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So many HANZAI JAPAN reviews…

Hanzai Japan was published just over a month ago, and boy, have the reviews been pouring in! We thought we’d share a few. First up was the October 2015 issue of Locus Magazine. The review by Karen Burnham is not online, but did conclude like this: All of which is to say that Haikasoru has put out another winner of an anthology, joining The Future is Japanese (2012) and Phantasm Japan (2014) in presenting a diverse array of voices, both Western stars (Valentine, Evenson) and Japanese authors in translation, to show just how appealing and intertwined the fiction coming out of Japan can be for the Western genre audience. Between the dark, the fantastic, the science fictional, the surreal, and the funny – there is no monolithic Japan here, just writers writing about crime, or things that might be crimes, or things that happen as the result of crimes (no matter how far stretched that definition may be) in all the different voices available to them.

Then we had a nice long 4.5 star review from SFSignal.com, which read, in part: So if this doesn’t sound like a trippy, fun, and highly entertaining collection to you, then I’m not 100% sure that you’re human. I mean, maybe you’re a space lizard in a human suit. With terrible taste. If my review of Hanzai Japan did pique your interest, though, then go grab a copy.

Albedo1 agreed! Despite its few flaws, Hanzai Japan was a gripping read throughout. If you feel that itch that only quality crime fiction can scratch, then this anthology is for you.

So did CrowsnBones! There are hackers, amateur sleuths, demonic tattoos, fox spirits, Yakuza bosses and a special guest turn by Godzilla, making this a strong contender for the collection of the year. Spinetingler Magazine did one of its famous story-by-story reviews, with a different author handling each piece.

Too many to link to but here are all the posts so far!

Dirge Magazine Loved it: It’s this spirited, loving, bloody rebellion against the genre rulebook that makes these stories tick, that brings them together. Winding through points of view from an ex-pat young woman exploring the quiet deaths of a broken-down theme park, to two American fuckboys getting wasted and in serious trouble in New York’s Little Tokyo, to a group of Yakuza bank robbers watching a PowerPoint on how best to utilise Godzilla in their latest heist, Hanzai Japan shows both Japan and the West through broken lenses, a playful perversion of how we see ourselves and the other.

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For the manga and anime crowds, Otaku USA checked in, saying in part: All the stories are solid and build their own world, and the range of voices gives you everything from atmospheric horror to the creepily fantastic to stories dripping with dark humor and a wink at the readers. Hanzai Japan is definitely different from a lot of what is on the market and it’s a fun ride all the way through. Let’s hope to see more of these anthologies coming from VIZ Media!

And just today, from Deadend Follies: t is that kind of book that goes into so many directions and does it with such discipline (at the image of the Japanese people) that it is bound to have a story that’ll catch your imagination. HANZAI JAPAN brought me back to the early 2000s, back when I was binge watching/reading everything Japanese I could get my hands on. Everything great about Japanese pop culture is in this anthology (or almost). Convinced that we have created the greatest holiday present of all time for the reader in your life (even if the only reader is you!)? We hope so. Get shoppin’.

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BATTLE ROYALE vs THE HUNGER GAMES

It’s been a fun time over here at Haikasoru HQ as Battle Royale: The Novel has been getting a ton of ink from the mainstream news, thanks to the hype for The Hunger Games film. That’s been a common conversation in the online nerdosphere for a while, but the last week saw articles in the Wall Street Journal, on National Public Radio, and many other venues. Of course, the film is now finally available legally in the US on DVD and Blu-Ray, and is getting reviewed in major newspapers as well. The film naturally leads back to the novel. If you’ve been to Target or Hudson Booksellers (in many airports and transport hubs), you’ve likely seen Battle Royale on the shelves in great numbers recently, often next to signs suggesting it for fans of The Hunger Games.

