Thursday, August 13, 2015

REVIEW: Yamada Monogatari: Demon Hunter by Richard Parks

Yamada Monogatari: Demon Hunter Yamada Monogatari: Demon Hunter by Richard Parks
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I picked this book up because it was urban fantasy in a Japanese historical setting. I was hoping it would be like the Japanese version of Harry Dresden. I should have looked at the book carefully and noted it was an anthology. What few anthologies I read I rarely enjoyed, and this anthology was no exception.

The good news was that it was a fast and easy read. I devoured the short stories in one sitting. I didn't need to flip to back to the glossary at the end during the reading. Of course, being a manga fan, I was already familiar with some of Japanese culture. For example, honorifics and a loose fashion sense of the Heian period. Of course, there were some things I wasn't familiar with, but I understood them easily from the context. It helped that the paragraphs generally avoided being overly long and the sentences were straightforward.

+ the protag

The bad news was the gritty theme, even if it was very mild. I rolled my eyes at the down-in-the-dumps protagonist. I became disdainful when it was immediately revealed that his impoverishment was of his own making in face of the facts that he owned a noble title and was a skilled warrior, two things his society greatly valued. Yup, any sympathy I may had felt for him eroded away completely, and even when shit hit the fan and smacked his face I remained stoic.

Then, I shook my head in great annoyance when his luck turned worse because of — you guess it — a woman who was a damsel in distress and a femme fatale in a two-for-one bargain. Obviously, it wouldn't be complete without the protag slipping into depression and drinking himself into oblivion.

Thankfully, the drunken depression only lasted for a few short stories and, not to say the protag completely recovered, the protag got a better outlook on life at the end. Though, that's not saying much since he was basically back to square one... maybe square minus one or two since his grief was still ached some. Well, at least when it comes to his work, Yamada is competent and clever. Not to mention his loyal friends.

+ tragic galore

Among other things I didn't like was how most of the short stories ended dismally. In other words, only two short stories, in my opinion, ended happily and I'm using "happily" very loosely. For those who likes their fairy tales and fairy tales-inspired work to be traditionally tragic, you'll see it as a pro. For me who likes happy shit, it's a big con.

The first short story, "Fox Tail," already had my face in my palm, because the stupid kitsune wife could have had a happy life if only she told the truth to her sincerely loving husband. It didn't matter that she couldn't stay in human form for a long time. She only needed to do it in front of humans, and she only needed to do it occasionally since noblewomen are allowed to lead a nun-like life, especially when that noblewoman is part of a powerful clan where spreading rumors would mean to risk one's head. Also, if that one kitsune crone could do it and maintained her deception without any human knowing the better, including her son who she helicopter-parented, the young kitsune wife certainly could.

Anyway, "Fox Tail" didn't ended resolutely, because sooner or later someone got to tell her baby she gave up custody of that he's part kitsune and part human and will have abilities because of his strong kitsune blood when he grows up and weird shit starts to happen around him. I know this first short story is based on a real Japanese fairy tale so the ending had to be that way to remain close to its inspiration... but must it? I would have much preferred for the author to spin it and say this is how things should have ended if the characters had some good sense clobbered into them.

Another thing I didn't like was how stereotypical Japanese some of the characters were. Honor, sacrifice, suicide, blah, blah. The motifs were tiresome. The short stories by themselves were not problematic, but together in anthology, the bigger picture painted was a little problematic for me. It made me think a happy Japanese person was like a mythical unicorn. The motifs could have been part of the gritty theme, but that doesn't make me feel any better.

Conclusion

I rate Yamada Monogatari: Demon Hunter 2-stars for it was okay. For an anthology, it could have have been worse, but at the same time it could have better. Life is unfair, but these characters just lacked good sense and the kind of courage to fight for their happily ever after. Fighting dangerous monsters they're totally okay with, but fighting for one's happiness and dreams is apparently too much.

Readers who love everything about Dresden Files and like some grit will likely enjoy this book. The demon hunting in this book is basically detective work with demons involved, most of them needing their evil ass kicked. In short, this book is your typical male protag Urban Fantasy. Readers like me who like Dresden Files moderately but don't care for grit should look elsewhere. At least with the Dresden Files, there is a little humor whereas in this book there is none.

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