My Little Sister Can Read Kanji Volume 1
By Takashi Kaiji, Halki Minamura
As a piece of prose that starts, at the very least entertainingly bad, My Little Sister Can Read Kanji quickly begins a free fall into the dumpster bin within the first few chapters. The entire product blurs as it turns into a swim through muddy waters. The end result is a painfully slow read, where the only reprieve is the end of the book. The first few chapters are admittedly uproariously funny; My Little Sister can Read Kanji stabs the light novel conventions the entire time, right down to the book’s narrator himself lacking any identifiable signs of intelligence.
The further into the book I got, the more gags get recycled. The narrator, Gin Imose, gradually becomes more and more irritating. My Little Sister Can Read Kanji loses the little novelty it has as it is a journey through cliche after cliche, through out the entire list available in anime and manga. The problems begin once Gin and his friends are transported to the present from the far future. although the joke, that the world otaku culture consumed Japan, loses its entertainment value almost immediately. One idea I thought was funny early on, that the prime minister of Japan was now a literal animated character, was recycled verbatim until any comedic value had been lost, and became excruciating while still appearing in the final chapters.
This is a parody, so to a degree, My Little Sister Can Read Kanji succeeds at what it sets out to do. However it also feels that the book is equally using the conventions of the light novel genre as it mocks them. Midway through the book, Gin enrolls in a twenty-first century high school. This scenario could prove perfect grounds to mock the setting of many light novels and conventions that come with them, such as the overly enthusiastic classmates, and the rose-tinted goggles manga, anime, and light novels view high school through. However, very little is done with the people from this time period. The people of the early twenty first century are given little to no personality, in contrast to the setting of the twenty-third century.
The twenty-third century as depicted in this book, features time travelling marshmallows, as well as the aforementioned animated prime minister. That world has actual personality put into it. No, it is never subtle, as this is a parody, but it is entertaining and creative. The present day Japan, as presented in My Little Sister Can Read Kanji, is the same setting that has been seen in countless pieces of otaku media, only with the lack of irony that could have made that entire portion of the book entertaining. This would not be a huge problem if it were not for the fact that most of the book takes place in the present day, while the surreal world of the future is absent.
The biggest problem is that this is only the first book in a series of five books, yet it feels like there is nothing left to really explore. My Little Sister Can Read Kanji revealed its weak hand early on in the first book, and offers little reason to continue reading, even beyond the first few chapters of this volume. My Little Sister Can Read Kanji just exists, and that is amazing in and of itself. This book leaves little little impression once it finally sets its wheels in motion, positive or negative.