Review: Historical Fiction · Review: Teen Fiction · The Storybooker's Untranslated

Untranslated: Ashita no Nadja ~The Journey Begins at Age 16~ by Tomoko Konparu

Preface

This novel is the sequel to the 50-episode animated TV show, Ashita no Nadja. Therefore, this post will contain spoilers for that show. This post will also contain spoilers for the sequel novel itself.

Spoilers all round!

Short Summary

3 years after the show, Nadja is turning 16. She leaves the comfort of her mother’s home and sets out on a new adventure. She rejoins Troupe Dandelion just before disaster strikes that dramatically changes the troupe’s way of life.

Complete Synopsis

The accompanying video contains a complete synopsis of the story here.

Review

As sequels go, I liked this. Sure, it didn’t exactly offer “resolution,” but it did offer a story that was utterly in keeping with the story it was based on. In many ways, the status quo was kept almost disturbingly intact, considering that three years are supposed to have passed.

However, they did make two major changes occur over that time: in Duke Preminger’s relationship with Nadja, and in Keith Harcourt’s character. (Another major change has also occurred in the absence of Sylvie, but since that’s only mentioned and never expanded upon or resolved, I don’t think it adds to the story in any way.)

The Family Dynamics

Hands down, my favorite part of this book was Nadja’s relationship with her grandfather. It’s a shame that we only got to see them interacting in the first two chapters, and even then not that much. Their relationship has improved remarkably since the end of the show, mostly driven by Duke Preminger’s willingness to take Nadja’s opinions and feelings into consideration. He in particular pushes her toward education, citing the advantage that this will give her in life.

In fact, Count Waltmuller (Colette’s husband and Nadja’s stepfather) also contributes to Nadja’s education. We see him educating Nadja by taking her to art events, as well as giving her books when she leaves. In fact, it’s the books from her stepfather that give Nadja the idea to treat the theater like a business and ask for investments rather than donations. (That said, I’m assuming that the business plan didn’t include that they weren’t planning to sell tickets to audiences, because if they’d mentioned that part, I feel certain that Madame Bowaiyo would have turned them down.)

Colette and Nadja’s relationship is loving as ever. Colette mostly just espouses wisdom to Nadja in this book, but the love between her and Nadja remains strong—and the drive at the core of Nadja’s character.

The Harcourt Twins

I read this book through twice: once just to read it, and the second time to make this video and blog post.

The first time, I was genuinely surprised—but not in a good way. The book starts out acting like this story will resolve the love triangle, but it’s barely touched upon. When we finally meet Keith, he’s abandoned his idealism completely, opting instead to simply live a life making money.

Well, I thought to myself wryly, The story may not have offered a resolution, but clearly Nadja’s going to end up with Francis, now.

But to my surprise, I had a completely different opinion the second time around.

Francis seemed awfully pushy, and Nadja seemed ambivalent to his attentions. She likes him, sure, but she still does seem more like she’s just going with the flow than it seems like she actively wants a relationship with him. Notably, Francis pours out his heart to her—in a possessive way that implied that he’d cage her if he didn’t know it would make her miserable—and Nadja doesn’t know what to say to that. (To be fair, it’s a speech in the modern day that comes off as a thousand red flags.)

In contrast, when he finally shows up in the story, Keith is no longer the man he was. His idealism is dead and gone. He makes no moves to woo Nadja, and respects her every opinion. He won’t touch her without her consent; won’t give her money if she doesn’t want it; won’t even express his affection for her that is still strong as ever inside him. Even the start of the encounter—where Nadja thinks he’s Francis and he perpetuates the misunderstanding—is a little different than it used to be in the show, because Keith’s dialogue suggests that it distresses him to have this mistaken identity between himself and Nadja.

(Which raises the question of why he doesn’t resolve it…or at least not say things that perpetuate the mistaken identity…but what would this story be if Keith acted rationally?)

But most importantly of all, Keith’s change of path does seem in keeping with his character. Keith was always the one who felt things too strongly. He was so distressed by the inequality of society that he ran away from home to be Robin Hood when he was still a child—and he stuck with it.

