When I first read about the first book out of the Haikasoru imprint from VIZ, somehow the label light novel stuck in my head and my interest in reading it lessened. I admit this was an error of judgment, because it’s as serious (or mature if you want to use another term) as things can get. Basically it’s an Earth invasion novel about alien Von Neumann probes that are tasked to unTerraform the world for its silent masters. At first sluggish and easy to kill, the so called mimics soon adapt to the defense strategies of the humans and soon Earth is under siege.
Into that situation is thrust one of the Japanese recruits who has to fight his first battle, dies and reawakens later just a day before said battle. If you know the movie Groundhog Day, you’ll know what to expect next. The same day, repeating again and again, with the Japanese recruit the only one remembering the past loops. The main difference is that the loops aren’t a tool to find personal happiness, but about becoming a better soldier to survive as long as possible in each loop and find out how to break them.
Upon reading the novel Heinlein’s Starship Trooper came to my mind, which I heard was marketed as young adult novel (though I can’t find any citation for that, at other places I read it was the first novel of Heinlein after his juvenile phase and not marketed so) and also has a sort of coming-of-age arc with the personal outlook of a young man going from recruit to highly trained professional. Even the endings are eerily similar in that the story ends at an appropriate moment in the personal journey, while the bigger story, the war against the aliens, is far from over.
Apart from that, though, they are very different. Where Heinlein’s novel is all about duty and citizenship, Sakurazaka’s novel is much bleaker in outlook and has none of the dogmatic approach of Heinlein. His protagonist Keiji merely wants to survive and in the beginning, if he could, would have abandoned everything. The novel feels more authentic in its depiction of the inner turmoil of Keiji when he’s confronted with the real battlefield for the first time as well as his entire development over the course of the countless loops.
And as for the bleakness, that comes out of Keiji’s personal journey as well, as there’s a mean twist near the end that makes sure nobody gets easy off. This is not a novel about winning a war, but about realizing that in the end all that counts is the survival of the human race, not individuals. It’s a game of numbers, and as so often in those, some eggs get broken (the title really is appropriate). Pretty heavy for a light novel, but then, looking at some of the harrowing stuff that gets published as young adult these days, I wonder if its the adults that need protection and not the young ones.
One thing that was also really nifty about the novel was that it gave a good explanation for why the loops happened and didn’t just use it as a literary device. It’s not a hard SF novel, but it uses well-known concepts from the SF-toolbox in a smart way. You can’t ask for more.