I'm a librarian who loves anime, manga, and reading a wide variety of genres.
[Another old review - still working on getting my blogged reviews into my various book databases. I had to guess at this star rating. It's interesting rereading this review, in light of some articles and blog posts I've read in the past year. I think I'd perceive some aspects of the book differently now. Certainly some aspects of the movie.]
Just a note to start things off: The contents of this book came from a real-life Internet forum - if you believe everything that the people involved wrote, then Train Man and Hermes are real people, and these posts reveal the progression of their relationship over two months.
2channel, or 2ch for short, is a Japanese Internet forum that allows for completely anonymous posting. In March 2004, an anonymous user posted about his experience defending the passengers of the train he was riding from a drunken salaryman. Afterwards, several of the women on the train asked him for his name and contact information, so that they could send him a proper thank you. Although this young man thought that things would end here, he later received a thank you gift from one of the younger women on the train - Hermes tea cups (an expensive gift).
So begins Train Man's relationship with Lady Hermes (both are nicknames given by the other users). Train Man, being a Geek, has absolutely no idea what to do or say to a woman, so he asks the other 2ch Geek users for advice. Their advice prompts him to ask Hermes to dinner to repay her for the gift of the cups (he also asks for advice on where to take her and how to make himself look less like a Geek). As things between Train Man and Hermes progress, Train Man describes everything: the dinner, meeting with Hermes and a friend of hers, going to her house to drink tea using the cups she gave him, etc. Train Man seeks out the encouragement of the 2ch Geeks up until "the end," the time when he finally gathers up the courage to tell Hermes how he feels about her and graduates from the Geeks forum to the Couples forum.
Unlike the movie version of this story that I wrote about in a previous post (see Train Man [Densha Otoko]), this book, which is an edited version (lots of posts were removed to make it more manageable) of the actual 2ch posts, mentions some of the less eventful ways that Train Man and Hermes' relationship progressed: for instance, they got to know each other better through daily emailing. Whereas I occasionally had problems suspending my disbelief with the movie version, this book, whether or not Train Man was actually a fake, had more mundane relationship updates that made everything seem more real.
It's unfortunate that the book doesn't actually include any explanatory footnotes or endnotes, since I think they would have been very useful. For instance, there are quite a few references to anime series and other things that readers might not necessarily catch - Train Man and other posters mentioned some anime by name, but other titles were referred to more subtly (I caught references to Ai Yori Aoshi, Oh My Goddess, and maybe Azumanga Daioh). The many, many instances of ASCII art use would also have made good fodder for an explanatory notes section.
There are some terms the posters use that I wish had been explained. As an example, near the end of the book, several posters use the word "anorak" in a way that seemed to be synonymous with "geek" - I eventually looked it up and discovered that it's British slang for someone "who has unfathomable interest in arcane, detailed information regarded as boring by the rest of the population, and who feels compelled to talk at length about this information to anyone within earshot." That actually brings me to my other (pretty minor) issue with this book, the occasional very British bits. I don't think it happened often (what do I know, though, I didn't even realize that "anorak" was British slang and not somehow Japanese slang), but it was noticeable anytime prices were listed, since they were always in pounds. That was a little jarring - I've got a fairly good idea of how to convert Japanese yen into American dollars, but I had no idea how to deal with pounds. I checked the publication information for this book, and apparently it was first published in the United Kingdom - I guess no one thought it was necessary to adjust anything for publication in America.
Before I read this book, I'd actually already seen and read two different interpretations of this story, the movie version and a one-volume manga version, so it was really nice to read this, which is probably as close as I'm ever going to come to reading the original posts that started it all. It's not something that will appeal to everyone - I'm not just talking about the ASCII art, but also about the format of the book. Not everyone will like reading a bunch of anonymous forum posts, although it may help that Train Man's posts come fairly close to presenting his story in a coherent and chronological way and that Train Man's posts are in boldface, making them easily identifiable. Still, once I got used to it, I enjoyed reading all of these posts, since it allowed me to feel a little of what the many anonymous posters and readers must have felt, watching Train Man's story unfold. Although there is apparently some controversy over whether or not Train Man's story is true, I prefer to think that it is: it makes reading this book more fun, and, aside from the fairytale-like progression of the relationship, it feels like it could be true.
With each version of this story I read, I love something different. The one-volume manga introduced me to this story and caught my interest. I loved how the movie version turned Train Man's anonymous posters into characters in their own right. This book fills in more of the details of Train Man and Hermes' relationship, making it seem more realistic. If I were recommending Train Man's story to someone, I'd probably recommend that they see the movie and read this book - the two make up for each others' weaknesses. For instance, while I was reading the book I found myself wishing that there were a way to tell which posts were done by the same people - only a handful of non-Train Man posts had anything other than "anonymous." With the movie, the way Train Man and Hermes' relationship was presented didn't always feel very real, and I found the "war zone" scenes a little jarring. It wasn't until I read the book that I understood why these scenes were done the way they were - throughout the book, several of the posters compare the experience to a prolonged battle, one in which they are both cheering Train Man on and dodging his "attacks" (anytime Train Man is successful with Hermes, it's good news, but it also rubs salt in the girlfriend-less Geeks' wounds).
Overall, I enjoyed this book and I'm glad I finally got to read the Train Man posts. I don't think I'll ever feel the need to read it again, since I didn't find the format that appealing, but it was worth it to read it once. Here's hoping Train Man is real and still living happily with Hermes.
(Original review, with read-alikes and watch-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)