Sure, Francis cares very deeply for the plight of the poor. But he has never left the comfort of his privileged life. It took him three years of deep consideration about social inequality to realize that maybe offering free education to the poor would help them gain better opportunities in life.

Keith, meanwhile, has lived on his own, with nothing but his wits. I have no doubt that Keith has been aware since the days of the show that education is what gives him an edge over many of the poor. He’s seen the cruelty of the world in a way that Francis never has.

That his idealism eventually snapped—the more I think about it, this is a brilliant progression of his character. It remains to be seen whether his idealism is truly gone and he’s become a man who’s only out for himself—which doesn’t seem to be the case, given the respect he showed Nadja—or his idealism is simply buried or changed.

Of course, when Nadja tries to find “good” in Keith’s choice (by suggesting that he’s making money to donate it to the needy), Keith denies it. But I do wonder if Nadja wasn’t simply looking at it from the wrong angle. Perhaps Keith saw that he can’t help the needy all over the world, but he can help a select few—by employing them.

When I was a preteen watching the TV show, Keith was my favorite character. I was utterly invested in the love story, and wanted Nadja to pick Keith.

After I read this book the first time, I was disappointed in Keith, and felt utterly detached from the story. But there was something tugging at the corner of my mind: Could I write a fic about what happened to Keith in India? About how Keith from the show turned into Keith in this book?

After my second read, I experienced clarity. I like this Keith very much. He is still my favorite character in this book, being the one with the most interesting journey and the one most worth thinking about. I feel like there’s an emotional truth to Keith that runs deeper than most of these characters, and I’d love to see how his life turns out—though I suspect it’ll be heartbreaking.

There wasn’t a lot of time between the two reads, making this complete change of opinion all the more surprising.

So, who do I want Nadja to end up with now?

I don’t know. I think that Francis is still the most likely option of the twins; but I also think that the story is building up to a place where it would make more sense for her to reject both Harcourt twins and live a life all her own. I think I’d like to see a version of Nadja who spends her life independently, never tied down by love for any one specific person.

I’m particularly intrigued by the idea of a future where Nadja has rejected both Harcourt twins, inherited the House of Preminger, and the three of them still have this oddly close friendship going on. (Since, given the rules established within this story, I don’t think the boys will ever fully get over her.)

My Weirdness List

There were a couple of points that were just plain weird in this book, so I’m just going to list them:

  1. Starting out by retconning the ending of the show. This just seems like a strange creative choice, to me. I get that from a storytelling perspective, it makes more sense to tell the story of Nadja leaving the nest than coming back to the nest, but it’s a little disappointing that the only way they could think of to do this was to basically undo the ending of the TV show.
  2. For some reason, the prologue sets up Nadja’s unresolved relationships with Francis and Keith. This is bewildering, because the book doesn’t really address those relationships, except to basically assure the reader that the status quo is unchanged.
  3. In fact, the status quo seems largely set in stone—with the notable exceptions of Keith and Duke Preminger. Although I would have expected that aging from 13 to 16 would mean that we’d see a lot of major changes in the lives of the main characters, they seem to be largely unchanged. (Colette makes a comment about a stopped clock; perhaps that was supposed to be lampshading this.)
  4. Creme and Chocolat are now full-grown lions. Which just raises so many questions throughout this story. Obviously, this seems like it would be a problem even when they’re in the caravan car. But once they lose the car and are traveling in stage coaches and staying in regular inns…what are the lions doing? Are they running beside the stage coach? In a cage on top of the stage coach? Running free outside the inn? The book only addresses that the lions are fully grown, but then entirely neglects to mention them at any point where one might think that having 2 lions might present an inconvenience.
  5. Rosemary is the antagonist. Surprise! But she and Nadja never meet. None of the protagonists ever learns that Rosemary was behind the scam.
  6. Nicole Applefield pops out of nowhere at the eleventh hour as the resolution to this story. …Okay, I guess? I wonder if I’m missing something because I’m not familiar with the CD dramas.

Conclusion

Overall, I did think it was a fitting sequel to Ashita no Nadja. It seemed to set up another sequel, but I don’t know if that’s perhaps just supposed to lead into the CD dramas, or if they’re planning to produce more of these books. If another one comes out, I do think I’ll end up reading it.

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