Don’t feel bad for else—we’re doing very well. I can think of no better promotion for Battle Royale than the success of The Hunger Games. (Well, except for an American remake of the film, but such a remake could also just end up being awful…)

On the question of the link between Battle Royale and The Hunger Games, author Suzanne Collins says she was unfamiliar with the former when writing the latter. Of course there is absolutely no reason to doubt her, but Collins was working in television around the time of the initial Battle Royale controversies—the media trade followed that story pretty closely. It’s certainly easy enough to have heard of something, then forget about it, only to have it emerge in one’s mind a few years later as a “new” idea. But again, there’s no evidence of even that. (How could there be?)

There are plenty of similarities between books: teens given weapons and forced into a death match, a pair working together to undermine the game with the help of an older mentor who had previously won the game, and even bits and pieces like using signal fires and bird calls. The Hunger Games also includes a “reality show” premise, but that premise can be found in the US-version of the Battle Royale manga as well. (Then there are claims that the ancient Greek story of the minotaur and the tribute sacrifice of children is a common root for both stories—hard to believe given that the central theme is the children being compelled to kill one another, rather than being sacrificed to some outside force.)

Then there is a fact that the mere use of a premise doesn’t always or necessarily rise to the level of plagiarism. One is reminded of the controversy around author Yann Martel’s famed Life of Pi; Martel had allegedly read about the unusual premise of a man on a raft with a big cat in a review of an earlier book and created his own novel from it. Then there’s Osamu Tezuka’s manga Metropolis, which rather than being based on the Fritz Lang film of the same name was actually inspired by seeing a single still from the film. Older books such as The Long Walk, Logan’s Run and others are clear antecedents of both titles. So even if Collins had heard of Battle Royale and had later forgotten, she’s not necessarily plagiarizing.

And naturally there are differences: The Hunger Games is in the first person, Battle Royale uses roving third-person point of view. The former has many more science fiction elements than the latter. Female versus male leads, triumphalism versus an open ending. We can go on. For fans of Battle Royale who feel a little put off by the success of The Hunger Games I can only suggest taking the opportunity to share your enthusiasm for Battle Royale with your friends and others who may not have seen the book yet, rather than getting angry at the success of the other book. We’re doing just fine! Reading is not a death match!

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The Monsters of MM9

MM9 is out now! some of our contest winners have already received their books, and we’re getting great word-of-mouth. To add to the fun, we asked author Hiroshi Yamamoto if we could reprint the essay from his Japanese website on the topic of the MM9 universe, and the giant monsters—or kaiju—we all love. MM9 translator Nathan Collins translated the essay also added some handy annotations for non-Japanese. Check it out!

The World of MM9

by Hiroshi Yamamoto
translated and with annotations by Nathan Collins

This is a world just like ours except for one difference—kaiju. Periodically, giant monsters attack populated areas and leave many victims. In this world, destructive kaiju are considered natural disasters, the same as earthquakes or typhoons.
In Japan, a section of the Meteorological Agency known as the Monsterological Measures Department, or MMD, stands against the Kaiju threat.

The men and women of the MMD never fire weapons, as battling the kaiju is the role of the Japan Self-Defense Force. Instead, the MMD’s cause is to prevent disaster, by hurrying to the scene, uncovering the monsters’ true nature, exploring potential countermeasures, and predicting the paths of the kaiju.

Their work is thankless, with heavy criticism from the outside world, as inaccurate forecasts sometimes lead to people ending up in harm’s way. But their efforts have undoubtedly saved the lives of many Japanese.

MM stands for Monster Magnitude, a scale of kaiju size. Any monsters over MM5 pose a natural threat to humanity, and upon nearing a populated area may be terminated unconditionally.

MM8 signifies a body volume equivalent to 1,600 to 4,000 tons of water. In the archetypal bipedal reptilian monster, this would equal a body length of between 40 and 50 meters. The largest recorded kaiju in history was an MM8.9.

An MM9-class kaiju has never been confirmed by modern monsterological science, only mentioned within ancient legends and unreliable eyewitness accounts.

***

The seeds for this story came over twenty-five years ago, from a silly conversation I was having with a friend, who was a tokusatsu [live-action movies and TV featuring special effects] genre geek.

The question came up: “Who names kaiju, anyway?”

