Reviewby Carlo Santos, Jan 4th 2006
Ayato Kamina lives in a futuristic Tokyo that stands as the last remainder of humanity. At least that's what he thinks, after the "War of Invasion" two years ago forced the city to barricade itself from a world destroyed by alien invaders. His perception is shattered when new invaders attack, an unknown woman forcibly takes him away, and he discovers a shrine containing the giant robot RahXephon. Taking the pilot's seat without even thinking about it, Ayato quickly fends off the invasion threat and re-emerges outside of Tokyo. It's a world he never knew existed, and he wants explanations: about RahXephon, about the people who have brought him here, and about the "Tokyo Jupiter" time-lapse barrier that's been sheltering the city from the rest of the world.
After a soaring TV series, a slice-and-dice movie, and a surprisingly short manga, does the world need another retelling of RahXephon? Director Yutaka Izubuchi thinks so, and so does series screenwriter Hiroshi Ohnogi, who agreed to write the novelization at Izubuchi's request. The result is an austere, inward-looking account of this strangely beautiful giant robot series. With no stunning imagery or haunting music to captivate the reader, Ohnogi must rely on the thoughts and feelings of RahXephon's characters to build his story. Unfortunately, English-speaking readers will never get a chance to get into those characters' heads—the countless typos in this volume make it look more like middle-school fanfiction than a proper novel.
For his part, Ohnogi's job as the author isn't too difficult. By choosing to retell the anime from the start, he already has a solid storyline laid out for him and only needs to fill in the prose. Fans of the franchise will notice that the novel is based mainly on the movie plot, which itself is a variation on the original TV series. However, retelling an existing story has its downside too, and anyone familiar with RahXephon will find the book to be a play-by-play recap right up to where Ayato moves into Grandpa Rikudoh's house. The serial nature of the novels—this is volume 1 of 5—also excuses Ohnogi from having to come up with a definite arc from beginning to end. Instead, most of the book is exposition and setup, with the occasional robot battle. Although it has the format of a novel, it doesn't feel like reading a novel, because the last page ends with a "to be continued."
The nature of the written word, however, creates viewpoints that aren't possible through animation. The first-person perspective, which switches through various characters but stays centered on Ayato, allows a more personal, introspective approach to the story. One of the key themes in the later half of the book is Ayato's growing frustration over being treated like a science project—something that the anime never develops. At other times, however, the characters' musings read like eyewitness reports from someone watching the show. It's not until later in the book that Ohnogi becomes comfortable with the characters and writes them as real people, rather than using them as mouthpieces to describe external events.
Ohnogi's clipped writing style, marked by brief sentences and even briefer lines of dialogue, seems to have more in common with scripts and storyboards than with prose novels (which isn't too surprising considering his background). The source language also affects the writing, since Japanese doesn't readily convert into long, flowing paragraphs of English. Even so, there's something poetic and artful about it, but the style is so overbearing that when Ohnogi writes different characters, they all sound alike—Ayato talks like Haruka talks like Doctor Kisaragi talks like Commander Kunugi, and so on. Only when the cast expands does he find other voices: mysterious Quon, for example, thinks in baroque streams of consciousness, while 14-year-old Megumi Shitow narrates with an impetuous attitude that could have come right off a teenager's blog.
The concise writing ought to make the book easy to read, but DrMaster's careless translation ruins all of that. The English adaptation makes dozens of juvenile mistakes like confusing "to" and "too," "your" and "you're," switching tenses, and even getting the characters' names wrong. Which is it, Kamina or Kamino? It's impossible to go more than about five pages without stumbling on yet another mindless typo. Just as a manga with poorly drawn characters is a burden to look at, a poorly edited novel is no fun to read. Despite the translation staff's respect for Japanese honorifics and other unique nuances of the language, it seems that they don't have that same respect for English—which is a shame, because one decent proofreader is all it would take to raise this book (and the rest of the volumes in the series) from pathetic to professional.
Surprisingly, the novel gets a better publishing treatment than the company's manga releases—the paper stock is thicker and whiter, and the text spacing leaves plenty of room. The occasional illustrations in the book are reproduced cleanly, with grayscale and sketch techniques covering up the slight pixelation. The variety and quality of the illustrations—ranging from character drawings to mecha renderings—complement the text well.
Because of the series' depth, RahXephon fans probably won't mind a retelling of the series that takes a new approach from the inside the characters' heads. However, the world does not need a retelling that's crawling with typos. Hiroshi Ohnogi's writing isn't perfect, and he uses up a lot of the book trying to figure out his style, but any chance of the story being enjoyable is ruined due to DrMaster's sloppy editing. Five novels of bad English is not something that even the most devoted fan should have to sit through.
Overall : D
Story : C
Art : B
+ Character-based narrative adds a personal element to the RahXephon series.
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