Thursday, July 30, 2015

Radio Drama Review: Tokyo Demons Book 1: You're Never Alone

As I alluded to several weeks back, I like to listen to podcast, audio books, and when I can find them radio dramas when I’m working on big sewing projects, I find it’s a way to actually help keep me focused and look forward to my work. So with nearly everything exhausted pre-Otakon, I turned to Sparkler Monthly, an online “shoujo/josei magazine” of sorts which I knew had a few audio titles. I went for what seems to be their best well-known one, Tokyo Demons, which I remember also received glowing praise from Ash of Experiments in Manga. There is also a prose version of the story but when I first inquired about this story (quite a while ago) I was told that the audio version was the more “complete” one since it also had a few exclusive side stories. I’m not sure you could say that now however since the audio version has only covered one out of the three books in the series. And for a quick plug before I get to the review, Sparkler is holding a Kickstarter to help fund Year Three of the magazine and it’s in it’s final days with a bit more to go. Most of the titles I enjoy on Sparkler are ones I was already familiar with (Knights Errant, Witch’s Quarry) so I’m more than happy to see them return and encourage more people to give the titles a shot.

Tokyo Demons: You're Never Alone written by Lianne Sentar, adapted by Rebecca Scoble, illustrated by Rem

There's a school in Tokyo known for being a last ditch resort for the lost and criminal youth which is how Ayase Watanabe and Jo Oda found themselves in the same class freshman year. Jo is looking for new marks and Ayase doesn't want anyone to find out her creepy-crawly secret but they have some rather persistent classmates who want them to enjoy their next three years as friends. And friends rescue friends from botched drug deals, join gangs, and try to take down the criminal underworld whether they mean to or not!

It’s a shame that the audio drama only covered the first volume since I found it quite addictive and would much prefer to hear the rest of the series rather than read the books, although I do fully plan on catching up with the series as it finishes up the first of several planned series. I suppose you would call this an amateur production and most of the voice actors haven’t done this before (the free talks gleefully mention that for those who did have acting experience they were given the toughest roles) but there was only one character in the whole series who I felt was struggling with their longer lines and I was stunned that the completely opposite characters of Nick and Touya were played by the same person*. I was surprised to work out that the series had also originally been a web novel, I haven't had many good experiences with those (see my recent Kindle First reviews) but the tone of the story doesn't feel like an amateur work. It doesn't feel like a story that needs more revisions and oversight, this feels like a very earnest first story which has been planned and replotted for years, a trait I see in a lot of traditionally published first novels. I don't mean that in a technical fashion either, it feels as if Sentar has gone through every possible scenario for how a scene can end and has carefully chosen the ones that both feel in character and advance the plot in a very consistent way. The story is merrily chugging along and it took a lot of restraint for me to hold off reading the later volumes until I had finished review this one.

To actually talk about the story, I feel as if I make this comparison a lot these days but the story reminded me a bit of Durarara!! with how the setting is confined to such a small area of Tokyo and yet there are enough going-ons and crime to rival what you might see from a small city. One good and bad thing about DRRR!! is how it ultimately revolves more around it's teenaged characters than anyone else, good because it keeps the story together and bad because they aren't always the most interesting characters, and while there certainly were shenanigans in Ikebukuro before Mikado showed up you can't deny that his presence is a major kickstarter to the story. In here while Ayase and Jo (our two most "main character, ish" types) are certainly important they aren't the pivotal game changers, if anything that honor goes more to side character Kiyoshi more than anyone else since it's his involvement in Core that changes everyone's lives. There's also a great sense in this story that this conflict already existed well before our high school characters came on the scene, especially given the high number of adult characters for what's ostensibly YA, they didn't start this fight but now that they're here they'll be sure to finish it.

I would also like to applaud Sentar for not merely having normal superpowers for the characters but some bizarre ones, like being able to project your mood and well-being onto others to Ayase literally turning into a swarm of killer bees. It's a bit of a tough idea to swallow but by the end of the story I could really see the practical applications of it! At this point the characters are slightly more important than the plot and the story has managed to differentiate all of it's teenaged cast from each other very well (a feat made harder by everyone having similar back stories) even with only two point of view characters. The rather colloquial speech patterns work for this story, although it may come off as too quippy for some, and lends itself to an overall style I don't usually see in published, written works. So between all of those things, a fast moving plot, stylistic leanings I don't usually see, and a well-balanced cast of slightly-crazy characters, I'm completely hooked and only wish I had read the started the series when I first saw Ash's reviews!       

*although I will admit I was also surprised to hear that Nick's accent was supposed to be a Boston one, I initially thought it was a bad Texas-area southern impression.