Week in and week out, new kaiju appeared in tokusatsu TV shows like the Ultra Series. Some of the giant monsters were named for reasons made apparent in the episode, for example: Kurumanikurasu hated cars [kurima = car; nikumu = to hate] or Gomes’s scientific name was Gometeus. But other names seemed to have just been doled out to the creatures.

Take Kaiteigagan from Ultraman Ace. There’s no scene where the monster is named, yet everyone calls it Kaiteigagan. Who gave it a name like that? Yapool [the series’ antagonist]? Someone in the TAC [Terrible-Monster Attacking Crew]?

Then the answer popped into my head: “It’s gotta be the Meteorological Agency.”

In a world where kaiju appear every week, the people would surely regard the monsters as though they were natural disasters. A kaiju forecast might even be broadcast at the end of the evening news. The first kaiju of the year would be called Kaiju One and eventually be assigned a name. Talking about it, my friend and I became animated.

I always kept that silly discussion in the back of my mind, wanting to use it in some form, some day.

The other hint for my story came from a doujinshi [self-published] series called M-HUNTER. In the world of M-HUNTER, giant monsters and space aliens were commonplace (although there’s no Ultraman). The stories follow the Hunters, who specialize in the capturing and killing of kaiju, and I enjoyed seeing familiar kaiju appear in unexpected roles.

M-HUNTER inspired me to want to write more, but the series had well covered the kaiju hunter setting. Then I realized I could write not about the people who killed kaiju, but rather about the people whose jobs were to counteract the monsters.

This novel, MM9, is a heavily-revised compilation of serialized short stories originally published in the mystery periodical Mysteries!

When I first proposed the stories to my editor, I was turned down. The editor said, “This is a mystery magazine.” Accepting that, I made my next submission more mystery-like.

But soon after, I received the issue and was surprised at what I saw. They had printed a mystery with a time machine by Taku Ashibe, and a science fiction piece with a robot by Hiroe Suga!

When I protested, “Why are time machines and robots acceptable but not kaiju?” I was given the okay without any further trouble. You never know until you ask. Thusly I accomplished the heroic feat of getting a kaiju story into a mystery magazine.

At the time, I only had two stories conceptualized. As I tried to come up with more, I was really worried about what I would do. I ended up writing each piece while still thinking of the plot ahead.

For some time I had been dissatisfied with the dearth of kaiju fiction, especially when compared with the large number of kaiju movies and kaiju fans. Even among light novels, kaiju are rare—even though the novels are filled with main characters using superpowers or supernatural abilities to defeat monsters, and with giant robot battles.

What surprised me when talking to people from the generation after me—people who grew up in the 80s and 90s—was that they felt almost no connection to the Ultra Series or kaiju. Having never watched the real thing, their knowledge of kaiju or Ultraman comes only from The Science Fiction Textbook [a popular book series examining the science of science fiction works]. So to them, kaiju seemed ridiculous.

Tokyo turned into a sea of fire by the first Godzilla, Tokyo Tower snapped apart by Mothra, Fukuoka devastated by Rodan, the pure cool of King Ghidrah’s destructive beam, the horror of Hedorah, and the great tornado summoned by Seamons and Seagoras…Any who never experienced these scenes on the tube or the screen can’t possibly imagine the sense of wonder contained within those moments, and how they excited us and filled us with fear.

Kaiju are ridiculous? Then so are giant robots and super powers and time travel and the sinking of Japan! Aren’t silly settings entertaining because they are written with a serious approach?

As I wrote, the biggest questions I had yet to answer were: “Why do giant monsters exist when science states they shouldn’t?” and, “Why is the history of this world exactly like our own?” A world where kaiju have always existed couldn’t possibly have exactly the same history as ours. But I had decided to write the story with a straight approach, and I didn’t want to ignore those points.

That’s why I introduced the fictional parallel anthropic principle, which ended up being very useful. I was happy myself when everything held together through the end.

[Warning: the following are notes on each section of the book and will be best enjoyed after reading. Plot spoilers ahead!]

