Wednesday, 9 January 2013

All You Need is Kill

Hiroshi Sakurazaka, 2004 [Alexander O. Smith, 2009]
(December 2012)

A poignant, deftly wrought meditation on the tenderness of loss and the fragility of the human spirit, following four generations of the Hoshizaki clan as they progress from humble basket-weavers in rural Aomori through personal tragedies and triumphs to a tentative acceptance of modernity and the implacable inevitability of social change and personal evolution. A character is called the Full Metal Bitch.

So only one of those things is true. Judging solely by the title and cover art, can you guess which one it is? Go on, have a go. It's not that much of a challenge, to be honest.

And nor is this book. This is teenage boy wish fulfillment at its most unashamed. The actual premise sounded pretty intriguing – ‘Keiji dies on the battlefield, only to be reborn each morning to fight and die again and again’ – sort of like The Forever War meets Groundhog Day. The author’s afterword makes it clear that it really owes more to a youth wasted playing videogames. Keiji fights the same repeating battle against the alien invaders one hundred and sixty times. Pussy. I once made it to level 8 of Battletoads.

The first half of this comes some way to living up to that premise. The stage is set nicely, and then we meet the Full Metal Bitch and it falls apart somewhat. It's simultaneously both over-explained and full of holes. A large part of Groundhog Day’s brilliance was its refusal to explain, and a little of that spirit would have been very welcome here. As you can no doubt also guess, and in keeping with the male teenage gamer ethos, the women in this book are little more than ciphers and sensitivities towards ethnic and cultural issues are notable for their complete absence. It’s no worse than you’d hear during an online game of Call of Duty, I’m sure, but apparently the author was born in 1970. Either he’s targeting his audience very well, or he’s still of his audience a little more than you’d hope for from a man of his years.


  1. Excited to see your thoughts on this one. I reviewed this on my website a year or so ago, and it is inexplicably one of my most popular posts. I think you have to give him some credit for the umeboshi eating contest though. You won't find that in any Honor Harrington books.

    1. Yeah, I saw your review a couple of days after I wrote this. While I was slightly annoyed to have fallen into your 'Groundhog Day +1' trap, I was also too lazy to change anything. Damn you and your prescience, sir. Damn you both to hell.

      I actually quite enjoyed the first half to 2/3rds of this book. As I was trying to hint at with my childishly sarcastic intro, this isn't something you can really start reading suffering from a burden of expectations. It is what it is and it's only when those half-arsed explanations kicked in that I started to roll my eyes a bit. As you said in your review, it's short enough that even then you don't feel like it's been a waste of time.

      Umeboshi's not so bad, to be honest. But then I've always liked pickles. Half a bucket would give you the shits for a week, but if you know you're dying the next day that's not really so much of a problem, eh?

    2. My kids will take down a bucket each of umeboshi if we don't restrain them. I enjoy them myself, but the kiddos are obsessed.

      Believe me, the Groundhog Day allusion is not unique to my review. I thought I was being original until I checked some other review. Sigh. What I really can't figure out is why this book is one of my top 5 or so most-read posts. Why is this Japanese story among all others so popular? People should be reading Harmony instead.

    3. I think they're making a live action movie of it now. Dunno if that'll push the hit count up or not. There weren't that many reviews of it online that I could find, so you (and now me :) might be one of the chosen few.

      While I was looking for a cover picture for this post I kept getting page after page of Tom Cruise running out of an explosion. Gotta love the traditional Hollywood whitewash.

  2. At least the Akira remake died a quiet death.
    There's not a lot of Japan in this book though, so it could be whitewashed, black washed, or purple washed without changing much of the story.

    1. True, that. You do wonder what they'll substitute for the umeboshi duel though. Pickled onions? Jellied eels? American 'beer'?