Gravitation (novel) Vol. #01 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Friday, February 17, 2006
Release Date: Tuesday, March 07, 2006
Translated by:Andrew Cunningham
What They Say
Energetic teenager Shuichi Shindo is the lead singer and songwriter for the smash-hit pop band, Bad Luck. He's recently moved in with his older boyfriend, Eiri Yuki, the handsome, sophisticated, and uber-famous romance novelist. Nothing goes smoothly for Shuichi, however. Yuki is inexplicably cold and cruel toward him, more so than usual; due to a rash of publicity appearances on comedy sketch shows, he can't get anyone to take his band seriously; and he's suddenly entered, totally unprepared, into a nationally televised concert with Bad Luck's rival band, Ask.
The only gig tougher than being a budding rock star is being in love! (Or maybe writing about it…)
Getting the negative out of the way first, the description on the back cover does not reflect the contents of this book, and is instead the summary for the secondnovel. I find this mistake pretty inexcusable, but otherwise the book is fairly nicely presented. The cover is a nice mix of matte stock with glossy accents for the logo and artwork, and fans will recognize the familiar images used of Yuki and Shuichi. The front cover image (also used for the Region 1 DVD release of the OVA) has always been a favorite of mine, and looks good with the green color scheme. TOKYOPOP has chosen not to use the same logo they used for their release of the manga, and I can't say that I'm sad over this fact. Inside, the pages are accented with musical staffs and notes and extras include character profiles and several black & white illustrations lifted from the manga. Ads for other TOKYOPOP properties (including their new novel line) close up the book.
Gravitation is blessed (cursed, perhaps) with a very dedicated fanbase, so I’m certain there will be those who can speak volumes about the nuances of the translation found here, but I'll not dwell on the details. I am unfamiliar with the original version so I can’t compare the two, but I’ll admit I’m not especially confident over the quality of the rewrite given a handful of notable differences. Nonetheless, the script has achieved with fair marks what any novel should - an accessible, fluid read. Proofreading and editing are decent, though not perfect (there were occasional localizations that felt a tad awkward and I had some grammatical nit-picks), but overall pace and structure were comfortable and I noticed no typos. There were a couple of instances where Japanese terms were left intact (once at least for the purpose of maintaining the integrity of a joke) and Shuichi correctly refers to Yuki by his pen-surname, but otherwise everything appears to have been localized/adapted in the manner of western usage.
Contents:(the following may contain spoilers)
Shuichi Shindou is the hyperactive (and overly sensitive) lead singer for Bad Luck, a band he formed with his loyal best friend Hiroshi Nakano and up-and-coming keyboardist Suguru Fujisaki. Shuichi's dreams of becoming a rock star have been hard fought and he's in a tumultuous relationship with the handsome but aloof novelist Eiri Yuki. Some might say he's on his way to getting everything he wants, but nothing ever comes easy when you're a drama queen!
This story largely revolves around the relationship struggles Shuichi and Hiro have to overcome to make their band succeed. Shuichi literally angsts his way through this novel. He is tortured throughout by his intense feelings for Yuki, which he thinks are unrequited due to Yuki's distant demeanor, and he desires the strength to achieve his dreams but his own lack of confidence requires him to depend on the support of those around him. Shuichi doesn't want to be a burden to Yuki or Hiro so he puts on a brave face when it counts, but his feelings of selfishness often weigh him down at this crucial time. Eventually he realizes that support comes in different forms and, with a little help from his friends, he finds the inspiration and motivation to get out there and do his best.
As if looking after Shuichi and guiding him through his mood swings wasn't enough, Hiro has his own battle to fight. His mother is dead-set against him wasting his future in a rock band and constantly barrages him with demands to give it up and become a doctor. His bond with Shuichi is deep and he steadfastly declares he is happiest when playing music with him, but she refuses to accept her son's dream. Hiro's supportive and nurturing friendship is something I love about his character (and this aspect of his relationship with Shuichi is demonstrated often here), though it pains me a bit to see him so often reduced to little more than Shuichi's caretaker.
Expanding beyond the more personal battles, the biggest external challenge Bad Luck faces is being accepted as musicians and earning the right to play at the Fly to the Next Century Music Festival, alongside rival band Ask and music mentors Nittle Grasper. Getting gigs on comedy shows was OK at first, but they really want to be taken seriously! Fortunately Shuichi's extreme antics and the band's inexplicable good luck keep them moving forward, but with every success Bad Luck achieves, a sinister plot deepens to end their time in the spotlight.
Taki, the front man for Ask, refuses to lose to Shuichi's talent and schemes to take him down. Disguising himself as an insider fan on the internet, he spreads rumors of Bad Luck's break-up, trying to capitalize on Shuichi's low self-confidence and create friction between the band members. When that doesn't work and they are signed on to play the music festival, Taki convinces people to block their route to the concert. K, their American gun-toting manager, gets his moment in the sun (which could easily be mistaken for a terrorist attack on Japan) and Bad Luck ends up making it on time, in true maniac fashion. Refusing to accept defeat however, Taki tries to further sabotage their act by stealing Hiro's guitar and locking Shuichi in a port-o-potty just before they're due on stage! It takes the teamwork of Shuichi's friends to sort it all out and Bad Luck manages to put on a truly memorable performance.
In the end the magic of the music festival eases all hurts: Taki is utterly defeated (though the sabotage plot is left completely open), Hiro convinces his mom, Shuichi bonds with Yuki, and people the world over fall in love with Bad Luck's music. It's a quick (and cheesy) resolution. For those who haven’t had a lot of experience with the series already there’s a bit of history staged at the beginning to get readers up to speed, but I found it a spot of unnecessary angst as I don’t see this book appealing to anyone other than existing fans of the series.
Fans of the Gravitation manga and anime series are likely eager for this additional foray into the lives of Shuichi and company, but it doesn't really offer them anything new. There are some nice interactions between our favorite characters and although the crazy, slapstick humor isn’t as well conveyed here, it’s good to see everyone do what they do best -- K gets to blow stuff up, Tatsuha gets to stalk Ryuichi, Yuki glowers all over the place, etc. However, the book suffers some messy storytelling with easy and haphazard resolutions - the result of competing, rather than complementing, focuses. There's enough relationship angst to give us a good character-based story, (and that's really what we want), but it's diluted by the weak execution of an already trite sabotage plot. I admit I wasn’t expecting top quality literature, but frankly, I’d rather just watch the anime for this kind of story. I’m a fan of the original series and so I hate to criticize, but I’m really hoping the second novel is better.
Despite having said all that however, this book still works plenty of angles that will appeal to the fans -- angsty love, true friendship, hard-won struggles, rivalry, and of course the general tomfoolery we've come to expect from the characters -- so I think they’ll still “gravitate” to this little power ballad of Bad Luck’s.
Mania Grade: B-
Art Rating: N/A
Packaging Rating: B
Text/Translatin Rating: B+
Age Rating: All
Released By: TOKYOPOP
Orientation: Left to Right