Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Light Novel Review: June

Title ジュン (June)
Author/Circle ekakun
Genre slice of life, supernatural
Length 49
Self-published (approx.) 2014

I am not sure when did I start to buy more light novels than original manga or doujinshi in doujin market events such as Comifuro, Cocoon Festival, AFAID's Creator's Hub, or artists' booths at cultural conventions such as Popcon Asia or Hello Fest. Despite not being among the most common product in those market events, they usually take most of my expense there, followed by some original art prints (traditional art prints, especially ones done in watercolours, are my weakness) and a few fanart keychains. June must be one of the first light novels I bought there, besides a couple of light novels by Arief Rachman.

The theme of this light novel is interactions between the living and the dead. It is opened with a rather chaotic but peaceful morning of two neighbouring families, both with one child that seem to be close to each other despite their arguing every now and then. The girl, Junelia Alexandra, June, is a cheerful and energetic Francophile. The boy, Jun Miruzamu, is an anime otaku who conveniently lived under a Japanese name inspired by his dad's friend and a Japan-esque house. Lived, mind you. Turns out that Jun has been dead for a few months, but somehow remains a wandering ghost among his family and June. Somehow it is only his family and June that can see him. Why June though? Does she have any special meaning to Jun, or simply have a special ability to see ghost? One more mystery rose near the end of the light novel, when a little girl made him visible when she holds his hand. Oh, and how that train ticket seller be able to see Jun? Is that a part of the mystery that suppose to happen here, or just one of a few inconsistencies detected in this light novel?

Unfortunately, this light novel has yet to answer the "why"s and "how"s. It seems to be the first of a few planned volumes. After a bit less than a year, I have not seen the continuation so far, though. I kind of hope that I will be able to read the continuation someday, when I have not completely forgotten about the first one at least *LOL*.

I also hope that the writing will be improved by then. As how I mentioned earlier, there is a few minor inconsistencies found in this light novel. First, of course, is the train ticket seller's ability to see Jun due to his special ability or just to make it convenient for the comical scene to work? Second, if June takes commuter trains every so often, why does she have to buy individual ticket instead of just getting the prepaid train pass? Last, at the beginning of the novel where Jun and June's family's peaceful morning is described, their fathers were portrayed to enjoy contrasting kind of coffee. Oh, wait, contrasting? Did cappuccino suppose to be the opposite of Arabica Coffee? LOL.

Despite the questions that remain unanswered and unpleasant experience of finding inconsistencies, I fairly enjoyed reading this light novel. I managed to finish reading it from start to end in about less than two hours. The author may have a quite long way to go, but I would say that this light novel is a good start.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Manga Review: The Scarlet Chair (Hiiro no Isu)

Title: The Scarlet Chair (Hiiro no Isu)
Author: Yuki Midorikawa
Genre: Shoujo, Drama
ISBN# 978-602-02-2320-9 (Volume 1)
Elex Media Komputindo 2013

I have to admit that I was confused the whole time I was reading this manga. First of all, I had a trouble on telling which characters are male and which characters are female. I had the same problem on Natsume Yuujinchou (and Mushishi actually, but that is out of topic). Maybe the mangaka does have an issue on that, or maybe the mangaka intended to imply a message that most personality traits are independent to gender – or something like that.

Second, I was confused with the whole conspiracy that is going on this manga. The story follows Setsu, a girl who seeks to meet Luca, the newly crowned kind who happens to be Setsu’s childhood friend in the countryside. Luca’s mother, the former king’s concubine, was exiled due to her being accused as a rebel. Turned out that Luca is the only child of the deceased king, thus he was summoned by one of the retainers to be crowned as the new king. However, the newly crowned king Setsu met in the capital city is not the Luca that she knew. Who is that king? What happened to the real Luca? What did actually happen to Luca’s mother, that she had to be exiled? Will Setsu be able to see Luca again?

Third, back to the difficulty of telling who is what, I also had a trouble telling who is who in some panels. Many characters look similar to each other, so I had to pay a close attention to their distinguishable characteristic. The king, especially, was difficult to tell apart from Setsu when they were together in a panel without having Setsu has her ponytail on. Sometimes the mangaka wouls show hints of gold on his hair color, but the other times he just look like a blonde, just like Setsu.

