Is there a ghost in the machine?
The Summer of the Ubume is not an anime, not a manga, not a light novel. Instead, it is a fully-formed, honest-to-goodness novel. You will not find cutesy illustrations every handful of pages, nor will you be only asked to bring an 8th grade reading level to the table. This book doesn’t have pretensions to depth; it simply possesses it.
The Summer of the Ubume is the first in Natsuhiko Kyogoku’s Kyogokudo series. So what? Where’s the connection here? I thought this was an anime blog!
The second book of this series is Mouryou no Hako. Remember that pretty Madhouse series with the lesbians and limbs in boxes? Yeah, that show. Now you can see the connection.
It was actually this show which brought me to the original books, although I mournfully observed to myself that they were not translated, nor would they probably ever be. Additionally, I had serious doubts that my Chi’s Sweet Home-level Japanese would ever bring me to be able to read the books. So, like I have with other properties before it, I resigned myself sadly to never reading it.
However, I recently discovered Vertical has taken it upon themselves to, at the very least, release the first book in the series in translation – The Summer of the Ubume (Ubume no Natsu). So I snapped it up and chewed through it earlier in my vacation. And it was awesome.
The Summer of the Ubume is, on its surface, a mystery, concerning the bizarre case of a woman who has been pregnant for 20 months and her wayward husband who disappeared from a locked room 18 months prior. But while this is certainly part of what the book is about, there is also much examination of religion, psychology, and folk beliefs in things such as ghosts and curses. Our main character is Sekiguchi, a neurotic magazine writer, and it is his conversations with his entrancing friend Kyogokudo which serves to propel the analysis of the aforementioned topics. And its downright fascinating.
However, this isn’t to suggest the mystery itself gets ignored; rather, it is through these discussions that sense of the core plotline can be understood. After all, how does one explain a 20-month pregnancy, but through folk tales about curses and grudges? But what are curses and grudges anyway?
I’ll admit it – a lot of The Summer of the Ubume was terrifically dense and a bit difficult to get through, as Kyogokudo’s discussions with Sekiguchi get incredibly technical and also require a heavy dose of outside-the-box-style thinking. Kyogokudo’s entire self demands that the reader be willing to turn commonplace ideas on their sides quite frequently, and it isn’t always easy to step away from the cultural learning one has absorbed for years.
Which brings us, in a sense, to the matter of Vertical’s release of the book.
Vertical picked some truly top-notch translators for this, which shouldn’t come as a surprise given the fact that they are, first and foremost, a publisher of novels and cookbooks and other types of things that are not manga. I have felt that part of the trouble with earlier light novel releases was that the same people who translated the manga were put on the job for the light novels, despite the fact that the two required, really, different approaches to translation work. (This isn’t to sneer at people who translate manga, by the way – its just simple facts that translating a manga is different than translating even something like a light novel.) This was a book which needed not only people good at translating, but, ultimately, good at writing, since a novel is more transliteration than strict translation; otherwise, the end product would be unreadable. I sincerely hope the same translation team will be on the job for Mouryou no Hako when that (hopefully) gets translated and released.
The Summer of the Ubume was a book I really, really enjoyed. From a less self-centered standpoint, I would also state that it is quite good. I really can’t recommend it enough.