Fighting Evil By Moonlight – Heartcatch Precure!: The Novel

Heartcatch Precure! is, to date, the strongest entry in the Precure magical girl franchise. It’s a series that works incredibly well in an episode-by-episode basis but also in terms of long-term narrative. This success comes from successfully building upon itself, and one of the anime’s high points in this regard is the story of Tsukikage Yuri, aka Cure Moonlight, a veteran Precure whose defeat triggers the start of Heartcatch Precure! A recurring character, Yuri’s arc of forgiveness and redemption is one of the most satisfying and inspiring moments of the series.

Yuri is more of a strong supporting character than a main protagonist in the anime, which leaves a lot of questions to be answered. For example, how did she become a Precure? Fortunately, Yuri is actually the star of the Heartcatch Precure! novel spinoff, which retells the story of the TV series from her perspective. Simply titled Heartcatch Precure!: The Novel, this book adaptation takes a somewhat more mature alternative view of the story already familiar to fans.

The novel is divided into four large chapters: how Yuri first became Cure Moonlight and how she lost her powers, the arrival of Tsubomi and Erika (the heroines of the anime), Yuri’s return, and the finale. By far the most “new” content is in the first. Here, we get to see a younger Yuri in junior high, her friendship with Erika’s sister Momoka, how she meets her fairy Cologne, and her interactions with Tsubomi’s grandmother Kaoruko, the former Cure Flower who ends up training Yuri. One of the main focuses of Yuri’s path to becoming a Precure is the way in which Kaoruko tries to drill into Yuri that she needs to be at the top of her game. There’s also a great amount of attention spent on Dark Precure and her thoughts and feelings. As Yuri’s “shadow,” it’s only appropriate that the novel delve into her story as well.

The other three chapters don’t hold up quite as well. While they still do a fine job of telling the story of Heartcatch Precure!, they have this problem of rushing to the Yuri-centric scenes so as to refocus the narrative back on her. The consequence of this pace is that huge swathes of the novel feel like recaps, such as quickly introducing Cure Sunshine without much fanfare. At other points, however, because the core narrative is still about Tsubomi, the retelling of the anime’s events still draw much more attention to her than Yuri. The actual material is still quite satisfying, and the major moments resonate emotionally, but at many points it starts to feel less like a true Cure Moonlight novel. The points at which the novel does emphasize Yuri usually come from her conversations with Kaoruko, as well as any moment where she’s trying to use her experiences to teach or warn the new Precures.

It’s unclear if this novel is meant to be read by people who have already seen the anime, but there is a recurring trend where it quickly and nonchalantly drops information that was gradually revealed in the TV series, such as the true identities of certain characters. This isn’t even about “retelling” parts of the anime; one of the late spoilers in the series (the identity of a Tuxedo Mask-esque figure) is revealed in the first chapter, before Tsubomi ever shows up.

The story also occasionally deviates from the anime’s events in small ways, making it uncertain whether or not the novel is canon. For example, in the final battle against the main villain, Dune, he explains his origins and why he carries such hatred in his heart. This didn’t happen in the anime at all, and the lack of development for Dune is one of the anime’s few weak points. The climactic punch is replaced by an embrace because the running gag throughout the series, where Tsubomi uses a hip attack and calls it a “butt punch,” never occurs in the novel. It also expands on the epilogue of the anime, refocusing back on Yuri at the very end.

Given its length (over 300 pages in Japanese), the lack of furigana to help younger readers, and the complete absence of images aside from the cover, Heartcatch Precure!: The Novel skews older than the target young elementary school audience of the anime. While it’s an open secret that teenagers and adults watch Precure too, this book appears to be a specific targeting of that more mature audience. While the novel might feel a bit much like supplementary material, it’s still an enjoyable read that carries all of the strengths of Heartcatch Precure!, particularly its thoughtfulness in characterization and character development.

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Future History is Awesome: Legend of the Galactic Heroes Novel Volume 1

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Depending on your definition of good science fiction, Legend of the Galactic Heroes is one of the finest SF stories ever. Leaning more towards space opera, LoGH combines political intrigue with a genuine look at how people and societies can change (or even regress) as they expand out into the universe. I mentioned the anime on Ogiue Maniax many years ago but never really got into great detail about the series, but now that it’s being released in English in both anime and original novel form I thought that it’s about as good a time as any to talk about what makes LoGH such a strong series by reviewing the first volume of the novel.

