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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

    

Astral Season, Beastly Season

by
Saihate Tahi


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Astral Season, Beastly Season



Title: Astral Season, Beastly Season
Author: Saihate Tahi
Genre: Novel
Written: 2015/2018 (Eng. 2020)
Length: 126 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Astral Season, Beastly Season - UK
  • Japanese title 星か獣になる季節
  • Translated by Kalau Almony

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Our Assessment:

B : a bit too casual, but ultimately quite successful -- if discomfiting

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Japan Times A 5/9/2020 Kris Kosaka


  From the Reviews:
  • "(A) piercingly twisted coming-of-age story (.....) (T)he novel becomes a riveting study of isolation and tenuous connections as the characters search for meaning in spite of their ever-present fear of futility. Despite their chosen spiral into darkness, the boys' evolving relationship offers a glimmer of redemption. Saihate poignantly reveals how we often understand each other only through our own distorted misunderstandings. (...) Part of the novel's brilliance lies in the juxtaposition of Watase's view with two other survivors, each struggling for resolution, each with a distinctive perspective that conflicts with the others. Saihate's unraveling of the darkness and yearning that comes with being a teenager is authentic yet compassionate, and her book is a dazzling achievement." - Kris Kosaka, The Japan Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Astral Season, Beastly Season is a two-part novel. The first part, 'Astral Season, Beastly Season', is narrated by high school student Yamashiro Shota. He is somewhat of an outsider in his class; unsurprisingly, among the outlets he's found is to become obsessed with an 'idol', teenage Mami Aino, to whom his account, presented in the form of a sort of letter, is addressed.
       Aino-san is the leader of the group Love You Mixer; she's apparently not particularly talented, but Yamashiro admires her for -- or can relate -- because she puts in the work to succeed:

