This Is (Not) A Review, but there be (minor) spoilers.
Loups-Garous is my first Haikasoru book, which are darned hard to find in the Philippines. It’s bad enough that few stores (Planet X Comics and Fully Booked) carry them, but what’s worse is that each branch has at most one copy of the older books. Also, I don’t understand why they’re placed in the manga section. But whatever.
Loups-Garous was written by Natsuhiko Kyogoku, who might be familiar to some of you as the author of Mouryou no Hako. I myself wasn’t, until I looked it up. It is ostensibly science-fiction, in a dysfunctional future society way, but is driven by mystery. Being around 450 pages long (already thick for the average Haikasoru page count), it tackles a lot of themes, like the collapse and replacement of the current educational system, the emergence of synthetic food and how it completed the separation of humans from the animal kingdom, or the rampant disconnection of individuals caused by the obsolescence of face-to-face, RL meetings.
There are two threads in the book, which converge near the end: one concerns the three girl protagonists Hazuki, Ayumi and Mio; the other is about Shizue, the child counselor of the aforementioned kids. This structure could have been neat, if only the second plot thread wasn’t so fucking bogged down by exposition. Shizue almost exists just to explain the future society in the book, and as a character she is absolutely unappealing.
The kids are more varied. Ayumi Kono is the eccentric, standoffish girl who hates dealing with people. Mio Tsuzuki is the insufferable girl genius type with a penchant for mischief. Hazuki Makino, however, is the typical nebbish anime teenage lead. She’s pretty much useless and doesn’t figure in a lot of dialogue (mostly it’s Mio and Ayumi and one other character arguing). The most she provides is her thoughts, which alternate between confused and scared and apathetic. I guess it was necessary, since getting into the heads of the other girls would inadvertently ruin the mystery element.
There are two twists in the book, and they aren’t very good. The first one is telegraphed miles away, as if the author was laying down his tracks for us ignorant beavers to follow. I don’t like that–part of the joy of reading mystery is the kick it provides when everything is finally revealed. The second one is practically a letdown–I expected Kyogoku to work a more imaginative twist, and the book spirals into clichedom by the last few chapters. See me, the villain, explain everything to you because you’re going to disappear anyway!
As Owen pointed out, the translation in this book is of very questionable value. According to him, Loups-Garous reads a lot like a Nasu visual novel–there’s even a “people die if they are killed” line somewhere. Kyogoku writes a lot of one-liners, like:
Ayumi didn’t meet with people.
Ayumi hated being looked at directly.
Ayumi would never exchange words directly with someone.
Ayumi had never even made eye contact with Hazuki.
Yuko Yabe and Ayumi…
The dialogue is very confusing, since dialogue attribution is absent for the most part. When you got five different girls speaking, context clues aren’t enough. It’s so easy to get lost.
But all these bad points aside, the book is still pretty good. Society is as dreary as the blurb implies, and the exposition, clunky as it is, satiates my hunger for world-building. The themes in the book actually work, it’s just that I found the final conflict weak and too reliant on deus ex machina. The mood is excellent–in its most basic form, Loups-Garous is a story of teenagers standing up against a menace they could have been safe from. Being teenagers, they can’t do much, and the book shows their powerlessness in its most harrowing form. But when they find their way, it’s just awesomely ridiculous in a FUCK YEAH manner.
Did I mention that I absolutely love Mio’s character? And her obsession with Gamera? Really. Hacker girls are the best.
“So, why should I read this book?” you might ask. Because there’s going to be an anime of it! But how is Production I.G adapting this thick, dialogue-heavy book?
Answer: SCANDAL solves everything. EVERYTHING.