Part 1: Crisis! Kaiju Alert!
A SDF submarine collides with a kaiju in the waters of Ogasawara. The kaiju—possibly an MM9—is confirmed heading for eastern Japan. If the monster is allowed to reach land, Japan could see devastation equal to the great disaster of 1923. Ryo Haida and the MMD Mobile Unit hurries to the kaiju’s location.

This is the first story, a simple introduction to the setting and our characters. After I wrote this, I read Hiro Arikawa’s The Bottom of the Sea, and became depressed by the overlap between our stories. To make things worse, hers was more interesting.

Part 2: Danger! Girl at Large!

A twenty-meter-tall girl has appeared near Gifu City—she is Kaiju Six, codenamed Princess. She can’t understand our speech and is too large to hold in custody. The MMD agonizes over whether to give the order to kill. Meanwhile, a cultist plot lurks behind the scenes.

The seed for this story came from Ultraman Tiga’s “Monster Zoo.” I hated that episode, hated it. It made me think, “If you have that useful a power, why didn’t you ever use it on other kaiju!”

[In “Monster Zoo,” a giant mutated mole-rat kaiju appears at a zoo, but is seemingly docile. GUTS forces, taking pity on the creature, decide not to kill the kaiju until the creature makes an aggressive move. At nightfall, the kaiju’s eyes turn red and its fangs grow, and the giant monster turns violent. Ultraman Tiga battles the kaiju, but as he is about to deliver the killing blow, Officer Rena yells for him to stop. Tiga then sends out a cellular transformation beam that tames the kaiju and shrinks it down to normal size. The creature joins the other animals in the zoo.]

I like that they approached the issue, but I think you mustn’t run away from the conclusion. Creatures that endanger the lives of many must be killed, no matter how tragic it seems. Actually, the episode of Ultraman Taro with King Tortoise and Queen Tortoise takes on this theme with more sincerity (even if the ending is fairy tale).

[The two kaiju and their offspring are victim to poachers and betrayed by the military, but in the end, Ultraseven is able to bring the only two survivors, King Tortoise and Mini Tortoise, to a safe place in outer space.]

Another inspiration was C.L. Cottrell’s novelette, “Danger! Child at Large.” It’s one of my favorite SF works, a suspenseful story about a young girl with incredible super powers who escapes a secret military lab. The title to this section is a reference to this novelette.

At first, I had a different ending for this section, but as I developed Princess’s tale, I realized I could use her to foreshadow the final story. I know I’ll get criticism that I’m “too soft,” or that I’m a “writer of convenience,” but I find the story believable, and I hope the exciting finale will earn me forgiveness from my readers.

I made Gifu City the setting because I went there with my family when I was invited to a science-fiction convention. The Mobile Unit first encounters Princess behind the hotel where we stayed.

Part 3: Menace! Attack of the Flying Kaiju!
In early 2006, a kaiju flies to Japan across the Sea of Japan—Kaiju One, Glowbat. Because the monster is only a MM1.5, the MMD are off guard. But a shocking discovery reveals that this kaiju is not going to be easy to deal with. Meanwhile, Ryo is off-duty, enjoying an evening with his date…

I wrote this story specially for the novel.

I had four elements I wanted to include when writing this piece:

1) Ryo is supposed to be the main character, but he doesn’t stand out, so make the story feature his efforts.

2) Write about the daily lives of the members of the MMD, which I hadn’t been able to get to in the serials.

3) Present a flying kaiju.

4) Explain to the reader that the world contains not only kaiju but yokai.

Putting those four elements together, I got the story of Ryo, off-duty, getting drawn into a kaiju incident.

In truth, through each installment of this series, I put less thought into how each kaiju would be defeated as I did into how to make it difficult to defeat each kaiju. If the SDF were able to launch an all-out attack, a smaller kaiju would be defeated easily. In order to make the stories more interesting, I needed to create situations where they couldn’t be attacked without due care. The same is true in this section as in part two with Princess, part four with Megadrake, and part five with XXXXXX.

