The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time was not what I expected. Somewhere I read that this is a tale of a girl who suddenly acquires the power to time travel and, eventually, learns Important Life Lessons. My wife told me that she vaguely remembers seeing an adaptation of this and thinking it has surprising lesbian overtones. In both cases, the first is more or less correct. The main character, Kazuko, does indeed travel through time, and this particular story has been adapted numerous times. The second half of both statements is wildly off-base, though not unreasonable. Girl was written for the YA audience, itself a frequent target of Important Life Lessons. As for the lesbian bit, well, this is Tsutsui, so I would believe just about anything.
In fact, Girl is not by itself a novel. It is a novella that anchors a collection by the same name that includes two other short stories. (Or novelletes, or possibly novellas. I’m not really sure.) The book is available in English, but I only have a Japanese copy, so that is what I read. It was a nice change of pace from some other stuff I have read; apparently YA is my comfort level in terms of kanji. (To give a comparison, I peaked at about 50 pages per day with Girl, almost double the speed of my last book.) Because I read this in Japanese, I am thankfully free of any obligation to critique Tsutsui’s writing. I feel happy to get through without too many dictionary forays, let alone digging into issues of style. I will say that the language often seemed stiff, but that may be because it is 1960s Japanese, or may be because Tokyo dialect always sounds stilted to my Kansai ears.
Girl is only nominally SF. Mostly it is about junior high school, which seems to be a major part of the charm. Both of the other stories also center on adolescents, with the second more of a light horror and only the third betraying Tsutsui’s usual black humor. He gets a lot of mileage from the nostalgia; it got to me a bit, even though my only connection to Japanese cultural memory is whatever I absorbed while living there in my 20s. The stories are nice enough. Girl takes a sudden turn towards the end that I didn’t see coming, then again in the final pages; it was oddly touching, but also somewhat disconcerting. I am curious to see how the movie adaptations handle things. There were no lesbians.
I wouldn’t call this an essential read. Much of Girl‘s popularity hinges on gauzy memories of 1960s junior high school experiences, which the Western reader isn’t going to share. It’s a nice story, certainly nothing I would warn anyone away from, but not a genre touchstone. On the other hand, it is a great place to start reading Japanese SF in Japanese, with a vocabulary and character set aimed at the YA crowd, but an adult intelligence. This is definitely something I’m going to give to my kids when they are a bit older.
Rating: The New Year’s high school soccer tournament. Perfect for reliving youthful memories, if not the most polished gem available.