December 1, 2007

Happy Birthday (1999 story)

Written by Koji Suzuki.

Incapable of reading Japanese (despite four years of the subject in high school... all forgotten... long story), I probably shouldn't comment on someone's translating abilities. But I can't resist taking a moment to point out this particular sentence:
There in the bright light they had examined each other's organs, lapped each other's fluids, felt each other's pulses against their mucus membranes.
I've read enough Suzuki from several different translators to understand he writes in a cold, clinical style. Some translators fight this, making a bad read. Some translators embrace it, making a good read. Here, Glynne Walley accepts it, but doesn't seem skilled enough to pull the writing off. It's supposed to be a fond memory of a woman looking back on her lost lover, but poor wording leaves it... well, there's no better way to describe it than "icky". The entire book - just like Walley's previous translations of Ring and Dark Water - is filled with these awkward moments where a simple wording alteration would have made the difference between a sentence singing or stumbling along.

Okay, that little rant's out of the way. Who's the woman, you ask? The one remembering her lost lover?

Why, she's Reiko Sugiura, mother of the suicidal cancer patient in Loop. During that book, she started a relationship with Kaoru Futami, who one day set off for America to explore the origins of himself and the cancer-causing MHC virus. After two months of waiting and worrying, Reiko meets with Professor Toru Amano. What happens next is a bit weird as Amano plays her videos of Coffin the Sky and Lemon Heart, only afterward giving a quick summation of broader events so as to explain their significance.

Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but is it really the best idea to introduce someone to the Ring saga with footage of an unnatural birth gone bad? Especially if that someone is a pregnant woman?! No, I say! Don't throw a newcomer a pair of tales that don't really work without context. Put some editing software to use and give her a structured overview, filling in little details as needed. Sorry, Suzuki. I understand the way you're trying to connect the three stories, but it comes off as sloppy.

Anyway, Reiko learns about Kaoru's sacrifice and, after an understandable moment of grief, is told he's still alive in the Loop. Here is where things get genuinely touching, with Reiko donning VR gear and reaching out to Kaoru, who scheduled a meeting despite the fact he can't see or hear her. But, if she tries hard enough... he... might... just... feel...

It's quite beautiful and stands out as the highlight of the story.

Following some fine info about sacrifices and cures which bring open plot threads to a close, Happy Birthday takes another plunge.

Imagine for a moment: The Sadakos have increased in number and started spreading over Earth, only to have their plans crash to a halt. Like the podpeople of Jack Finney's The Body Snatchers (not the film, they changed the ending), the Sadakos are left to ponder "What now?".

Think of the possibilities! They could try reentering society only to find themselves persecuted. They could volunteer their powers for the betterment of humanity, furthering evolution by joining the gene pool rather than replacing it. They could rally together and use their powers to conquer and rule.

An entire novel's worth of potential squandered, all because Suzuki takes the easy way out with another virus.

Speaking of the Sadakos' powers, where the hell are they?! Never once do they give an indication of their previous mental abilities, fighting desperately for survival as the virus ravages their ranks. No, they just curl up and take it without question.


Thankfully, Suzuki saves it with a nice climax. Though the reasons are a little forced, Reiko and Kaoru's final connection is well handled and moving. And props to Suzuki for not going the obvious route with the final page. I saw it coming and saw it coming and, when it didn't come, I actually found myself relieved. Not that it would have been bad, just obvious.

This is definitely the best story of the three, though that's not saying much. The entire Birthday collection is rushed and poorly thought-out, coming across as nothing much more than a quick way for Suzuki to cash in on the franchise's growing popularity due to the films. Which is a shame, because Lemon Heart and Happy Birthday had so much potential for greatness only to crumble under hasty mediocrity. If you're a fan of the series, it wouldn't hurt to give the book a read. Just don't expect much.

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