Sorry this one was late, it took me longer to re-read four books than I thought it would. For a summary, check out the review I did for the anime. It is literally the same story, just retold in a new format.
And I’m sure somebody is wondering: why are you reviewing the book if it’s the same story? The answer is pretty simple. Despite having the same cast of characters, the same world, and the same overall plot structure, the book series is fairly different from the anime, both in how the characters were handled and even where the focus was. Some of that was for the positive, giving us a deeper understanding of some of the other characters. But other times, it definitely felt like I was being cheated of the rich story that I had fallen in love with and the extra details I was hoping for out of the printed version.
The entire series is told in four books, which are also split into various parts and internal “books.” As I said, it follows the same plot as the anime series, but if you go in expecting it to be a read-along to the anime, you are in for some pretty major disappointments. A lot of the arcs have had bits and pieces cut away, with not all of those points reappearing. Saya is literally just thrown into the boarding school in Vietnam. We get some more information about her, like that she speaks French, something that didn’t come up in the anime that I remember. But we don’t get the trip to the museum, and what happened to Haji thirty years ago comes up much later.
If you thought the books were also going to expand on anything in return for taking things away… Yeah, if only. Nope. Instead, the entire thing actually feels rushed in comparison to the anime series. While the anime bounced around between different locations, we spent enough episodes in each change of locale that it gave them weight. It was long enough for me to adjust to the change of the setting, and then to get the arc-goal clearly defined so that I was paying less attention to where the characters are and more about what they were going through, emotionally and physically. The novels didn’t take that time, making it seem like a game of ping pong rather than a game of chess.
I also didn’t like how some of the characters came across in the novel. Some profited from the new medium, such as David and Solomon, who are so locked inside of their heads that it was impossible to get a grasp on them with just dialogue and facial expressions to go by. Saya survived intact, though at times she felt a little flat to me rather than fully developed as she could be. Julia was just bi-polar, rather than coolly logically like I was expecting and like I got from her in the show. Anshel (who also got a new name spelling for some reason) was missing the villain element, at least for him. He had a couple of moments where we sort of got a grasp on him, but I think without the visual effect the character design had on the show, he’s weak and missing something. Most of all… Diva is just strange. Somehow, they took a fairly threatening, moderately insane character…and made her this little fragile doll.
On the plus side, the cloning was given a little more depth, so that plot point finally made sense. I don’t understand why that information wasn’t given in the anime in some way. Yes, it would have been technical dialogue but it was NEEDED technical dialogue. There was also some clarification on the Zoo, as far as how the Goldschmidts and the Goldsmiths were divided, which helped a couple of things make more sense, at least to me. The sleep cycles also got a couple of lines that smoothed out a bump in the plot, and we got told about a couple of people who had been hinted at in the anime but didn’t get any real explanation. We even found out why Solomon got a lot of the dirty look and why Karl was treated as a bit of a pet by Anshel rather than as a fellow Chevalier.
The focus for me really shifted from Saya and her conflict with Diva, which is supposed to be the central conflict, to Kai and then later the Schiff (the spelling even changed, or maybe it was a translation goof, I don’t know). It seems more focused on his internal conflict as far as his relationship with Saya and then the Schiff’s backstory and ongoing struggle to live than it does on any of the end-of-the-world plot. Admittedly, my copy of the third book has little strips of paper tucked in to it all over the place, where I was tracking…something, though I can’t remember what, aside from the Schiff’s new details about their training. It was interesting to see the events from a new angle, but at the same time… I just felt very removed from what felt like a very rushed plot.
When I came into the series, I was wanting more details about the history. More about Saya’s life at the zoo, and her relationship with Diva before she released her from the tower. What was it like the first time Saya went to sleep? We get this brief image of Haji closing a coffin around Saya dressed in what I think is Elizabethan garb, but is that her first sleep? Why did she stay awake for so long and THEN start this cycle of long sleeps? Plus the questions revolving around when Diva made Amshel her Chevalier, why Diva had more powers than Saya (I don’t buy the blood from different sources theory at all). I read the after notes, where the writer admitted part of the challenge of writing the novels was keeping some of Saya’s secrets still secrets, but… I felt like I wasn’t given any at all, and in a new medium, I want to get new information I didn’t get from original. Giving us the names for the twins is cute, but it isn’t the kind of information I want.
Overall, I think the books are worth the read if you are a fan of the series. It offers a different look at the same story we know and love. But for someone who hasn’t seen the anime… Watch that first or be prepared to miss some of the best moments in the series (at least in my opinion). I think if they had tried for eight books instead of four, and taken their time like they did with the anime, it would have been a much better series. They could have given the main plot the same attention it deserved, and even had the room to expound on the stories they hinted at. But then, maybe they didn’t want to tell the same story twice, which I can understand. I just felt like it wasn’t as neat and well-developed as the anime series.