I wish I could say a whole lot about All You Need is Kill, but being as it’s a very brief and straightforward story, I can’t get too much into the plot without spoiling, so your best bet in learning just what this story is about exactly is to read it. I read slowly, and it took me less than 4 hours, so it’s a good plow-through, but with more than enough re-readability to be worth owning. Hopefully I can sell you on that in this review.
All You Need is Kill is one of the first releases under Viz’s new Haikasoru imprint. Joe Iglasias of Eastern Standard points out in his brief but very nice review that the release lacks any mention of Viz on it’s cover – He theorizes that it’s so the novel will not end up being classified as manga, as he found his in the sci-fi section, though mine was in the manga section of my local comic shop regardless. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the case, though, after Haikasoru’s slightly controversial post in which they invited (genius) light novel translator Andrew Cunningham and light novel reviewer/writer Matthew Reeves to explain the difference between regular and light novels and why Haikasoru releases definitely were not light novels.
I’m not really sure why they are so forward with this idea (to the point in that particular article where they were somewhat offensive.) All You Need Is Kill is about as close to a goddamn light novel as you can get. It’s under 200 pages in large font, and reads even faster than Boogiepop. The writing style is a lot like that of every modern Japanese author that you may see writing for Faust. While there aren’t illustrations throughout the novel, the cover art is done by wildly popular manga artist Yoshitoshi ABe. Fuck, the author even admits in the afterword that the book was largely inspired by video games – I mean, how the fuck isn’t this a light novel? Not to mention, Haikasoru is releasing ZOO, which is by one of the most popular light novel authors, Otsuichi. But I quite heavily digress.
All You Need is Kill is a spectacularly written story. It’s not because of the plot, per say, which involves a soldier in a sci-fi war who manages to get stuck in a time loop where he keeps repeating the same 30 hours over and over again. If it sounds like Groundhog’s Day, it’s because it is, and is handled almost entirely in the same way as Groundhog’s Day, were that movie about a sci-fi war in the future. However, while the plot may have been done a million and one times, that doesn’t mean it’s not done well. The book’s plot is air-tight, and everything within gets a perfectly reasonable and plausible explanation with the author’s genius touch for blocking all possibilities of plot holes. I personally happen to be a huge fan of Groundhog’s Day because of the way the story is handled in that movie, and I was an even bigger fan of it’s portrayal in this novel.
It’s also not because of the characters, per say. You could say that the lead character is, in fact, all that is right with the book, because the book is almost entirely his inner monologue and perspective from a completely subjective standpoint. But him aside, just about all of the characters only really serve to be a part of the narrative and don’t really stand on their own. The only one who comes close to doing so is the woman known as the Full Metal Bitch, but the novel doesn’t really give her the time to come into her own, which might really be my one complaint about it.
But what makes this novel so spectacular is all in the vernacular. The main character is a wartime soldier and he is pissed. He discusses the rigmarole of wartime not in the usual sappy and sorrowful dialog, but in a tone that seethes with fury and hatred like no other. And not the pussy-ass hatred that the bitchy anti-social lead in a harem game has, but a total fuck-you-to-your-face pissed-offedness from a guy who just doesn’t put up with shit. I think the best way to really express this is with one of my favorite passages from the very start of the book (please don’t sue me).
I grip the trigger with stiff fingers; my arms shake as I send a rain of scorching steel down on the enemy. The rifle kicks as I fire it. Vunk. Vunk. Vunk. A beat steadier than my heart. A soldier’s spirit isn’t in his body. It’s in his weapon. The barrel warms until it glows, the heat turning fear into anger.
Fuck the brass and their fucking pathetic excuse for air support!
Fuck the suits and their plans that aren’t worth a damn once the shit starts flying!
Fuck the artillery for holding back on the left flank!
Fuck that bastard who just got himself killed!
And more than all of ’em, fuck anything and everything aiming at me! Wield your anger like a steel fist and smash in their faces.
If it moves, fuck it!
I have to kill them all. Stop them from moving.”
– Hiroshi Sakurazaka, All You Need is Kill, as translated by Alexander O. Smith and Joseph Reeder, page 4.
Which brings me to another point, which is the out-of-this-world, utterly amazing translation. Alexander O. Smith is apparently quite the accomplished translator, though Haikasoru’s interview with Joseph Reeder leads me to believe that he was the main force of the translation, despite going uncredited on the book. Whoever did whatever, the translation is perfect, a shining example of what every other translator should be striving to achieve. It’s easily the best tl job this side of Andrew Cunningham.
Moving on to the book’s structure, the pacing is incredible for the most part, but the third chapter (out of four of almost equal length) is the only time it hits a bit of a snag. The chapter kind of cuts aside from the main dialog to tell some exposition, and it kind of jerks you out of the ride for a little bit at first and takes a good handfull of pages before it starts really going anywhere. This, however, is only a mildly noticeable speed bump on the way through a novel that reads so fast, and the exposition isn’t enough to keep the story from building properly into what is quite the epic conclusion. The overall pacing very much resembled that of a film, and were it not that Groundhog’s Day and The Girl Who Leapt Through time existed already, I would demand such a film to be made. Or maybe an anime OVA? And bring in ABe to do all the design work? (pretty please?)
Anywho, All You Need is Kill is six kinds of worth reading for a breezy, fun, and structurally amazing read that will no doubt be worth revisiting often into the future. I recomment it at all costs.
(On an interesting if strange related note, Hiroshi Sakurazaka is also the author of the novel on which the currently-airing anime Yoku Wakaru Gendai Mahou is based. It looks absolutely nothing like AYNIK, but does anyone know if it’s any good?)