[actually, finished over the 4th of July weekend, but I’ve been distracted recently]
When we left off, the Pope was talking movies with Kio, and Eris was talking harem membership with Manami. With Kio put at ease, the Pope spends the rest of the flight politely grilling him for details on how he met the Catians. All offscreen, so we’re left guessing just how much detail is involved.
Meanwhile, Eris is still wearing down Manami’s resistance, bringing up the whole “Kio gave up on her because he thought Jack was the name of a boyfriend”, and quoting a proverb: 焼け棒杭に火が付く (“Wood half-burned is easily kindled”). Unable to flee, Manami resorts to obvious lies, insisting that the Valentine’s chocolates were store-bought, not hand-made, with her voice getting louder and her face getting redder. Overwhelmed, Yun-fa hides by climbing back into her sports bag and zipping it shut from the inside.
[Side note: Manami uses 出来合い (dekiai = readymade) to describe the chocolate, but it turns out that this word has a second meaning: “common-law wife”. Coincidence, I’m sure.]
The long, long flight finally ends, with the Pope literally kissing the ground and Manami feeling like doing so as thanks for getting away from Eris patiently steering the subject back to the harem no matter how hard she had tried. In the end, Manami had agreed that she wouldn’t leave, but insisted that she’d never join the harem because “I’d never get a confession from Kio… ohshit”. Eris, true to her nature, pounces on that line. With the last of her willpower, Manami gets Eris to agree that Kio has to bring it up, and nobody gets to “help”.
Now back to Jens and Ryunnu. Tokyo is not quite under martial law due to the influx of terrorists and other violent protestors, but most people are staying off the streets. Jens heads out for an unspecified meeting that ends her involvement in this novel, while Ryunnu sits at her computer and does her best to take over Nirumea’s computer network and eliminate all of her online resources.
Meanwhile, our favorite teenage goth-loli cyborg MI6 agent has teamed up with Jack, who springs into action for the first time since book 1. They bust in on a high-class hotel suite and discover that their targets, the radicalized animal-rights group Noah’s 11th Grandchild, who had recently staged a flashy-but-inept protest as a diversion to cover the arrival of their real operatives, has managed to assemble their secret weapon and escape to parts unknown. Their secret weapon is a pair of 分子振動砲 (molecule+vibration+cannon), able to wipe out a big chunk of Tokyo. They call Aoi to alert her that the bad guys are on the loose, and she heads out.
Antonia and her maids run a shell game on the press corps, allowing them to round up all of the heavily-armed terrorists embedded as cameramen and reporters. They’d set up a large number of phony locations for the big meeting, while the actual location was quietly arranged by someone with no public connection to the group: Ichika.
The bad guys have been tracked down to the sewers, and when she reaches the scene, Aoi is surprised to discover that another team got there first: a squad of three Unatan powered suits, sold by Antonia to the JSDF. They take out the first cannon and mop up the minions while Aoi goes after the second. She slices it into tiny harmless bits with a special weapon provided by the Catians, a two-meter-long vibrating katana with a one-meter hilt. Somehow she even manages to cut gyakukesa with this monster, despite its ridiculous size.
With the terrorists disarmed, the meeting proceeds, and Kuune chats up the Pope. They get in one brief exchange on-screen, and then we cut to the epilogue. To no one’s surprise, the Pope gives a big thumbs-up to the alien catgirl invasion, and diplomacy proceeds to the next level. Also, Aoi welcomes Manami to the harem (pending a confession from Kio, of course).
I’ve left out a lot of little things from this one, but that’s because they’re just random details. Ichika teasing Jens about a boy who’s sweet on her. Kuune teasing Melwin about not finding a boyfriend during the exchange program. Aoi’s sexy former combat teacher who now runs the alien-relations agency, who in the text strongly resembles Kuune in looks, attitude, and bustline, but in the picture is just a hot milf with A-class zettai ryouiki. Ichika’s apprentices at the studio, who are also earthborn catgirls and catboys (with the girls in army gear and the boys dressed goth-loli). The cyborg goth-loli MI6 agent quoting Anne of Green Gables after she takes out a group of terrorists. Etc.
The action had a rushed, inevitable feel to it. There was no real feeling of threat or menace, and Nirumea, still on the loose even after losing the cyberwar with Ryunnu, has been reduced to a joke of a villain. And what’s the main focus of book 15, which I’d have to either scan and OCR myself or try to read raw? Aoi’s half-alien little sister returns to try to marry Aoi.
