I picked up Blue, Painful, Fragile(青くて痛くて脆い) at Chicago’s Kinokuniya as an impulse purchase a few months ago. It was sitting on my shelf until I noticed that Netflix USA was streaming the movie and was inspired to finally read this book. This book was an easy read for me, but it kinda fell flat in comparison to Sumino’s previous hit novel, I Want to Eat Your Pancreas (君の膵臓をたべたい).
Publication Date: 2020/06
Page count: 352 pages
Kaede is basically the book version of the video game concept, NPC. A non-person character. He barely interacts with others in a meaningful way and is just… there. He has no aspirations of forming either friendships or relationships. If he doesn’t get close to people, he doesn’t get hurt and he also doesn’t hurt anyone at the same time. Win-win, right? When he first interacted with Hisano, he thought it would be the last time. Like always, he figures he is just a stand-in until she finds a better conversation partner. Since she is working on figuring out which university group to join, she’ll probably have new friends soon and have no reason to seek Kaede out again. Hisano seems like the type who is able to talk to anyone anyways. Its not like she picked Kaede out for some special reason. He isn’t special.
But that’s not what happened. Hisano took the time to seek him out and sit by him when they had classes together. But Kaede was worried. He didn’t really like Hisano. She was annoying and would often interrupt class with random idealistic opinions(she calls them questions, but they aren’t) and he started to figure out why no one else seemed to want to be around her. He tried to make his escape and hoped that Hisano would just forget all about him. Unfortunately it didn’t work and she shared her life and got to know him slowly as well. Thanks to a suggestion by Kaede, Hisano decided to create her own university circle and it actually became pretty successful. But Kaede’s feelings towards the club started to change once Hisano disappeared. By his last year of university, his hatred for what the group had become was so intense that he made it his mission to try to destroy it.
The timeline in the novel jumps back in forth as Kaede reflects on his past with Hisano and his current mission of exposing Moai for what it really is.
My experience reading this book:
I had this book sitting on my shelf for a bit and decided to pick it up and finally give it a read. The movie inspired by this novel was featured and Netflix and I thought it would be a good opportunity to enjoy both and get a full picture of the story line.
For me this book was a fairly easy read. I think it helped that I was already used to the author’s writing style. I didn’t find myself needing to look up any of the ‘purely Japanese’ words at all for meanings. But I did stop once and a while to confirm the readings for certain words just to make sure I was getting them right. I did struggle with some of the borrowed katakana based words. I think its because I haven’t lived in Japan for like 5 years at this point so I don’t really know what borrowed words are popular right now.
The plot of this book was really straight forward and easy to follow. I did find the whole concept behind the plot a bit weird while I was reading it. Like why was Kaede pretending to be a spy? Or why was he acting like he was doing something unseemly? It seemed like some really weird game of pretend or role-play. But I was able to understand it from the view point of the main character towards the end of the book.
I had a hard time relating to the main characters as they both seemed kinda immature for their age. But I guess I should have realized that just from the title of the novel. The thing that stood out to me the most was their use of the word 『大人・adult』. They would use it in reference to people in the working world quite often. They would also talk about the type of adult they don’t want to turn into when they ‘grow up’. That type of conversation and word use really made them seem like high school students. Their maturity level seemed lower then the actual high school student characters in Sumino’s I Want to Eat Your Pancreas (君の膵臓をたべたい).
While I did enjoy the first Sumino novel that I read, I Want to Eat Your Pancreas (君の膵臓をたべたい), I did feel a little iffy about how he wrote his characters . While I did like some elements of Saukra’s personally and personal journey, she did seems like a ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl.’ She felt like a character that was written specifically for men to enjoy. A girl who steps into a boring introverted boy’s life and makes his life more exciting and meaningful. Hisano in Blue, Painful, Fragile(青くて痛くて脆い) gave me the same exact impression! Another girl who steps into a boring introverted boy’s life and makes his life more exciting and meaningful. Besides the male main character’s love of reading in I Want to Eat Your Pancreas (君の膵臓をたべたい), Kaede and him might as well have been the same person in the beginning of their stories.
While I am not really a fan of his character writing skills, I really do appreciate Sumino’s dialog writing skills. I think it is easy to write weird or silly sounding dialog when attempting to capture authentic causal speech in novels. But Sumino pulls it off seamlessly in all of his novels from my point of view.
There is a movie based off of this novel that is fairly loyal to the plot line. There are scenes from the book that are combined to help with the pace of the movie. Some of the characters were changed as well. But I think it would help hesitant readers to check out the movie first to help feel more confident while reading this book. I did like the overall feeling of the book better then the movie. While watching the movie I thought that Kaede was kind of scary but through the book I was able to understand the motive of the character a bit better.
I was interested in Sumino’s work at first due to the popularity of I Want to Eat Your Pancreas (君の膵臓をたべたい) in both Japan and the Japanese learning community. Also, I was also trying to branch out more as I usually tend to read works by female authors. I do not think I will read another Sumino Yoru novel as 3 is more then enough for me right now. Reading his novels has really helped me to think about what I like in story lines so over all reading his books was a good experience. I think that well rounded, believable characters is something I that 100% need to fall in love with a book.
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 40 to completion.
Vocabulary: N2 student level(intermediate)
I think that this book would be perfect vocabulary wise for N2 level students. I am working on my N1 level vocabulary at the moment and did not have any issues with understanding the words used though out this book.
There are not any specialized vocabulary groups that stuck out to me in this novel. This story does take place in a university and having some familiarity with school related words will help you when reading this book. But since this is university and not high school, even the school related words tend to me more everyday use words.