I have known Midorikawa Yuki through her strange heartwarming and bittersweet stories such as Natsume Yuujinchou and Hotarubi no Mori Ie. To be honest, I also expected this manga to be heartwarming or bittersweet. Maybe it is intended to be like that, considering the complicated nature of the relationship between the characters. Though, the confusion rose from reading this manga ruined the expected mood.

On the good side, I am happy to see many strong female characters in this manga. Seems that prominent female figures in the military are not uncommon in this manga’s realm. Besides the tomboyish Setsu who made a living from duels, there was Luca’s mother and her best friend. I like how the manga focuses more on the emotional bond between the characters, especially on friendship, rather than pointing out gender differences (role-wise). I also like how the relationships in this manga are more on friendship than romance. In addition, despite the difficulty to tell some of them apart, I like the complex characterization of each one in the manga. Almost each character, if not all, has their own story. This manga could be longer to explore each of them even more and make the whole story clearer, but overall I do not mind this story to be wrapped out in just three volumes either.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Book Review: Tiada Ojek di Paris by Seno Gumira Ajidarma

Title: Tiada Ojek di Paris (No Motor-Taxi in Paris)
Author: Seno Gumira Ajidarma
Length: 207 pages
ISBN# 978-979-433-846-9
Penerbit Mizan 2015

Seno Gumira Ajidarma (SGA) has been my favorite author since I was in junior high school. I enjoyed reading his works that ranged from literary journalism, magical realism, essays on sociopolitics and urban lifestyle, to adaptations of classic epochs such as Kitab Omong Kosong (Ramayana) and Nagabumi. He has been working on the latter, which usually resulted with super thick books that will keep us occupied for days to weeks.

Tiada Ojek Di Paris is the collection of his essays on urban lifestyle in Jakarta (not Paris, actually). Most of the essays were originally published in Djakarta! magazine, a lifestyle magazine that is usually provided for free at coffee shops in Jakarta, for the exchange of tons of ads. OOT speaking, the magazine used to be sold. It was when the magazine had much more interesting articles that we do not usually get in average lifestyle magazine. Ayu Utami, Nova Riyanti Yusuf, and Wimar Witoelar also used to contribute in the magazine. But the era keeps changing, I guess. Anyway. SGA’s essay is always the reason why I keep looking forward to pick up and read Djakarta! at fancy coffee shops in the city. Unfortunately, I do not hang out in the city every so often since I got a job just 15 minutes away from my home. I missed so many essays of him, and always looking forward to this kind of book where he put his essays altogether.

This book contains 44 essays that are mostly 3-4 pages long. In some essays, he provided some insights behind the urban social phenomena, analyze them using some theories on sociology; postmodern and cultural studies, or simply provided some social commentaries. In his other essays, he wrote about some prominent figures such as Pramoedya Ananta Toer and interpret some literary works related to Jakarta. He usually refer the people who reside in Jakarta as Homo jakartensis. I find a lot of his essays about the behavior of Homo jakartensis interesting, as how writings about urban life often have their charms for some poeple. However, there are also some essays that require us to read in cultural studies mind-frame, of which may not really easily “digested” by some readers. Having not read much about cultural studies for a long time, I found myself having to read some paragraphs a few times before getting the gist of them. There are also essays that sound pure grumpy (nyinyir, as how many Indonesian social media activists would put it), such as the one about how Homo jakartensis tend to spend their weekends and how we often ask people on where they came from in terms of area of origin/birthplace. In my opinion, those phenomena are not only happened in Jakarta.