I think it’s time to take a break from this series.
What’s next? Tentatively, I’m OCRing one of the few series that I have decent scans of (1000x1600 PNG is adequate for a page of Japanese text; the more common 800x1200 JPG is not), for two reasons. First, the proofreading process forces me to improve my kanji recognition without the crutches provided by my scripts. Second, it’s Miniskirt Space Pirates.
I spent several hours this weekend tweaking my copy of FineReader Pro for best results and proofing the prologue, which taught me something interesting about how Abbyy handles vertical Japanese text: they rotate the page and treat it as rows of left-to-right horizontal text with rotated characters. This explains some of the more surprising recognition errors, such as the way “一” is sometimes recognized as “I”, and why it has difficulty figuring out the difference between full-size and small vowels, often inserting gratuitous font-size changes instead. These problems would be less common with a higher-resolution source, but running the books through my Lego DIY book scanner would add as much time as it would save.
Oh, and how does book one start? With the staged duel between Marika and Kane.
Work has kept me from finishing this book, allowing me to defer the decision of what to do next, since I haven’t found OCRd copies of books 15-17 to run through my scripts, and I don’t feel like scanning and OCRing my own copies. Back to Kino? Back to Louie for another book and a half? Make an attempt at Haruhi, Dirty Pair, Tsutsui stories, Nishimura stories, porn novels (lots of new vocabulary!), or go back through and reread without the crutches? Haven’t decided yet.
Anyway, continuing with AsoIku 14 from where we left off, chapter five ends with our favorite teenage goth-loli cyborg MI6 agent kicking the asses of the same domestic terrorist group she slaughtered in her first appearance, who have been nudged by Nirumea into hating alien catgirls. This leads to a short discussion that there are so many violent fringe groups trying to get into Japan to stop the Pope from meeting with Catia that the Japanese agencies are merely coordinating the cleanup, requesting that each country take care of their own whackos.
The chapter ends with the revelation that this historic meeting is scheduled for 清命祭 (read as Shiimii in Okinawa), a Buddhist ceremony honoring one’s ancestors, or more importantly, exactly one year since Kio met Eris.
Chapter six finally brings the Pope onto the field. Antonia dispatched a private jet to Italy, and to save time, Kio is teleported there to meet him at the plane, as are the Catian escort craft, which consist of Eris and Manami in Ruros and a squadron of assistoroids in tiny little F-22s that leave their feet dangling as the landing gear. The Italian Air Force provides a more conventional escort, but of course the assistoroids steal the show, neatly diverting the reporters until the Pope is aboard.
While they’re waiting for him to show up, though, Eris has Manami trapped on her ship, and forces her to admit that she still wants Kio. Eris being Eris, she offers to share, and assures her that Aoi will agree. Manami denies everything, of course, until Eris reveals a secret she’s been hanging onto since book 8: 6-chan spotted her sneaking a box of homemade chocolates into Kio’s house for Valentine’s Day. Eris had also tried to question Yun-fa, and discovered that his memories of that period were quite thoroughly locked down out of loyalty.
I can pretty much insert the scene from the anime where Manami fought back against the idea of such a relationship by referencing Earth law and custom. It works about as well here, with Eris hand-waving it all away. Eris’ trump card, though, is a guilt trip: if the meeting with the Pope tips the balance enough to normalize relations between Earth and Catia, it wouldn’t be a first-contact situation any more, and she’d be recalled to the homeworld for extensive debriefing and retraining, and wouldn’t be back for 1-3 years. Left to themselves, Kio and Aoi won’t move their relationship forward; they need a sparkplug like Eris, or a pushy busybody like Manami. Or both.
Meanwhile, once they’re in flight, the Pope strikes up a conversation with Kio (in fluent Japanese), leading off with his favorite Japanese movies: Kurosawa’s Yojimbo and Sanjuro, and Yoji Yamada’s Love and Honor. Thanks to movie-buff Aoi, Kio is well-prepared to discuss these films and how they reflect Japanese character.
This book returns to the main plotline, with the good guys working to advance diplomatic relations between Earth and Catia, the bad guys trying to sabotage them, and the author frantically trying to remember all the stuff he threw into earlier books as well as the things he forgot to mention in them.
