Japanese Novel Review: おおかみこどもの雨と雪 Wolf Children by Hosoda Mamoru (細田守)

I picked up Wolf Children(おおかみこどもの雨と雪) in a recent bulk order where I was trying to find a few books that might be appropriate for N3 level learners. I usually try to stay away from novelizations of anime as I didn’t really enjoy Your Name(君の名は). The book felt like a screen play with physical descriptions thrown in. I think that type of book would be useful to a lot of language learners, but it just wasn’t a good fit for me. But in this case, its a movie that I have seen a long time ago and am not really familiar with so I figured that it would be a good choice for me. I felt drawn to the fact that it was a kids book with an adult female lead. This novel was 696 yen at Amazon Jp.

Comparison: Kadokawa Tsubasa Bunko vs Kadokawa Bunko

Title: おおかみこどもの雨と雪
Author: 細田守
Publisher: 角川つばさ文庫
Publication Date: 2012/07
Page count: 270 pages
IBSN: 9784046312488

USA Kinokuniya Link

This is the Tsubasa Bunko version of the novel. This is the one I read for this review. In this novel, there are less words per page and furigana next to every kanji used to help the reading know how to pronounce each word. There are also a few illustrations through out the book that appear to be scenes from the movie.

Tsubasa Bunko books always have green borders around the book covers which make them very easy to identify. Kadokawa Tsubasa Bunko(角川つばさ文庫) will also be written on the cover in hiragana and kanji.

Title: おおかみこどもの雨と雪
Author: 細田守
Publisher: 角川文庫
Publication Date: 2012/06
Page count: 244 pages
IBSN: 9784041003237

USA Kinokuniya Link

This is the standard Kadokawa publication of this book that is 235 pages long. In this novel, there is less furigana and there don’t appear to be any illustrations. If you do not want to have the readings of the kanji given to you but are interested in reading this story, I recommend looking into the publication information given above. It has the same exact story and wording inside as the Tsukasa Bunko version of the book.

Tsubasa Bunko Version:

This is my first time reading a Tsubasa novel and just wanted to introduce readers into what makes this publication series special and the key features that might suit some people’s learning styles.

Tsubasa Bunko publishes books that are aimed at a grade school audience. Sometimes, the books are edited in ways that make it easier for young students to read. In this case, Wolf Children(おおかみこどもの雨と雪) does not appear to be edited. I compared the first few pages of the standard edition and the Tsubasa edition and found the vocabulary and grammar to be exactly the same.

As soon as you open Wolf Children(おおかみこどもの雨と雪) you will see a feature that is contained in a lot of their novels. It is the character page. There will often be a illustration of each of the main characters along with a short description. This is great for those who find that they start and stop books often, as it can be a quick refresher and help you avoid reading the whole book from the start again.

As stated before, Tsubasa Bunko books always include furigana each time kanji is used in the story. This is helpful for reader who are just beginning their journey in reading Japanese novels and would prefer to have some extra help with looking up words in the dictionary. It could also be a good chance for more intermediate learns to explore ‘extensive reading.’ Extensive reading is when the learner focuses more on enjoyment and overall understanding of the story. Extensive readers may skip over looking up words in the dictionary and instead learn them through repeated exposure.

At 270 pages, this does not appear to be a short book if you look at it from the outside. But the spacing and letter in this novel is completely different from the average novel. Above I have attached an image that contains the first two pages in this novel. The lettering is large and there are large spaces separating each sentence. There are also a small amount illustrations though out the book that take up any where from 25% or 100% of the page. If you are looking for a story that has visuals to help with understanding, I recommend looking into manga/comics instead as the pictures included will not really give you clues to help pick up meanings.

I think intermediate learners will really appropriate the kanji use in this type of novel. There are ‘easier’ books that are written from even young audiences such as Kiki’s Delivery Service(魔女の宅急便) or Aoi Tori Bunko books, but these novels tend to be very heavy on the hiragana. It depends on what you want as a language learner. When a novel is mostly hiragana, it can be overwhelming due to the lack of spacing in between words. Language learners would need to have a very strong grasp of basic grammar and vocabulary as there will be less clues to hint at what is a word vs what is grammar. In Tsubasa Bunko novels, the kanji use is like that of a normal novel, but some of the books in the series are edited to have easier vocabulary or easier grammar then the standard adult novel. If you compare the standard novel and the Tsubasa Bunko book and find that there is an extra or different author and the Tsubasa Bunko book cover, then it is most likely that the book was edited to be easier.

