Author: Amanda Sun
Series? Yes. 1 of 3.
Rating: 2/5 stars
Note: This is a pre-scheduled post. I am currently on holiday. Apologies for delays in commenting back!
Reading this book was like watching a checklist of of i) preconceptions of Japan via anime/J-drama and ii) a stereotypical paranormal romance. There’s very little here that’s innovative, although I did enjoy the incorportation of Shinto mythology and religious ideals in the text.
The plot of this book is nothing to write home about, you’ve seen it a dozen times before if you’ve read YA Paranormal romance in their heydays of 2008-2010. Except, of course, it’s set in Shizuoka. There’s an ordinary girl who doesn’t quite fit in, and a handsome and mysterious boy who’s more than he seems. They fall inexplicably in love, though there’s very little interactions leading up to these undying declarations. Throw in a flimsy reason to keep them apart, some unrepentant baddies, and a ex-girlfriend – there’s your recipe to a run-of-the-mill story.
While I do occasionally enjoy reading books filled with tropes (I find their predictability very helpful with reading slump), I did not feel up to it for this particular read. It did not help that I found Katie whiny, and Tomohiro plays right along to the ‘noble idiot trope’ – something I have no patience for. Their characterisation is unnervingly inconsistent, both alternating between shy and boisterous at the flip of a page.
One of the redeeming points about the book was its mythology, which is very loosely based on Shinto religion. Kami are element and forces of natures, spirits that are worshipped in Shinto. They are one with nature, so they are neither good nor bad, and they definitely aren’t govern the the same human moralities. I wish this aspect was more explored in the text. While Kami are a part of the natural world, they are also believe to be ancestors of certain Japanese clans (with the Emperor’s family being one of the most prominent examples). It’s little wonder that they’ve captured the imaginations of writers through the centuries, and I am glad to see some aspect being represented in Western YA. The magic system involving calligraphy and ink paintings were also beautiful – I liked that it was accompanied by drawings throughout the book.
I did find it very funny that the premise of Ink and its magic system is based on homonyms that would only confuse Westerners. With the author’s logic, Kami means god (kanji: 神), Kami also means paper (kanji: 紙) – so therefore they must stem from the same place? Kami (kanji: 髪) also means hair, so is Sadako is the goddess of Japan now? In reality, the kanji and the tone stress on the spoken word would differentiate these terms, and no such confusion exists.
The inclusion of other aspects of Japan in this book made me a little uncomfortable, I couldn’t help getting a bit of second hand embarassment from the appearance of anime-Japanese in the text. Katie and the people around her would randomly insert random phrases such as:
‘Baka ja nai no?’ Myu shrieked at him.
‘Taihen da ne,’ I drawled, stretching my legs on the couch.
‘Isn’t that the same thing?’
‘Sou da na…’ he mused.
‘What I mean is…’ he said. ‘Ore sa.’ His voice was made of honey. ‘Kimi no koto ga…’ About you, it meant. I, you know, I…’ And his keitai phone went off.
‘Sonna wake nai jan!’ I whined with a Japanese accent.
‘Moshi moshi? Yuu Tomohiro desu ga,’ he said.
On the one hand, how were people who had no familiarity with the Japanese language meant to understand what these characters were saying? A couple of things were left untranslated in the text. On the other hand, anyone with even a basic understanding of the language would just cringe. Tomohiro drifts in and out of polite/casual speech at will. Mobile phones are referred to as keitai the entire time, totally unnecessary because there’s a perfectly good English word for it.
The details about tea ceremonies and Kendo were not entirely accurate – all in all – this book lacks research, something obvious to just a casual fan of the Japanese culture like myself. If you want to represent a culture, do it right. This is all the more disappointing because the author lived in Osaka for some years.
Sadly, this book did not deliver on its beautiful cover and engaging blurb. If you want to see a fantasy based in Japan with sound research yet still imbued with incredible creativity and artistic vision – you need to read Catherynne Valente’s The Melancholy of Mechagirl instead! I’ll be reviewing it in my next post.
A Tour Through Japan
As with my previous reviews in this blog series, here are some sights I saw on my trip to Japan, in relation to quotes from the books. I have never been to Shizuoka, and don’t plan to – so you’ll have to make do with the closest I can manage, sorry! If you’re interested in the author’s own trip to the sights, check out her tumblr.
The castle had seen generations rise and fall… from the roof you could almost see the whole park, paths and moats and bridges crossing, the buds on the trees almost ready to burst.
The castle mentioned in the book is actually Sunpu Castle in Shizuoka – which I have not had a chance to visit. The original Sunpus Castle is largely gone anyway, having been destroyed numerous times. Instead, I present to you Himeji Castle of the Hyogo prefecture – the finest surviving example the original Japanese castles. It’s nicknamed Shirasagijo – the white heron castle, for its pristine colour and elegant arches. It’s one of my favourite sights in Japan, its imposing size is breathtaking. I’m not its only fan, the castle features in a number of film, both foreign and domestic.
I visited in 2014 when the main keep was still under construction, so we couldn’t enter. I also visited on the day of an incoming typhoon (we had no idea, due to our lack of Japanese) so the castleground was deserted – and I could play at imagining how life was in days gone by.
We took a walk along the shoreline of Miyajima, the giant orange arch of Itsukushima in the distance. We had dinner at a cafe, and on our way home, Niichan bought us each a maple leaf-shaped custard cake, the pastry was warm in our hands.
I have yet to visit Miyajima as of my writing of this post – so I’ll use a placeholder image for now, I plan to visit during my trip this year, so I should have my own photo up if internet connection serves me well! Miyajima is a sacred Shinto island – it was actually closed off to the public until recently. Even now, people cannot die or be born on this island – and there are no hospital on it. The Itsukushima floating torii gates is one of the Great 3 Scenic Views of Japan, be sure to visit when the tide is high so you can experience it in its full glory.