Book Review: Fafner: Dead Agressor by Tow Ubukata
And now, for something completely different.
Fafner: Dead Aggressor is a “Light Novel.” — basically, Japanese YA, an evolution of the pulps. I picked up the translated version Fafner: Dead Aggressor on a whim at a convention some years ago. I’m not too familiar with the anime it’s based on, but I’m always a sucker for giant robots. It’s worth noting that the novel is based on the anime series, rather than the other way around. I haven’t watched said anime, either, so I’ve got no idea how different the two adaptations are.
The book (and anime) centers around a teenager named Kazuki, who learns he’s been secretly conditioned through hypnosis to pilot a giant robot in order to defend humanity from genocidal alien invaders. As you do. There’s some overcomplicated justification about how only teenager’s minds are flexible enough to merge their brains with their giant robots, because again, anime. Or Light Novel. Whatever.
While reading, Fafner: Dead Aggressor, I couldn’t help but go down a checklist of mecha-anime tropes. Amnesiac teenage protagonist? Check. Sad-eyed anemic love interest girl? Check. Smarmy jerkass dude who the protagonist is weirdly obsessed with and thus becomes slashfic fodder? Check. Heck, the term “fighting spirit” is used on like the first page.
Mind you, tropes aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Really, you could argue that, by reading like the first couple episodes of an anime show, the book does exactly what it sets out to do. And heck, there’s at least one pretty sweet giant robot fight in the middle of the book: what would be the ‘second episode,’ I guess. Kazuki’s mecha, (or ‘Fafner,’ cause they’re going for a vaguely Norse theme with their names) is kinda cool, and uses ‘blade mines’– read: exploding knives. An author would have to try very, very hard to make me not like exploding giant robot knife fights, and thankfully Ubukata does not disappoint on that end. I might have preferred if there were MORE exploding giant robot knife fights, but I can say that about almost every book I’ve ever read.
This said, Fafner: Dead Aggressor isn’t high literature. The prose gets a little awkward from time to time, as I’m sure a lot is lost in translation. Even still, there are some pretty interesting ideas underneath the teenage angst and giant robot fights. Kazuki and his friends live on an isolated island (that turns out to be a hidden refuge from the killer aliens), and the whole sense of rural, day-to-day boredom actually has a lot of potential for storytelling.
Unfortunately, there never was a second Fafner light novel, so the first book mostly sets a bunch of stuff up that doesn’t get resolved, and ends. It’s kind of like a TV show being canceled after the first couple of episodes. Although, poking around YouTube shows me Funimation has the whole series available to watch for free, so … well, maybe I’ll get around to checking it out next time I’m in the mood for some teenage angst and robot fights.
Happens more often than you’d think.