Stars or Beasts

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Stars or Beasts
Author: Tahi Saihate
Specifications: ISBN  978-4480804570
155 pages
13.6 x 19.5 cm / 5.4 x 7.8 in (WxH)
Category: Fiction
Publisher: Chikuma Shobo Ltd.
Tokyo, 2015
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This volume by a poet making her first foray into fiction contains two novellas linked through shared characters and events. The title refers to a line said to be from an English textbook, which describes the age of 17 as “the season when teens turn into good-for-nothings, to emerge later as either stars or beasts”?and the title story centers on characters of that age.

The title work begins with news that the police have arrested high-school junior Mami Aino for the murder of her classmate and boyfriend Yūya Kazama. Aino is an “underground idol” who has gained a following for her live performances via word-of-mouth rather than the mass media, and two avid fans who live in her neighborhood, Morishita and Yamashiro, hurry to her house to see what they can find out through a previously installed listening device. Aino confesses that she dismembered the body and buried the parts in the shape of a star on the grounds of a shrine.

Morishita is smart, good-looking, and popular, whereas Yamashiro is regarded as a nobody; although they are classmates, and they’ve also seen each other at Aino’s concerts, they’ve rarely spoken. But now they join in a pact to turn Aino’s detention into a case of false arrest. Morishita kills a classmate and two other girls. He says he’ll kill himself next, to complete a pentagram, but Yamashiro thinks that will make it harder to persuade the police that Kazama was killed by Morishita instead of Aino, so he tells Morishita to kill him and bury his body at the shrine. Morishita does as Yamashiro suggests, and then turns himself in.

The second story, Tadashisa no kisetsu (Season of Righteousness), is set two years later and centers on an extended conversation between two of Morishita and Yamahiro’s classmates: a boy named Aoyama, and a girl named Watase, who used to be sweet on Aoyama when they were in high school. Aoyama had been a friend of Morishita since grade school; he talks about how he was recently quoted in a weekly magazine saying that Morishita was “a fine young man,” and it has led to a vituperative backlash from the victims’ family members. Both Aoyama and Watase wonder why they weren’t among those killed, and they continue to suffer from survivor’s guilt.

The stories explore the subtle movements of the heart during that sensitive stage of adolescence when young people are eager to assert their individuality, yet for lack of confidence remain trapped inside their own personal shells and find themselves unable to open their hearts and relate comfortably to others.