~translated by Anne Ishii
I didn't really intend on reading Natsuhiko Kyogoku's novel Loups-Garous this soon although I did plan on getting around to it eventually. Basically, I will read anything and everything published by Viz Media's Haikasoru imprint, which specializes in Japanese speculative fiction. Out of all of their offerings, Loups-Garous was not the one that interested me the most, which is why I was going to wait to read it. However, I found myself without reading material one day and it was the only Haikasoru book the store had in stock that I didn't already own, so Loups-Garous it was. Kyogoku has been writing since the early '90s, mostly mysteries with a special focus on yōkai and the supernatural, and Loups-Garous, originally written in 2001, is one of his few novels not associated with a series. Haikasoru's edition, translated by Anne Ishii, was released in 2010. Currently, the only other work of his available in English that I know of is his debut novel The Summer of the Ubume, originally written in 1994 and released by Vertical in 2009.
After a string of serial killings, apparently targeting junior high girls, the police investigating initiate a unprecedented, and most likely illegal, move to acquire personal data on the local students collected by their counselors from their communication labs. These labs are designed to help facilitate and foster face-to-face interactions in a world that most people experience through their monitors. Shizue Fuwa, one of the counselors, is firmly against the police's actions but is forced to comply. As more students die, her doubts and distrust continue to grow. Three of her students, Hazuki Makino, Mio Tsuzuki, and Ayumi Kono do some poking around on their own, only to find themselves in more danger than they bargained for with no one that they can trust. When reality is determined by what can be viewed on a screen, and when that information can be distorted, who is going to believe a group of delinquent minors?
Loups-Garous is an odd book. For some reason, werewolves seem to have been played-up in its marketing, but there is not a single one in the story. Well, at least not literally--there are plenty of figurative monsters. Instead, I think Loups-Garous is more about the control and power over information, its creation and dissemination, and its potential for manipulation. Personally, that is something I am much more interested in than werewolves, anyway. On top of a bizarre but not entirely unbelievable future, Loups-Garous' story is couched as a mystery. There is a lot going on in the book and many, many layers--genre and otherwise--which made Kyogoku's work absolutely fascinating to me. I really didn't know what I was getting myself into when I picked up Loups-Garous to read and didn't really know what to expect even after I started it; there were certainly some intriguing surprises in store.
The plot of Loups-Garous is somewhat slow to begin with, most of the text being devoted to meticulous world-building until about halfway through. It's then that things start to get really interesting fast and the finale is explosive. Kyogoku's characters tend to have what initially seem to be long and involved tangential conversations but generally these tie back in somehow--there's a lot of deep thinking and philosophizing going on, but important information is conveyed. The dialogue, especially towards the beginning, is rather awkward but I think this is appropriate given the setting of the story and the fact that people aren't used to interacting directly. Kyogoku's future is fully realized and complex and I found Loups-Garous to be a fascinating and absorbing novel.