By Jacques Antoine
This is a book for Japanese martial arts lovers like me. Every fight is described in realistic detail so I can ‘see’ every fighting technique. Emily is a half-Japanese teenager whose American father is ex-military and trying to hide his family from some mysterious threat. Of course, Emily is taught a bunch of special skills in case she ever needs them, such as various martial arts and bushcraft. Unlike other books like this, I find her training feels natural. She learned martial arts at a local dojo and her days in the woods with her dad were ‘camping,’ not obvious paramilitary training, so when she started fighting back, it felt right to me. This isn’t a true urban fantasy novel, but there’s enough intrigue and strange events that it seems imaginary.
By Leza Lowitz, Shogo Oketani
This was the first novel I read that had everything I craved: a setting in Japan, both rural and urban, cool ninja training, ancient Japanese mythology, a half-Japanese kid who’s never been to Japan but must go to fulfill her destiny, and a bit of spy intrigue as well. Yes, it’s the classic tale of “kid who was taught fighting skills but was never told what or why.” However, because of the Japanese angle, especially the descriptions of Japan and its culture which is so different than the western world, I thought the story was fresh. I do think the main character took too long to find herself, but my only real complaint is that the authors didn’t continue the series or write more books like this.
By Faith Hunter
While this urban fantasy series isn’t Japanese per se, it’s full of realistic martial arts action. I love this series because of the unique mixture of concepts, and the well-imagined and likeable characters, even the bad guys. Jane Yellowrock is a shotgun-toting, motorbike riding, kick ass woman. She’s also a Cherokee Skinwalker (shapeshifter) and a security professional who works for vampire organizations to hunt down and kill their rogues; those who can't control themselves from biting humans. The books are set in modern New Orleans, which is quite an interesting location for me. I just don’t think you can get a better or weirder combination of ideas: Cherokee mythology and vampires. It may sound like a weird concept, but there are 13 books in the series. It works.
Movie based on the book by Mamoru Oshio
When I watched Blood: The Last Vampire, a Japanese horror film based on manga by Mamoru Oshii, I was hooked. I discovered Saya, and manga. Saya is a fierce and beautiful vampire killer who wears a modest Japanese school uniform while hunting. The vampires mostly look like normal people. Some are scared and run, others fight back. Either way, they die. I liked the contradicting image of the innocent-looking schoolgirl who is a ferocious killer, but the story was also thought-provoking. When Saya makes a mistake and kills an innocent person, it showed a dilemma most ‘hero’ stories don’t address. Are we either completely good or always evil? Saya is the inspiration for Shoko, the lead character in my novels, and she struggles with this. Can you serve the gods and also be a killer?