In other words, it’s a mess of PoV changes, as-you-know-Bob, and whoops-forgot-about-this-bit, with the honest-to-gosh Pope in the middle of it all. When his interest in meeting the Catians was mentioned at the end of the previous book, I confess I was worried. The handling of Christianity in anime and light novels isn’t known for being particularly… “faithful”.
So far he’s only had one brief appearance in the book, since the whole point is for the bad guys to plot to prevent the meeting, but he was handled surprisingly well, coming across as a gentle, kind, sincerely devout religious leader. Also, when Antonia lectures the others about him and his potential to influence world opinion, it works; in this area, at least, the author has done a bit of homework.
Our Villain is of course Nirumea, evil-angel alien with a sweet tooth, whose failure in book 10 has left her with nothing but a burning desire for revenge and the remnants of former assistant Ryunnu’s super-special operational support and prediction computer. And junk food; the hikikomori lifestyle has turned her into a slobby little blimp, but nothing matters to her except wiping out Cats and Dogs. Some angels just want to watch the world burn.
Officially, both Nirumea and Ryunnu are MIA, with Ryunnu at least presumed dead since Dogs prefer death to captivity. In what will apparently be their last official meeting, the head Dog and Angel warily discuss the recent departure of the Lizards from their little alliance, and on hearing that the Orsonians are waking up, the top Dog starts making plans to abandon Earth as well, remembering what happened the last time the Orsonians caught them being naughty. (short version: their civilization was set back 300+ years in an instant, with ships destroyed and minds scrubbed of advanced knowledge, and “do it again and we’ll wipe your minds completely”)
Nirumea is using her computer to stir up all sorts of violent extremist groups, as well as manipulating at least one “christian” CEO into building a private army that will do her bidding. The good guys have noticed the uptick in anti-alien sentiment, but haven’t identified a specific cause. Ryunnu, however, has spent the last few months attempting to resurrect the core of her special system using primitive Earth technology bought in Akihabara, and has finally gotten it working well enough to spot the clues, and after a late night at their coffee shop, shares her suspicions with big sister Jens.
But none of that is important. If you go by page count, the single most significant thing that’s going on is that Manami is thinking about how much Kio has grown up into a smart cool guy, and how she feels like a fifth wheel, and how the presence of real pros supporting the embassy has her feeling unqualified, has started moping so much that everyone is noticing and wondering about it, and has now confessed to Aoi that as soon as this operation is over, she’s going to quit.
This one took a while. Not because the story was as baffling and filled with nonsense as book 11, but mostly because a lot of characters talked funny. Lizard-girl Sawori’s accented Japanese is indicated with katakana and the occasional mispronunciation, much like American cowgirl CIA agent JACK, who’s also in this book, with more dialog than she’s had in the last six books put together. Then there are the various international spies and government agents pretending to be exchange students on the Catian ship, whose mostly-fluent Japanese tends toward the official, and the bonus pile of new vocabulary used to explain Gaavuru culture. Add to that the usual fun of figuring out the childlike writing of the assistoroids, and it made for a bit of a slog. There are sections where my comprehension was maybe only in the 60-70% range.
Much is accomplished, however, including the most significant plot development in the entire series: Kio finally stops addressing his junior girlfriend as Futaba-san and starts calling her Aoi-chan.
The prologue of the book is a quiet scene of an unnamed male staring out the window of a spaceship as his female companion reflects on what he’s feeling. Spoiler: it’s Aoi’s dad and his alien second wife, Rauva of the lizardlike Gaavuru race. It doesn’t tell their full story, but does reveal that at the end of their epic duel N years ago, he was near death, and she took him away from Earth as much to get him properly healed as to claim him as her mate. She even returned him to Earth five years later to search for his wife and child, and his belief that they were both dead allowed him to move on and accept his role in her society.
Their ship isn’t far from Earth, and he’s not just thinking about the old days; he’s also worried about his second daughter Sawori’s official first hunt. Neither one of them knows that Aoi is alive, or that Sawori has chosen her half-sister as her target.
Aoi needs the full power of her Catian-provided battlesuit to survive the duel, and barely manages to win by outthinking lil’sis just before collapsing from exhaustion. A bit out of sorts, Kio manages to deeply offend the Gaavuru observers, but is rescued by the unexpected arrival of Uncle Yuuichi and a strangely familiar gorgeous blonde catgirl in a red china dress.