The kanji use in Tsubasa books will give the book a better sense of spacing and help learners tell the different between grammar and vocabulary. The combination of kanji and furigana can help give readers a clue about the meaning of words presented in the book. But if you find yourself overly relying on the furigana to the point where you are not learning any new kanji, it might be time to move on to novels that do not have furigana.

Story review:

During her second year of university, Hana’s attention was capture by a young man who she thought was a fellow student. It turned out to be a young man who could not afford to attend school, but would stop by and sit in on interesting classes. She slowly started spending more time with him and caught feelings for him. He always felt like he was a step away from her, but it didn’t really stop Hana’s pursuit. The nameless man felt close enough to Hana to finally share his secret, that he had Japanese wolf blood flowing though his veins and could transform at will. Hana accepted each part of this man and fell even more in love. Yuki was worried that her friends would not accept her partner as he lacked education, did not have a good job, and appeared to be homeless. So she slowly pulled away from everyone in her life.

The man moved into her apartment and they started a life together. Hana soon fell pregnant and quit school due to the stress of the pregnancy. The man continued to work full time to support her while she became a stay at home mother to Yuki. They had a home birth as they were afraid of what would come out, wolf pup or human baby. Yuki ended up being like her father, a human that could change forms into a wolf. Soon after the birth of their second, Ame, the man mysteriously died and left the small family long to fend for themselves with only a small amount of savings. Hana struggled to carry for the children while hiding their secret from the world. After a few years, it became so difficult that she decided that her kids needed more space and a place to be away from the public eye. She found an old picture of the location that her late partner was raised and moved into the same deserted country side area.

The country side gave Hana and the children a chance to breath and explore the world outside of their old small apartment. There are still lots of trouble that Hana faced as her savings start to shrink. Yuki starts to yearn for a normal life at school like all of the other children despite her impulse control issues while Ame has a hard time adjusting to being around others. This novel focuses on their life in the country side and how Hana tries her best to raise her children.

While this story is written in plain and easy to understand Japanese, I wouldn’t exactly call this a ‘children’s story.’ It more comes off as a novel that was written with the intention of using the story line as a family friendly anime movie. Unlike books such as The Little Prince(星の王子様), childish/baby words are not used. In Wolf Children(おおかみこどもの雨と雪), word choice from something small would be… well ‘small’ and not something like ‘itsy bitsy’ or ‘teeny tiny’. Also unlike other stories written for young children, the book uses kanji normally as opposed to using mostly hiragana. Hiragana based books might be easier for young native Japanese speakers, but it can present a big challenge for language learners due to the lack of spacing in between words.

My experience reading this book:

I have been wanting to read a Tsubasa book for a few months, but it was hard to find anything appealing. The stories seemed childish or were just novelizations of famous anime. While I did end up picking up a novelization, its from a movie that I do not know very well. I was really happy to find a ‘easy’ book that had an adult female lead as opposed to a young student or child. I don’t often read novels where the main character is a mother so I found that aspect interesting as well.

I really felt for Hana and the struggles that she faced. Getting pregnant at a young age can really change ones life and the individual’s ability to have a career in the future. I was so sad that Hana had to quit university after working so hard to get into a good school, but its a reality that many women without strong social support face. Her whole life really became about talking care of her complicated children as a single parent. I wish that Hana would have accepted help from family members when they offered after the death of her father, but Hana became stuck in living a life of focusing on anyone other them herself. While I do love stories that are set in the country side, the events that lead up to the move showed the huge scarifies that this young mother had to make to protect her family.

While reading this novel, I did get the impression that the book and the movie were carbon copies of each other. But the descriptions in the book did seem to add a level of depth that was not present in the movie. The over all feeling of the novel was different as the focus it was more focused directly on Hana’s perspective while the movie had one on the children narrator the story as if they were retelling something that her mother told her in the past.

This time I somewhat lost interest in Tadoku.app as a way to keep track of pages read. While it is very easy to use, I was starting to get discouraged due to the amount of time that others were putting in. But it does make sense as I have a full time job along with other responsibility and hobbies in my life. While it was fun for the beginning half of the book, I don’t think I am going to use that tracker anymore. I might move back over to Book Meter instead.

