Book Review: “Herz aus Stern”
Since I have written small game and other product reviews in forums or on the pages of various online stores, I now felt like writing a detailed review for a book. It is the book “Herz aus Stern” by Nino Kerl, which was published on 14.02.2020. Just because I don’t see it as a perfect work nor as a complete flop, but quite controversial in its qualities, I want to report about it.
I myself am a big fan of many animes, mangas and various RPGs and other game series. Like the author, I am a big fan of e.g. the Final Fantasy games or I also read many mangas or watch anime, which deal with Japanese culture, like Noragami or Death Note. Last but not least, I have been reading Japanese light novel series for over ten years, starting with Kinos Reise or Haruhi Suzumiya, up to current series like Accel World or Goblin Slayer (mostly in German, or alternatively in English). Against this background, I was very surprised when Nino Kerl (whose YouTube channel I follow for Anime News) announced a (light) novel that thus comes from Germany and not Japan.
In the following I will discuss different aspects of the book. But there will also be some small spoilers. If you want to read a summary without spoilers, you can scroll down to the conclusion.
The story begins with the little girl Su, who, similar to “Peter Pan”, is abducted into a fantasy world in order to escape her dreary and sad everyday life. This “fantasy world” is the Milky Way, where she travels through the Milky Way galaxy with the Milkybeard Pirate Band and gets to know different planets and cultures. The storyline here is very much like “One Piece”, with the difference that the adventures are mastered here on planets and not on islands. What at first sounds good and would make sense as a series, unfortunately often turns into incoherent events in the book, which are only poorly connected and only flow into each other in the last third of the book. The last part of the book is the one that gains the most momentum, but is unfortunately dealt with far too quickly. I asked myself the question whether the author could not have pushed the main story more into the foreground and given it more relevance from the very beginning, rather than pushing it into the background through the many little stories and fobbing it off much too quickly at the end. Thus, the story sections, such as the ones about “Moby Dick” and “Restaurant Anubiss”, are partly action-packed and funny plots, but hardly help the main story. Other locations, on the other hand, such as “Kuhdaiba”, the artificial planet, present interesting discussions in the space and offer more development for the entire event with their plot.
The characters in the book are all quite extraordinary and often based on animals or deities (from different religions). These then usually behave according to their models. Nevertheless, some characters have more love than others. While main characters like Hatschi or NekoNeko are given a meaningful background story over time, other characters are treated only very briefly (despite attached illustrations), although they should have been described much more precisely in the main plot. The characters Sarang or Klippot/Tenno could be mentioned here as examples, but I found the girl Yoru even worse. She almost represents (without too much spoiling) the end of the galaxy, but only appears on the last pages of the book, although her existence could have been hinted at much earlier in other parts of the plot. Also, the interaction between certain characters makes little sense if you know the end of the book. Why is a king of the galaxy not recognized by any of its inhabitants?
While the last two main points sounded rather negative, the illustrations have to be emphasized positively – because they have really become very beautiful and detailed. The illustrator Reyhan Yildirim has shown a good hand at portraying the characters beautifully in manga style. If you may mention something negative, it’s rather the lack of actual pictures of scenes in the book – the characters are almost exclusively depicted in profile and not during a plot, as it is usual in light novels. This makes it difficult for me to imagine what certain places or events look like. When the pirate crew rips through the Milky Way galaxy with a real (wooden) ship, does it really float on milk (which would be logical considering the many cow allusions) or on many small stars that look like a sea? Also the fast rising of rope ladders or stairs by consuming beans was hard to imagine. Although an anime implementation is quite unlikely (but you could certainly get 26~52 episodes out of it – just no movie, that would be too short), I would be interested in how to animate these scenes.
With the writing style of the book I am also very ambivalent. Actually, you have to give the author a lot of respect for the wonderful metaphors he came up with to describe the places, feelings of the characters and situations. But since these are often quite long, I have often lost myself in them as a reader and digressed – especially when they can easily go over a quarter page. Nevertheless I got used to it and found the writing style very interesting. However, there were two other things about the writing style that I found less good and that even bothered me a lot until the end of the book.
One is the use of brackets in the text to explain things in more detail or to insert comments by the author himself (rarely as a footnote). This is quite unusual in novels and always interrupts the flow of the story. It feels like reading a “directors cut” of the book with live comments from the author. It’s not that I always found these comments bad (some of them are funny or interesting), but since the book already has a glossary of about 20 pages at the end, I would have rather seen such further explanations by the author there than being constantly thrown out of the plot. Nevertheless, it seemed to me that rather at the beginning of the book (when the worlds are discovered and explained) there are more staple inserts than towards the end of the book.