She's cute, but besides the way she looks, there's really nothing special about her. She can only sing and dance because she works hard. It's all just effort. She's an ordinary person who gets by on just effort, and that's why she's so cute
       Regardless of her limitations, the very ordinary Yamashiro is a devoted fan -- not that that's something he boasts about. Japanese idols -- アイドル -- are manufactured bands and singers (à la Menudo or Backstreet Boys), with the girl bands/singers often having large male followings; to be an idol-fan is not exactly considered cool in most high school environments. So also Yamashiro notes:
No one knew that I liked you specifically, but still the girls would say things like, "I bet you're into idols." I wanted so badly to tell them, And what ? but they weren't looking for an answer from me, so I never actually knew what to do.
       Yamashiro was surprised to see that he wasn't the only fan of Aino-san in his class. He's seen the well-liked Morishita at her concerts, though he never approached him there and they never discussed their mutual interest in her. Morishita is much better integrated at school, obviously considered a more 'normal' kid than the quiet, shy, and awkward Yamashiro (to whom it also doesn't occur to try to bond with Morishita -- or blackmail him -- about their mutual idol-adoration).
       The novel starts with a shock to Yamashiro's system, the news that Aino-san has been arrested, accused of gruesomely murdering and dismembering her boyfriend. Yamashiro refuses to believe it -- even though Aino-san confessed to the police, and even though he hears her admit it with his own ears. (This is one of the novel's odder bits: a fan apparently hid a microphone in some gift to Aino-san, which she took into her home; Yamashiro stumbled upon this eavesdropping opportunity by: "checking a bunch of frequencies near your house, I picked that one up", because that's a perfectly normal thing to do .....)
       Morishita seems similarly shaken about what happened -- and similarly unable to accept that his idol is capable of such an act. And even if she is, she can't be the one to be jailed for it ..... And suddenly we see that far from the wholesome, friendly lad Morishita seems to be in school, it turns out he has a rather darker side, too, as what's happening with his idol leads him to become ... more pro-active.
       Yamashiro recognizes, and to some extent shares, Morishita's troubled inner turmoil: "Can I help you ? I asked". But even if he understands Morishita's desperate and depraved actions, and convinces himself he's on board with them -- for the sake of Aino-san -- he finds himself a bit more torn when it comes to the particulars, especially when it hits closer to home.
       A classmate, Watase, tries to draw Yamashiro out a bit as events unfold; perhaps sensing some of the underlying tensions Yamashiro and Morishita are struggling with she's also the one who observes: "They say that at the age of seventeen you either become a star or a beast". (Watase narrates the second part of the novel, 'The Season of Righteousness', and although it is set two years later and she is in college by then, the idea still has a firm hold on her, as she still recalls: "I read that at seventeen you stop being human. You stop being human and you become either a star or a beast".)
       Morishita is willing, even eager to embrace notoriety in his quest to 'save' Aino-san -- though, of course, the idol herself can't be saved: there's no question of her guilt, and even if she gets off, that's surely something she can never overcome; it comes as no surprise to learn in the second part of the novel that: "she partied a little too hard and ruined herself". (That Aino is an unexceptional talent, never breaking out of low-level idol-success -- for all her effort -- is a nice touch to the whole story.)
       If Morishita is quick to take action, Yamashiro finds it harder to change his skin: he is, and remains, largely passive; if he goes along with Morishita's scheme for a while it remains in an entirely subordinate role (of, indeed, little more than observer); so also, unsurprisingly, the resolution sees Yamashiro completely embrace the passive role.
       This is, quite honestly, pretty creepy stuff. The idol-obsession and voyeurism is bad enough already -- and even relatively harmless in the case of Yamashiro and (slightly less so) Morishita; an older super-fan, Okayama, is truly creepy. But the casualness of serial murder -- yes, the bodies start piling up; "I had no idea where all this murder would end", Yamashiro notes -- is rather discomfiting -- both in execution and in how people react to it. At one point Yamashiro's mom passes on the news as if it barely touches them:
I watched the news as I munched breakfast. Celebrity gossip.
     "They said it happened again," mom said, pouring me a glass of milk.
     What ?
     "One of those murders. It was a kid from your class. Taeda-san ?"
     Information about an actress going on a date with an actor or getting divorced or something slid into my ear.
       With its disturbing resolution, this first part of the novel does offer a decent picture of the confusions of high school-age and that environment (there's also a class trip, which highlights the shifting social connections in closer quarters). Yamashiro, completely at sea -- and having lost his one anchor, in the idol he was so devoted to --, founders realistically; so too, his inability to get fully on board with Morishita's crusade (but also his finding in it the only possible final solution) are quite convincing. More problematic is the character of Morishita -- and also the surprising ease with which he gets away with his spree --; admittedly, given that the narrative is entirely in Yamashiro's voice and from his perspective, this incomprehension is somewhat more plausible, but it's still quite a stretch.
       If not exactly unpalatable, quite a bit to 'Astral Season, Beastly Season' is hard to swallow -- but the second part, 'The Season of Righteousness', is a welcome (if not full) corrective. It is narrated by Morishita and Yamashiro's classmate, Watase, who has, at least outwardly, made the successful transition to college student -- adapting as necessary:
I describe my past like they do when I talk about it. I never say anything like, "My best friend was killed by one of our classmates." Basically, I try not to ruin the mood.
       She revisits the time of the killings after reading an article in which another classmate, Aoyama, commented on them. She meets him and they talk about old times, and about what he said in the article. Unlike Watase, Aoyama has not really managed to move on -- and he resents her for the ease with which she just got on with things; he and other classmates (and Morishita's family) couldn't. (Both Watase and Aoyama also suffer -- for good reason -- from survivor's guilt, which Watase has also been better at burying: Aoyama admits: "Why wasn't it me ? That was the first thing I thought when Morishita got arrested", while Watase has apparently largely been able to block out (at least on a conscious level) such considerations -- until now.)
       What seems to confound Aoyama most is that Morishita had always been a 'good guy'. Selfless, generous. It's hard to reconcile with his actions, and their consequences.
       They also encounter another figure from that past, another of Aino-san's super-fans, Okayama, who offers an additional perspective on the events and the fallout.
       For all of Watase's having apparently moved on, she finds herself also still defined by these experiences. While taken by the claim of a decisive turn at age seventeen, she too finds instead her path much more basic -- if no less challenging:
     You become either a star or a beast. When you turn seventeen. I recalled those words I read somewhere in my studies. Here I was, like a spectator, watching myself desperately try to become neither a star nor a beast but a human.
       Much of Astral Season, Beastly Season can feel gratuitous and entirely too casual and cavalier. It is not a graphic novel, with most of the violence only reported on and, gruesome though it is, left largely up to the imagination, arguably making it seem less real, but that can't entirely diminish the shocking extent of it. The arc of events in the first section is also rather disturbing, and it would be problematic as a stand-alone; the more nuanced and thoughtful second part isn't exactly counterpart but a useful and quite well-done complement -- and even after that there's still room for the two Afterwords Saihate offers, suggesting even she realized the text was perhaps in need of some explanation, that simply on its own it was potentially too stark in its implications. (That said, the Afterwords are anything but bright-hopeful either, but they do put the novel on sounder footing.)
       An interesting if deeply discomfiting text, Astral Season, Beastly Season shines a rather painful light on the Japanese adolescent psyche (and beyond). It's a bit too casual for comfort, but ultimately a fairly strong work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 29 August 2020

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Links:

Astral Season, Beastly Season: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Saihate Tahi (最果タヒ) was born in 1986.

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© 2020 the complete review

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