Otaro Maijo’s Asura Girl is the kind of narrative that gets readers hooked with an interesting character undergoing a plausible situation in a believable world and then proceeds to shatter every preconceived notion as it drags the reader into unknown, surprising territory. Maijo, who won the Yukio Mishima (seppuku!) award in 2003 for this novel, obeys every law of linear storytelling for the first third of the narrative and then injects it with a healthy dose of surrealism, chaos, and swearing. The result is a novel that could easily be considered three separate novellas and which taunts readers with its ability to defy expectations.
Aiko is a 17-year old girl who enjoys casual sex as much as she enjoys violence and daydreaming. Her sharp tongue and fighting skills aside, however, she is still a quintessential high school girl obsessed with a boy, Yoji Kaneda, who unfortunately doesn’t share Aiko’s feelings. When Aiko has sex with Sano, a pudgy classmate with a strange reputation and despicable bed manners, she envisions a few problems at school. However, the situation is much worse than she could have ever expected because she becomes the last person to see Sano. The boy has been kidnapped, and the problem is magnified by the presence of the Round-and-Round Devil, a serial killer who has taken the lives of a few local children. With fear and confusion brewing, the youngsters, encouraged by an underground Internet bulletin knows as the Voice from Heaven, take to the streets and start rioting. Instead of protecting herself, Aiko posts anonymously on the bulletin and tries to send danger her way in hopes that Yoji will come to her rescue. The boy comes, but the madness in the streets is only the beginning of a narrative that uses the riots and Aiko’s infatuation with Yoji as a trampoline to jump into infinitely stranger places.
The preceding paragraph successfully synopsizes only the first part of the novel. The second part ignores the believable world in which the narrative started in favor of a surreal place where Yoji and Aiko interact through messages in a wall of rock and where danger takes on a different shape:
I was already looking down—and realizing that the blue river at the bottom of the gorge wasn’t really a river at all, it was more sky, sky in the opposite direction from the first sky. And somehow I could tell that I was seeing the souls of lots of people coming and going in this river of sky. Sky below, and crowds of souls milling around. They were definitely human shaped, bluish white—almost translucent—and there were lots of them trailing along, like they were swimming…and they were pretty much nude.
While Asura Girl is categorized as science fiction, the story brings together teenage drama, violence, a strange sense of adventure, horror, and even a touch of fantasy. Maijo is more concerned with exploring new literary landscapes and challenging the reader than with offering up a straightforward tale that adheres to chronological order, the laws of physics, or common sense. In fact, when the third part of the novel rolls around, the narrative is once again transported, this time to a magical forest that forces kids to sing deadly songs, makes monsters from the dead, and makes sounds disappear:
I tried shouting again, but again I couldn’t even hear my own voice. It was just as I’d imagined—this strange forest was actually sucking up all the sound. The fir trees all around were enormous, and their limbs seemed to reach out for me. Their needles were dark green, shading to pitch black in the shadows below. Anything at all might have been hiding in this gloom—sinister things that would have felt right at home in such an awful spot.
If the reader survives the bizarre transition into the fantastic/horrific realm, the payoff is that pieces start falling into place and Maijo’s penchant for the outré becomes almost more interesting than the narrative itself. Aiko’s transformation is constant, and the way the author plays around with identity (Aiko, her alter ego, the serial killer, etc.) makes strangeness the only constant. As the last third of the book rolls around, the Round-and-Round Devil takes over and kicks the profanity, and the humor, into new heights:
I’m SO hungry I can’t fucking stand it!
FUCK the old lady!
Death to fucking old ladies! Death! Death! Death!
Asura Girl is a bizarre, challenging read, but it’s also a great taste of brave science fiction that, instead of just dancing to a different rhythm, seems to have invented a unique cadence all its own.