The other problem I see in the writing style of the book is the extremely high reuse of different phrases. These include among others:
– „Hera hab Dank. Und Dank sei euer.“
– „Vergebt und vergesst, ich bitte euch.“
– „Weiße Tage und goldene Nächte.“
– „… , wenn’s beliebt.“
Although it is probably intended that people in the Milky Way galaxy often use these and other phrases, their use is far too high. Often I jumped directly automatically about 5 words further because I just didn’t want to read it anymore. The author himself says that his book was actually planned as a children’s story. Here it would make sense to give the characters in short books a certain profile that is easy to remember. But if you have a novel with 415 pages (incl. illustrations, excl. appendix), then these phrases get annoying after 100 pages at the latest. The use of language by certain characters is similarly striking. For example, Klippot always says “Klipp. Klipp.”, while Sarang always says “Holy. Holy. Holy.” says. Until the end, I didn’t understand how these characters could say that at the end without looking ridiculous in a conversation.
Further personal comments
While reading the book I noticed a few other things. I would not classify them “objectively” as good or bad, but “subjectively” I find them a bit strange.
On the one hand, the book does show an illustration for each character, but only one character is missing and that is the main character of the story itself: the human girl Su. At first I thought that the author had done this especially so that you have to introduce her to yourself (as the only non-imaginary person), but after the end of the story, the illustration is given later – but why only at the end? Either I would have shown it at the beginning, as with any other character, or not at all. To show it at the end, I find it a bit strange and thought it was a misprint of the book at first.
Another point is the naming. Those who have consumed a lot of manga and anime will immediately understand many names from the Japanese language, such as “Neko”, “Shiro”, “Yoru” or the names of the Japanese lucky gods. Since I also attended a Japanese course and am constantly learning the language, I understand these words without any problems. However, I felt a bit stupid when I couldn’t read them properly on the character profile pages, even though they were in Japanese and German. The problem was that these typical Japanese words are not written in Hiragana but in Katakana. This would make sense with foreign words, but since “cat”, “white” and “night” are normal native words, the spelling with katakana surprised me here.
A final personal point is the use of the word “pirates”. Historically, pirates are robbers of the seas, who raid other ships and towns and do not stop at killing people. But here in history, the Milkbeard Pirate gang does exactly the opposite: they trade and help people. I’m well aware that anime like One Piece and various children’s series misrepresent the image of the “pirates”, but is that why it had to be adopted in this book? I always find it strange when good and bad pirates are told.
Although the book surprised me positively in some places, such as the methapers, illustrations and inventiveness in certain places, it remained overall below my expectations. This was mainly due to the moderate plot structure and the writing style, which takes getting used to. If the author had placed more emphasis on the development of the main plot and reduced the use of language by the characters more, the novel would have become more digestible. I guess that readers who have had less contact with anime, mangas and Japanese culture so far, could possibly enjoy the book more, because they experience much more new things than anyone else who already knows the allusions inside out and finds them rather embarrassing (where I myself have been very wavering). Nevertheless I would rate the book as worth reading if you can cope with the last points and just want to read a German “light novel”.
My rating: ★★★☆☆
- very nice character drawings (but too few about actual events)
- very nicely formulated metaphors
- partly interesting worlds and stories
- almost unbearable repetition of different phrases
- rather incoherent stringing together of individual stories (places, planets), which together only moderately lead to a main story
- clear “fanfiction” aftertaste (a lot of new, but also many “stolen” ideas)
Feedback to the author for the future
I don’t know if Nino Kerl will ever read my review of his book. Nevertheless I would like to give feedback, respectively wishes for future books from him. I find his writing style itself quite interesting, since I have rarely read such well-formulated metaphors. But since the story is based on so many phrase repetitions, I think the good writing style was lost. It would be nice if he wrote a new book, if it kept the writing style but let the characters speak more “normally”. It would also be helpful to have fewer references to various other franchises. It’s perfectly okay to write the main story as a reinterpretation of another story (like the manga and anime “Dragon Ball” is based on the novel “Journey to the West”), but if you put too many foreign stories together (like One Piece, Death Note etc.), you just create a fanfiction without a character of its own.