The Ancient Magus’ Bride: The Golden Yarn

The Ancient Magus’ Bride: The Golden Yarn
Japanese Title: 魔法使いの嫁 金糸篇 (Mahō tsukai no yome: Kinshi hen)
Editorial Supervisor: Kore Yamazaki (ヤマザキコレ)
Translator: Andrew Cunningham
Publication Year: 2017 (Japan); 2018 (United States)
Publisher: Seven Seas
Pages: 349

The Golden Yarn collects eight short stories set in the world of The Ancient Magus’ Bride, an urban fantasy manga series that was adapted into a three-part anime OVA in 2016 and a television series in that aired in 2017. Even though I’m only a casual fan of the franchise, I still found this collection delightful. Each of the stories stands on its own, and the book is accessible even to people entirely unfamiliar with the manga or its animated adaptations.

The first story, “Frozen Flowers,” is by Kore Yamazaki, the artist who created the Ancient Magus’ Bride manga. Like the other stories in The Golden Yarn, “Frozen Flowers” offers a glimpse into the world of the series without assuming any prior knowledge. In this story, a centaur named Hazel visits his aunt Marie, who was born with two feet instead of four. Marie looks like a normal human, but she has the heart and mind of a centaur, and she wants nothing more than to run under the open sky with the rest of her herd. Because of her appearance, however, she’s ostracized by her fellow centaurs and lives alone in an isolated area in rural England. It’s difficult for Hazel to understand why Marie doesn’t try to pass as human, but he still accepts her and offers her his friendship and kindness.

“Frozen Flowers” introduces the main theme of The Ancient Magus’ Bride, which is the various relationships people negotiate with difference. Some of these relationships are healthy and affirming, as in “Frozen Flowers,” while others are toxic and exploitative.

There’s a strong current of horror running through the stories in The Golden Yarn. It’s most present in Jun’ichi Fujisaku’s “The Man Who Hungered for Trees,” in which the assistant to a genius video game programmer uncovers the sinister roots of his supervisor’s talent. The programmer is making small blood sacrifices to the spirits of marijuana bushes in exchange for energy and inspiration, but the plants are hungry for larger prey. As you might imagine, this doesn’t end well for anyone involved.

All of the stories in The Golden Yarn were contributed by authors associated with various light novel series. I was especially impressed with “The Sun and the Dead Alchemist,” which was written by Kiyomune Miwa, the author of the steampunk zombie-hunting series Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress (which was adapted into an anime in 2016). Miwa haunts similar grounds in this story, which describes the bittersweet romance between a necromancer and a young woman whom she inadvertently destroys with her magic.

An interesting aspect of this collection for me, as an American, was the opportunity to look at Europe and America from an outside perspective. For example, the venerable Yuu Godai, the author of the long-running Guin Saga series of dystopian fantasy novels, contributed a piece called “Jack Flash and the Rainbow Egg,” which is about a New York City fairy who is obsessed with Japanese popular culture and sets up a detective agency to earn human money in order to buy dōjinshi. Godai’s energetic urban fantasy is a fun take on American culture, but what I found even more intriguing than a New York run by magical secret societies is the fantasy of twenty-first century Great Britain as a mystical land of rolling green fields, garden cottages, and magical creatures. I suppose The Golden Yarn is sort of like Harry Potter without the overt allusions to class conflicts and real-world fascism, but none of the stories shy away from depictions of the darker side of human nature.

Seven Seas has also published a companion volume, The Ancient Magus’ Bride: The Silver Yarn. Aside from the second half of “Jack Flash and the Rainbow Egg,” The Silver Yarn can be read independently, and its stories are just as engaging as those in The Golden Yarn. I can happily recommend both of these short story collections to any fan of historical fantasy and contemporary urban fantasy regardless of their level of familiarity with the Ancient Magus’ Bride franchise. Although there’s no explicit mention of sexuality, some of the stories are quite violent and disturbing, and the books are best suitable for older teens and adults.

