translated by Tyran Grillo
July 1, 2016
How could I not read this when I saw the following back cover copy: “Kame-kun is a hero in a half shell of an altogether different sort, a killing machine designed for combat who wants to enjoy the simple pleasures of daily life…even as he is haunted by vague memories of a war on Jupiter.”
You’re intrigued, I can tell. As well you should be, because Kame-kun is one of the most endearing characters you’ll come across in speculative fiction…and he never says a word. Reserved, polite, uncertain, haunted- Kame-kun is all of these things because he is out of place on so many levels. Not only is he a turtle living amongst humans; Kame-kun is a cyborg, engineered to help fight a war on Jupiter against bio-engineered Super Crayfish that were originally developed by a film company interested in making a movie about Jupiter after humans figured out how to open wormholes to that planet.
You read that right.
What makes Kame-kun so interesting is his constant self-doubt and questioning. The reader stays in his head the entire time, listening to his endless questions about who, what, and why he is. Strange, unexpected thoughts rise up in his mind that he assumes were programmed into him long ago. He wonders if he’s ever hibernated before, or traveled to Jupiter often. He tries to parse out his feelings for a friendly librarian- the only real friend that Kame-kun has. Everyone else, from the schoolgirls on the bus to his employer, treat him like a silly curiosity. A turtle walking on two legs and using a laptop? Apparently it’s hilarious to many people. And this (often biting) laughter reminds Kame-kun of his isolation. I found myself feeling so sorry for him that I just wanted to crawl into the story and give him a hug. Trust me, this doesn’t happen often. Plus, it would be a bit awkward trying to hug a cyborg turtle…
Ultimately, Kame-kun realizes that the development of cyborg turtles like himself is part of a larger plan for humans and cyborg armies and…well, I’ll let you find out for yourself. I’ll just say here that Kitano’s writing style is addictive- measured, controlled, but with an ebullience just simmering under the surface. I want to read more of his “Turtl[e]pic” and I want to read it yesterday.
But let me leave you with some excellent introductory words from the translator, Tyran Grillo: “Science fiction is an epic variation on themes of integration. Hybrid mixtures between planets, dimensions, and species are the genre’s lifeblood. Yusaku Kitano’s Mr. Turtle operates on all three of these cylinders, along with a fourth, indefinable quality that makes the Japanese author’s world-building stand out for its fragile hyper-realism.”