A few years back I made a stab at teaching myself Japanese. I was making pretty good progress -- I'd memorized a couple hundred kanji and even managed, with the help of a dictionary, to read a few chapters of a manga -- but then, as it has an annoying habit of doing, life got in the way and I fell off track.
At the start of this year, I finally decided to give it another go, and after practicing for the last few months I've reached the point where I'm ready to take a stab at reading again.
In the years since my last attempt, it's become a lot easier to obtain Japanese texts. Back then, you had to import physical copies through companies like Yes Asia and CD Japan. The price wasn't too bad -- Japanese books are cheap enough that even with the cost of international shipping, the price is still comparable to buying an English edition at MSRP -- but trans-Pacific shipping takes forever, and if you mess up by, oh, let's say accidentally order a Chinese edition instead of Japanese, you're kinda screwed. You could theoretically buy ebooks through Amazon.jp back then, but region restrictions meant jumping through hoops, and doing so was a violation of Amazon's terms of service, which meant they could nuke your whole account if they found out.
But in the last few years, a Japanese ebook store called Bookwalker has emerged, and 99% of their items are available globally. They even have an English version of their site for selling translated manga, so you can create an account there and then browse the Japanese site.
Which means that my reading level is at the Japanese equivalent of Sweet Valley High and The Babysitters Club.
Nonetheless, the only way you can learn to read a language is by reading the language. If all you ever do is memorize vocabulary and and read grammar guides, you're just filling your head with useless trivia. You have to apply that knowledge before it'll take hold in your brain.
There are several imprints that specialize in books at my reading level. Of the ones I've looked at, Kodansha's Aoi Tori Bunko seems to put out the sort of books a teacher would want students to read, while Shueisha's Mirai Bunko and Kadokawa's Tsubasa Bunko aim for what kids would want to read. Tsubasa, for example, has novelizations of Makoto Shinkai and Mamoru Hosoda's anime films, and Mirai has books based upon the manga series Kimi ni Todoke. Even the exception bears this out -- the one anime novelization Aoi Tori's put out is based upon Koe no Katachi (A Silent Voice), which is notably a story about bullying and disability.
As they're introducing each other and speculating on what the girls have planned, a fourth boy appears -- and he's none other than their school's star athlete, the Soccer Prince!
Seriously. That's what they call him.
Every single line.
Don't get me wrong, as a way of honing my Japanese, that sort of thing is really good. I'm never going to forget that "王子" (ouji) means "prince," that's for sure. But as narration, it's kinda weird.
Anyways, the Soccer Prince is a total alpha-male. The other boys freak out at the indisputable fact that they're pitiful losers next to his hyper-masculinity. One boy's like, "Oh my God, if we let him in there, he's totally going to snag our girls for his harem and make 'em give him a reverse gangbang, like in that one video my brother has that he let me watch one time." (I'm paraphrasing here, but that's the gist.)
In the midst of all this, a fight breaks out between the Soccer Prince and another boy, and they accidentally knock Saku under a suit of armor. Poor Saku's so terrified he starts screaming like a baby, and suddenly the lights come on and the girls reveal that the whole thing was a set-up to get the guys in the mood for Halloween.
Oh, and there's a fourth girl present that the 1%ers are trying to hook up with the Soccer Prince, which is the reason they invited him, not because they wanted to cuck their boyfriends.
But no worries! When Saku expresses his self-doubts to her, Natsume laughs it off. Turns out she has a thing for twinky guys who are kinda wimps, so it's all good. And maybe later, if Saku wants to make out with the Soccer Prince, well...
(Again, I'm paraphrasing, but I don't think I'm reading any subtext that's not intended by the author, and a cursory search of Pixiv backs up on this.)
So that's the story of 1%: Halloween Panic. I can't say it's the best book I've ever read. Or even a good book. But for practicing my JP skills, it did its job.
Still, for my next adventure in Nihongo, I'm gonna go with a manga.
-by Sean O'Hara