xxxHOLiC: ANOTHERHOLiC

xxxHOLiC

Title: xxxHOLiC: ANOTHERHOLiC: Landolt-Ring Aerosol
Japanese Title: xxxHOLiC アナザーホリック ランドルト環エアロゾル
Author: NISIOISIN (西尾維新)
Translator: Andrew Cunningham
Publication Year: 2008 (America); 2006 (Japan)
Publisher: Del Rey Books
Pages: 203

Given my fondness for the supernatural genre, it is no surprise that I love CLAMP’s manga xxxHOLiC. It took me awhile to pick up the first volume, however, because the concept seemed so cliché and gimmicky: an excitable high school boy who can see spirits works at the shop of a witch who promises to eventually cure him in a story featuring numerous plot crossovers from the simultaneously running epic manga (I believe there are currently twenty-seven volumes of it) Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicles. I was tempted, however, by the Japanese tankobon, which Kodansha has published in beautiful editions, and ended up becoming addicted to the series. Not only is the artwork gorgeous in the style of early twentieth century Japanese lithographs (or Edward Gorey drawings), but the manga is dark and engaging in a deliciously creepy way. Besides, I am in love with Yūko, the hedonistic yet wise ‘Dimensional Witch’ who employs Watanuki, the hapless protagonist.

I had known about NISIOISIN’s novelization of xxxHOLiC for some time, but, unimpressed by his work in the two translated volumes of the short fiction anthology Faust, I never bothered to pick it up (ditto with his novelization of Death Note). Upon accidentally running across the book in a local bookstore, however, I was seduced by the beautiful gold-foil embossed cover and the chapter heading illustrations provided by CLAMP. Perhaps I should give it a chance, just like I did the original manga. Perhaps there is more to NISIOISIN than meets the eye.

Nope. Wrong. In short, this is a waste of a hardcover book. All of the subtle black humor and eeriness of the original manga turns to dust in the hands of the novelist. To back up a bit, it is perhaps a stretch to call ANOTHERHOLiC a novelization. The book is made up of three episodic short stories featuring the characters from xxxHOLiC. The first story, “Outerholic,” is a prose adaptation of an episode in the first volume of the manga and thus retains a modicum of the charm of the original. The second two stories are, as far as I can tell, NISIOISIN’s original creations. And they suffer for it.

Why do I hate NISIOISIN so much? Because I think he hates me, his reader. In all sincerity, what he has written is so full of bitterness that it left me feeling defensive. I’m not the sort of person who feels the need to evaluate whether NISIOISIN was true to the original characters, but I definitely got the feeling that he does not like them. Watanuki comes off as juvenile and whiny, Yūko is petty and self-important, and the writer even extends harsh editorial judgment towards his own original characters. If the writer’s unrelenting antagonistic attitude were not enough to turn me off to this book, I’m sure the sloppy writing would have pushed me over the edge. NISIOISIN’s prose is rife with sentence fragments and ellipses, which might have some sort of dramatic effect if they didn’t appear multiple times on every page. On a broader scale, NISIOISIN relies not on foreshadowing, atmosphere, or suggestion to create a sense of mystery but rather on withholding information from the reader in a taunting way that almost resembles bullying. The last story forgoes any plot at all in favor of a long and tediously sophomoric pseudo-philosophical conversation. Moreover, things like the frequent otaku references to anime like Azumanga Daioh, combined with Yūko’s debate with Watanuki over the meaning of moe, left my head spinning.

According to the author biography in the back of the book, NISIOISIN was born in 1981, which would make him 27 or 28 this year. Although his accomplishments are nothing to sneeze at, ANOTHERHOLiC made me feel like he really needs to get a life and grow up. When I first started reading this book, I was considering buying the translation of the first volume of the author’s Zaregoto: The Kubikiri Cycle, but now I’m not sure I want to read anything written by him ever again. In any case, despite Del Rey’s lovely publishing job, ANOTHERHOLiC is not worth the money, even for fans of CLAMP’s original manga.

I should mention, however, that I don’t think the failure of this book is the fault of the translator, Andrew Cunningham. Cunningham does a wonderful job of rendering NISIOISIN’s numerous idiotic puns into English, and in fact the most enjoyable part of the whole thing were the translator’s footnotes. I can only hope that Cunningham will apply his considerable talent to other authors in the future.