Review: Biscuit Frankenstein

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On one dark and stormy night, Viktor Frankenstein has used God’s tools to create life. “I had desired it,” he narrates in utter horror, “with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.” This creature he has created is grotesque and should not be in this world; all he could do was run back to his apartment and cower to bed.

That is the story of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: Or the Modern Prometheus. It is titled so because Prometheus brought fire upon humanity and was cursed to be eaten by vultures and revived forever in a never-ending cycle of life and death.

Biscuit Frankenstein by Akira is Frankenstein: The Postmodern Prometheus. It is a reimagining of that cautionary tale. But unlike Shelley’s novel, Biscuit Frankenstein is not a warning against innovation; it is a warning on humanity as a whole.

The year is 1999. Nostradamus’s predictions claim humanity will be wiped out before the turn of the millennium by an unknown disease. Corpses of young girls turn up in the streets sliced up or crumbled like a piece of cookie. This disease comes in different forms and their symptoms resemble certain types of pastries. The protagonist, Biscuit, is nothing but a collection of body parts stitched together because of her biscuit-like affliction. One touch and she would crumble. But she can attach new body parts without any problem and therefore becomes an ageless immortal through this, sometimes changing her sex in the process. She only uses the body parts of people who have tried to harm humanity by replacing their own body parts with their own. To her, they are selfish and it is why the apocalypse is happening. Her mission is thus to find a way for humanity to survive.

Akira, the writer, is no stranger to surreal premises and wacky ideas. He has written touching family stories of wacky people (Kyouran Kazoku Nikki), the hikikomori complex in the context of the metaphysical wars in Shintoism (Sasami-san@Ganbaranai), and a romance comedy filled with crossdressing characters (Ikemen Kanojo). What makes Biscuit Frankenstein worth talking about from the rest of his usual catalog of crazy ideas is its depiction of transhumanism.

Today’s Frankenstein creatures are tomorrow’s humans. Characters who have rebuilt themselves with body parts are intersex and don’t subscribe to gender norms. The distinction between the sexes has more or less crumbled with the rest of the humans afflicted with the disease.

Those are the best parts of Biscuit Frankenstein. Its characters talk at length about the meaning of biological sex and gender, though maybe a bit too much, and what that means for them in the future. The paternal and maternal figures we take for granted have been toyed with in the novel to show how little this matters in the new age of humanity. Men can be mothers and women fathers. The old order is being vanquished by a new chaos that humanity isn’t used to yet.

This exploration of gender is what got the attention of The Japanese Association of Gender Fantasy & Science Fiction. Impressed by the work, the association gave the grand prize Sense of Gender — the Japanese version of the James Tiptree Jr. award in America — to Biscuit Frankenstein. To this day, the book is the only light novel entry in the organization. In Akira’s commencement speech, he writes that light novels amidst all the anime tropes on the surface have something philosophical within and believes there are light novels that dive into the philosophy of sex and gender better than his work.

It may sound like Akira is being humble, but he is very honest about this work. The book suffers from him trying to wrap up several gigantic ideas into one light novel volume. He cites several texts regarding biological sex and seems to have tried to summarize their findings in characters’ dialogs; these dialogs, while being the most interesting, drag the novel down to a snail’s pace and makes it hard for me to read the book. Some of the research also feels irrelevant to the work. For some reason, there is a chapter wholly dedicated to virtual reality. Reading about TCP/IP connections in a book dedicated to the collapse of humanity and rise of transhumanism feels pointless.

But Biscuit Frankenstein, in its grotesque beauty, shines as an introductory text to light novels about gender. Gender is becoming a relevant subject of debate as time passes for me personally. I think about the social consequences of gender all the time, but this book puts it in the context of consciousness and the meaning of humanity. Even in its least interesting moments, the book gives me time to think about the world and its strange approaches to gender and what it means to be nonbinary.

What does it mean when we change sex or constantly ponder about gender? Are we our own Frankensteins playing with our own bodies in weird, twisted ways? Or is it to find and create a new identity for ourselves that we not only find comfortable but progressive for all of humanity? Maybe we think about all this crap because that is part of humanity’s goal: to survive.

I find that even the most mediocre books can provoke damning questions about how we live our lives and that may be the lasting effect of Biscuit Frankenstein on me. I may forget that I have ever read it, but it has made me more aware of who I am and who I want to be. It is just one step of the many steps of the ladder I have to climb in order to attain the truth.

For the people who want to have a taste on the progressivism found in light novels and Japanese literature regarding gender, Biscuit Frankenstein is a good starting point. Everyone else could try reading the first fifty pages or so and see whether they’re into it or not.

Kastel’s rating: Maybe.

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