While reading this book, I noticed a decent rate of word reuse. I found that there would often be words repeated within the same page set or chapters. The words that were repeated often in a situation/scene were not exactly difficult ones, but I think this book could be a great choice for reinforcing and deepening knowledge of N2 level vocabulary.
There is very little furigana use in the edition of the novel that I purchased.
Grammar: N3-N2 student level(low intermediate)
I think that a student who has a strong grasp of level N3 grammar and is starting N2 level studies would not struggle too much with sentence structure while reading this book. It is written in first person with the main character explaining things from his perspective in simple causal Japanese.
There were a few times while Kaede was looking for a job were formal business level polite Japanese was used. But for the most part if polite formal was used, it was when the characters would be speaking to upper level classmates and used very basic polite form when speaking to them.
All of the characters in this book speak standard Japanese dialect. So readers should not find reading the dialog in this novel a barrier to understanding the plot line.
I do think that readers have to have a strong understanding of Japanese culture before reading this novel. There are a few musical references here and there, but nothing that is important enough that you would have to be familiar with in order to understand the plot line. This book will give you a brief glance into the life of university students in Japan, what role university clubs tend to play in their lives, and the process of finding a job for post graduation life.
My university in the USA was seen as a ‘commuter school’, meaning that most of the students did not live on campus. A lot of my classmates either lived alone or with their families and had full time employment while going to school. So at my school, clubs just weren’t that big of a deal. I had attended a few club meetings here and there, but it seemed like most people were just causal members. I was surprised when I moved to Japan to see what a large role groups and clubs played in the average university student’s life. The club I ended up joining met 3 times a week! And one of those days was Saturday! I couldn’t believe it! But I did end up regularly going to this club and it was fun to get to know the other members so well. So the club mentioned in this book does seem somewhat realistic to me as a Japanese university circle. In Blue, Painful, Fragile(青くて痛くて脆い), Moai was a vague club that seemed to attract members who are interested in networking opportunities..
A lot of the students who join Moai did so due to the rumors around Moai being a great place to network and find the connections needed to secure a future job. I am not familiar with this type of university club in Japan, I believe that most clubs are just for students who share the same hobby to get together and have fun. One of Kaede’s coworkers in the book mentioned that she felt weird about joining a club just for job hunting. I think that the general impression that a lot of university students would have. Since Moai was most about networking, Kaede and his friend were seen as suspicious when they tried to infiltrate the club as they were 4th year students who already had jobs lined up.
It is seen as 100% necessary for students to secure full-time employment while still in university. More specifically, after having fun for the first two years, students are supposed to dye their hair back to its natural color and start job hunting full time during their 3rd-4th year of university. 4th year university students should already have jobs line up and use the last year of school as a time for fun and travel before they start their jobs after graduation. Its even common for students to stay an extra year in school if they are unable to find a job. The idea is that there is that many entry level jobs are specifically only given to university students. Past that, the individual would be considered mid-level and companies might be more hesitant to give them a job.
Its been 10 years since I have been a university student in Japan, but Blue, Painful, Fragile(青くて痛くて脆い) seemed to get the university job hunting experience right. Most of my friends followed the path that was accurately explained in this novel. But again, this was 8-10 years ago so I am not sure if it is still the same now. Some of my friends who graduated years later still seemed to be following the same timeline.
One sub-plot that I found interesting the the use of events to gather women for the use of men that were higher up in the group. It makes me wonder if this was a reference to the real life rape scandal that happened at Waseda University. There was a social club called ‘Sugar-Free’ that made the news around 20 years ago as the group was dissolved after the arrests of prominent members for gang rape charges. Its possible that its completely unrelated, its just a event that popped into my head while I was reading the book and watching the movie. I have a feeling that it might have been done on purpose though to make Moai seem more sinister.
Who should read this book?
Fans of Sumino. N2 students who are looking to read a novel based in a university setting. Those who are interested in learning more about job hunting culture and university life of Japanese university students.
Since the plot of this book has more planning/scheming then action, I do not recommended it for a language learners first book. If you want to read a Sumino book, I would recommend reading I want to eat your Pancreas(君の膵臓をたべたい) or 麦本三歩の好きなもの第一集(Sanpo Mugimoto’s Favorite Things Part One) first.
Where can I read the first few pages of this book?
Using the following link, you can read the first few pages of this book on Bookwalker.jp by clicking on the image of the book cover.
This author is extremely popular and you might be able to find it at your local library if they carry any Japanese novels. I have also seen it at Chicago’s Kinokuniya book store quite often. This is where I purchased this book.
The movie based off of this novel was released in August of 2020. I did end up watching the movie before reading the book. The movie kind of seemed like a horror movie to me! I think its because I more imagined myself in Hisano’s place then in Kaeda’s. She took the time to make a random friend… only to have him to that to her? It does kind of reflect my experience in high school of trying to make guy friends. I am so glad that I am older and not a high school student anymore. Anyways, even after finding the movie scary, I still did feel inspired to read the book and find out what the differences were.
Late last year I wrote a review of Sumino’s most popular novel, I want to eat your Pancreas(君の膵臓をたべたい). It follows the story of Haruki and Sakura, two high school students, and the friendship that they develop thanks to a shared secret. I feel like the vibe, story line, and characters are very similar to Blue, Painful, Fragile(青くて痛くて脆い)… almost too similar. But if you like one of these books, you are very likely to like the other one as well. SO its worth cheaping one or both of them out.
I also wrote a review earlier this year for Sumino’s 麦本三歩の好きなもの第一集(Sanpo Mugimoto’s Favorite Things Part One). This novel is a collection of short stories that act as snap shots of the life of a young eccentric librarian. This story line is completely different then the two other books of his that I have mentioned in this post. While it was a fun read, I prefer longer more cohesive story lines.