LN Reading Program — August 10

(pictured: The Witch's House -- art source)

(pictured: The Witch’s House — art source)

For August’s first week in the summer reading program, we will discuss the first third of Durarara!! (volume 1) and The Witch’s House: Diary of Ellen. For Durarara, you need to have read the prologue and first four chapters (ending on page 70). Meanwhile for Witch’s House, 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. Of course, I imagine many of us are familiar with the anime or manga adaptations for Durarara, or with the original game of The Witch’s House (which I encouraged everyone to take a look at). Try to give a warning at the top of your comment if you’re going to bring up big spoiler material, just to be considerate.

Durarara!!

Official English Durarara light novel–an actual book, physically in my hands! Suffice to say this is the sort of thing where, if you had told me two years ago this would become reality, I might have called you crazy. But here it is just the same, and so far I’m enjoying it. Some quick context: I watched the first season of the Durarara anime a few years ago, and thoroughly enjoyed it. (My memory is hazy on some of the plot details, but regardless I’ll refrain from posting any big spoilers I remember, for the sake of newcomers to the franchise.) But because of the announcement for Durarara‘s light novels getting localized by Yen Press, I decided to postpone watching the new second season of the anime (something I’ve also done for Log Horizon), so that later books in the series (and all their plot developments) will be more of a surprise for me as they release. Have to use my time wisely, right?

Discussion Points

At any rate, how are you enjoying the story so far? I’m trying to imagine myself as someone approaching this series for the first time, and how I would react to the rapid pace and multitude of characters that are all thrown out right from the get-go. How well do you think the introductions are being handled? In what ways does the author Ryohgo Narita make each of the characters distinct enough to remember?

The first four chapters for the most part alternate between two main stories: the mystery surrounding the shadowy motorcyclist Celty, and a “fish out of water” tale for Mikado’s first days in the city of Tokyo. How do you imagine these two stories will tie together? Are there certain themes or concepts you feel the two stories share?

In the fable The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse, the city is ultimately portrayed as a place that may present great opportunity, but at a dangerous cost. However, in this case Mikado is a character who is seeking out that dangerous aspect of the city, in hopes of living in a more fast-paced and exciting environment full of surprises. What are your expectations for how Mikado will acclimate to his new surroundings? It’s also possibly worth comparing at some point Mikado’s experience to a character who undergoes the opposite circumstances (e.g. Yuugo Hachiken’s story in the manga/anime Silver Spoon).

How do you feel about the story’s portrayal of Tokyo so far? I have only spent a couple days there myself, so I can’t say too much on the matter. I will at the very least agree on Mikado’s feelings regarding how there are tons of people, that it could be easy to get lost in such a big place, and how the various districts seem to have their own sort of unique atmosphere. For those who may have lived there, how much would you say the level of danger and number of eccentric personalities is sensationalized? To some degree I feel it may be comparable to how American films often portray New York City.

It also might be worth mentioning how Celty is portrayed at the beginning of this book. In chapter one (told from the point of view of a minor villain) she acts much like a haunting specter–and in chapter three (told from her own point of view) we learn that this is precisely what she is (or more specifically, a dullahan). However, there is a contrast between how she is seen or generally regarded, and how she actually is on a personal level. It’s a fairly unusual introduction–and admittedly a bit forced, especially in regard to the story keeping her gender a secret (something that should be rather obvious to everyone, when she’s wearing a leather bodysuit), but I think there’s already a number of interesting things to be analyzed here.

The Witch’s House: Diary of Ellen

This prequel story to the game The Witch’s House is a part of the light novel world that I don’t think gets explored too often by the English LN community: tie-ins for multimedia franchises. Many popular anime, manga, or video games will have some kind of light novel tie-in at some point, often in the form of bonus stories (possibly considered “filler” from a plot perspective), sequels, prequels, or retellings from a different character’s viewpoint. This book (subtitled Diary of Ellen) gives us the full story regarding the character Ellen, whose back-story is hinted at in the game but not greatly delved into. I feel the book is thus of greatest interest to fans of the game (like me), but can still be fully-understandable by those who haven’t played it.

Discussion Points

I am a big fan of the game The Witch’s House, and the ending plot twist is something that will always stick with me quite vividly. (I won’t give it away, for those who still wish to play it. It has not been spoiled in the book yet, so you still have time.) But suffice to say I wasn’t sure what to expect for a novel that would focus on Ellen, a sort of character you would generally not imagine could be a protagonist for a story. What are your thoughts on her so far? I’ve found these first two chapters rather fascinating, myself. On one hand it is very easy to sympathize with her, but at the same time… Well, you know what happens. Do you find it difficult to “root for her,” considering the actions she has taken?

The black cat (or rather, the demon) is an enigmatic figure in the game, and the light novel goes into much greater detail regarding his connection with Ellen and his motivations in general. How effective would you describe the black cat’s methods? How well does his role compare to that of demons in other works of fiction?

How important is it to understand the motivations of an antagonist? Or a villainous protagonist? How would you classify Ellen at this point? Is it possible for her to escape the path the black cat and the magical house have laid out for her? What do you think would need to have happened differently in her life, for her to have avoided this fate entirely? How much of this was really under her control?

I also found the portrayal of Ellen’s parents quite interesting, in that it’s not so easy to call them outright terrible people. Ellen’s mother in particular is shown to be a loving figure, but one whose limit is stretched to the point where she ultimately has to give up, it appears. Such circumstances happen in real life, and are perhaps becoming more commonplace in societies with aging populations (e.g. among the elderly who become sick or disabled in such a way that requires constant attention for many years). Is it more difficult to love someone who requires so much of your time and effort? And as for the father, what do you think his issue with Ellen was, exactly? In this sort of story it would be more typical to have such a character be physically abusive (e.g. a cruel and violent drunk), but instead the conflict takes the form of him simply never interacting with Ellen at all. The opposite of love might not be hate–but rather apathy. Was Ellen’s father truly indifferent when it came to Ellen? I feel there are a couple ways to interpret his character here (as well as the mother), so I’d be interested in hearing how readers interpreted their actions.

———

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.

2 responses to “LN Reading Program — August 10

  1. I come into Durarara completely blank. I have the anime high in my queue but haven’t gotten to it yet, and only recently found out that the manga is out. The idea of an urban supernatural series intrigues me, though.

    The introduction of characters was a little overwhelming, especially for someone who has a hard time remembering names like myself. I think Celty was handled right. We learned a lot of what she was doing mysteriously in chapters 1 and 2 and then learned about her in chapter 3. I was curious before reading chapter 3 if a character like hers would ever have her identity revealed, even to the reader, so was a little surprised to see it so soon, but I liked learning about her.

    I’ve never been to Tokyo but I’ve been to Manhattan a couple times and I see some parallels. There are the solicitors, for businesses, religious fanatics and I even found myself being given a short speech about a clock outside a closed Circuit City once. There are people of all walks of life. You certainly do feel much less in control of your surroundings when you are alone in a big city for the first time.

    It is hinted that Mikado will have an adventure at the end of chapter 4 and I imagine that adventure will involve Celty, which makes me excited to read more.

    • Thanks for the comment, Eric! It’s always fun to hear impressions from those experiencing a popular franchise for the first time. Hope this volume turns out enjoyable for you! I’m pretty curious to see just how much of the story will be covered in this book.

      “and I even found myself being given a short speech about a clock outside a closed Circuit City once” — I can only think of that scene from Back to the Future here, ha ha. (Save the clock tower!)

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