shock, followed by his immediate return to instinctively trying to talk things out with this man he once communicated well with.

In fact, the pursuit of Kirie showcases all our four leads well. Iason tells Katze to deal with Kirie, with full faith that it will be done. And indeed, one brief conversation between Riki and Katze later, Kirie is in custody. This is an excellent study in the relationship between Katze and Riki. Katze knows that Riki is the key to Kirie's whereabouts; he makes a beeline to Riki's apartment. His discourse with Riki, as always, is a mix of threats and respect. He is honest, open, reasonable, also quite willing (I don't doubt) to use drugs to force reciprocal honesty from Riki; he is also backed up by big muscle standing just outside the door. This joint appeal to Riki's reason and his fear swiftly collapses Riki's defenses. Riki not only hands Kirie over but is left with the somewhat plausible sense that he has truly done what's best. (Guy, of course, begs to differ.)

It is worth noting that Katze plays Riki in exactly the same way that Iason plays Katze. Both win respect and a species of trust by showing respect and trust, by speaking openly and intelligently (almost) as if to an equal, (almost) as if to a friend. Yet both wield a heavy stick, always poised in plain sight, always reminding their subordinate that disobedience is not an option. Truly, we learn from the people who raise us. Riki, conversely, has learned to respond to Katze as Katze to Iason: with a sort of almost friendship liberally mixed with despair, a belief that both resistance and complete trust are impossible. Guy, still sheltered by the illusion that escape lies just outside the borders of Ceres, cannot comprehend this despair, hence his anger at Riki, hence, perhaps, his entire trajectory as antagonist. We began with Riki resisting the system, but in the end, the only one still naive (unsullied?) enough to resist is Guy.

So far so good. Unfortunately, this nice structural movement is a little bit undercut by much emphasis on Riki's incredible allure and indomitability once he returns to Eos. In the anime, the pathos of this part of the story lies chiefly in Riki's having truly surrendered. His three years with Iason broke him so badly that the Riki who returns really doesn't have much fight left in him. Volume 6 Riki, too, fights a lot less than his younger self, but more because he has matured than that he has despaired. He should despair. At this point in the story, he should be more pitiable than admirable. He has had to come to terms with leaving his home, his former partner, his friends, his pride, his ambitions, his gang, his role as a leader. He is facing the rest of his life as a sex slave, alternating between boredom, humiliation, and torture. I think very highly of Riki; I consider him very strong. But that is a hard pill to swallow. The slightly weary Riki who drags himself off to the pet soirées where everyone admires his smoldering spirit does not sell the enormity of the abuse he has suffered.

On the other hand, the abuse itself is suitably ugly. The sex is more torturous than titillating. The story does not lose sight of the fact that this is slavery. Riki is in a no-win situation, under the power of a man with no mercy. Whenever Riki asks for relief, Iason will automatically deny it precisely because he refuses to capitulate to his pet. But if Riki doesn't ask for relief, he will likely be sexually tormented until he's just about literally unconscious because Iason does not have any spontaneous concern for his comfort. Iason, of course, on a basic level just doesn't get it. He doesn't know what he does to Riki because he can't put himself in a mongrel's place.

Iason is inscrutable. He doesn't think the way we think, either by nature or by nurture. He may not even physically feel the way we feel. It dawned on me in volume 6 that I really don't know if Iason experiences sexual arousal in the way we humans do, or if it is simply something he can command his "android" body to do, if the "arousal" for him is more purely psychological. This impenetrability makes him scary, which enhances the pathos of Riki's situation. And yet, I want more of his point of view. Iason's function in the story is not just to be scary. In many ways, he is the tragic hero, but so far, he's too distant to come through as such. Perhaps, as in the anime, we'll see more of his feelings later on, but at this point, I miss having a window into this perspective.

Extra points for the Riki and Daryl pathos. Riki, naively, doesn't even know that Daryl died trying to help him escape. Nonetheless, his life experience and recent revelations have given him a new appreciation for the furniture he used to hate—and for furniture in general. In his mind, he is kinder to the new furniture, Cal, and this perhaps is the most lasting legacy of Daryl (and maybe Katze too) in Riki's life. They taught him to have more compassion. The signal quality Iason has none of...

The only criticism of this volume worth mentioning is the pervasive redundancy. Yoshihara has a tendency to say in five pages what she has already said in three lines five pages earlier. If she wrote this story as leanly as it deserves (as indeed I think she did in the first version), it would be over by now. As it is, at the end of volume 6, we leave Riki in mid-torture and have a silly Kirie epilogue that makes me hope he's killed off soon. It's lately been announced that there may be no more English-language volumes, in which case I hope that fan translators will have at it (and preferably the original edition) again. I want to get to the end; volume 6 has restored that desire in me.

I cannot conclude without poking at least a little fun at the prose:

But Riki just stood there and stared.

'Riki!' Iason said again, though his voice was coaxing.

Riki suddenly came to his senses. He slowly opened his watering eyes. Doing his best to calm his still trembling limbs, he clumsily got to his feet.

It's hard to stand up gracefully when you're already standing up. (Lena's comment: It is also hard to stare with closed eyes.)

Review of volume 5 <<




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