All You Need Is Kill
By Hiroshi Sakurazaka
Hey, what if Groundhog Day was, like, totally badass, with aliens, robots, explosions, blood, gore, and all that shit? Wouldn't that be awesome? That's a terrible way to describe this book, but it's actually kind of apt. It takes place in the future after aliens called Mimics have invaded the earth and humanity is engaged in a decades-long war with them, with soldiers suiting up in mecha-style armor called Jackets to die in mass quantities. Our hero, Keiji Kariya is a green recruit who gets slaughtered in his first battle, but then he wakes up back in his bunk two days earlier and keeps reliving the battle over and over again. He's not sure why it happened, but he decides that since he's stuck in a time loop that always ends with his death, he'll take every available moment he has on each trip through death and back to train himself until he eventually makes it out the other side. And he seems to be succeeding until he makes contact with somebody else who has experienced a similar effect, a U.S. Special Forces soldier named Rita Vrataski, better known as the Full Metal Bitch.
It's a pretty compelling and fast-moving conceit, with Keiji narrating and putting us right in his head in the heat of battle. Exciting stuff, full of science-fictional descriptions and lots of military movie swearing and violence. For the first half of the book, anyway. At the point when Rita makes contact with Keiji, the narrative suddenly shifts to her, spending a good deal of time revealing her backstory, the origin and intent of the aliens, and the sci-fi reason for the time loops (it involves tachyons). It's a decent bit of exposition, but it brings the breakneck forward momentum of the story to a complete stop. One can see why Sakurazaka found it necessary, but I wish he would have spent less time on Rita's history and more on Keiji's battles.
But eventually the narrative works its way back to the present, and everything comes to a satisfying conclusion, although there's a somewhat nonsensical twist at the end that's obviously designed to up the drama. It accomplishes its task though; the final battle seems like something out of a flashy anime. And the author's afterword reveals another, non-Bill-Murray-related source of inspiration: video games. It makes sense (especially in the Japanese society where the book originated, in which games are even more commonplace than in the U.S.); how many gamers have replayed a level over and over until navigating its obstacles and defeating the boss became a matter of instinct? Yeah, it's a fun read, and the translation by Alexander O. Smith is especially good, making every phrase and description flow naturally, even though much of it is slang-ridden and almost stream-of-consciousness. Anime and manga buffs rejoice: the medium of prose has also become a source of techy Japanese action and adventure.