Book Spotlight: Nikkei Detective – Naomi Hirahara

To learn more about Book Spotlight, read this first.

In Nikkei Detective, private investigator Kevin Shirota races against the clock to solve a murder so he can save his kidnapped daughter.

What I liked:

  • Kevin and Maddy’s up-and-down relationship is sensitively and heartwarmingly centered without coming across as unrealistic. If Nikkei Detective was ever expanded into a book, I would enjoy reading chapters alternating between Kevin’s and Maddy’s POVs. I still haven’t read one of Hirahara’s full-length novels, but just from reading her serials, I’d say she certainly has a talent for creating diverse and convincing POVs. Also, Kevin’s portrayal feels very honest, flaws and all. The more I think about how Kevin perceives his own flaws, the more I want to read the story from Maddy’s POV to see whether she notices and/or responds to those same flaws, or other ones.
  • Now I’m on a roll regarding POV, but thinking about Kevin’s POV in relation to both himself and Maddy led me to compare this story with よつばと! Obviously, POV works a little differently in manga, but my interest is in how the rendering of certain POVs shapes our understanding of character relationships, which can be considered in the context of any medium featuring characters. Also, I wonder if any 日本人/日系人 writer has discussed the meanings and manifestations of fatherhood in Japanese versus JA/Nikkei communities. I’d especially be interested in discussions around immediate families composed of both 日本人 and 日系人 members. I don’t think I have such a book on my TBR, but I find it hard to believe no JA/Nikkei writer has tackled this topic. Maybe I need to look more carefully, or expand my search to articles and not just books.
  • I’ve never been to Little Tokyo, but I imagine the details Hirahara sketches for us make local JA/Nikkei readers go, ああ, そうそう! I really enjoy reading work set in places obviously well-known to the writer. I’m not a fan of reading pages and pages of setting description, so I appreciate writers who can set a scene with a few words, letting readers either fill in or not, without hampering our understanding of the story. If I don’t fully understand something because I don’t share the writer’s experience of that thing, I’m ok with that.
  • Am I the only one who thought Harumi has the perfect persona for a blond lady/foreign-lady manga character? For example, that character in 暗殺教室 comes to mind…or the mother from ましろのおと and I think Kevin and Maddy could both be drawn well by the right artist.

What I learned:

  • I didn’t realize JA/Nikkei communities celebrated 七夕. I remember seeing the decorated streets one time while visiting my aunt, but in my head, 七夕 was one of those, didn’t-make-it-across-the-ocean type practices. Now I wonder if Bay Area Nikkei communities also celebrate it. The only ‘community’ event we’ve ever really participated in is Obon, so I’m not sure what other events the temples put on during the rest of the year. I’ve heard they do mochitsuki and I believe San Jose J-town and/or Mountain View does something called the Cherry Blossom Festival. At any rate, I’m assuming Hirahara is familiar with quite a few Nikkei intracommunity events, and it’s very interesting to read about a JA/Nikkei experience so different from my own.

Questions I had:

  • How does Kevin get into Maddy’s phone to check her texts? They’re obviously close, but I don’t know any kid who would willingly give their parent the passcode to their phone.
  • How did Hirahara decide on Satoko Fujii’s connection to Fukushima? Since we never get to know Satoko, I’m not sure it’s as straightforward as, ‘honor and support the people affected by 3/11, and remember their struggles are ongoing today,’ or if there is some other meaning I missed. I wonder if Satoko – represented to the reader in hindsight as people reflect on her life and death, but never in the present – somehow symbolizes the treatment of memory in the JA/Nikkei community, especially with regard to traumatic events like 3/11. The first installment of this story is dated August 14, 2014, over three years since 3/11, which makes me think remembering and forgetting might be key. I was away at college when 3/11 happened, so I don’t know how my local JA/Nikkei community responded, but I know 3/11 continues to be deeply significant to both the people affected and Japan as a whole.

Follow-up:

  • There’s one more completed serial to read, plus the one Hirahara is currently writing. I don’t think I read them in chronological order, but I might go back and try to examine how her serial-writing style changes over time.
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