Author: Miyuki Miyabe (Translator: Alexander O. Smith)
Year of publication: 2009
your brain on books rating: 3
Wataru Mitani was rather surprised to discover that the abandoned building down the street from his family’s apartment houses a gateway to another world called Vision. And he’s not the only one who knows about it; Mitsuru Ashikawa, one of Wataru’s classmates, has not only seen the gateway but stepped through it and has been granted Traveler status so he can move freely throughout Vision. Wataru and Mitsuru have something else in common, too. Their families have been torn apart – Mitsuru’s by murder, and Wataru’s by an impending divorce. When Mitsuru visits Wataru in the middle of the night and hands him a Traveler’s token, Wataru leaves the real world for Vision, and the two boys begin separate quests to the Tower of Destiny in the hope that the Goddess will change their fates.
The problem is, their own destinies are not the only things hanging in the balance. The very different paths that Wataru and Mitsuru walk on their way to the Tower have serious consequences for the world in which they are Travelers, and Vision may not survive their stay.
Miyabe’s greatest success is the degree to which her characters are well-crafted. Wataru is believable not just as a young boy in unfamiliar surroundings, but also as the Brave (literally, this is the category of Traveler into which he falls) he turns out to be. He experiences nearly every emotion during his journey across Vision, and he bears them all with the amount of grace possible for a person of his maturity in increasingly challenging situations. Wataru’s traveling companions complement him; they are the humor to his sadness, the certainty to his indecisiveness, the fear to his courage. In contrast, Mitsuru’s cool indifference to the moral conflicts he faces places him at the opposite end of the spectrum: a testament to Miyabe’s range.
Unfortunately, Miyabe’s efforts to write a story that will (or should) endure fall flat once readers look past her characterizations. Though the plot is interesting, it is disappointingly unoriginal. Vision is a realm created and influenced by the imaginations of humans who live in the real world. Wataru is an ordinary boy who accidentally happens upon Vision and subsequently embarks on a quest to reach a distant, sacred tower where a goddess lives. He wears a pendant that identifies him as one of the Goddess’s chosen and protected Travelers. At one point, he passes through a region known as the Swamp of Grief.
You’re right – it’s The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende. Wataru even manages to find himself a nice dragon friend to fly him around sometimes. Each of these uncanny similarities to Ende’s revered contribution to the children’s literary canon detracts further from Miyabe’s work, until there is little left to applaud that wasn’t already written by Ende thirty years prior.
Readers with a taste for adventure should certainly give Brave Story a try, but they should measure their expectations; this story doesn’t test the borders of the map.