LN Reading Program — July 12

(pictured: Twilight-Colored Song User)

(pictured: Twilight-Colored Song User)

For the first week of this summer reading program, we will discuss the first third of The Isolator (volume 1) and Twilight-Colored Song User (volume 1). For The Isolator, you need to have read the prologue and first four chapters (ending at page 50). Meanwhile for Song User, you need to have read the prologue and first two chapters.

If you have read further ahead, please refrain from spoiling anything past the points in the stories mentioned above.

The Isolator

I wasn’t sure how much I was going to like this novel, since I couldn’t get into Reki Kawahara’s other stories (Sword Art Online, Accel World) — but I’ve been pleasantly surprised with this one so far. The Isolator may be a bit by-the-numbers in some ways, but I like how Minoru’s character has been handled. Loss of family is a common element of protagonist back-stories in many books (and anime, manga, etc), but The Isolator is taking its time to delve into the effects that can have on a young person. I’ve found Minoru easy to sympathize with, but I also think his thoughts and feelings can be easy to relate to as well–perhaps especially for teens during a time of downtroddenness.

Discussion Points

Much of young adult fiction can be characterized by a degree of drama that some would call emotional, while others would label it as “emo.” Where in this spectrum do you feel The Isolator lies? Is the presence of angst automatically a deterrent to a story’s quality?

The Isolator shows how Minoru deals with his trauma by trying to forget the past and cut off all ties with others. How well do you feel he has managed over the years? How does Minoru’s day-to-day compare to how others work through depression? I also find the situation interesting to compare to last month’s Kagerou Daze, which featured a character who (on the surface, at least) seemed to manage this more thoroughly by living as a shut-in. Could you consider Minoru a shut-in mentally, as it were?

How do you feel about the quality of the story’s prose itself? I would like to hear opinions from readers of Sword Art Online and Accel World, to get an idea of how The Isolator‘s writing might compare to the author’s more famous works.

(Twilight-Colored Song User art by Takeoka Miho)

(Twilight-Colored Song User art by Takeoka Miho)

Twilight-Colored Song User

The concept of a magical school is nothing new in the world of young adult fiction, but so far I’m finding Sazane Kei’s take on the concept to be an engaging one–albeit a bit more slower-paced than I typically care for. There’s a lot still being set up though, and I’m willing to keep reading to see where things lead for Kluele, Mio, and Neight.

Discussion Points

How well are you following the magic system? Or all the characters? So far I’m finding Song User a bit of a denser read, though perhaps not to the extent of a regular fantasy novel. (We are still working with what is essentially a high school setting, after all.) At the moment I feel the author could do a bit more to show the use of Recitations and the place of magic in the world, but perhaps this is simply an instance where readers ought to use their imagination a bit and fill in the gaps themselves.

I find the setup with the various characters to be fairly unique for a light novel (and perhaps for the anime/manga world in general). The prologue begins with two characters, but then we have a time skip for the book to focus on its real main characters. Did you find this jarring? As for the main characters, I’m already liking the interactions between Kluele, Mio, and Neight–in some ways this sort of trio is unusual as well, I feel (particularly in regard to the age gap between Kluele and Neight).

Do you relate more to Kluele or to Neight? I feel I’ve generally lived more like Kluele, just drifting by and not really aspiring to as much as I probably should, ha ha. But how do you feel about the advice of setting (extremely) lofty goals? Evhemary achieved her goal to create “Night Color” (though kept it secret?), while Xins managed to master all five of the fundamental Colors. Is this level of success something Kluele or Neight could hope to emulate?

Just want to mention I love the art in this story–but that should come as no surprise, since this is the same artist who drew the illustrations for Book Girl and When Hikaru Was On the Earth. Be sure to take the time to appreciate the artwork!

———

As mentioned before, feel free to discuss any point you would like to bring up about either (or both) of these two books. General impressions, predictions for how the stories will play out, some compare/contrast between the two books, or any random observations and things you’d like to analyze are all fair game.

9 responses to “LN Reading Program — July 12

  1. Hello! I wanted to join the reading club last month, but had already read Kagerou Daze and wasn’t massively eager to reread it so soon, so I held off a month. I’m only reading The Isolator this month, so before I start, I have to say that I was off the Sword Art Online train before it even left the station, so Accel World is my only point of comparison for Kawahara’s novels.

    Compared to Accel World, I do feel like the prose in The Isolator feels more mature. It’s less jittery and silly, falling back less on long passages of exposition in the midst of an airy, conversational feeling text, and it certainly makes less use of chopped, fragmented feeling sentences. The Isolator reads smoothly, sharply, and quickly. At the same time, though, I feel like something really fun and charming is lost. Accel World has a bright “golly-gee-wilikers!” feel to it where, even when the characters are in dire danger, it’s impossible to escape the feeling that they are in a cool world full of cool stuff and excited to take part in it. The Isolator, on the other hand, juxtaposes potstickers and human flesh in a way that makes even late afternoon cooking feel itchy and foreboding.