Glowbat is a kind of kaiju that used to appear frequently but has recently not been given much screen time in Japanese TV shows. I wanted to at least give it a place in the novel. I pictured Glowbat not as live-action costume kaiju but rather a Harryhausenesque stop-motion animation monster.

Also, I was allowed to tour the back halls of The National Museum of Nature and Science in Ueno, which was a great help in the writing of this section. For security purposes, I’ve changed the layout a little bit from the real version.

Part 4: Scoop! Twenty-Four Hours with the MMD!

A documentary crew comes to the MMD. Chief Kurihama is worried about making a mistake on camera. From Suita, Osaka come reports Kaiju 5, Megadrake, from Suita, Osaka.

From the start I had the idea to have a TV crew come in. I also needed this section to insert an explanation of the parallel anthropic principle through Yuri’s dialogue.

But I had some struggle coming up with the concept for the kaiju itself. After all, an unconventional monster would be more interesting. Then I had the thought that not there haven’t been many notable plant kaiju, and I created Megadrake.

Before I started writing the story, I tried to draw the monster to solidify an image in my head.


Megadrake!

Normally, the focus of plant kaiju is on the aboveground portion, but I went the opposite route and made the roots take the majority of the kaiju’s body. I thought of the design so it could be made into a kaiju suit and worn, not that the decision mattered for anything. I didn’t retain the mandrake form, but well, kaiju are like that.

I wanted to scout for locations for this section, but I didn’t have time for a scouting trip, and instead made do with the area around the Midosuji Line’s Esaka Station, only a twenty-minute walk from my house. It felt good to destroy a place I knew well.


Part 5: Arrival! The Colossal Kaiju of the Apocalypse!

A MM9-class many-headed dragon is discovered dormant beneath the ground on Kojin Island in the Seto Sea. Is the monster the legendary Yamata-no-Orochi? Faced with the impending danger of unprecedented catastrophe, the MMD goes on full alert, while a mysterious organization makes its move. The curtain rises upon a great kaiju battle to determine the fate of the world!

This is the final section.

The novel had heretofore been limited because I couldn’t let the kaiju go on too big a rampage. One of the kaiju causing great damage would mean a defeat for the MMD.

But thinking that the climax needed a colossal kaiju running amok, I ended up with this story.

I had the idea from the beginning of the series that the final kaiju would be Yamata-no-Orochi [an eight-headed dragon of Japanese myth], but when I tried to draw what the monster looked like, I couldn’t come up with anything good.

When I went to design the kaiju, I imagined King Ghidrah, but the monster’s elegant design relied on the balance of its giant wings. Without the wings, the kaiju’s torso was too long and appeared lacking. When I thought about it, I realized that The Birth of Japan [a 1959 fantasy epic featuring a battle between Susano-o (Toshiro Mifune) and Yamata-no-Orochi] and The Little Prince and the Eight Headed Dragon [a 1963 animated feature film] almost exclusively depicted Yamata-no-Orochi’s necks, and almost never showed the monster’s full body. But with wings, the Orochi would simply be King Ghidrah.

After much worry, I revised the plot to contain a kaiju that looked like Yamata-no-Orochi but was different. After dozens of sketches, I placed something besides wings on the kaiju’s back, providing balance and impact to the design. For the monster’s backstory, I stitched together pieces of Japanese lore and biblical stories and Greek legend [and a dash of H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu!], but I’m personally pleased with my preposterous explanation of Susano-o and the slaying of the giant serpent.

I scouted the location for the last battle, Kobe Port Island, just before the amusement park was closed down. As I wrote in the book, the park closed in March, 2006, and is currently being torn down.

Other References
I wouldn’t go so far as to call MM9 an homage to the Ultra Series, but there are homages to that and other special-effects works scattered throughout. Almost every mention of a historical kaiju attack references something.

