~by Miyuki Miyabe
~translated by Alexander O. Smith
2008 Batchelder Award
Miyuki Miyabe's novel Brave Story was originally published in two volumes in Japan in 2003. The English edition, released by Viz Media's Haikasoru imprint in 2007, is complete in one volume and received the Batchelder Award from the American Library Association for best English translation of a children's book originally published in a foreign country. The translator in this case being Alexander O. Smith (who also did a great job with his translation of All You Need Is Kill). The story has undergone several adaptions, including a series of light novels for younger readers, a manga series, an anime, and appropriately enough even a few video games. I first encountered Brave Story through the manga, also written by Miyabe and illustrated by Yoichiro Ono. After reading the first volume I knew that I needed to read the source material. And so it was that Miyabe's hefty novel, over eight hundred pages, made its way to the top of my reading list.
Wataru Mitani is a typical fifth grader--he's an average student, enjoys playing video games (the Eldritch Stone Saga is his favorite fantasy series), and gets along well with most of his schoolmates, especially his best friend Katchan (even though his mother doesn't approve). At least that is until the aloof Mitsuru Ashikawa arrives as a transfer student. Wataru would be more than happy to be friends, but Mitsuru doesn't seem to care about anyone. Suddenly, everything starts to fall apart in Wataru's life when his father unexpectedly decides to leave him and his mother. But then he stumbles upon the world of Vision which seems like something out of one of his video games. Mitsuru, whose family situation is even more tragic than Wataru's, has also found Vision. The two of them become rival Travelers in the fantasy world, given the opportunity to complete a dangerous quest and by doing so change their and their family's destinies in the real world.
Brave Story is surprisingly dark and deals with some heavy issues such as divorce, death, and suicide. As if problems in the real world weren't enough, Vision faces religious war and genocide. But even so, Brave Story has a very positive message even if it is hard to accept--realizing that hate and anger are very important parts of being human and shouldn't be pushed away and hidden but embraced. Yes, things are bad but you have to learn to accept all of who you are in order to change anything. Reality hurts, and Miyabe doesn't pull her punches. Wataru's experiences are authentically heartbreaking and he has to deal with circumstances that no one should have to. It would have been nice to have seen a bit more of Mitsuru's story, but ultimately Brave Story is Wataru's tale.
The book almost seems to have a split personality--the real world is emotionally wrenching while the fantasy world is almost comforting in comparison. But, it works. Wataru's reality slowly starts to intrude upon his fantasy until it can't be ignored. Personally, I found the real world elements more compelling than the fantasy elements, but everything is pulled together nicely by the end. The majority of Brave Story takes place in Vision and while important the section felt a bit long to me and lacking in urgency until close to the end. But overall, Brave Story is quite good and is a story that adults and mature younger readers can both enjoy alike. I, for one, am very glad that it's available in English.