Monday, January 18, 2016

Mini-Review: MM9 by Hiroshi Yamamoto

Last November I visited Asia for the first time, specifically Japan. From the moment that I learned I would be going to Japan, I began to look more and more forward to it. One of the things I wanted to do in preparation was read a couple of SFF books from Japan. Not just the big stuff by the likes of Murakami but something that was maybe a bit more authentic, and even pulp-ish. So I turned to the specialty publishing house of Haikasoru and browsed their catalog for interesting sounding books. Of course I found many, but had to limit to a couple of choices.

One of those choices was MM9 (Monster Magnitude 9) by Hiroshi Yamamoto. I chose it because it’s more or less contemporary, plus obviously from the same lineage as Godzilla and just sounded fun. MM9 tells a series of related stories (think pulp fiction here) of a special unit called the Meteorological Agency Monsterological Measures Department (MMD) as they protect Japan from the growing threat of natural disasters in the form of giant monsters, or kaiju. Of course there’s a grand conspiracy at foot.

As I said above, this is pulp fiction – it feels as if it were a series of episodic short stories that were brought together. It also feels snarky – this may be a translation issue, but I really think that these stories don’t take themselves entirely seriously. It’s especially interesting (or funny) how so much emphasis is given to ‘rating’ the size of the monsters and then gifting them with a name (nice and corny – names like ‘Princess’, ‘Megadrake’, and ‘Seacloud’). And it really does fascinate me to wonder if it’s something lost in translation, that the book is truly snarky, or if like the first, this is an aspect of Japanese pop culture that just feels snarky to us in the USA.

MM9 has all of the campy fun of good pulp fiction and it provided exactly what I was looking for. Something a bit different than I usually read as well as a different sort of perspective of Japan in advance of my trip. And yes, it did give me some interesting perspective that I wasn’t going to find in the Lonely Planet guides. Specifically some ideas on the general economic malaise of a country that has been in one recession or another for almost 20 years, and a bit of hint on just how much the pop culture in Japan leans in its unique direction (in addition to the snarky fascination I mention above). I will not even try to describe that uniqueness of the pop culture in Japan beyond an image I saw on my first evening – a man of around 40 dressed in his every day suit (much nicer than the one I own), reading a graphic novel on a bullet train while eating a quick meal and drinking a beer, with a very loud, cartoonish advertisement on the wall above him.

Anyway, MM9 was a fun book to read and just what I wanted. I certainly recommend the books of Haikasoruas a source of some great Japanese SFF.

MM9 by Hiroshi Yamamoto: Amazon

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