With a determined plan to reunite his mother and father, the 10-year-old boy named Wataru knowingly enters a fantasy realm inhabited by a goddess who has the power to change destiny. With the help of the Lizard Boy, the Cat Girl, and the Fire-breathing Dragon, Wataru faces a series of seemingly insurmountable obstacles on this once-in-a-lifetime adventure. One way or another, the young hero must reach the Tower of Destiny and bring his mother and father back together again.
The young boy's life is a mess and his journey is an attempt to reunite his family. His father has left the family and a distraught mother has tried suicide and is in the hospital. So begins Wataru's adventures to a place of fantasy and reality as he seeks to affirm virtues in himself. His reward: a key to the future and a way to heal his broken family.
I believe writing of Miyabe, a veteran novelist of immense popularity in Japan, is engaging, enlivening, and enriching for the YA reader. All ages from an advanced reader of 12 to college-age would enjoy the peregrinations of a bold young boy as he traverses a foreign world to find friend and foe as he perseveres to attain his goal, his quest of knowledge to bring peace, once again, to his family.
As Wataru experiences the realms of faith, bravery, charity, and the power of light and dark, gaining a gemstone in each, he is getting closer to the infinite strength he will need to win back family unity. It is an engrossing and absolutely thrilling read.
I'll admit, I carried this book around for days after I finished it; I wanted to keep it close to me, opening to read random passages. It feels like a remarkably accurate translation, making a foreign culture and fantasy world accessible to American reader.
Mitsuru is very sure of himself and very capable and will stoop to nothing to achieve his end. Waturu is not self assured and makes many mistakes but he has compassion and he both needs people and helps them when he can. Mitsuru is a loner but helps Waturu in several instances. Who will reach the Tower of Destiny first? Only one will get their wish granted. The cast of characters are many and they are all well rounded and compelling. This is a long book, over 800 pages, but well worth it.
A good portion of the beginning of Brave Story is devoted to the main character, young Wataru, in the real world, struggling with family issues. These trigger his adventures into a fantasy world where he has the chance to change his destiny in the real world.
This fantasy world and the way it functions in connection to the real world is very well thought out. I found myself half wishing it were real, it sounds like such a lovely idea. For the sake of avoiding spoilers, I can't possibly describe this fantasy world, but I will say the real world and the fantasy world are closely entwined, but that may be obvious by now.
Wataru's adventures in this other world comes to symbolize his struggle with grief, and I found myself relating to it more and more as the story went on. The book became a message on the positive transforming force the process of working through grief can be, as well as a cautionary tale for those that fall victim to grief and let it destroy them.
Anyone who has experienced or is experiencing grief will find themselves reaffirmed by Wataru the Brave and his adventures. Aside from the grief theme of the book, there is also a very entertaining story here that will be enjoyed by many readers, young adult or otherwise.
There is one thing to complain about, unfortunately. There were many typos and translation issues I seemed to notice, more of them around the end of the book than earlier in the story. A few typos is not enough to bother me, but there were so many that I was beginning to become distracted by them.
Take even video games of which I've talked about recently. Final Fantasy VII was ported directly from Japan, with all of its movies added. This includes the death of Aerith, the flower girl, some 2/3rds of the way into the game. She's a playable character with special skills and everything, and even though you work on leveling her up, at that point, she dies. Of course, I thought (not having read any walkthroughs) that she'd be resurrected at some point. Of course we'll have her at the end of the game, or Cloud would go into the lifestream and find her essence and bring her back. But that's not the case. She never comes back. It was a shock to many people (look her up on the internet, it affected a lot of people). I think that's why J.K. Rowling shocked so many people with the deaths that occur in Harry Potter. Main characters just don't die. It doesn't work that way....
But it does. And that's what makes the movies and video games and books coming out of Japan for young adults so much more poignant than those that come from Western Civilization. We're just not willing to see someone that we have invested emotional ties to be killed off in the middle of a story line. They have to come back. Nowadays, when Optimus Prime is killed (which he is, inevitably, every single series), it's not a shock to anyone, because he will always come back somehow.
So, to the book review. I read Brave Story, by Miyuki Miyabe, who is most known, until this book, for Suspense thrillers. Most reviews will tell you that it is slow in the beginning, that it drags out and it is good, but too long. What they don't get is that the length of the set up of the story is meant to set up Wataru's real life. Which is the life that we all lead, for the most part. There are bullies, and divorces, adulterous affairs... all the things that makes the real world what it is.... and most importantly, it sets up all the things that children are protected from in the real world in America. The book talks about the suicide of one of the friend's parents. You wouldn't have that talked about in a normal kid's fantasy novel. But it is the real world that people run away from, and only through Wataru's running away into the land of Vision do we experience the growth during that time of escapism.
The book is like the worlds of Hayao Miyazaki all laid out in print. It is the world of Hyrule or Final Fantasy in words. Masterfully constructed, a work that should be aside Paolini's Eragon or Harry Potter. The interesting thing is that the book is placed in with the Manga works, with most of the Japanese authors. I understand why, as the story has been adapted to Manga form, and Anime, and video game form (on the PSP and in Japan on the PS2). But the main work is a novel, and deserves to be read by those who love Fantasy or Young Adult fiction. It will change someone's life, just as The Hobbit changed mine.
Creates a world that i can visualise around me.
An enthralling storyline with amazing characters, cities, animals and natural features.
TAkes a while to get started but once it gets going you won't want to put it down.
Wataru Mitani is a typical fifth grader--he's an average student, enjoys playing video games (the Eldritch Stone Saga is his favorite fantasy series), and gets along well with most of his schoolmates, especially his best friend Katchan (even though his mother doesn't approve). At least that is until the aloof Mitsuru Ashikawa arrives as a transfer student. Wataru would be more than happy to be friends, but Mitsuru doesn't seem to care about anyone. Suddenly, everything starts to fall apart in Wataru's life when his father unexpectedly decides to leave him and his mother. But then he stumbles upon the world of Vision which seems like something out of one of his video games. Mitsuru, whose family situation is even more tragic than Wataru's, has also found Vision. The two of them become rival Travelers in the fantasy world, given the opportunity to complete a dangerous quest and by doing so change their and their family's destinies in the real world.
Brave Story is surprisingly dark and deals with some heavy issues such as divorce, death, and suicide. As if problems in the real world weren't enough, Vision faces religious war and genocide. But even so, Brave Story has a very positive message even if it is hard to accept--realizing that hate and anger are very important parts of being human and shouldn't be pushed away and hidden but embraced. Yes, things are bad but you have to learn to accept all of who you are in order to change anything. Reality hurts, and Miyabe doesn't pull her punches. Wataru's experiences are authentically heartbreaking and he has to deal with circumstances that no one should have to. It would have been nice to have seen a bit more of Mitsuru's story, but ultimately Brave Story is Wataru's tale.
The book almost seems to have a split personality--the real world is emotionally wrenching while the fantasy world is almost comforting in comparison. But, it works. Wataru's reality slowly starts to intrude upon his fantasy until it can't be ignored. Personally, I found the real world elements more compelling than the fantasy elements, but everything is pulled together nicely by the end. The majority of Brave Story takes place in Vision and while important the section felt a bit long to me and lacking in urgency until close to the end. But overall, Brave Story is quite good and is a story that adults and mature younger readers can both enjoy alike. I, for one, am very glad that it's available in English.
Experiments in Reading