By Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Natsuhiko Kyogoku. Loups-Garous. VIZ Media LLC; Original edition (May 18, 2010). US $16.99. ISBN-13: 978-1421532332.
My knowledge of Japanese culture comes from repeated readings of Ranma 1/2, a manga about a magically sex-changing martial artist, and extensive memories of Robotech. In an effort to expand my cultural horizons, I decided to plunge into speculative Japan via Haikasoru, an editorial arm of Viz specialized in translating Japanese titles into English.
Loups-Garous was the title of choice because it promised werewolves and serial killers. Despite the wolf on the cover, I must warn you that there really ain’t much wolfing around, at least in the Twilight and Jacob sense, in this book. Despite this, or because of it, it is the perfect title for the young adult looking for a more challenging read. Fool them with the wolf on the cover and get them reading sci-fi, parents!
I mentioned Twilight in the paragraph above because I have encountered parents who said they read that novel in order to have something in common with their child. To discuss the book, essentially. Well, if you really want to have an interesting discussion with the kids, I suggest trying this book instead.
Set in the near future, it presents a vegetarian society that has come to interact almost exclusively online. Half of everyone works from home. People don’t just go for a stroll because…why would you when there’s delivery? Even teenagers have stopped hanging out at the mall. Families are fractured, with teens often living alone and under the sporadic supervision of some government-appointed lackey. It’s a much safer, polite, germ-free world, but with a serial killer on the loose, there are bound to be some issues cropping up very soon, including Big Brother doing some online profiling.
The book’s best feature is its cast of teenage protagonists. I like teenage characters in principle, but in execution, they can often become blotted, grotesque caricatures of youth. Not so in Loups-Garous. The girls starring in this story are all discernable, solid individuals from the moment they appear for the first time. They’re also smart, resourceful and don’t spend their whole time chatting about boys. Their haphazard friendship flows naturally.
The grown-ups in the story do no fare so well and I found myself wanting to flash-forward through all the parts where the middle-aged inspector and the young counselor involved with the murder case talked. In a reversal of my expectations, they turned out to be the annoying ones.
Shizue, the counselor, is a walking-talking Wikipedia of the future, existing only to tell us what the future is like, and why it is the way it is, which I might have figured out without her dialogue. She’s also annoying. The middle-aged cop is just dumb as he drools over the young, pretty counselor.
With not one, but two annoying “heroes”, the long, expository conversations quickly degenerate into boredom. Sure, the teen girls also talked a bit much, but at least I wanted to hang out with them. With the adults, I was caught in long, dull stretches. Despite some pacing issues, it’s a scenic if somewhat confusing (Attribution! Who said what? I’m lost!) ride.
The conclusion is bleh and the big reveal didn’t wow me. But, like a certain Greek poet said, it’s the journey to Ithaca, not Ithaca, that matters. The journey itself is pretty good, so if you focus on that, you’ll find a well-developed world and some interesting teenagers.
Fans of anime and manga may want to give Haikasoru titles in general a try, and why not start with this one? I heartily recommend it to parents with teenagers. It’s bound to produce more interesting dialogue than “Who does Bella love: Edward or Jacob?” Hell, at least there’s a super-genius hacker girl who does stuff. A hell of a lot better than smelling tasty.
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