Familiar to the Gaavuru, too, since it seems she beat the crap out of a whole team of them 50 years ago. By the way, when the Gaavuru were being explained to Kio and company at the end of the last book, it was casually mentioned that in their last duel against Catians 20 years ago, the targets were Kuune and Chaika, who also wiped the floor with them. Clearly lizardfolk should steer clear of anything with cat ears.
Hot blonde catgirl turns things around, and gets them to explain the whole little sister thing. Sadly, they teleported out with Sawori right after dropping the news about Dad being alive and well.
Hot blonde catgirl is of course Ichika, but all grown up and looking very different. Seems her magic extends to shape-shifting, and this was the body she’d been wearing way back in book 2 when she helped Kio rescue Aoi from Antonia’s ship. He’d been so busy at the time that he’d forgotten about that little mystery. I hadn’t realized there was a mystery, since the description was pretty vague.
In any case, it came as no surprise to the reader in this book, since she’s normal-Ichika when she hitches a ride with Yuuichi, and china-dress-hottie when they reach the scene.
[I don’t know if they’re done with Sawori for this book now, but I do know she comes back soon, having gotten the idea into her head that losing the duel with Aoi means they should marry. This includes the sight of a lizard-girl in a maid costume.]
Speaking of hanko, I just reached a scene in AsoIku book 12 where the stress and long hours involved in getting the exchange program started have caused Kio to pass out from exhaustion, with Eris not far behind him. After a scolding by Doctor Dyureru and Melwin, they’re sentenced to a full day of bed rest. The medical assistoroid pulls out a square hanko and stamps them both with the image of a cartoon Dyureru whose speech bubble reads 絶対安静 (“Zettai ansei!” = “absolute rest”).
In typical Catian fashion, the ink actually consists of medical nanomachines that will help restore them, and then fade away when the job’s done.
By the way, Melwin was sleeping over at Kio’s place, wearing one of his white shirts as a nightgown and cuddling her personal assistoroid as a teddy bear. Sadly, they did not choose to illustrate this scene. Fortunately, someone else has illustrated Dyureru in a half-open white shirt, putting even more stress on the fabric than Eris does.
Next chapter, it looks like Aoi’s busty half-alien younger sister finally shows up. (although I don’t think she reveals her identity until the final scene)
[Update: no little sister yet, but just in case there was a shortage of hijinks coming, it was decided that Kio’s replacement on the Catian ship will be Antonia. And she’s bringing Sara along. Chaika will be subbing for Eris, leaving her younger daughters unsupervised… (no, wait, that’s just foreshadowing for book 15; the kids who run off in this book are Aoi’s assistoroids, who end up in Tokyo busing tables at the coffee shop run by Jens and her little sister).
The kidnapping/assassination plot that sets everything in motion doesn’t make much sense, since the perpetrators don’t seem to be working for any of the usual bad guys, but the teenage cyborg goth-loli secret agent (back from the previous book…) somehow knows about it anyway. The book ends on a cliffhanger, with Aoi’s little sister revealing her identity and challenging her to a duel. That should be interesting, since sis is a big, strong, tough, ruthless mercenary lizard-girl, and apparently Aoi’s apporting power runs in the family.]
Some days, Google auto-translation just charms me. Eris’ race is キャーティア, “Kyaatia”. Google reliably translates it as “aiiieee tear” or “aiiieee tier”.
…and now I need to read Cat Tail Output!, because it turns out to be a spinoff series where the schoolgirl heroine’s deep dark secret is that she’s Melwin.
Amazon Japan just sent me a notice that Okina Kamino has a new novel out,Tarot Knight. My first response was that AsoIku was dead for good, since he’s got three other series running now; my second thought was suddenly aborted when I clicked through and saw that the “customers who bought this also bought” linked to AsoIku book 15. And it’s not just a repackaging of the short stories that were included with the BDs; it looks like Aoi’s half-sister is coming back with marriage on her mind (ah, but who’s the lucky one…), and Chaika’s other two daughters are sneaking out to play on Earth.
Guess I should finally finish book 11 and catch up.
(as for Louie, well, I hit the first honest-to-gosh Stupid Thing and set it aside for a while; the worst part was that it wasn’t Louie’s bad idea, it was Merrill’s. It’s a bad plan, honey)