I really don’t remember exactly when and where I first heard about Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s All You Need Is Kill but after I did it seemed to keep popping up everywhere I looked. It was even picked up by Warner Brothers to make into a live-action film. All You Need Is Kill was originally published in Japan as a light novel in 2004. The English edition, translated by Alexander O. Smith, was one of the very first books to be released by Viz Media’s Haikasoru imprint in 2009. I haven’ read much military science fiction but All You Need Is Kill certainly is that, complete with alien intelligence and battle suits. What particularly caught my interest in the novel was that the main character, Keiji Kiriya, dies during his first battle only to wake up in his bunk thirty hours before over and over again.
The battle on Kotoiushi Island would be pivotal in humanity’s war with the Mimics. If lost, the rest of Japan would follow, along with the technology that made it possible to fight against the constantly evolving invading force. Keiji is a Jacket jockey in the United Defense Force’s 301st Armored Infantry Division which was sent to reinforce the island. He doesn’t even make it through his first battle. Or his second. Or his third. Somehow stuck in a time-loop he is forced to live and die in the same battle again and again. The only thing he can do is learn to fight a little better and hope to survive a little longer each time. Rita Vrataski, member of the U.S. Army Special Forces, has killed more Mimics than any other person in the world. Known as the Full Metal Bitch, not that anyone would call her that to her face, she is formidable, efficient, and scary as hell on the battlefield. She is also one of the last hopes remaining to end the war and may be the only person who can help Keiji escape his fate.
Although All You Need Is Kill is primarily entertainment and not overly serious, Sakurazaka still works in some environmental, technological, and social commentary. At least for me, the story also had a convincing emotional impact. Repeatedly living through the horrors of war, your own death, and the death of your friends and those around you changes a person and Sakurazaka captures this quite well. I like Keiji a lot and was most interested in his story, told in the first person. The third quarter of the book, written in the third person, focuses on Rita and the background of the war with the Mimics. While interesting and certainly important, especially in understanding Rita and her history, I still looked forward to getting back to Keiji. Which is not to say that I didn’t like Rita, because I did. I liked most of the secondary characters as well; Keiji’s bunk-mate and veteran Yonabaru in particular amused me as much as he tended to annoy others in his platoon. I also appreciated the fact that not everyone was assumed to be straight (although pretty much all of them were.)
The translation Smith has done for All You Need Is Kill is great–it’s straightforward with a good flow that hits hard and fast. There is also a nice use of repeated phrases to emphasize the time-loop that Keiji’s stuck in. The original light novel was illustrated by Yoshitoshi ABe and it’s a pity that none of his art was included in the Haikasoru edition beyond the cover–I really would have liked to have seen more of his work. I enjoyed All You Need Is Kill even more than I was expecting to and was impressed by how much action and story Sakurazaka was able to fit into such a relatively short work (it comes in at just under 200 pages.) I’m really looking forward to picking up his only other work currently available in English, also released through Haikasoru, Slum Online.