For example, the Great Kanto Kaiju Disaster of 1923 was of course modeled on Godzilla. Eve was from Reptilicus, Eugene from Gorgo, Ray from The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Glenn from The Amazing Colossal Man, Allison from The Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, Arnold from Tarantula, and Niuhi from Gamera vs. Jiger. I’ve mixed together bits and pieces from the kaiju and special-effects movies I’ve seen, including Them!, It Came from Beneath the Sea, The Deadly Mantis, Ultra Q, Spectreman, and on and on. Note that for purposes of the novel, the dates of each kaiju’s appearance don’t match up with each film’s release date.

As for the names of the author Hideyo Tomono or Dr. Akihiko Inamoto, anyone who is a special-effects fan will immediately know who they are. [Actors Hideyo Amamoto and Akihiko Hirata, perhaps?]

But this kind of pastiche is not only for fun. I think if you read to the end, you’ll see the book has meaning. At the very least, I’m extremely satisfied with what I was able to write.

This is love!

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The Holiday Buyers’ Guide, 2011

We did a holiday shopping guide last year for our books, and now we’re doing another one. Sure, it’s a little late in the season, but let’s face it—many of you will be getting ebook readers and then actually buying books for yourselves the same day anyway. So here is our year in review.

Mardock Scramble
It’s an epic of post-cyberpunk. It’s also very strange. Yes, as is perhaps an inevitability in these post-Pokemon times, the main character has a little yellow mouse as a best friend and as a pocket-sized assistant badass. And yes, there is a three hundred page interlude of casino gambling. If you’re ready for weird SF, this is the one for you.

Rocket Girls: The Last Planet

A sequel to Rocket Girls but it can be read on its own. Lots of so-called “hard SF” isn’t very hard at all—it’s really just bellicose about tough decisions and that sort of thing. Thus, humorless, and with dubious science. The Rocket Girls series is different: it’s real hard science fiction with all the physics and rocket science intact, and is delightful and light and charming at the same time. If you have a kid, or are a kid, and want to encourage an interest in science, buy ’em both.

Mirror Sword and Shadow Prince

Epic fantasy, Japanese style. Not a sequel to Dragon Sword and Wind Child but set in the same ancient Japan, this is a story of conquest, betrayal and true love. It’s also heavily influenced by anime and traditional Japanese legends and folklore. I did a little interview with the fantasy magazine Black Gate in May, and that will get you up to speed.

Good Luck, Yukikaze

Yes, there were a lot of sequels and continuations in the summer of ’11. While Yukikaze was more a novel-in-stories, this sequel is a large philosophical novel. The real battle is in inner space, in the recesses of Rei’s mind. The alien JAM are as enigmatic as ever, though we do learn more about them, and who they are really at war with. A must for lovers of the anime, or the first book.

ICO: Castle in the Mist

This was a big hit for us! A novelization of the cult classic videogame, ICO was also a labor of love for its author, Miyuki Miyabe. She loved the game (and games in general) and really brought all the skills she does to any of her hit novels to this book. It’s not quite “canon”, but its interpretation of Ico’s quest and Yorda’s past is wonderful. You don’t need to be a fan of the game to read the book, but if you do love the game, you need this.

The Cage of Zeus

Hard SF with a gender theme. Nothing seems so natural as a world of men and women, but gender—how we act as men and women—isn’t nearly so permanent or obvious as we may think. This book explores those issues in a deep-space setting, and provides plenty of actions as a terrorist group targets the genetically engineered Rounds (for “round-trip gender”), who have the sex organs of both genders.

The Book of Heroes

Now in paperback! And in ebook form as well! Miyuki Miyabe’s story of school bullying, a bratty Chosen One, and the evil King in Yellow from the classic nineteenth century horror tales of Robert W. Chambers has never been less expensive, and makes a great present. (Or self-present.)

Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nights

Japanese fans voted this the greatest Japanese SF novel of all time, for its epic sensibility and eon-spanning story. Here in the US National Public Radio loved it too. Indeed, we had to rush back to print already. And it makes a good Christmas present especially as cyber-Jesus and robo-Buddha have a high-tech laser battle twenty million years in the future! So, a holiday theme!

Keep an eye out online and in your local bookstore for our titles. They make great presents, and if you happen to get a gift certificate to a store or amazon or whatnot yourself, add our books to your list!

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