I first heard of Red Data Girl when it was released as an anime in 2013. It was just a few months before my high school graduation and I fell in love with the story. Finally, after years of Japanese study, I have finally finished the first book of the series. I'm really excited to tell you what I think.
About the Book
RDG レッドデータガール はじめてのお使い is the first book of six in the Red Data Girl series written by Noriko Ogiwara. The first book was published by Kadokawa in 2008. It has not been published in English. For those who still what to check out the story, I recommend the anime. While it doesn't include the final book in the series, it is an excellent adaptation of the original and worth looking into.
The story takes place in a mountainous region of Wakayama and follows the life of Izumiko. She is a third year junior high school student at Awatani Junior High School. Unfortunately for Izumiko, she lives at Tamakura Shrine, a shrine deep in the mountains - making her social life nonexistent. Not only that, but she is also hopeless with all electronics and they crash with a mere touch. Nonetheless, with encouragement, Izumiko decides that she wants to become a "normal girl". Her plans quickly go array when she cuts her bangs and all of the computers at her school crash. Izumiko quickly realizes that her dreams of being "normal" are futile when her father's friend, Yukimasa, rescues her in a helicopter. He also brings his son, Miyuki, to live at the shrine. Things quickly spin out of control as Izumiko realizes she is part of something magical and very dangerous.
Thoughts on the Story
This book is written very well. Though a bit complex, the story and the characters are all very charming - with their own unique strengths and weaknesses. That being said, the way they are written into the story doesn't always make the aims of each of the characters clear. The reader has to be careful to note the attitudes that each character have and how they relate to one another. This is especially true of Izumiko, who is the narrator. Due to her ignorance of her whole situation, she isn't exactly the most reliable narrator. It then becomes the job of the reader to read between the lines of what the other characters are saying and to make assumptions. I personally think this makes the reading experience all the more interesting.
As well, the author does a brilliant job of juxtaposing the modern era that Izumiko lives in and the ancient and sometimes unknown world of Shinto and Buddhism. The reader is constantly assaulted with the realities of being a teenager in the modern world. Izumiko struggles with confidence issues, bullying, and the struggle to fit in. Her father also works in IT. On the other hand, she lives at a very old shrine. Miyuki and Yukimasa also fit well into this model. They have severe relationship issues and are both yamabushi, a type of mountain monk. The whole thing is brilliantly put together.
This is the type of book that I think anyone interesting in Shinto or Buddhist mythology should take a look at. It combines a lot of very real aspects of these religions with the more fantastical. Ogiwara does an astounding job of combining these two together and the research she put into the piece is obvious.
That being said, the Japanese is somewhat difficult at times. While I find her writing style rather interesting, it took many years before I was finally able to tackle this book. First of all, it is a fantasy novel. This means the introduction of lots of complicated terminology that you kind of have to remember in order to keep track of the story. A lot of the terminology relating to Shinto and Buddhism is older in origin and therefore definitely not something you'll be seeing in your everyday reading. Then, the author just has a very lengthy way of writing sentences. It can be easy to lose track of what someone is taking about if you aren't paying attention.
Overall, an excellent book for anyone wanting to expand their reading repertoire in Japanese and for those who enjoy a bit of Shinto in their life. However, I definitely do not recommend this as a first novel attempt in the language unless you already have a strong reading background in Japanese. It could be discouraging.