    That leads back to your first question, and I do have to say that I feel like this novel veers towards emo so far. Since this is all setup for the almost inevitable power revelations, I don’t know if it’s fair of me to judge it yet, but rather than discussing Minoru’s loss and moving on, Kawahara dwells on it almost fetishistically, even when the scene is just polite conversation. It’s actually pretty well done, and it allows Minoru’s high school scenes to flow into Takaesu’s more foreboding scene without a jarring tone switch. I imagine it will make whatever power reveal we get later on more satisfying, too. However, I don’t feel bad saying that such an oppressive atmosphere just isn’t my cup of tea.
    With the last point, or the second in your list, I can see the parallel between Minoru and Shintaro, but do think that Minoru’s handling it better. Whether the practice of memory-erasing running sprees is psychologically healthy or not, he’s taking a pro-active approach to his own suffering. Shintaro had Ene yelling at him for months on end and still didn’t seem to try that hard to function as a member of society, whereas Minoru seems to feel a responsibility to get out of the house and try his best to survive. The flip-side of that is that, willingly or not, Shintaro has an emotional connection to Ene, whereas Minoru shuts himself out from such relationships, or at least tries to- from the narration, I didn’t get the feeling that Minoru was quite as disconnected as he wants himself to think, particularly regarding his adoptive sister, or at the dojo when it seems that, excuses made or not, he does care what others think of him.

    Anyway, I don’t dislike this book, but I don’t feel very connected to it so far. I’m looking forward to continuing, though, to see how things start to fall into place, particularly regarding all of Takaesu’s disturbing weirdness.

    • Thanks for the comment, missytannenbaum! It does seem The Isolator is working with a different tone than Kawahara’s past works, which would affect the writing style.
      I like your points on Minoru and Shintaro. I think that Minoru has managed to remain connected to society on a surface level, but he’s unassuming and has been able to slip by without connecting too deeply with any specific person. I don’t think it would take too much for him to establish a bond with others though–I will be curious to see how he’s developed as a character over the course of the volume, in regard to how he relates with others.

  2. Hi there. I’ll be honest I’ve never done anything like this before, and I’ve never felt like I’m the best at articulating my thoughts but I feel this will be a very interesting experience and it is something I would like to give a shot at. I’ll be talking about The Isolator as it’s the one I read. In fact, I had actually wanted to read it for a while. I first became acquainted with it on r/LightNovels, when I read a fan translation of Fragment 01.

    First, I want to start off and say I really liked The Isolator and actually finished it not long after I bought it, and am rereading it along with this. So, I will try my best to keep this confined to the first fifty pages as best I can.

    Anyway, in comparison with Accel World and Sword Art Online, The Isolator definitely has a stronger start. Accel World is written for a younger audience than either The Isolator or SAO. I would say AW is probably aimed at early teens, generally in line with the ages of its characters. Not that this is a bad thing, as I love AW, but I can definitely see how AW can seem breezy and I think that is where the three differ. In AW (at least early AW I don’t know about later volumes after 5 as I’ve chosen to try my best and wait for official translations), I think Kawahara is always trying his best to still keep it all fun. That despite how serious things can get it is still a game, friendships are forged or tested but it’s all still fun.

    By contrast, SAO and The Isolator are much more serious. That’s not to say SAO doesn’t have any fun moments in it, but it is overall more serious than its younger sibling. From moments like the side story Red-nosed Reindeer (which is a very sad tale) to main stories like Phantom Bullet or Alicization, there is always a sense of seriousness to it all. In many respects The Isolator is much like SAO in those aspects, as the atmosphere is quite disheartening and Fragment 01 definitely deserves credit for that. It is a really nice start. Starting with some really sweet interactions between little Minoru and his big sister Wakaba in the form of flashbacks, and then the last of those flashbacks hits. And it is grim, I won’t lie it is quite frightening and sad to imagine little Minoru sitting in the dark, counting to himself as his home is invaded and his family taken from him. The promises he made with his sister never to be fulfilled. It really does set the mood of the story. Would I say that it is emo, not really. It is certainly bleak but not emo.

    At the same time Fragment 01 also does a really nice job of getting us familiar with Minoru’s back story and the tragedy that defines it as well as him in general. For me, I think he is a bit of a middle ground between Kirito and Haruyuki and I do feel there are certainly comparisons that can be made between the three. Though in comparison I think he leans closer to Haru. They’re troubled kids. In fact, much like Haru, I find it quite easy not just to sympathize, but empathize with him a little, particularly with his desire for solitude. I won’t lie; I love my family and the friends but I also like solitude. I like moments were I can be alone and I’m not particularly fond of interacting with people. I don’t hate people, I just like keeping to myself and not causing others much trouble. So I do feel like I get Minoru. How well has he faired? Well, he hasn’t taken his own life so, I guess he is moving forward a little. It is better than completely giving up on the world. I quite like him.

    One thing I particularly like is the switch to the villain’s perspective. It’s definitely something new and quite welcome. I think this the first time Kawahara’s done something like this. Though, I think he does something like this in a later SAO volume, but I believe that volume was released after this.

