Review: Ryuuen Tsukai no Kiba

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Are you a bad enough dude to read this 90s light novel?

Ryuuen Tsukai no Kiba, alternatively titled Dragoneer Fang, is described by the editors of Fujimi Fantasy Bunko as an award-winning story about men. Real men. It is filled with fight scenes right out of a fighting game or a shounen manga. The characters are so packed with muscles even the women look more like men; a comparison to Jojo‘s Bizarre Adventure‘s women characters wouldn’t be too off the rails. The cover screams to the buyer, “This is a book about men for boys. No girly shit or Digimon crap. This is for the manly boys who enjoyed Fist of the North Star.”

I didn’t grow up with these nostalgia-tinted glasses. I grew up reading shoujo manga like Sailor Moon and Fruits Basket, so I thought boys reading stuff like this were weird. What is so interesting about men punching each other and throwing fireballs to destroy the environment? If you ask me and my sisters who have influenced my reading taste, we think cute girls falling in love with masked dudes make better storytelling than the muscular dude fighting the Bad Dude of the Week. Writers are less inclined to reuse formulas, at least ones that are noticeable even to children.

Even now, I am still inclined to believe that. But I wanted to see what I was missing from my very girly childhood and Ryuuen Tsukai no Kiba seemed like the perfect choice. It is two volumes long, albeit each volume being around 400 pages. Reading 800 pages in total sounds like a hefty read, but if you are in the mood it is a surprisingly engaging and mindless read.

Ryuugen is an immortal Dragoneer (龍炎使い) who has decided to adopt Fang, an orphan who was taking care of children like Misaki by fending off beasts by himself. Fang becomes extremely skilled and is able to pull off the hardest technique, surpassing even Ryuugen’s masterly skills. However, Ryuugen sends Fang off with a letter addressed to an old friend of his; Fang finds himself in a battle between good and evil.

If this sounds familiar to the point it checks off everything in your notebook of cliches, that’s because the novel is a storm of cliches. From start to finish, you can predict where every plot developments in the novel would end up in.

The fight scenes won’t make you go wow either. Inspired by fighting games and shounen manga, the fights are basically characters crying out badass technique names and damage to the environment around them. You don’t really see the fighting in motion when you read it, just the gestures and their cries. The writer admits that the book is very much like a fighting game in that sense.

That said, do all these flaws matter? I guess a better way to phrase it is: Are these even flaws?

This is the deal-breaker whether you are interested in reading this light novel or not. Nothing is executed in a different way, the themes are literally “even masculine dudes need to experience the world”, and the romance between Fang and Misaki is borderline hilarious bad. In more normal novels, all of these flaws would be seen as negative traits of the book. But in a way, I find these 90s characteristics quite fun and enjoyable.

You don’t have to write something original or even “well”. Sometimes, good writing or characterization aren’t part of what makes a book enjoyable. It just needs to ignite a burning passion inside readers.

I am beginning to understand why boys read this kind of stuff. It is pure entertainment. Characters in this book consistently feel one thing: Rage. Fang goes Super Saiyan in many fight scenes — a fiery golden aura surrounds him — and makes pillars of fire appear from the ground. Villains spew out cliched lines. The supporting protagonist is a samurai who has learned the trade to find where his love has gone to. Everything is so derivative that it is actually fun to predict what other cliches will pop up next.

The writer seems aware about this. When he mentions how the novel is inspired by fighting games, he really meant it. The plot is superficial and the characterization thin in favor of dudes punching each other. Fighting in the novels isn’t interesting either, but it has a momentum that makes you want to read more and more.

In the afterword, the writer claims that when you bought the two Bible-sized novels in the bookstores, it is fate. Fate that you will enjoy this book from beginning to end. His novels are not like the typical boring fantasy novels that have plagued the market and destroyed any semblance of fun. It is a Japanese novel. It is fun. It is about men fighting each other.

According to the writer, this is what entertainment means.

Entertainment doesn’t have to make you feel gratified and think well of the book you have just read. It is the ability to make you flip the page because something about it is engaging. You won’t feel a tinge of empathy toward characters dying in the book, but you’re reading the book and being amused.

Isn’t that why most of us read books and watched cartoons when we were little? We weren’t trying to figure out big themes nor look for the most exquisite prose in literature. We wanted something fun to tide away the boredom from school and family. From that standpoint do we jump forward to media that engages us on a more aesthetic and intellectual level.

But I think, after reading this, we shouldn’t forget our roots. There is beauty in derivativeness: reading Fang cursing vengeance upon the main villain after getting destroyed is as braindead as it sounds, but it is also appealing to the senses. The book is feeding us endless well-worn tropes and I think that’s what readers back then wanted out from this classic book.

It is a simple yet stupid story about men adventuring to the unknown. It has violence, sex, and muscles — things men love — and this novel unabashedly embraces them.

So obviously, this book won’t satisfy anyone looking for a deeper literary experience. If I read it years ago, I might have not liked the book as much. But the book is great fun if you like silly 90s anime and manga or if you’re like me and have no idea what dudes read. It’s a good read on a long plane trip and I will guarantee if you are into the book, you can get a good chunk done before the plane lands.

I think it is fascinating how even the basic mindless entertainment can triumph over the most gratifying experiences if done well. Whether you are a boy or a girl reading something this silly, the fun and senselessness of it all might incite the burning passion to look for more works like this.

Boys will always be boys and girls will always be girls, but it doesn’t hurt to try understanding one another through the connective power of media. It’s how we communicate with each other!

(By the way, I’m a guy.)

Kastel’s Rating: Recommended if you’re into or are interested in derivative but fun 90s action.

4 responses to “Review: Ryuuen Tsukai no Kiba

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this title, Kastel! In the past, I’ve enjoyed looking at covers of older LNs in Japan. It’s interesting to see how much overlap there was even in the late 80s and early 90s between these paperbacks and the popular anime and manga of the same time period.

    And I want to say I agree on your sentiment that readers ought to try branching out a little more, pick up some books outside their demographic. I’m a big fan of variety, so all of you need to make sure you buy at least a couple light novels that aren’t fantasy adventure RPG-inspired stories. ;)

    • Pretty surprised I bought fantasy light novels in a row — I prefer reading books set in “our world” nowadays — but I guess this is my subconscious suggesting reality is too harsh for me at the moment.

      RIP.

  2. Such a great review, haven’t had that much fun reading a review in ages. It cracks me up that I want to learn Japanese to read wonderful pulp like this, but that’s just what I’m trying to do!

    Love seeing reviews for random 90s books, and find it fascinating to read about macho finding LNs. Your review was smartly written and sparkled with wit, thank you!

    • Thank you, I don’t consider myself witty but I’m glad someone does.

      There are plenty of 90s novels I’d like to read and review. If you don’t like macho, there are the extreme opposite of that: cute princessy stuff. Light novels took a dramatic turn in 00s and then Haruhi and Oreimo really changed it up, so it’s cool to see how it first started and then evolved.

      I’m sort of in a contemporary mystery mood right now, but the era is always there for me to visit. Good to know there are people interested in this kind of stuff. Japan has plenty of pulp novels of this kind. I hope you do well in your Japanese studies!

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