All You Need Is Kill Review
All You Need Is Kill is a light novel written by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, and illustrated by Yoshitoshi Abe. The story has an military sci-fi setting, and one pivotal plot point of the novel involves time looping.
All You Need Is Kill puts you into the shoe of Keiji Kiriya, a greenhorn recruit in the 17th Company of the Armored Infantry Division, in a war against Mimics – alien invaders which look like huge bloated frogs. Judging from the synopsis, the novel has a glaring similarity with visual novel series, Muv-luv, a setting with the military fending off against aliens. Although most movie goers make comparison to the likes of films such as Groundhog Day, which is a rather fair comparison too, considering All You Need Is Kill even had a film adaption, titled “Edge of Tomorrow” (although I personally didn’t watch it).
But if we are talking about novel’s storytelling, one wouldn’t be able to praise it without first mentioning about pacing. A story centered about time loop is certainly not the most original nowadays, that however, doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact, it’s one of the hardest type of story to structure your pacing properly. All You Need Is Kill is actually a one-shot, and the pacing is extremely fast. Even so, Sakurazaka was able to tie in most relevant and major key points of the story in a coherent manner, while managing to make each looping scenarios seem less repetitive – there is enough change in each iteration; a gradual progression to success in Kiriya’s quest to end the loop, which creates a gripping emotion, keeping the readers thrilled to know what happen next.
The action are especially attention-grabbing too, and actually inclining more to the sides of graphic and brutal, considering deaths are actually pretty common in this story, and if deaths did occur, they are usually pretty horrifying and gruesome, adding to the intensity and brutality of the light novel.
It’s fast pacing, also works it’s magic into characterizations. I mentioned it’s similarity with Muv-luv, but one difference obvious at this point is definitely the length and pacing. Another difference I would point out are the characters; predominantly, the main protagonist. Usually in a time travel story, the narrative would take time developing their main protagonists, through a number of try-and-fail cycles; their emotions, struggles and desperation are especially focused to an extreme degree. However, in the light novel, it has a refreshing change in a way that the protagonist is an exact opposite. Sure enough, Kiriya’s emotions and struggles are revealed moderately, usually in monologues, but not blatantly obnoxious. In a nutshell, you can say Kiriya jump back from his failures quickly, and is a protagonist who just simply gets things done. I can totally appreciate the former characterization, where the “human” aspect are more focused, but a protagonist like Kiriya is indeed quite refreshing too.
While a majority of the plot development centers on Kiriya, a key character, Rita Vrataski forms the major component of the story’s basis, and also served as a catalyst for Kiriya’s character development. There are perspective shifts in the light novel, and a majority of the shifts are focused on Rita herself, she even has a whole flashback dedicated to her to show her how she got into the military.
Kiriya and Rita presence in the story, and relationships with each other is an interesting element to take note of. Both of these characters, during the early stages, felt like they had absolutely nothing to do with each other, and over time, their relationships developed into a sense of camaraderie, and trusty war partners. The ending, while certainly not pretty, nor conclusive, is still an interesting way to bring the tales of the bonds developed between these two soldiers to a close.
One thing I like about Sakurazaka’s general concept of characterization is that they don’t really follow classic stereotypes at all, in fact, most of the characters seem to really reflect the ugly realistic situation of military warfare. During battles, profanities will be screamed throughout the battlefields, and while normally, I would feel cringe-worthy if the profanities were randomly integrated in some other stories, in a brutal militaristic setting like All You Need Is Kill, it feels incredibly right. The crude humors, while not overwhelming, does reinforce the grime setting – you get the sense that these characters had accepted that they will die, but are still afraid of their death nonetheless; making jokes about it to hide their fears. They feel very “human”.
I also like the world, especially fictional equipments like the Jackets and the battle axes of the world, which provided some extra fictional creativity as opposed to weapons like guns, based on real life. The Jackets, which are in short, mech armors for the humans to fight against the Mimics, actually deserve credit since it seems considerable amount of thoughts and focus had went into them – how they look, how they works, their hardware skeleton and all other technical information. The Mimics are also given a backstory, especially at how they invade Earth in the first place. However, I assume it’s because the story didn’t originally focus on them much anyway, I feel apathetic nonetheless throughout the segment dealing with their origins.
The illustrations in the novel, are likewise, not exactly pretty, and I definitely don’t mean that in a bad way. Yoshitoshi Abe, who also worked on the artworks of titles like Serial Experiment Lain and Haibane Renmei, is known for his unorthodox drawing style and monochrome color scheme. The latter especially, creates a somber mood, which I think, more than fits the atmosphere of All You Need Is Kill. Also, if the cover is already any indication, Abe shows potential that he can work on sci-fi mech designs if necessary. The only complain that I have, is that the English localization of the novel, removed all pictures inside, and I could certainly use some ABe artworks myself throughout my reading. The very few (excluding the cover) illustrations you see in this post here, are the illustrations found in the Japanese version.
All You Need Is Kill is a short, but powerful story. It’s fast, but coherent pacing, it’s characters, and thrilling, intense action scenarios make this one of the better, if best, light novels I had read, especially as far as one-shots are concerned. If you like military setting with sci-fi touches, All You Need is Kill may be the perfect candidate if you are in need of such a genre.