    However, my personal favorite bits from it would definitely have to be Fragment 01 and his interactions with his adopted sister Norie. The interactions between Minoru and his sister are just really adorable. But the best moment between them was when he asked her what memories are made of. It was that moment that I said this is a Kawahara story. I just can’t get enough of it, and unfortunately I probably never will. Then there’s his interactions with Norie, which seem to indicate that on some level he does care for her, and he is still connected to the world even though he wishes that he could just move through life as if he were a ghost.

    Overall, the prologue and first four chapters are a really nice start to Kawahara’s new series, and between his three different series it definitely has the strongest start.

    Additionally, I have to say I really like the colored illustrations. They are really well drawn and the colors are just really nice.

    • I think you articulated your points very well, russellstar! I find it interesting to hear the different takes on concepts familiar to middle grade and young adult fiction, which the author has tackled in a variety of ways from one book series to the next. I agree that The Isolator is definitely working with a moodier atmosphere than the author’s past works, but I imagine the story will still end with a hopeful message.
      I also agree that this first volume does well to establish a lot of things pretty quickly–namely in regard to Minoru’s character. I like that time is taken to delve into his way of thinking, rather than having the story jump straight into the action. The main supernatural element at play feels like an extension of the protagonist’s personality, rather than something added for the sake of making an adventure story.
      The illustrations are quite nice! And I like how the hardcover volume turned out in general. I wonder if the rest of the series will continue to release in this format?

      • Thanks that means quite alot. I too do wonder if The Isolator will keep being a hardcover realese. I certainly wouldn’t mind it, but it remains to be seen.

  3. So here I go with Twilight-Colored Song User. Somehow The Isolator isn’t appealing for me.
    I hesitated a little before starting it, because probably I will never be able to finish it, I consider starting a story which you cannot finish as a sort of sophisticated masochism.
    Anyway, I don’t regret it now. It’s give for me a similar vibe as a Harry Potter, many tropes are similar aside one big bad guy conspiring around (yet?). I’m not complaining about that, after magic school is a trope beaten to the death in LN’s, only a good execution can be done, and in my opinion it’s done here.

    I agree that created world is lacking a bit, for example what Songs users are doing after school? They are summoning things, so basically they can take them somebody? Are there rules abiding users after graduate? Really nobody got idea to try with Black even if we have White in palette? Well, indeed maybe we may get it later, maybe author wanted to avoid boring readers with “magical technical stuff” at start? Or because she just concentrate on interactions.

    The main problem with stores is to catch attention asap, it’s hard to do with longer introduction, dropping heart catching retrospection was a good idea in my opinion, well, it worked for me. It’s may be a personal taste, because I like stores happening through generations.

    Personally, I like Mio and Hermio… I mean lizard, I love it’s comments.
    I agree, their goals were lofty, and there is not a lot of explanations what made just those to achievement, for now it look just like typical “believe and work hard, you will achieve everything you want” – that’s may be cheap, but is quite well put into book, making it quite heart-warming.

    About future, now it’s looks pretty simple to guess, that student will steal some or all gems and he will be unable to control them, causing a big mess, I bet Neight will somehow deal with it.

    Anyway I quite like author style, I will check her other books.
    About illustrations, I like impressionistic and vague style, so I was sold immediately..

    • Thanks for commenting, Botan!
      Magic schools are a popular concept to work with in general, and Song User can be interesting to compare to other similar works both among light novels (Tokyo Ravens comes to mind) and among Western YA fiction.
      The message does seem rather straightforward, but there’s a chance the story will play with it in a way that shakes things up a bit. Will have to wait and see how things turn out at the end of the volume.
      The author is Kei Sazane (who I’m rather sure is a man actually); you can find some other works of his here if you’d like.

  4. Got the Isolator from B&N. Cannot figure out why an author who writes about VR MMOs would not want his books available as ebooks, or maybe Yen Press just didn’t want them. I guess I don’t know the whole story, but anyways.

    “Is the presence of angst automatically a deterrent to a story’s quality?” I like the way they set it up, gets you right into the story and into the head of the main character. When the main character wants to be in solitude, I’d prefer knowing why beforehand to finding out later. I also like how they actually show part of the antagonists story in the beginning, not waiting for a flashback halfway through the 2nd volume. It is definitely a different way of doing things.

    What I fear is not different from part of his earlier works, at least based on the illustrations in the beginning could be a damsel in distress situation down the line, which is not my favorite troupe. But (and I only watched the anime past volume 1 of SAO so I assume it was in the novels) there are some moments with strong women in his works.

    • I don’t know why all of Yen Press’s light novels are not available as ebooks — my assumption is that there are licensing issues to work out. Hopefully it will just be a matter of time before that’s dealt with for each series?
      I think you’re on the right track in regard to having reasons *why* established well, for making a depressed character not come off as “emo.” The writing has to be pulled off in such a way that we sympathize with the character, rather than find his feelings melodramatic.
      At this point I’m not sure if there’s enough yet to gauge the author’s handling of the various girls in the story — I’ll likely make a note of it at least upon reaching the end of this volume.

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