Anyway, I like how SGA expressed his concern on how Homo jakartensis are so fixated with morning news and celebrity gossips (which are often packed in those so-called “infotainment” shows). For many Homo jakartensis, morning news is one vital part of their dailies. Heck, let alone morning news, many of them still believe that it is vital to know every single thing that were portrayed as “important issues” by the mass media. In the last essay, he also warned us that we should not fully trust the mass media. Their increasingly commercial framework has sacrificed the readers’ rights to access actual news by magnifying the less-important news that can be more engaging, while neglecting the actually important news. For example, we can see that there is an increasing number of news covering the so-called celebrities’ private life and sensational scenes from social media such as Twitter; Facebook and Path. What do we gain from from following and paying attention to those trashy news? Well apparently, reading online news sites such as news can raise your prestige as a well-informed one. I find myself relating to this concern in this front, as I find this phenomena constantly occurring in my social circle. I also shared his concern with the notion of car ownership as the symbol of success in Indonesia. 

There are some citations inserted to credit the source of theories SGA used for his analysis. Unfortunately, there is no bibliography/daftar pustaka page that would be useful if we want to look up further to the sources. SGA most likely had inserted the bibliography at the end of each corresponding essay on its initial publishing at Djakarta!, but the published seemed to had cut and overlooked it. Which is quite a shame for Mizan, as the publisher; and risky for SGA, as an intellectual who should have been familiar with the ethics on quoting and citing. Should this book gets any reprint, I hope Mizan and SGA will consider to address this error. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Book Review: The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins

Title: The Magic of Reality (Sihir Realitas)
Author: Richard Dawkins
Illustration by Dave McKean
Length: 269
ISBN# 978-979-91-0852-4
Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia 2015

It has been ages since I bought a non-fiction, let alone a scientific non-fiction (I had my days when I read heaps of books on socialism). I have my regret that I did not bought those Selidik National Geographic series that tell about history of different ancient civilizations, now that some (if not most) of them have been sold out. When I saw this amazing book by Richard Dawkins, loaded with interesting illustrations by Dave McKean, I knew I could not miss this book.

If I am not mistaken, this is the second book by Richard Dawkins that have been translated to Bahasa Indonesia. Maybe third, considering that I have seen the Indonesian version of The Selfish Gene by another publisher ages ago. Though I guess that it was just a summary, because it is so thin in pocket size. Anyway, I kind of doubt that all of his books will be translated in Bahasa Indonesia, considering the advocacy of atheism he implicitly inserted in his books. Apparently even some parts in the Indonesian version of River Out of Eden were censored, although I am not really sure on that. Just something my old friend guessed long time ago.

Dawkins opened this book by the two subjects on the title, reality and magic. He elaborated reality and how to tell reality from imagination, myth and assumptions using scientific methods. Then he elaborated magic, and stressed on the poetic magic of reality. In the next chapters, he presented some myths and folk stories that tried to answer some fundamental questions that became the title of each chapter. then he elaborated some scientific theories that explain the answer to those questions and sometimes counter the myths. As a former science and biology student in high school and college, I am familiar with many of the theories explained in this book. However, I am amazed by Dawkins’ explanation on sleep paralysis and false memory syndrome to encounter the myth on alien abduction and ghosts like incubus, succubus, old hag, or the “ketindihan” phenomena in my country.

What I like the most about this book - besides the interesting illustrated format - is Dawkins’ storytelling style to elaborate the theories he presented. I always had problem on understanding how atom works when I learned it at school. Dawkins’ answer made it so much more understandable. Now if only it can be presented in much less words, it would be great for pre-teens and teens who are struggling to understand it at school. This book would already great for them who are keen to read more, though. As a member of a society that is not commonly trained to read on regular basis, I can find myself too lazy to read even this nicely illustrated book.

  • The transitional paragraph between page 21 and 22 seems to be cut.
  • The transitional paragraph between page 126 and page 128 also seems to be cut (page 127 is fully in illustration).
  • Page 254. “Mengganggu bila memang b terjadi” may suppose to be “Mengganggu bila memang benar terjadi”, since there was no b variable given and described earlier. 
  • Translation issue:
    Page 256, “kesaksian gadis-gadis ini menyebabkan nyaris dua puluh orang digantung”.
    The use of the word “nyaris” made me almost thing that the Salem Witch Trial’s accused witches were just almost executed rather than actually were executed, if only I did not look up the reference about it. The words’ arrangement still makes sense, though. It is just rather confusing. Maybe the use of the word “hampir” would be less confusing.