My Neighbor Totoro: The Novel

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Today we’ll be dancing to a different medium. It’s not a manga, nor could one claim it to have attributes of comics at all. “My Neighbor Totoro: The Novel” came out in 2013, but I’d always preferred to ride the slow horse. Now to contextualize, it’s based off of the film, not vice-versa. Also, it’s Totoro. Lots of us folks ’round these here parts grew up lovin’ our buddy Torororororotorotorotorotorotoro.

This novel… eh…

The book is ten chapters, with about 20 pages in a chapter. Written by Tsugiko Kubo, this novelization of the classic anime family film falls short for one reason specifically:

TOTORO’S BARELY IN IT!

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…I mean, it’s kinda the same thing as the film, but worse. All of the beats are off.

So here’s where we see Totoro in the film:

  1. Mei meets him in his home
  2. FAMOUS UMBRELLA DISCOVERY
  3. Fly~iiing through the sk~yyy and plant~iiing seeds
  4. Satsuki needs him to find Mei
  5. Waves goodbye forever, I think?

And in the novel:

  1. We only hear Mei’s description of him in the fourth (of ten) chapter.
  2. FAMOUS UMBRELLA DISCOVERY
  3. Only plant~iiing seeds
  4. Satsuki needs him to find Mei
  5. Teases future encounters

Yeah, so only two of the meetups occur from the film. Lame-o, just as lame-o as when people tack on “-o” to things they dislike. So what does happen in the novel if Totoro barely appears?

Character interaction. UGH. I WANT MY TOTORO, THOUGH. AND I WANT MY PLAY-DOH, PLEASE. AND LEGGO MY EGGO. KIDS HAVE THINGS SO ROUGH.

I like that there’s more reveals in the mindsets of the cast, which makes Mei somewhat more enjoyable. And Satsuki seems more like a child, which does benefit her. Downside is the futility of some factors. Why is there an entire chapter where they’re back in the city? It might be trying to show city kids versus country kids, along with how the farm made them change, but it’s not like they were so reserved to begin with. It’s interesting, but not complimentary to the structure of the novel.

There are way too many pages that talks about heating up baths. I guess it’s more for the original Japanese audience, but what age range is that? I was bored with it all, man. The book’s subtitle should’ve been “Padding Makes It Sell Anyway.”

But negativity is overrated in this goddamn world. The padding does benefit when it came to side characters. The teacher was of particular interest to me, a very minor character in the film given a tinge of human flaw. Characterization in general might be considered better than the film, with the father feeling overwhelmed at times, Granny showing her wisdom (particularly in dealing with children); that’s something that just fits in better with the medium of book than film.

A downside of this is certain subtleties being lost. One of my favorite interactions throughout the film is between Satsuki and Kanta. They’re still kids, but they’re getting to the age of interest in the opposite gender. So throughout the film, they’re hot and cold to each other without knowing why, typical of an interaction of this caliber. But in the novel, it’s too tongue-in-cheek, too… okay, check out these passages.

I wonder what Kanta’s up to? For some reason, she thought of Kanta.”
“Kanta felt oddly disappointed after [the Kusakabe family] left.”

There’s a quiet part of human emotional development being devilishly overshipped here. Like, c’mon. Don’t hammer it into us.

The most infuriating factor is the perspective. Satsuki is the lead, so that’s why we don’t see Mei with Totoro. Yet we do have multiple scenes of Kanta not interacting with Satsuki, nor is she even in proximity. Shipper on deck. Ugh.

There’s like, an illustration from THE Hayao Miyazaki each chapter, but it’s not really too helpful. They’re not really stunning. Maybe soothing, but not much more than the sisters in various locations. Sometimes they make a page blank on the opposite side, but not always. Why? Printing is weird.

If your kid’s a Totoro fanatic, I do recommend it, but… maybe not if he’s a fanatic for the specific character, rather than the film. Oh, and who else isn’t there long enough? CATBUS. Yeah, they only use the bus to find Mei, not to take Satsuki TO Mei. No, instead they find her, then bring Satsuki back to lead the villagers to her. Tease: The Novel is more like it. I will say, however, that what the novel lacks in excitement, it makes up in on-point writing and in-depth characterization.

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