Nov. 10th, 2009

starlady: (basket of secrets)
Kyogoku Natsuhiko. The Summer of the Ubume. Trans. Alexander O. Smith with Elye J. Alexander. New York: Vertical Books, 2009. [1995.]

This is the first book in the long-running mystery series by Kyogoku Natsuhiko featuring the onmyouji Kyogokudo, aka Chuzenji Atsuhiko, and his band of friends and war buddies, of which the anime Mouryou no Hako adapts the second book. I liked Mouryou no Hako enough to seek out this book, and wasn't disappointed. It's a mystery set in the summer of 1952, just after the end of the Occupation, and Kyogoku isn't afraid to confront some of the most vexed issues of the century--modernity versus superstition, democracy versus the imperial system, science versus religion--though he's too canny to ever definitively favor one opinion over the other, much like his namesake Kyogokudo (whom, given everything, one suspects is the author's alter ego). In a nutshell, Kyogokudo's school friend Sekiguchi, grubbing for money, is considering writing an article about an incident in which a husband has been missing and his wife has been pregnant for twenty months, and after the wife's sister comes to their friend Enokizu's detective agency for help learning the husband's whereabouts, things spiral out from there.

I had wondered after watching whether the women who lived with Kyogokudo and Sekiguchi were their wives or servants. The book resolves that they're their wives. It's interesting comparing the anime with the book--the book makes it clear that the characters look nothing like the CLAMP character designs (with the possible exception of Enokizu), and Sekiguchi is even more neurotic in the book than in the anime, which I wouldn't have thought possible, but isn't surprising for someone who had problems with depression even before he went off to war to command a platoon which only he and Kiba survived. I still like Kiba the best of all the characters, I think. In some ways the book takes a left turn in resolving the details at the conclusion (child abuse! missing genitalia! dubcon!), but the route there is fascinating. I'd definitely recommend the book to people who liked the anime, or to people who like manga and/or anime such as xxxHOLiC on account of their background in the Japanese supernatural, which this book is positively soaked in (Kyogoku's background is actually in folklore, apparently). The translation is very good, too, despite some inconsistent copy editing decisions on whether explanatory notes should get footnotes or in-text brackets. Anyway, I hope Vertical publishes more. I'll leave you with one of Kiba's lines that I found particularly interesting.

Look at me, Harasawa. I was one of those people who thought the war was right. When I heard the Emperor give his speech on the radio, I didn't know what to think. But now that I've had time to cool off, I understand that we were a little crazy back then. And I think that the democratic thing we're doing now is the right way. So maybe justice isn't anything more than the ghost of an idea. Maybe the winner decides all, and might does make right. That's why–that's why, like you say, there are no gods or Buddhas looking out for the little guy. That's why we have the law. Because we can't believe in gods, or Buddhas, or even justice. The law is the only weapon the weak have against the strong. Don't turn away from the law, Harasawa. It's on your side.