Written by Koji Suzuki.
I was really, really looking forward to this story. A glimpse at Sadako before death, before the tape, before the earth-altering virus. What is she, this future replacement of humankind, like as she enters her adulthood?
Well... she's normal. She's learning that her looks have an affect on men, but not in an eerie, inhuman way. She's got a boyfriend of sorts. Nothing serious, but it does seem to be going places. She's got a job she's good at but doesn't particularly like. She's normal.
As the story unfolds, there's very little exploration of her powers beyond brief moments of insight which catch people as odd, but are quickly shaken off. It's not until the last couple of chapters that things get big as we learn of an earlier tape which killed off half her co-workers years after hearing it. But this is left rather ambiguous and I'll discuss it in a moment.
What I wasn't expecting was that the story wouldn't be from Sadako's point of view. Imagine how great that would be, getting a peek into one of the greatest psychic minds in literature. Not only can she probe the thoughts of people around her, but peer into the past and future, swirling all that knowledge together in a pot of intuition that lets her manipulate the very threads of destiny.
But, no. The opportunity is wasted.
The tale is actually being told by Toyama, Sadako's boyfriend, as he relates it to a reporter twenty-four years down the road (the time of Spiral). Toyama's a decent enough character, and he does offer some interesting new views on Sadako's early years. But it just doesn't work. There's too much desire in me as a fan to learn about Sadako from her own memories, her own experiences, her own views of the world. Maybe Suzuki could have had Sadako and Toyama meet during the events of Spiral and give alternating views of a tale, unfolding the past through two sets of eyes. Just a thought.
What bugs me the most is the ending. Why does Toyama have to die? Sure, setting up an earlier tape is interesting, but he doesn't hear the damn thing! I know, I know. Suzuki hints that being there at the time of its recording is more than enough, but there's too much ambiguity in the question of whether Sadako means to kill everyone before recording her tryst, or only alters the situation after the fact due to her embarrassment at the tape's release. If it's the former, then Sadako has been planning murder from the beginning. I know a chunk of the fanbase follows this theory, but not me. If she has such powers of nearly omnipotent divination, then she should be aware that her actions in Spiral will eventually stagnate the human race. If, on the other hand, it's the later, then it still doesn't make much sense, because Sadako's powers should be enough to reveal Toyama wasn't the one who released the tape, thus letting him off the hook.
But, no. Toyama, for no good reason, ends up dead.
I'm starting to get the feeling the tales contained in Birthday are like the tie-in novels of popular television shows; they're allowed to use characters and occurrences within the continuity, but can, in no serious way, alter what's come before. It cheapens the material and I wish Suzuki would have really dug in and completely blown my mind with new revelations and hidden links. Granted, I still have one story left to read. Maybe I'll be proven wrong.