Friday, January 29, 2016

All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

Title: All You Need Is Kill
Author: Hiroshi Sakurazaka
Publisher: Shueisha (2004)
English Translation: Alexander O. Smith (Viz Media, LLC)

Happy New Year and welcome back to all those joining Michael and me as we approach the end of our sixth year of reviewing books and movies together (just a few months away). We obviously loves us some SF as that is where we started and we keep re-visiting. This time, though, we were directed to this title by our readers' poll. You'll hear no complaints from me when the result is trying out new SF.

For those that are new to our monthly series, this is when Michael reviews a film adapted from a book which gets a review here.

Click here for Michael's film review of Edge of Tomorrow
at It Rains... You Get Wet

Private Kiriya saw the military as the place to do something meaningful with his life. The reality of enlistment and his first battle experience serve to alter his innocent dreams. However, when he finds himself living that first battle over and over again, he begins to think maybe he was right in the first place.

Earth has been invaded by an alien race's colonizing vanguard. These so-called Mimics consume everything in sight and, despite being pretty pitiful in and of themselves, constantly overwhelm human soldiers/strategy with their numbers and tactics. Keiji Kiriya is a Japanese soldier who is part of the United Defense Force protecting Japan from a horde of Mimics. These hapless souls strap into Jackets and hit the field of battle with snark and bravado and are humanity's last hope. Kiriya dies not long into his first battle but wakes up the previous morning with his place still held in his detective novel. The day repeats and he's on to his first battle for the second time... and the third... and the fourth... Live. Die. Repeat.

As he lives his last 24hrs over and over again he becomes more and more interested in an American soldier who seems to have this whole Mimic fighting business figured out. Her name is Rita Vrataski and she's the most famous soldier in the UDF. Eventually he discovers they have one very important thing in common and it just might be the thing that allows them to turn the tide of war in Earth's favor. 

Reading this book was a series of ups and downs. One moment you're up, enjoying the Jackets, the battle, the pacing, the tone and the next moment you're down, getting really pissed at the ridiculous comments about women, the inconsistencies in the rules of the world and the fact that if you think too hard about the Mimic time management business it just doesn't hold together. 

For example, despite Rita developing into a layered individual who just happens to have a natural talent for soldiering, the reader is treated to this gem:
Of the three types of women the human race boasted-the pretty, the homely, and the gorillas you couldn't do anything with save ship 'em off to the army-I'd put her in the... 
And no matter how a woman fitted into the plot or tactics, there's never any doubt about how she looks, whether it's relevant or not (surprise, surprise: it never was). 

Weirdly, the Jackets used in battle (which are awesome, btw) are specifically described as being best controlled by someone with body control not brute strength. (And neither is Rita, the UDF's most successful Mimic killer, anything like a gorilla.) So why the tired old trope of athletic/militaristic women being She-Hulks when compared to their peers?

But then there's the great running gag about the book he still hasn't finished despite repeating the same day 150+ times. His memories are intact and it's obvious he's still reading it so he could finish but, you know, so hard to get to the end when so much is going on. The bond he and Rita form is influenced heavily by the isolation imposed on each of them in their turn. It's touching and, more importantly, exactly where the story and plot take you.

And how can you not be impressed with an author who manages to make a broadsword type weapon the most useful way to tally kills when actual guns and futuristic battle armor exist?

One of my favorite aspects of the story is a bit spoilerish so BE WARNED. BEGIN SPOILERS:
Kiriya eventually jumps ahead in his loop and so his day is not exactly the same as every day has been for almost half a year. The book can be a bit single-minded in its focus so the repercussions of events are sometimes unrealistically limited. However, I appreciated the nod to how difficult it would be to have something different happen when you've become accustomed to every day being the same.
*****END SPOILERS*****      

It was disappointing that the English translation doesn't include the illustrations from the original Japanese edition. I highly recommend looking these up as they are very cool. Having seen the movie first I was having a hard time wrapping my mind around how different the Mimics were and so was especially enjoying the illustrations of them. Plus, isn't that cover wonderful?

On a side note, don't skip the author's note at the end. His inspiration and brief commentary on heroes is pretty interesting.

Now about that movie... Don't forget to check out Michael's post. 

rating: 3 of 5 stars

Coming up next:  
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel 


  1. Always fun to get back into this series. I find the break to be great to recharge the battery and drive my interest in the new titles we’ve scheduled. This work definitely had me curious, for the film was one of my favorites of 2014 and getting to read its source was a fantastic way to kickoff, I reckon. And I really enjoyed the “light” novel, though I see your point regarding Pvt. Kiriya’s sexist remarks and demeanor.

    Perhaps, that was the author’s point. Offering it as a contrast, that backward male POV, when Rita’s obvious skill and manner demolishes it as easily as a Mimic dispatched under her battle-axe. Still, I can see where it would be off-putting. The sense of isolation being in the time-loop, and notably that first palpable chapter of combat, were the best aspects of this novel. For me, at least.

    Of course, like a few of the titles we’ll examine in this year’s series, we’ll be looking/reviewing their text translations. Something is always lost I fear when doing this. Would love to truly understand Japanese (heck, Swedish and my grandmother’s native tongue for the next novel this month) and get what the author really meant than another’s interpretation of it. Well, maybe in the next loop. ;-)

    Always insightful to read your reviews, Rachel. Thanks again.

    1. P.S., I didn't know there was an author's note at the end, having only done the audiobook. Need to get my hands on the print material, now. Thanks for the heads up.

    2. I too find myself thinking about translations rather than the story at times. Especially with phrases that are particularly evocative in American English. I get very curious about what becomes a cultural translation rather than a simple language translation. And that, of course, will depend quite heavily upon the skill of your translator... and what part of a culture resonates more with him/her and you as a reader. Really interesting in and of itself to contemplate.

      The reading project I'm participating in for the year of an epic Persian poem has me constantly thinking about translation of language and culture. Not being fluent in multiples languages I can only imagine that it's the kind of job that is never quite done; one can always keep tweeking to find a more perfect translation.

      I hope you're able to find the author's note. I enjoyed getting a little behind the scenes glimpse of what he was thinking about while writing.