At first the pages felt very busy to me and the sentences felt really disjointed to me due to the intense about of furigana. I tried to ignore the furigana, but then I remember that wasn’t the point. I went out of my way to get this version of the book to check in on my common kanji knowledge. It took me a little while, but with time I was able to get used to the formatting. When I read this novel, I rarely use a dictionary to find the meaning for words. Instead I use it to find/confirm the readings of different kanji. I really enjoyed not even feeling the urge to look anything up from this book.

Overall for me, this was more of a studying experience then a pleasure reading experience. I think this will for sure be the last time I buy a book based off of an anime, but I am happy that I did it. I really wanted a Tsubasa Bunko novel and just didn’t feel pulled towards any of the non-anime related titles. It was a good experience to have the furigana next to each word and I think it will give me more confidence in my kanji knowledge for the next novel that I read.

Level Preface:

Just to give some background to my current level. I have been using Japanese for a long time now, but just decided somewhat recently to be more serious about gaining fluent literacy. In 2020 I finished reviewing over JLPT N2 materials and have started on N1. I am planning on taking N1 in 2021. I started reading novels in 2020 and have read over 20 to completion.

Vocabulary:N3-N2 student level(Intermediate)

While there are some more advanced words through out the novel, the fact that furigana is next to very word that contains kanji will really help lower intermediate learners keep up with the story.

The only specific vocabulary groups that stick out to me is farming and plants/animals. Learning to grow her own vegetables was quite the ordeal for Hana and it took her a lot of time and help. While she was figuring stuff out, there were lots of farming and gardening words used that the average learner might not come across in daily life. Some of these words will be difficult, but I don’t think traditional N2 students would have much of an advantage due to the fact that these words are not going to be in textbooks.

Due to the concrete nouns that are hard to guess from the specific vocabulary groups, learners should expect to use a dictionary with this novel.

Grammar: N3-N2 student level(Intermediate)

Readers with a strong understanding of N3 level(low intermediate) and that are starting their N2 level studies will not find the grammar used in this novel to be a barrier to understanding the plot. There is N2 level grammar, but it is not overwhelming. I think it would be a great way for N3 level learners to advance their understanding of grammar.

Despite taking place in the country side of Japan,most of the characters in this book speak in standard Japanese dialect. Some of the older male characters will speak in a dialect, but its very watered down.

Cultural References

Readers of this novel should not find cultural knowledge to be a barrier in understanding the plot of this novel. I did not find any historical, pop culture, famous people, or musical references in this book. There are a few references to locations, but only to Tokyo which I am sure anyone who even thinks of picking up this novel is aware of that city.

In the first few pages it is mentioned that Hana went to a public university. While this fact might seem insignificant, it tells a lot about who Hana was as a student. Public universities in Japan are very hard to get into due to their low price and quality of instruction. Only students with extremely good grade would be able to get into this type of school. There are many high quality and competitive private schools as well, they tend to be extremely expensive to the point where most students would have to take out loans to attend.

It is not cheap to attend university in Japan. Above I have an example of research that tends to place Japan in the top 3 most experiences countries to get high education. According to Poets&Quants, just to attend a public university will set a student back $5,228 a year. This might seem like a great price for Americans and Brits, but most of the world tends to have easier access to education.

Who should read this book?

Fans of the animated movie this novel is based on, Wolf Children(おおかみこどもの雨と雪). Those who are interested in reading a novel with furigana included with every kanji use. Furries? Those would like choosing reading materials that are accompanied with a movie.

Due to the vocabulary used in this books, most learners will need to use a dictionary at some points to know whats going on. If you are put off by dictionaries, then this might not be a good beginner novel.

Related Media

While I do not know much about the original titles in the Tsubasa Bunko line up, I think that many language learners will find the line of novelizations of animated films to be a great tool. There seems to be Tsubasa Bunko versions of many recent famous anime films. Fans of these films may enjoy reading these books as the familiar plot lines will be easy for them to follow.

Author: Kuri

I love reading Japanese novels and have seen that many people want to read them but don't know where to start. I have decided to share my experiences to help people reach their literacy goals.

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