Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, Mar 4th 2012
Book Girl and the Corrupted Angel
With college entrance exams coming up, Tohko has suspended meetings of the Literary Club. This leaves Konoha at loose ends and surprises him by how much he has relied on the book girl. It also opens up the opportunity for Kotobuki to finally allow him to see how she really feels, but that comes with a price – her friend Yuka, an aspiring opera singer, has vanished after secret meetings with a tutor she refers to as her “angel of music.” As Konoha gets pulled deeper into the mystery, he finds that some of the answers may be found within Gaston Leroux's masterpiece, The Phantom of the Opera.
Since Gaston Leroux first published Le Fantome de l'Opera in 1910, the story of the mysterious figure dwelling beneath the Paris Opera House has captured the public's imagination. Adaptations and retellings about, from the 1925 silent film to the 1986 musical which just celebrated an impressive number of performances, even to the recent Operetta doll in the popular Monster High line of toys. Mizuki Nomura adds her name to the list of Leroux's literary followers with the fourth novel in her Book Girl series, and the result is an interesting examination of the characters as Nomura aligns them with both new and recurring players in her melancholy novel.
The story opens with titular Book Girl Tohko Amano suspending club activities so that she can study for her exams. Konoha, who hadn't really considered the implications of her being a third year (senior), is left floating, without any clear direction. Luckily for both him and the plot, his recent purchase of a cell phone leads to his female classmates quickly pouncing on him in Kotobuki's (reluctant) name. This throws the two together in closer proximity than previous books have allowed and forces Konoha to finally realize that the last thing that Kotobuki feels for him is hate. While he is pondering this, particularly in relation to his troubled past experiences with Miu, Kotobuki's friend Yuka is found to be missing. This floors Kotobuki and in her distress, she turns to Konoha to help. When she explains that Yuka was in training to be an opera singer and that she had been taking lessons from a mysterious teacher she called her “Angel of Music,” Konoha turns to Leroux's novel in search of answers.
Familiarity with some version of Phantom will be helpful in getting the most out of this novel, although it is by no means necessary. Likewise a basic knowledge of the opera “Turandot” and Dumas fils' La Dame aux Camellias will also be useful, although Nomura does provide a basic summary. Rather a basic grasp of the three will enhance the story for readers, allowing them to figure out the central mystery sooner and appreciate the nuances. This is, and has been, part of the fun of Nomura's series, and Phantom's presence in popular culture makes this one of the most accessible volumes of it. However, as with her other novels, most notably the second which dealt with Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights as far as English language readers are concerned, Nomura puts her own spin on the story, and her interpretation of Leroux's tale is decidedly different from many of the Western critics'. For the literarily minded reader, this is a definite draw, as it encourages us to examine the text in a new light. Particularly interesting is her interpretation of Raoul, a character often written off as much less fascinating than either Christine or the Phantom. Nomura gives him a half-tragic, half-hopeful spin while making Christine rather less complex than other authors have. Those three, along with The Persian, are the novel characters who get the most attention, although it is relatively easy to fill Meg Giry's role if you apply your analytical skills.
Along with the basic Phantom tale, Nomura also draws on the ugly underbelly of a female performer's life. For many years, an actress, dancer, or singer was considered little better than a prostitute in some European societies, and while Leroux doesn't directly address this, Dumas does in La Dame aux Camellias. Nomura brings this to the fore in her novel, and this adds to the tragedy inherent in the story. While she skirts around direct words like “prostitute,” it is abundantly clear what is going on, and she makes a sad but powerful statement about girls with few options. Likewise she mentions the idea of family suicide and how it can effect those around them. These are not topics delved into by most mainstream works that get an English edition and Nomura deserves praise for bringing them up.
It is worth noting that Tohko herself plays barely any part in this story, perhaps an indication of the direction the series is headed in. This, sadly, does make the book a smoother read, as Tohko's overwrought descriptions of the flavors of words are largely absent. Yen Press' translation is both readable and faithful to the original formatting, and the usual color pages are present in the front of the book. Although Miho Takeoka's illustrations are presented throughout the text, they pale in comparison to the story, and largely fall by the wayside. This may or may not be the fault of her perfectly serviceable art; the writing this time is by far the best that it has been in the series and illustrations feel like a distraction.
Book Girl and the Corrupted Angel is a bittersweet story of broken dreams and loneliness. It is also the best novel in the series to date, and while it would be difficult to read it without having read the previous three, it would be possible, and Phantom aficionados may want to check it out anyway. Konoha is growing as a character and with Nomura's promise that next time we'll get to meet the mysterious Miu, this looks to be a series that is going to keep on getting better.
Overall : B+
Story : A-
Art : B-
+ Engrossing plot with character development and an interesting interpretation of Leroux's work. Bittersweet in a good way; less distracting descriptions from Tohko.
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