Legend of the Galactic Heroes is the story of a corrupt democracy versus a stagnant empire in a far-flung future where humankind has ventured deep into space. Two figures, the unassuming Yang Wen-Li on the side of the Free Planets Alliance and the righteous Reinhard von Lohengramm on the Galactic Empire, act as both heroes and rogues within their respective systems, and their actions change the fates of their societies in unforeseen ways.

As I have seen the entirety of the Legend of the Galactic Heroes anime most of the story is not new to me. It’s been quite a few year so I may have forgotten some details, but the major notes are still pretty fresh in my memory because of how much impact this series has. The prologue of the first volume is actually a short history of how the Galactic Empire and Free Planets Alliance came to be, and how they each try to erase the presence of the other for political reasons. Something as simple as the fact that the Free Planets Alliance (which came after the Galactic Empire was formed from a Hitler-esque powergrab in its predecessor the Galactic Republic) reverted to an older calendar system instead of the Empire’s standard shows just how complex political philosophies and their manifestations in everyday life can be. A similar example exists in the real world: Taiwan’s official name is still to this day the Republic of China because it denies the idea that the People’s Republic of China is the legitimate government of China (and the PRC does the same to Taiwan). Even in the first volume, it encourages thought about how governments and even people’s everyday actions can maintain hegemony.

For some, such as myself, it’s a fascinating read that provides the perfect context for what happens in the main narrative as Yang goes about questioning the blind fervor by which people toss around the term democracy, and Reinhard similarly tries to chip away at the ossified core of incompetency in the Empire. Their personalities, but also many of the characters around them, are so well-portrayed and so effectively invite readers to pursue connections and thematic similarities among the gigantic cast of LoGH that it makes the book a pretty easy read overall. The character of Paul von Oberstein is especially notable for creating more questions than answers, and to this day you’ll have debates over what his true motives are.

Reading the first volume of the novel, one thing that stood out to me that had actually never occurred as I was watching the anime were the parallels between Reinhard and Rudolph I, the original founder of the Galactic Empire many centuries ago. Both believe that their government is suffering from stagnation and corruption, and that the best way to deal with these issues is to seize power from within. While Reinhard believes that people should be judged by their merits and Rudolph I was a staunch proponent of eugenics, the conviction by which they have sought change are strikingly similar.

Similarly, though this isn’t nearly as strong a connection, Yang is portrayed as being a brilliant but lazy man who despite all of his talents and keen insight wishes to live a quiet life. The current Galactic Emperor is initially shown to be a somewhat lost and even incompetent man, but he seems to display sudden flashes of intelligence that imply he might know more than what people expect. However, just like Yang, he prefers a more idle life.

The translation for Legend of the Galactic Heroes is overall very solid. I have not read the original Japanese, so I can’t make so direct a comparison, but the language flows well, never gets too dense or overwhelming even in the most dry of sections, and characters’ personalities are conveyed in a matter of moments. If I have any criticism of the translation, it’s less of a language issue and more of a copy editing complaint. At various times throughout the story, the spelling of Reinhard’s best friend Siegfried Kircheis changes, from Siegfried to Sigfried and then back into Siegfried. It doesn’t impact the quality of the story by any means, but that’s the kind of mistake that shouldn’t be happening.

I don’t think I can recommend LoGH enough, but then again I know pretty much the whole story. That being said, while both the overarching movements of the narrative, as well as the small details that connect with each other, build into something much greater, the first volume does a tremendously good job of setting it all up.

Genshiken Novel Announced!

The official Genshiken website announced 2 days ago that a Genshiken novel is on its way!

Light Novel Genshiken: Hainyuuranjin no Yabou ~The Return of Otaku~

Release date: January 22nd, 2008

Cover Artist: Kio Shimoku (of course)

Author: Iida Kazutoshi

Note: The Japanese title is some kind of horrible pun that I can’t quite figure out, so I can’t give a proper translation of the title. It means something like “Ambition to be the Orchid Endosperm.” Note that this is not what the kanji actually mean if you actually read it, but that I suspect they were going for something else. Most likely, it translates to something like “Ambition of the Dutch Pilgrimage.” That also doesn’t make too much sense.

My initial suspicion was that it was a play on Hi-Nu, as in Hi-Nu Gundam.